Site plan process under review

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/28/2016 5:51:37 PM

Who decides when an applicant needs to appear before the Planning Board for a site plan review?

Right now, said Planning Board Chair Jeff Kandt, it is the Planning Board itself, in its conceptual review process. But that may not be ideal.

By the town’s zoning code, one of the criteria requiring a site plan review is a change of use of a pre-existing building. In the past, said Kandt, there has been confusion over how strict that criteria should be.

“There has been a lot of angst about change of use and what constitutes change of use,” said Kandt. The zoning ordinance does not clearly define it, said Kandt, meaning it’s often a judgment call. That call is often made when a potential applicant appears before the board for a conceptual review, a process where the Planning Board can determine what issues there might be so the applicant can address them or decide whether the project is worth pouring resources into.

But to determine whether an application needs to go through a site plan review process, the Planning Board has had to get quite detailed with the applicant about what they’re intending to do, said Kandt – a problem, since the conceptual review does not require abutter notice and is supposed to be a very general discussion that avoids specifics.

That leaves the question – if the conceptual review isn’t the place to decide whether a plan needs a site plan review process, where should that decision be made?

Kandt suggested that it should lie with some combination of the building inspector and the Select Board, who are ultimately the enforcement arm of any zoning or planning requirements placed on a property. The building inspector has the ability to go into some detail about a plan and determine whether a site review is appropriate, said Kandt, and the Select Board meet weekly as opposed to monthly as the Planning Board does, and can be more responsive to applicants.

“One constant criticism we get is that the process takes too long,” said Kandt.

But whether it is the Planning Board, building inspector, or Select Board making the decisions, the Select Board and Planning Board agreed that having a clearer definition of change of use is essential. But there was disagreement among the Planning Board about what that definition might entail.

While some board members suggested that something straightforward, such as a change between residential, commercial and industrial might be a good measure, Planning Board member Alec MacMartin said there could be large differences within those categories. MacMartin also questioned whether it was in the Select Board’s purview to make a judgment on whether an applicant needed a site plan review, and suggested that the town discuss it with its attorney.

The Select Board agreed to take the Planning Board’s comments under advisement and discuss with town counsel the best way to adjust the zoning process, if it was appropriate to do so. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. 


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