For the second time this year, there’s been substantial changes in Canton’s Zoning Commission membership, with the Board of Selectmen bypassing two long-time members and another resigning in protest.
On Wednesday night selectmen appointed new members Dan Barnhart, a Republican, and John Huyghebaert, who is unaffiliated. The board also reappointed Republican Phil Pane.
Not on the agenda for reappointment, however, were alternate Jeffrey Johnson and two regular members — Republican Katherine E. Hooker and chairman Jay Weintraub, a Democrat. The latter two had been regular members since April of 1991, according to commission agendas, and alternate members even longer. Their terms expire Jan. 3, 2013.
“We appreciate the service they have provided for the town but felt it was time for a change in terms of composition,” First Selectman Richard Barlow said.
Also gone from the commission is Democrat Sandra Trionfini, who on Dec. 21, she sent Barlow a resignation e-mail, stating her reason as the “incredible short sightedness on the part of the Board of Selectmen.”
Barlow said no final decision had been made on Johnson.
Weintraub expressed an interest in continuing and had recommended Hooker be reappointed as well, Barlow said, but he and others gave a few reasons for the decision.
First, Barlow said, is the length of the zoning rewrite process, which, according to the town’s web site, formally began in September of 2005, with the goal of implementation by November of 2006.
Several other selectmen concurred.
“For years we’ve been hearing it’s almost done,” selectman Tom Sevigny said Thursday. “I think the majority of the board agrees there needs to be changes.”
Weintraub could not be reached for comment but in March of 2012 told Patch the process had been plagued with problems, including initial misguidance from a consultant, various town planners and, at times, lack of a quorum, which eventually resulted in a re-write committee of fewer members. Now that entire subcommittee, which had most recently consisted of Weintraub, Hooker and Trionfini, is out.
Thursday, town Planner Neil Pade said the goal is to get the draft of the changes to the full Zoning Commission in the first quarter of 2013. After that it would be shared with the Planning Commission and go through an adoption process that would include chances for the public to comment.
Barlow said he doesn't expect the changes in membership to delay the process.
Barlow said his other main reason for changes in commission membership is the reputation Canton’s land-use boards have for being “anti-business,” a charge he’s heard since taking office.
The re-write is designed to address some issues. Most commission members, selectmen and business leaders, for example, have agreed that more types of businesses should be allowed “by right.” Currently, many small businesses have to come though the zoning commission if they are opening a type of business not previously approved for a particular space. The changes would allow more to open through a less expensive and time-consuming process.
Barlow was quick to say that in some cases the anti-business reputation is not warranted. The land-use process is complicated and regulations, state statutes or the need to fully vet an issue often binds the commission, he said.
Selectmen also acknowledge that some developers request hearing continuances to resolve issues or in some cases are not prepared.
Still, several selectmen said personnel changes would help.
“At some point, perception becomes reality,” Barlow said. “With new people hopefully we can dissuade some of those concerns.”
“There’s has been an overall feeling that it is time for some changes,” added selectman Steve Roberto.
Sevigny said he also feels it unacceptable that the commission and other boards never adopted most of the changes recommend in the town’s 2003 Plan of Conservation and Development.
Several selectmen said they also plan to continue discussions about board consolidation. For example, some advocate combining the planning and zoning commissions although past charter revision commissions chose not to combine the two.
In addition, this is not the first time selectmen have bypassed zoning commission members who were willing to continue.
Earlier this year, Barlow passed on members Peter Clarke and Mark Podesla for reappointment.
At the time, selectman Lowell Humphrey objected to the process. This week, he said he has talked to the town attorney and understands the procedure being followed is acceptable by town charter but still feels it sends the wrong message to volunteers, especially when there are unfilled alternate slots on the commission. (Trionfini’s slot will also need to be filled).
“It sends an awful message to those serving and those considering serving,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey said it’s also a decision made outside of the public eye and feels the members should at least have the chance to publicly defend their record.
Hooker and Weintraub could not be reached for comment over the last two days but Patch will add their statements if received.
Trionfini declined to expand on her short-sighted comment but did praise Weintraub and Hooker's service.
“I enjoyed my years on the commission especially working with Jay and Kathy — both extremely capable and hard-working individuals,” Trionfini said.