GROTON–The Groton Open Space Association told the Town Council March 1, 2005, that it was concerned about “flaws” in the adoption of a major zoning amendment last month.
GOSA Director Robert Schneider read to the Council the following letter, dated Feb. 20, that GOSA had sent to Michael Murphy, director of planning and development, and Stephen Hudecek, chairman of the Zoning Commission, with copies to other members of the Commission and to Town Manager Mark Oefinger:
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The Groton Open Space Association would like to express its concern about flaws in the process that led to the Commission’s 3-1 vote Feb. 2 to approve the zoning amendment that created Active Senior Housing.
GOSA also seeks remedial action. GOSA had opposed the amendment in the form presented because it contained no definition of buildable land and no link between the number of permitted units and buildable acres. Such a definition and link are needed to prevent unacceptably high densities.
At the Commission’s December meeting, Chairman Hudecek had clearly identified the weakness of the amendment as proposed. Without a buildable land definition, the amendment theoretically could allow 30 units to be crowded into 2 acres of a 15-acre tract with half-acre zoning if the other 13 acres were not buildable. Mr. Hudecek later voted against the measure as presented.
The first flaw in the approval process has to do with the introduction of the topic. The amendment had been tabled at the December 1 meeting after the Commission approved clarifications of rules pertaining to Residential Life Care Communities and similar types of housing. One member pointed out at the time that the Commission, by making the clarifications, had taken care of the urgent matter at hand and didn’t need to go further.
One the morning of Feb. 2, GOSA members were startled to read in The Day that at “7 tonight, the Zoning Commission will consider a proposal that would amend the regulations” to include Active Senior Housing. This story, quoting Mr. Murphy, appeared to sideline the Commission, which should have been allowed to decide for itself what it would and would not consider, without steering from the town staff.
When the Commission meeting took place on the evening of Feb. 2, no motion was made to take the matter from the table. Such a motion would have been appropriate from both procedural and fairness points of view, given that no consensus existed at the end of the preceding meeting to take up the matter again.
Mr. Haviland then contributed a second flaw. Before reading a motion to approve the amendment, he said he believed that an absent member, Mr. Marcus, would approve of it. He did not present any information, documentation or argument for this judgment. How Mr. Marcus would have voted if he had attended the meeting and listened to all argument cannot be known. Mr. Haviland’s unsupported assertion, which may have influenced other voters, should not have been made.
Third, we noted that a new Commission member, Mr. Sergeant, dominated the discussion, acting as a strong advocate for the amendment, although he hadn’t sat as a member at any of the hearings and therefore wasn’t allowed to vote. The chairman at one point asked Mr. Sergeant if he was a developer, a question that indicated that Mr. Sergeant hadn’t been properly introduced to the Commission and its chairman. This matter is puzzling.
For the three reasons cited above, we believe the Feb. 2 meeting served to undermine, rather than strengthen, the public’s confidence in the fairness of the process by which this amendment was adopted.
Mr. Murphy said he did not insert a buildable land definition into the amendment because a planned definition, when it is ready, will have to be applied across the board, rather than to just one measure. If this is the case, then we feel the Commission should have delayed action until the definition was ready. We urge that a generally acceptable definition of buildable land be arrived at quickly and that it be inserted into the Active Senior Housing amendment as soon as possible. Until then, we urge a moratorium be observed on applications for this type of housing.
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GOSA recapped the letter at the Zoning Commission meeting March 2. Mr. Murphy earlier had commented, without elaborating, that the letter was not accurate as to the law. The Commission did not discuss the letter at the meeting.