Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

August 29, 2013

ZBA vacancies putting strain on town board

By Bill Kirk

---- — The new chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals appealed to the Board of Selectmen last week to appoint three more members to his board as soon as possible.

David Brown, who took over as chairman after the sudden resignation of Stephen Anderson earlier this month, said the board is designed to seat nine members, including five regular members and four associate members.

But due to resignations, the board is short three associate members. And the vacancies have the potential to hinder the board’s ability to act.

Brown said the law requires the same board members to hear testimony on a project from start to finish. But without a full complement, and the occasional absence of one member or another, it is difficult to get the required five-member quorum needed to review proposals through to the end, he said.

In fact, he said, one project has to be re-advertised and the public hearing on it re-started because of the paucity of members. In addition, a couple projects, including a small 40B affordable housing development, are in the pipeline and will need approval soon, and Brown said he doesn’t want the shortage of members to interfere with the process.

After a period of relative stability for about 10 years, Brown said the board now finds itself in a unique situation.

“I hope you do it with deliberate speed and not let it drag on for months and months,” Brown said of the need to fill the empty seats.

Brown added he doesn’t want Andover to follow the path of some communities that have allowed their zoning boards to lapse, resulting in projects not getting heard.

“We need to act fast,” selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli agreed. “We want to get this done as quickly as possible.”

The current situation was caused by the departures of board chairman Stephen Anderson, who resigned a year shy of the end of his three-year term, and two long-time members who chose not to seek reappointment, Brown said.

Regular member Lynne Batchelder, who joined in 2001 as an associate member, and Rachel Baime, who joined in 2007, both stepped down after their terms expired.

Brown said all three resigned for personal and professional reasons.

Meanwhile, Carol McDonough, a third member up for reappointment who is also the clerk of the board, has been named to a new term.

Brown said the vacancies would have been filled earlier except that selectmen decided to take a more active role in the process than it has done in the past.

Under the town charter, the Board of Selectmen is responsible for appointing members of the Zoning Board, as well as the town accountant and town manager.

Traditionally, Brown said, Zoning Board members have been chosen from the town’s talent bank, a repository of resumes submitted by local residents interested in volunteering on boards and commissions.

Brown said three names from the talent bank were forwarded to the Zoning Board by Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski. The applicants met with the Zoning Board for “get-to-know sessions” and were given the green light for appointment, he said.

However, Brown said, “The names never got to the selectmen.” Brown said there was nothing wrong with the three applicants, but that selectmen have sought to be more involved in screening and interviewing candidates,

“We were in the process of suggesting these people would be fine. But selectmen decided to open the process up,” he said. “That’s just fine. We’re all on the same page.”

Now, the net will be cast a little wider, Brown said.

“We are encouraging the three people we met with to reaffirm their interest and be part of the process, and we’ll see where it all goes,” he said.

A subcommittee of two selectmen will review the applicants, including the original candidates, then schedule interviews and make recommendations to the full board.

“We’re going to work quickly to make sure the positions are filled,” Vispoli said.