Editor, Townsman:

Although I believe members of a board as important and powerful as the Planning Board should be elected and held accountable to the residents of Andover, I understand the opinion of those who want the Board to be shielded from political pressure. However, when it becomes painfully apparent that the Planning Board and the Planning Department do not share our vitally important goal of preserving zoning integrity and the character of our residential neighborhoods, it is time for the voters to demand change.

The Board of Selectmen should talk to the Town Manager and ask him to not renew the terms of the two Planning Board members whose terms expire in June. Those spots should be filled by candidates who are not recommended by or associated with Paul Materazzo or other staff at the Planning Department. I’m making this request not to punish individual Board members, but to bring new people and perspectives to a Board and a process that desperately need change.

I’m part of a group of hundreds of residents in the Elm Street Neighborhood that is greatly disappointed by the recent actions of the board. We are currently involved in expensive litigation because the Board approved a special permit for an assisted living facility (“ALF”) after ignoring a written warning from all members of the Design Review Board that the project would destroy the character of our neighborhood. The Board then manufactured a “need” by relying on a report by a marketing research firm (hand-picked by the Planning Department) that states that, given certain assumptions about demographics, the proposed ALF would likely be able to find enough customers in Andover and surrounding communities to stay in business. Using this flawed logic, logic that could also be used to argue we have a “need” for a Walmart, the Board ignored the fact that our existing ALF is struggling to find customers.

But this is a town-wide issue, and those who have had dealings with the Planning Board, such as the Strawberry Hill ALF opponents, understand the problem. As currently constituted, the Board absolutely refuses to exercise its legally conferred discretion to halt inappropriate projects. They take this position because they have been told, by at least one selectman and by other members of the town power structure, that all special permits should be approved with conditions. The goal is to avoid litigation costs resulting from developer law suits, even if the approval improperly sacrifices neighborhoods and shifts litigation expenses to neighboring residents. Our Planning Department uses the town’s fear of litigation to manipulate the approval process and push through projects that it supports.

I thank all members of the Planning Board for their service, but new membership is required to restore faith in the process. Our community needs know that the board will be independent, apply our zoning laws faithfully, protect our neighborhoods, and refuse to improperly shift litigation costs from the town to its residents.

Mark Bernardin

140 Elm St., Andover

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