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EDITORIAL: The Planning Board's Misstep

The Planning Board Chairman’s behind-the-scenes machinations forcing Kilbourn Place to submit to a major site plan review was an unfortunate misstep, an error that likely caused elected board member Gus Widmayer to resign. [see last week’s story]
     What was the Planning Board Chair’s motivation for forcing Kilbourn Place into a major site plan review? Was Planning Board pride piqued that a high-profile development on Main Street would not have the Board’s Board ‘fingerprints’ on it? An adequate explanation for this maneuvering was never explained. However, it is reasonable to have anticipated that such action could trigger the resignation of this Board member.
     The Land Use Committee and Zoning Inspector had already determined that a minor site plan review was best for Kilbourn Place project review. The applicant had received all necessary permits from other town committees that the Planning Board would have required. [Permits from ZBA, HDC, Stormwater, and traffic review by Police and Fire]. Knowledgeable observers say there was little real difference in town protection or regulatory result whether reviewed under the major or minor site plan review process. So why do it?
     The Planning Board has significant statutory power from their regulatory seat at the junction of business, personal and town responsibilities, a forum where all groups try to acheive their best outcome under the law. Serving on the Planning Board requires the judicious interpretation of statutory powers to achieve a fair balance between all competing interests. Maintaining public confidence in the general fairness of Board decisions is crucial.
     It is for this reason that Planning Board members are elected and not appointed. Elected members are thought to be more sensitive to a fair and equitable interpretation of state law, town regulations and bylaws. Thus, the loss of Gus Widmayer as an elected member of the Planning Board is a blow to our town’s democratic form of government. The Chairman should have taken this possibility into account before pursing his approach.
     The decision to force the major site plan review process on Kilbourn Place has added cost and delay to the redevelopment. It is often said that Groton is not ‘business friendly.’ We’re not sure that’s a fair characterization in general, but certainly the moniker would apply in this instance.
     The Planning-Board-imposed delay will leave the former Donelan’s property a relative eyesore in the center of town while the Board goes through their motions.
     We hope Board members can put aside any sense of personal animus and get on with giving this project a fair, speedy and impartial review so the town can begin to enjoy the benefits of this imaginative new development in our downtown.
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