Stockbridge Planning Board forges ahead in wake of resignations


STOCKBRIDGE — Despite the abrupt resignation of two Planning Board members last week, the five still remaining are forging ahead their work, including proposed zoning bylaw revisions to be considered by annual town meeting voters on May 16.

The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Town Offices for a public hearing to review the potential changes and hear comments from the public. The revisions, if approved, would affect the town's Cottage Era Estates bylaw as well as sign regulations.

"There will be a quorum, five of the seven members at the meeting," Selectman Stephen Shatz said on Wednesday.

Appointments of several volunteers for the two sudden vacancies will be considered by the Select Board, said Chairman Charles Gillett. Town Administrator Jorja-Ann Marsden and Shatz indicated those appointments could be made at a meeting on May 11.

Shatz said that it's a "pressing" matter, "and it could be more pressing, we don't know."

But he declined comment on issues raised publicly by the longtime Planning Board Chairman Douglas Rose after he and board clerk Robert Bartle resigned from the board.

Rose, an attorney, contended that the board had been afflicted by "mission creep" and that some members are not giving project applicants "a fair measure of due process" by taking votes in an "arbitrary and capricious manner."

"Perfectly reasonable applications were being denied" out of "petulance and lack of familiarity with the statutory and regulatory scheme for planning boards" rather than on legal issues, he told The Eagle last weekend. Rose argued that some members think the Planning Board "has more authority than it does in reality."

But veteran member Eugene Talbot took sharp issue with Rose's statements in an interview on Wednesday.

"I was surprised and shocked by his departure," he said. "It seemed to come out of the blue and resulted from not discussing things when we were in meetings."

"I don't know where 'arbitrary' and 'capricious' come from," Talbot added. "He never stayed around to talk about anything and never asked for a discussion on what anybody felt."

Talbot asserted that "the board went along too much, including me, with the chairman's legal opinion on each issue. It came to a point that there needed to be a discussion."

Talbot also disputed Rose's assertion that some board members were trying to go too far. "My opinion is that we stay within the purview of our authority," he said. "Where we need and want to make recommendations, we can and we do so. There's no argument about that."

As for Bartle's resignation, Talbot said he was "dismayed." He said he had disagreed with Bartle's view that Rose should be replaced by another lawyer. "I said it didn't have to be a lawyer; what we need is an interested citizen since we're not a legal entity or a court."

Bartle could not be immediately reached for comment.

Talbot stressed that if Rose "chooses to take his marbles and go home, we still have Planning Board work to do and we're going to do it."

Another board member, Kate Fletcher, stated that boards "need to be characterized more by collegiality and respect, that's an important quality."

Fletcher, in the fourth year of her first term, described meetings as "typically quite short. I often felt it was difficult at times to ask questions. It's important to get the information we need to make an informed decision since the bylaws are complicated."

She advocated careful reviews of applications, including site visits and attention to the views of neighbors.

Fletcher said she was "very surprised" by the resignations of Rose and Bartle. "There had been no discussion about the role of the board," she said in an interview. "It seems that before resigning from any board, there should be discussion about differences of opinion and approaches."

Besides Talbot and Fletcher, the members remaining on the board include Gary Pitney, now the acting chairman; Barbara Cohen-Hobbs and Don Chabon.

Pitney declined comment on Wednesday. Cohen-Hobbs and Chabon were not immediately available.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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