Two quit Stockbridge Planning Board; one says board wasn't giving 'due process'


STOCKBRIDGE -- The Planning Board is hemorrhaging members, and according to one of the departed, it's because the others aren't giving project applicants "a fair measure of due process."

Douglas J. Rose, a former board chairman with 16 1/2 years of experience, recently submitted his resignation letter despite having two years remaining on his term.

Votes on recent applications that were rejected by some fellow board members bordered on "arbitrary and capricious," Rose said on Saturday.

"Perfectly reasonable applications were being voted to be denied," Rose said, an attorney.

It was out of "petulance ... and lack of familiarity with the statutory and regulatory scheme for planning boards," rather than solid legal standing, Rose said.

"There's only so much a planning board can do," Rose said. "The [board's] jurisdiction is narrowly circumscribed, and you can't go beyond that. Some members are thinking the board has more authority than it does in reality."

Planning boards uphold and draft new zoning laws, review applications for special permits and site plan reviews for new building and commercial projects, adopt town master plans and, in a limited capacity, regulate the creation of new lots — areas of land available for new buildings or other uses.

Another longtime member, Robert Bartle, the clerk of the board, resigned alongside Rose, but did not return a call seeking comment on Saturday. Bartle's term was supposed to last through mid-2017.

And sources say a third member, Barbara Cohen-Hobbs, elected to serve until 2019, is also dissatisfied, and may join Rose and Bartle on the sidelines.

At full strength, the Stockbridge Planning Board has seven members.

Gary Pitney, the vice chairman of the board, said he "read the resignation letters [submitted by Rose and Bartle], but they didn't give specific reasons."

Asked for comment on Rose's specific criticisms, Pitney declined.

Rose did not name particular project applications in contention, but he spoke candidly about his concerns.

"In military terms, this is called a 'mission creep,' " he said. "It seems the board was moving toward wanting to be an omnibus land-use, development, design and oversight committee."

Such powers would overextend lawful Planning Board authority, and that's the problem, said Rose, the former chairman and private-practice Pittsfield attorney.

"We were spending a lot of time on issues that were not germane to the jurisdiction of the Planning Board," Rose said. "If you want to be a member, you have to learn how planning boards work. You can't just go in and vote 'nay' for a lack of understanding."

He added, "I didn't want the town to get sued on an appeal."

A town official who preferred not to be associated with the conflict said the Select Board would be forced to appoint year-long replacements for departing members.

"We're going to do that, otherwise the Planning Board wouldn't have a quorum," the official said.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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