Marion Selectmen interview ZBA candidates, invite comments

Aug 13, 2019

MARION — Marion has three candidates for two positions on the Zoning Board of Appeals. On Aug. 13 Selectmen heard from two of those candidates, but postponed making a decision to talk with the third.

The first candidate to interview was Michelle Smith, who has served on the ZBA for the past five years. Smith also serves on the Sippican School Committee and the Old Rochester Regional School Committee.

Smith said the board’s job is to consider and make decisions based on the bylaws. She added that there is “No room for personal bias, it’s always based on the guidelines.” However, she also added that “each case is different, so we may approve one and not the other.”

She seemed willing to go through any training necessary to be on the board.

When she was asked about a situation when the board responded to an ambiguity in the bylaw Smith struggled to remember the specifics of a case where the board felt there was some ambiguity to the terms of the bylaw.

Marc LeBlanc, the current Chair of the Zoning Board and another candidate for reappointment who happened to be at the meeting, had to help fill in the specifics. 

Smith was also unsure whether the ambiguity was referred to the Planning Board to address.

When Selectmen John Waterman asked whether there were sections of the bylaw that came up repeatedly Smith responded that special permits did.

She was only able to remember two of the criteria for such a permit.

“Over five years, some of [the knowledge] should stick,” Waterman said.

The board also talked to Ted North, a former Planning Board Member and Capital Improvement Planning Committee member with a background as a corporate lawyer.

North agreed with Smith that the board is all about the town bylaws. “You have to follow the law. That’s why we have the law,” he said. However he also added that “bylaws sometimes are very imprecise. A lot of elasticity in the decision-making process for some of these things.”

The lawyer was also able to weigh in on the details of specific terms or standards, such as hardship, which he called “a very very hard standard to meet. You have to show that the zoning bylaw makes [your] property worthless.”

When Waterman asked whether he remembered specific bylaws that were unclear, North remembered an intricacy with converting to a multi-family home. He said the process “really requires a site plan review, but that’s under the Planning Board.” He was also able to confirm that he discussed the issue several times with the board but they did not take interest in it.

When asked by Waterman about a case that should have been handled differently North responded that the conversion of Fieldstones from the Frigate Restaurant to a market should have been handled as a zoning change rather than being grandfathered into a residential area.

Selectmen decided to hold public comments on the appointments until after they interview LeBlanc at their next meeting. However they will accept comments over email, and say the have already gotten several.