Town planner plans to depart, LMPC considers signs and appeals

| Joanne Cole |

The Land Management Planning Committee on March 24 discussed revisions to a new proposed sign ordinance and some new provisions regarding code officer use determinations and appeals. 

But the big news was the resignation of town planner Scott Hastings.  Hastings told the committee he had given his notice and his last day will be April 15. 

LMPC members expressed warm appreciation and thanks to Hastings.  Jean Libby cited his work with applicants, saying how remarkable it is to hear them say they “want to thank the town planner” at the end of a lengthy planning board review process.  Don Libby said that LMPC is the most enjoyable land use committee “because you can use your imagination.” “I think you have,” he told Hastings, “and you have allowed us to use our imagination.”  Laughing, Libby added, “And you’ve kept us in check when we went too far.”

Hastings returned the compliments.  He said it had been a pleasure to work with everyone on this “very thoughtful” committee whose work had provided him interesting challenges and “helped me to be better at what I do,” as he put it.  Hastings didn’t say where he’s headed next. 

Hastings was hired as town planner in September 2017.  With citizen committees, he developed and shepherded along the town’s new comprehensive plan, as well as ordinances on solar energy systems and community living arrangements, among other longer-term projects, while also working closely with applicants and the planning board on compliance with town ordinances. 

Last year Hastings’s position was slated by the select board to be reduced to 20-hour half-time funding amid Covid budget uncertainties.  The planner position was ultimately reduced from 40-hour salary to its current 36.  This year the select board declined requests from town manager Brenda Fox-Howard to restore the planner position to 40-hour funding in the FY21-22 budget.  Within the past decade the town employed both a town planner and an assistant planner.

Topics under discussion at what turned out to be Hastings’s last LMPC meeting included minor changes to the town’s proposed sign ordinance.  The draft is nearly final after a year of work at LMPC intended to bring the town into compliance with U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding restrictions on signs.  Latest changes to the draft include allowing greater-than-otherwise-allowable numbers of signs on athletic field fences and walls with code officer approval, and clarifications about signage permitted at Pineland, developed in consultation with Pineland vice president and counsel Paul Pietropaoli. 

LMPC also discussed new provisions intended to provide notice and clarity about code officer use determinations and appeals from those decisions.  The revisions are an attempt to address gaps and ambiguities in the current ordinance that most recently frustrated abutters challenging the code officer’s determination that Scott Liberty’s proposed commercial marijuana grow operation was a “commercial greenhouse” permitted in the Penney Road rural residential zone.

The provisions now under discussion provide for formal written use findings, clear notice, and brighter appeal deadlines and procedures.  Among the changes, the code officer would be required to include a memo with a formal finding of what the proposed use is (that is, what type of project under the ordinance) when sending an application to the planning board for review.   That would provide notice and trigger a 30-day clock for any aggrieved party to appeal the use determination to the town’s board of appeals. 

The draft provisions would also give abutters notice of all new commercial uses and make clear that appeals from code officer determinations and from planning board decisions proceed on separate tracks.

Committee member Charles Gauvin described the provisions as creating “a fair balance of interests.”  The others agreed.  Hastings said he’ll run the draft up the legal flagpole with the town attorney before LMPC’s next meeting – without Hastings. 

To watch the March 24 LMPC meeting video, click here. For more information about the committee’s members and their work, click here.