Roxbury ponders if Zoning Commission should be elected seats

Some Roxbury residents would like to see the Zoning Commission, which now is appointed, to instead be elected.

"My word to the Zoning Commission is no zoning czars'," said Roxbury resident Dennis McDonald. "Having an elected zoning commission would bring actions that were in line with public opinion. We have not had that in this town."

Members of the town's commissions of conservation, zoning, planning and wetlands sat down with the town's selectmen Monday night to discuss the possibility of having elected Zoning Commission members.

The discussion was contentious at times with some zoning members taking a proprietary stand on their appointed positions. For the most part, however, the discussion was an open attempt at problem solving.

The issue is: Should the zoners be accountable to the selectmen or the residents of the town? Should the zoning and planning commissions be combined into one elected board?

Combining the two commissions might bring better communication and expediency in moving through the application and approval process for residents bringing projects in the land-use process, said Bob Munson, Planning Commission chairman.

"Having one planning and zoning commission offers streamlining in the process," Mr. Munson said. "Planning is dealing with the exact same things as zoning. And basically, other than lot line divisions in developments, planning's decisions are rubber stamps of zoning's decisions."

Munson believes that since the Planning Commission is an elected board, zoning should be too.

"It's accountability. An elected person is accountable only to the voters," Mr. Munson said. "Over the years, I've seen three bones of contention come up in this town to do with zoning.

"The last was the 4-acre-lot zoning change. If people are unhappy with how things are going, they should be able to change the people who sit on the commissions."

First Selectman Barbara Henry said she has "no problem" with the Zoning Commission being an elected board. But there "has been no outcry from the people to do this," she said.

"We had one resident come to a selectmen's meeting who wanted to make the change," Ms. Henry said. "But the selectmen don't want to make this decision on our own. If the board decides, after gathering information, that this is the way to go, the question will be taken to the people to see if they want the change."

Ms. Henry said a question would then be put on the Nov. 4 referendum that was non-binding to get residents' input.

If the change were to be made, the town ordinance that sets up commissions would be repealed and a new ordinance would be drafted. That ordinance would then go to a town meeting and a vote.

"I have no problem with being elected," said Zoning Commission member Jim Conway. "But I think you are truly looking at people on this commission at this time who are looking out for the town, for what's best for Roxbury."

"An election will bring out people with agendas, like developers," said Bob Falcone, Zoning chairman. "We are not politicians and don't want to become embroiled in politics to sit on this commission."

Contact Susan Tuz


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