Zoning in Roxbury goes to a vote: elected or appointed?
ROXBURY -- Since spring 2008, some residents of Roxbury have been asking whether members of the Zoning Commission should be elected rather than appointed by the town's selectmen.
On Nov. 3, residents will decide in a binding vote at the referendum in Roxbury.
"The selectmen were unanimous in letting this question go to the voters. We believe in the democratic process," said First Selectman Barbara Henry. "But the selectmen were also unanimous in saying that we don't think there is anything wrong with the system the way it is."
In spring 2008, the Roxbury Zoning Commission was considering changing zoning in the town to 4-acre lots.
The Planning Commission sent the zoning board a letter advising it not to make the change.
Then residents turned out at a public hearing and said they did not want the change.
But the change went through.
For some residents, that change was like the firing of a salvo to take action.
They believed the Zoning Commission was out of touch with their wishes, and that its members had to become directly responsible to them.
"To have the Planning Commission saying no to the change was a strong recommendation," said resident Dennis McDonald. "It is the elected body in charge of long-term vision for Roxbury.
"I also saw more people turn out in opposition to the change at the public hearing than I have seen respond to an issue in town before."
For McDonald and resident Tom Holroyd, the zoning change was indicative of a problem the town of Roxbury is facing: Residents appear to be "losing ground," in McDonald's words.
"We have a completely uncontested slate this election for selectmen. We have a Zoning Commission appointed by uncontested officials. People are getting used to not voting and not taking part in their community," McDonald said.
"If we can get the Zoning Commission elected and other boards elected, maybe residents will become more involved in coming out for office," he said. "We don't need anyone making our decisions for us. We can decide what's best for our town ourselves."
At a joint meeting of land-use commissions and the Board of Selectmen in August, Planning Commission chairman Bob Munson said he believes Zoning Commission members should be elected, as Planning Commission members are.
He also said the zoning and planning commissions should be combined into one commission.
"It's accountability," Munson said. "An elected person is accountable only to the voters. Over the years, I've seen this bone of contention come up in the town before.
"If people are unhappy with how things are going, they should be able to change the people who sit on the commissions."
Henry said she will vote no on Nov. 3 to the question of changing the Zoning Commission to elected seats.
"I think things are fine as they are," she said. "I'm voting no primarily because of the way this has been advised. It is based on personal angst by people who are unhappy with zoning decisions."
Henry said there were many people in favor of 4-acre zoning throughout the town and some who didn't care if zoning was changed. They just didn't come to the public hearing.
The Zoning Commission acted as the governing body for the town in zoning matters and acted to preserve the small-town integrity of Roxbury when it made the decision to change zoning to 4 acres, she said.
Zoning Commission chairman Bob Falconer could not be reached for comment. In April 2008, he said during the Zoning Commission meeting at which the zone change was made:
"I'm proud of the commission and the work they have done. Some will not be happy, but I feel we have to act in the best interest of the town and that's not always a popular position."
Contact Susan Tuz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-355-7322.