by Andrew Getty
Although the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals operate under a different set of rules, have different jurisdiction and have different people, they have one fundamental thing in common…
They have to render decisions based on the merits of the application.
Every application is different. Some are simple, some complicated and some controversial. Some seem to attract the interest of a neighbor or the neighborhood in general.
Usually few draw enough attention for people to come to the public hearing to express an objection. It’s even rarer people that come to the public hearing in favor of an application. That’s human nature.
Public hearings are designed to give the public the ability to voice their support or concerns.
The boards will listen to all comments, written or otherwise, and then continue with deliberation as required.
The neighborhoods objection or support is not, and should not, be determinative of the board’s decision. But it certainly becomes part of the puzzle in making a decision.
Either board must make a rational decision based on the merits of the case and on the procedural requirements by law.
To approve or deny an application based on the wishes of a neighbor or neighborhood may not meet those standards.
When an application is received in the code office for any project, a clear understanding of the facts for that site must be understood.
Where are existing and proposed structures? Is that information based on a survey? Are all dimensions shown accurately? Is the proposed work closer, the same or farther away from property lines than the existing structures?
Are septic systems involved? Is the application filled out correctly? Is it easy to understand? Does the board have the information needed to render a decision?
Most people have never approached any kind of municipal board, so the process can be intimidating.
This code office tries to assist the applicant in understanding the entire process.
Ultimately, this helps the board by providing good, competent information, which in turn helps to applicant.
We try to advise the applicant as to what kind of questions are likely to be asked by the board. This way they can be better prepared.
We are an advocate of the applicant to the degree we can be… by helping them understand the process, how the board thinks, what standards they have to apply.
It has been perceived that when this office assists an applicant with their application, we are actually aiding and abetting them as well, that we are on their side, that our assistance may be seen as inappropriate or trying to influence the board’s decision, or that this office is trying to defeat neighborhood opposition.
The same could be said if we just hand someone an application to the board and simply said nothing, you are on your own, figure it out. That does not help the applicant or the board.
We ask for professional, competent information and submittals. Thus giving the board the best information possible to help them in their decision making process.
It works both ways.
Why waste the board’s time with poorly contrived application package, lacking the information they need to properly assess the case?
And why waste the applicant’s time by letting them submit poor, inadequate or otherwise unprofessional information?
Many times our interactions with an applicant create a redesign of the project in a different way, or even find an alternative that may not require the Board’s approval. That’s what it’s all about, voluntary compliance.
Our objective has been, and will continue to be, to make the applicant aware of how either board functions, the typical questions they will ask, what type of submittals are needed and how best to present everything in a way that is understandable.
That’s it. But at least we sent the applicant to the board in a way that does not waste the board’s time or the applicant’s time and lets everyone involved have a better understanding of the facts, request, process, rules and procedures.
As for the merits of an approval, an approval with conditions or a denial, that all depends on the merits of the application.
The code office does not take sides. We are an advocate of the process, helping everyone to understand it as much as possible.
That applies to the applicant and the board.