AYER -- Citing a lack of quorum and budget, Planning Board Chairman Morris Babcock told the crowded Town Hall room Thursday that the public hearing for two subdivisions had to be canceled.
Due to the lack of budget, Babcock said the board was not able to legally post the agenda. Babcock has stated that attorneys said the action would be a violation of tax laws since the board cannot use any taxpayer funding (including paper or use of the town copy machine) due to its zeroed-out budget.
The selectmen's office helped with posting the meeting at Town Hall, but Babcock said one member didn't believe the board would have a meeting. The other member, Kyle Gordon, told the board ahead of time he wouldn't be able to make it, Babcock said. The third, Rick Roper, was in a Conservation Commission meeting that was going on simultaneously.
The fourth member, Jeremy Callahan, cannot attend because of a harassment-prevention order placed against him by former Planning Board administrator Susan Sullivan. The order forbids him from being within a certain distance of Sullivan, and also forbids him from entering Town Hall beyond office hours.
"I apologize to everybody who spent the time to come here today; this was an unforeseen situation," Babcock told the crowd of about 20 residents.
"I wish I had a better answer for everybody. I would've much preferred that we were able to address some of these items this evening.
The public-input meeting was scheduled to be on two proposed subdivisions -- one at Nashua Street, proposed by Calvin Moore, and another at Pleasant Street, proposed by his son, C.J. Moore.
Both proposals are on land owned by the Moore family. The Nashua Street plan proposes an extension of the street and would include eight housing units, each with a plot of land ranging from 15,000 to 54,000 square feet, on about 5.6 acres of total land.
The plan is in its definitive stage, meaning if it gets Planning Board approval it could move on to the next step in the process, Babcock said.
The project for Pleasant Street is much larger, involving 44 acres of land and 33 proposed housing units. It is only in a preliminary phase.
Babcock clarified the board had spent all Monday and Tuesday trying to figure out how to properly post the agenda, which was eventually posted Tuesday afternoon through the selectmen's office.
Member Jim Lucchesi, Babcock said, was under the impression there would not be a meeting. On Wednesday, Babcock said, Lucchesi called saying he was out of town and did not know there would be a meeting.
Babcock was surrounded by concerned abutters of the Pleasant Street proposal, asking about the 90-day time limit until plans can receive automatic approval.
But Babcock said the next scheduled meeting, Aug. 7, would not be past the 90-day deadline for boards to act on such proposals.
He stressed the problem of a lack of budget to the group.
"We have to get a budget back or else we're not going to be functional moving forward," he said.
Carolyn McCreary, a former selectman who proposed zeroing out the budget of both the Planning and Zoning boards at spring Town Meeting, argued the Planning Board has not been helpful for a number of past situations involving planning.
McCreary highlighted the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, which she served on.
"It's got 'plan' in it," she said. "We couldn't get the Planning Board to do anything."
Callahan said in an email that there was no legitimate reason why the Planning Board meeting could not have taken place. He argued that two of the three items on the agenda faced "no posting defects whatsoever."
Documents for Nashua Street on file with the town clerk are incomplete, Callahan said, and for these reasons the posting requirements for a public hearing were not met. But he argued that the board still could have had a discussion about it to benefit attendees.
In an email sent to a local Yahoo email group, Callahan clarified that there will be no 90-day automatic approval for the Nashua Street project. The Planning Board approved the preliminary application in October 2012 with modifications, he wrote, but the definitive plan that was to be presented at the hearing did not include the changes.
"I believe it is a good project by a respectable developer," he said in the email chain. "This development must undergo the public hearing process and get a legitimate vote by the Ayer Planning Board prior to approval."
Callahan also uploaded comments that Department of Public Works Superintendent Mark Wetzel had on the Nashua Street project to the group.
"These would have come to light publicly last night if Planning Board members cared enough to show up for the public hearing they advertised themselves," he wrote to the group.
The uploaded comments highlighted concerns with a few waiver requests, including the elimination of curbing on one side of the roadway and the elimination of required shade trees.
The public hearing is scheduled now for Aug. 7.
As people filed out of the room on Thursday night, Calvin Moore said that the proposals are all within town bylaws and state laws.
"We're doing with our land what we're allowed to do by law," he said, arguing that the family has been paying taxes on the property for 100 years and has a right to do what they want with it.
Moore said the projects are not maximizing density. The only way to stop development, he argued, is to stop having babies.
"Families are expanding, families are growing up and they need a place to live," he said.
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