Recently I attended a ZBA meeting for two hours about a variance request and special permit for the proposed Town Hall renovation. Silly me, I thought approval of the request would be a slam dunk since the Town Hall as it now stands is currently in noncompliance (setback less than 75 feet from a road) and the proposed renovation -- which is the final compromise iteration crafted after many public hearings that was developed through many, many hours of work by the volunteer Municipal and Town Hall Building Committees, and approved at 2012 annual Town Meeting -- would not make the noncompliance any different than it already is.
The evening wasn't a total loss: It was really entertaining to see the public's eyes roll back in their heads and steam come out their ears in reaction to comments on the part of a few ZBA members. These comments led some folks to believe those members apparently had not attended annual Town Meetings, voted on the appropriation of funds or read a local newspaper for the past three years. The members' attempts to rewrite recent town history in those two hours by questioning the design, size, cost -- and, at one point, the very need -- for renovations to the Town Hall were condescending and disrespectful of the efforts of the MBC, THBC and those Harvard citizens who have been diligently working on this project for years.
Financial hardships if the variance is not approved: The town hall will continue to disintegrate and future repairs will cost even more than currently projected; hours and money spent thus far on the design phase will be wasted; more money will have to be spent on new designs which, given site constraints (topography and existing buildings), will be way more expensive to build out than the current design. Nonfinancial hardships: Committees and boards of the 27 appointed and 10 elected offices will struggle to find and schedule consistent meeting places, while the public will struggle to find the various meeting sites, never mind parking. Meanwhile our potential town gem will just get duller and uglier.
MARY H. VESENKA TURNER