As residents may be aware, the Harvard Cable TV Committee has revamped its studios and as part of that project, it has also directed construction to change the exterior access way to the Bromfield School building to provide handicapped accessibility. Although this is an admirable and important goal, the exterior work has been a "back of the envelope" project without engineered drawings to ensure the grade of the access way is ADA-compliant nor have other issues been properly addressed such as traffic flow, pedestrian safety, drainage calculations, etc.
At last night's (Monday) Planning Board meeting, we reviewed the scope of the construction and concluded that the Planning Board should have conducted a site plan review prior to the issuance of a building permit. But we had not been informed about the project. Since it remains incomplete, the Planning Board voted to write a letter requesting that a site plan review be done immediately to ensure the project meets town bylaws, Mass General Law and is ADA-compliant.
Town counsel opines that because HCTV is an "educational use," it is exempt from site plan review. The Planning Board disagrees with this interpretation of the law. Massachusetts General Law does not provide a blanket exemption of educational, institutional or religious uses from all zoning. While site plan review cannot unreasonably regulate certain uses, it does allow a board to shape a project with respect to design standards, i.e. parking, setbacks, surface runoff, lighting, etc. by applying reasonable conditions to serve the public interest.
Here is the link to MGL Chapter 40A, Section 3, Paragraph 2: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter40A/Section3 There is also case law in support of the Planning Board's position such as Tufts College v. City of Medford.
Further, town bylaw, section 125-38, gives the Planning Board authority to apply reasonable conditions on specific aspects of a site plan including loading and maneuvering; walkways; driveways; levels and grades; surface water runoff; and water drainage, etc., all of which are applicable to this site. Site plan reviews were done for both the new library (arguably an educational use) and for the proposed Town Hall Building Project.
The Planning Board's intent is not to delay the HCTV relocation or to impose additional, unnecessary constraints that escalate the cost of the project. But we do want to ensure that the project meets the standards of all relevant laws and bylaws. It does not ultimately serve the town to be "penny-wise and pound-foolish" by not having a professional engineer involved in project design and oversight and by obviating site plan review. Costly mistakes have been made and if the project proceeds without a proper site plan, the potential financial impact of future site work -- to remediate water runoff, properly grade the access way etc. could far exceed the costs of not doing it right from the outset.
Through site plan review, we now have an opportunity to set the project back on course and make sure it is completed successfully by all measures -- HCTV's requirements, engineering requirements, design requirements -- and it is well received by all stakeholders -- the school, residents, and HCTV.
KARA MCGUIRE MINAR