Planning Board Members asked to Explain Their Stance on ‘Overlay District’

By Cary Shuman

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The Winthrop Town Council has voted by a 9-0 margin that Town Manager James McKenna draft a letter to the individual members of the Planning Board requesting that they submit a letter of reason to the Council by Jan. 13 for their “non-decision” on a petition of an “overlay district” for a former nursing home on Pleasant Street and to be present at the Jan. 18 council meeting to discuss the issue.

An overlay district is a zoning requirement that is placed on a geographic area but does not change the underlying zoning.

The Planning Board has been asked by the Council to submit an opinion on the issue. Planning Board Chairman Richard Dimes said Wednesday that he has never received a formal, written request from the Town Council for a recommendation on the matter.

“The Council has a letter on file that states to them that we could not tell them what direction they should take because the five members [of the Planning Board] could come to a unanimous vote or get a second for the motions that were required for this step,” said Dimes.

Town Manager James McKenna said he had verbally conveyed a message to Dimes. “I received an immediate response from Mr. Dimes that there was no intent on submitting another report,” said McKenna.

Councilor-at-Large Larry Powers said that a notice should be sent to each member of the Planning Board and have them respond individually to the request for a report.

“Either their response is they have no intention of submitting another report – or at least we know that it is all the members of the Planning Board and not just one member,” said Powers.

Council President Jeffrey Turco is playing hardball on the issue of the Planning Board both submitting a report and attending the next meeting of the council.

“I would suggest that we remind the members of the Planning Board that Section 9.4 of the Winthrop Town Charter talks about removal or suspension of members,” said Turco. “If this council directs the board to submit in writing its explanation for its inaction on this and they fail to do so and we ask them to appear at the next meeting and they fail to do so, then we put them on the notice they are subject to Section 9.4 of the Winthrop Town Charter.”

Dimes said his board has followed state statutes on the issue.

“We have done everything according to state statutes,” said Dimes. “They [the Town Council] have not held their own public hearing and have gone well beyond the time period that they’re required to hold a public hearing.”

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