HANSON — Selectmen have appointed an enforcement officer for a town earth removal bylaw already on the books, as well as a placeholder article on the May 7 Town Meeting for a resident’s proposed petition bylaw to govern the storage of sand, soil, mulch and similar materials.
The storage measure will have to be reviewed by Town Counsel before the board votes on specific language, however. The removal bylaw was approved by a vote of 4-1, with Selectman Kenny Mitchell voting against it during an unusual Thursday night session — due to last week’s nor’easter — on March 15.
Town Administrator Michael McCue said the draft soils storage bylaw was composed by Town Counsel Jay Talerman of Mead, Talerman & Costa LLC, and was given back to Talerman and concerned residents in the Robinson Street area where an ongoing agricultural soil removal operation has been an issue.
McCue suggested that a placeholder article sponsored by Selectmen would negate the need for the resident seeking the bylaw to rush for signatures before the vote to close the warrant March 20. The board was not voting on any proposed language yet.
“The feeling that I’ve gotten from the board, in a general sense, is that the board would be in favor of putting something like this in place as long as it was reasonable and didn’t unduly burden the average person,” he said. An example would be someone with a small pile of mulch they are going to spread around their property.
Specifics would be ironed out before the warrant is printed.
“You don’t have to vote the same way every time you look at it,” said Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “If this evolves and you don’t like it, then you can vote against it.”
Town attorney Katherine M. Feodoroff of MTC said the petitioner had wanted the language to include retail enterprises in the bylaw’s regulations, but businesses are already governed by existing regulations. Commercial farms could be included under the retail umbrella.
Selectmen Chairman James McGahan said his only concerns centered on defining limits to amounts allowed for storage and
“Anybody who has large amounts of material of this type on their property, its impacting other people’s quality of life,” he said.
The board voted 5-0 to sponsor the placeholder article.
The earth removal bylaw vote was a revision of the existing bylaw, intended to clarify that the enforcement authority would be the building inspector.
“When you look at the bylaw online, there’s a small link at the bottom that says enforcement, and that basically says who enforces these bylaws,” McGahan said. “I clicked onto that, and I was educated to know the Board of Selectmen do that. … I didn’t know that we were the policemen of that bylaw.”
The board has the authority to appoint a different enforcement officer, with McGahan suggesting Building Inspector Bob Curran, adding that Curran had agreed to take on that responsibility.
McGahan also urged a review of other policies in which the board does not have expertise in an effort to appoint enforcement officers who do.
“I think it is appropriate, very appropriate, for the Board of Selectmen to authorize — and in all honesty, I think it should be the building inspector, to authorize someone as the enforcement officer, aside from the Police Department,” McCue said. “I wouldn’t expect an officer of the law to go out and interpret these sorts of bylaws.”
He did suggest he come back to the board at a future meeting with an omnibus recommendation of enforcement authority for other bylaws as well.
“I think it makes sense to do it all together instead of piecemeal,” McCue said.
McGahan argued that recent windstorms made the earth removal bylaw enforcement more urgent and the issue has been going on with no enforcement officer for too long.
“I think he might have other things he may be enforcement officer over,” Mitchell said of Curran. “I think we should take a couple weeks and have [McCue] review everything so we’re not calling Bob every other week, going, ‘Here’s another one.’”
FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed with McGahan that residents have become frustrated and that she has been receiving calls on the issue and enforcement of the bylaw, especially centering on the soil removal operation near Robinson Street
Planning Board member Joe Campbell suggested an alternate from either the building or health departments for situations when issues come under one of those two agencies. McCue said he wanted to confer with potential alternates to ensure they could do the job before they were appointed.
In other business, Campbell and Planning Board members Don Ellis and Joe Weeks attended the Selectmen’s meeting to discuss street and private road acceptance policies.
McCue agrees with them that there were some key gaps that could be filled. A private way is a road not yet accepted by the town as a public road, which requires betterments to bring a roadway up to standard first.
“The town is very limited on the funding and the man hours that can be spent in this kind of repairs,” Campbell said. “This way, we’d have a policy in place to actually have those roads accepted onto public roadways.”
McCue added that a policy would also ensure consistency.
Ellis said the problem arises when a developer fails to meet requirements for seeking acceptance of development roads when projects are completed.
“Some of these guys just don’t care,” he said. “The poor citizens on that street want it accepted at that time.”
McGahan said that’s where it gets complicated as people are paying town taxes and they can’t receive services for the upkeep of their road.
“The developer owns the road until he wants to relinquish it.” Ellis said. Some towns take those roads by eminent domain when the road is complete.
Feodoroff said the question becomes whether the town wants to accept a private road with all the expenses that the process incurs. She said a policy does a good job of educating the Planning Board about the condition of a road before it is accepted and hearings should be required first.
Engineer, attorney and construction costs must be borne by residents of the road — another source of concern for Feodoroff.
“For the residents to be able to afford that on the front end is probably very unlikely,” she said, especially on shorter streets and cul de-sacs. The language also has to clarify whether the street residents or the town bear the cost of betterments and urged that the language be refined.
“I think with a couple minor tweaks we’re good to go,” she said.
Campbell said it is meant to indicate the costs should be shared.