Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 24, 2014
Planning board sets limits on meeting length
by Rich Hewitt
The town’s planning board has had enough of marathon meetings like the one in June that lasted into the wee hours of the following morning.
At its July meeting, the board agreed to set limits on the length of its meetings. The initial proposal would have mandated the board end its meeting at 11 p.m. Chairman Peter d’Entremont said during a recent interview that he suggested that the board make a decision at 10 p.m. at each meeting whether to adjourn the meeting or continue. That, he said, would allow the board the flexibility to determine whether it could complete work in a reasonable amount of time or whether they needed to adjourn and continue the discussion at a later date.
“It’s not a hard and fast rule,” he said. “This allows us to tell people in advance that there is a possibility—if there’s a lengthy discussion—that it could be postponed and taken up at another time. That could be the next day or in a week.”
The board adopted that measure, but d’Entremont said they also discussed other ideas that might make it unnecessary to enforce the time limit. Scheduling could help. He noted that the agenda for the June meeting included public hearings and discussion of three applications, two of which had attracted a lot of attention. By not scheduling discussions of two or more controversial applications, which could generate lengthy public hearings, on the same night, the board might avoid the necessity of imposing the time limit.
Another aspect, he said, is that the site plan review ordinance allows the board up to 30 days to act on an application after the public hearing. Although the board generally tries to expedite the process and goes through the formal review process with the applicant following a hearing, d’Entremont said that, in the future, the board may delay that process to a later date.
Finally, the board also has the ability to shuffle the agenda when there is the potential for one agenda item to involve a long discussion. D’Entremont noted that at the June meeting, the final application of the meeting was the easiest and shortest to deal with. The board usually sets the agenda based on a first come, first served basis, but, he said, the board can switch the agenda to avoid having some applicants having to sit through hours of the meeting before their project can be reviewed.