In 2009 the Planning Board came before Northborough Town meeting with a new zoning code. The board had spent many hours over months trying to get it right. They understood that it may need some tweaks down the road but they were understandably proud of their accomplishment. When the rewrite of the code came to the 2009 Town Meeting as Article 31 it passed.
Now, in 2012, residents, some of the same residents who approved the changes in 2009, were surprised by what the new bylaws allowed. Just a guess, but perhaps it is because Article 31 in the Town Warrant booklet did not have the full text of the changes. It essentially read replace the old Chapter with the new Chapter 7, which can be found in the Town Clerk’s Office. The new Chapter 7 zoning bylaws is 134 pages long and I am sure that all the changes were not explained in enough detail during the Town Meeting to create a good understanding of the impact. Most people took it on faith that the changes were OK. Not many residents read and understood the impact of the 134-page document before the vote.
Some of the people in town, myself included, were unaware the impact of this major rewrite. I do not abut the business districts, but the changes certainly affect the quality of my life in Northborough and believe that changes of this magnitude should be publicized and a thorough yet simple to understand presentation should be made available to all residents at least one month in advance of the Meeting. Presentations should be made on several nights during the month and be available on the Town’s web site.
Changes of a smaller nature such as Article 36 of the 2012 Warrant requesting a language change defining minimum lot width can be presented directly at Town meeting. But, I just thought this was the definition of the narrowest lot allowed. Wrong. It has something to do with the minimum lot frontage extending from the front line to the rear building, etc. The proposed wording tried to define the minimum lot width in six lines of text including reference to the front lot line, rear building line, minimum lot frontage, table 2 and various other criteria. I am sure that this is correct, but I cannot follow the words and I am a graduate engineer. This article did not pass. I voted no because I did not understand it. I suspect others voted no for the same reason or because they lacked trust. The Planning Board would have been wise to prepare a slide graphically demonstrating the dimensions and the need for the clarification. The article would have likely passed then.
Overall, the citizens appreciate the hard work and many hours the Board members volunteer to our Town. The Board needs to make its bylaws and proposed changes clear, understandable and very public. Perhaps then, with better understanding, there would be less animosity exhibited, more trust and better outcomes.