September 20, 2020

Board recovers after exodus > 2 new planners named to make quorum in Southwest Harbor

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — It’s back to business for the planning board.

In the wake of the departure this month by five planning board members, selectmen brought the board back to its four-person quorum Thursday by naming Pam Norwood and Whitney Williams to the panel.

In the changing of the guard, Norwood and Williams signed up for two-year terms which expire June 30, 2001. They join Trudy Bickford and Carolyn Maling, who joined within the past year.

Former planning board members started stepping down after chairman John Bueche, who has served on the board for about two years, gave notice on June 2.

Bueche resigned “because the planning board wasn’t getting the support of the town planner, town manager, selectmen or code enforcement officer … in its quest for a fair and even-handed application of the town’s land use ordinance,” he said.

There was no singular catalyst for his departure, he added.

“I joined the board to try to ensure a fair and even application of the land use ordinance for all applicants,” he said, adding that he encountered stumbling blocks along the way.

Problems persisted after planning board members solicited support from town officials in casual conversation and letter writing, Bueche said.

On June 16, selectmen accepted resignations from Molly Lyman and Beverly Ketchum, and two days later Joe Saunders and Joseph Titka departed, according to town manager Ken Minier.

Some of the former members cited personality, procedure and professional differences with Town Planner Jean Marshall, who has been employed by the town in that capacity for about 10 years. Marshall graduated in 1962 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master’s degree in city and regional planning.

Ketchum, who has served on the board for almost six years, cited a lack of support from town officials and perceived difficulties in the board’s attempt to apply the town’s land use ordinance fairly and consistently for all applicants.

Former board member Joe Saunders, an 11-year veteran of the board, had resigned last year, but had recently joined the group to fill a vacancy and was named vice chairman.

“I didn’t want to be chairman, so I decided I would resign,” said Saunders, adding that problems with the town planner also factored into his decision.

“I’m sorry it was so frustrating for them,” said Marshall, adding that she felt a “sadness” about the board’s combined expertise leaving at once.

“The application of [the ordinance] to every single applicant is different. No piece of land and no applicant is the same,” said Marshall.

Town manager Minier said former planning board members approached him with concerns and he brought the matter to selectmen.

“I thought everything was fine,” he said.

Lee Worcester, who chairs the selectmen, said, “We’ve had several personnel issues.” He added, “We take the concerns of all our boards into consideration.”

Worcester said selectmen in this case dealt with concerns “adequately” and that there was a difference of opinion on that matter.

Addressing soon-to-be sworn-in planning board members Thursday night, Worcester described the rigors and hard work involved in what he described as one of the town’s most active boards.

“You will be rather involved in changes to the land use ordinance, so it will become compliant with the comprehensive plan. … The ordinance needs to be applied evenly and fairly,” said Worcester, adding that that sometimes that conflicts with what applicants want.

Mechanisms are in place for people who are dissatisfied or want to change the town’s land use ordinance, he said.

Changes to the ordinance, like zoning, can be made with planning board approval or by requesting selectmen take the issue to voters, said Worcester.

At town meeting this year, the planning board did not recommend three amendments to the town land use ordinance, two of which involved zoning changes.

The process is laid out, he said.

“It doesn’t mean that selectmen don’t support the planning board,” he added.

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