Board continues discussion on development moratorium

SOUTHWICK — The Planning Board will refine the proposal for a moratorium on large developments over the next few months with a high likelihood of the proposal going to a vote at the next annual Town Meeting.

The proposal submitted by Southwick resident Diane Gale would temporarily ban major commercial developments in Southwick until the completion of the Master Plan, the process for which is expected to take about two years.

Planning Board Chair Michael Doherty indicated during the Nov. 23 meeting that he supported the idea, especially in the wake of the controversial Carvana proposal, which was withdrawn by the applicant in July following intense backlash.

Doherty said that he would like to avoid similar situations in the future where a proposed development meets all of the legal criteria but is undesired by the citizens of Southwick, or does not fit with the character of the town. During the Carvana hearings, Doherty had expressed that he felt that the Planning Board was legally obliged to approve the project because it complied with all town bylaws and regulations, even if individual Planning Board members didn’t want the project.

“One thing we have had to deal with is if an application of a large size comes in and is zoned correctly, and they can deal with some of the issues that can come up, there is difficulty in denying it from a board standpoint,” said Doherty.

The Master Plan would act as a guiding document through which the Planning Board could make changes to the town bylaws so that certain types of developments wouldn’t be allowed. In the meantime, however, Gale proposed that all such proposals be put on hold until those bylaws can be changed. She noted during the Nov. 23 meeting that she altered her original proposal to allow projects that are currently in the pipeline to continue the permitting process.

Doherty said that the moratorium proposal is likely to make it onto the docket for the Town Meeting this spring, whether it is through the Select Board and Planning Board, or through a citizen petition.

“There is a decent chance of it passing at the Town Meeting, whatever form it comes in,” said Doherty.

Planning Board member Marcus Phelps said that a similar moratorium was passed in Saugus in 2019, and was upheld by the state attorney general’s office after an appeal. He suggested looking closely at how that process played out, to see how the Planning Board should proceed.

Select Board member Douglas Moglin, who attended last week’s meeting, said that he supported how Gale and the Planning Board have been shepherding this proposal thus far. He said that he would like to see it go through Planning Board deliberations, but he also suggested that Gale’s definition of a major development as 60,000 square feet may be too low.

The moratorium will remain on the Planning Board agenda. It is unclear if and when the proposal would get a public hearing.

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