Planning Board unsure of proposed development moratorium

SOUTHWICK — Members of the Planning Board this week expressed hesitancy towards a proposed moratorium on major developments in town.

Planning Board Vice Chair Marcus Phelps, who was acting as chair in the absence of Michael Doherty during Tuesday’s meeting, said that he is unsure if a moratorium is needed, because of how the Planning Board interacts with zoning bylaws. He compared it to the town’s moratorium on marijuana establishments, which was put in place because of a lack of bylaws regulating the new industry.

“For the marijuana moratorium we had no bylaw,” said Phelps, “For this moratorium, it would limit major development, but the rationale is not the same as the marijuana, because we have bylaws.”

Phelps declined to take any specific action on the proposal due to the absence of Doherty, who he said would like to participate in any further discussion on the matter. It was continued to the Nov. 23 Planning Board meeting as an agenda item, though not as a public hearing.

Diane Gale, who submitted the proposal last month, reiterated that it would only put a pause on new major developments, and would not permanently prohibit them outright. She said she only wants the pause of such developments until the completion of Southwick’s Master Plan, which has no firm end date, but is expected to take about two years.

During the Oct. 19 Planning Board meeting, Doherty had indicated some support of Gale’s plan, though he was open to modifying it if necessary.

Southwick already has a moratorium in place against new large water connections, which effectively prohibits some, but not all, major commercial developments. Gale’s proposal would pause all large developments, regardless of their water usage. She said in her letter to the Planning Board that the proposal was in large part inspired by the Carvana project proposal earlier this year.

“In light of the special permit application brought before the town this past summer for an extraordinary regional automobile distribution center, it is clear that the Master Plan will be a critical undertaking in determining the direction for growth in the town of Southwick,” said Gale in her letter. “To approve a major development of this sort before that direction can be finalized could have immeasurable adverse impacts on the town’s future.”

Planning Board member David Sutton questioned the proposal Oct. 19, citing his own concerns about political tensions in Southwick in the wake of Carvana. He said little about the matter Tuesday evening, though the discussion was continued to the next meeting anyway.

Phelps pointed out that even if the Planning Board declines to vote on this proposal, Gale could place it on the Town Meeting warrant by collecting 10 signatures on a petition. It could then be passed by Town Meeting voters in May.

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