WESTFIELD – On April 1, the City Council will host a public hearing during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. on changes in the enforcement code as recommended by the Planning Board.
A second public hearing on the changes will go before the Planning Board on April 6 at 7 p.m.
Changes were proposed to strengthen the enforcement of decisions and conditions on site plans and special permits granted by the Planning Board, City Council and Board of Appeals, and to codify the authority to revoke permits. Other proposed changes extend the permit validity times.
The specific language to strengthen enforcement states that any person violating provisions of the Zoning Ordinance, any conditions under which a permit is issued, or any decision rendered by the boards will be subject to a criminal fine of not more than $100 for a first offense, and $300 for each subsequent offense, with each day of the violation constituting a separate offense. Injunctive relief by the city will be brought to Superior Court or any other lawful action deemed necessary.
Authority to enforce the provision will be the duty of the Superintendent of Buildings.
Also, the Superintendent of Buildings shall refuse to grant a permit for the construction or alteration of any building in violation of any provisions of the ordinance; and shall refuse to grant a permit for a new use of a building, structure or land in violation of any ordinances.
Municipal officials shall refuse to grant any type of permit, license or certificate of occupancy where a violation of the ordinance exists, except to remedy such violation.
City Planner Jay Vinskey said the new enforcement language doesn’t change a lot, but takes a lot of the language previously in the ordinance and consolidates it.
He said there is a new section added to codify the ability of the board to revoke a permit. “It’s not in the ordinance now, but the planning board has included it in its conditions. Now all the permitting authorities will have the revocation codified in the ordinance,” he said.
The codifying section gives the special permit granting authority the right, on its own motion, to reconsider, revoke or amend a special permit, after a public hearing, when it has cause to believe intentionally false or misleading information was given; or, after repeated material noncompliance with any conditions and where reasonable administrative enforcement efforts have been exhausted or ineffective.
The proposed changes come after several months of discussion by the Planning Board on how to strengthen enforcement, and after a scheduled discussion held on January 19 at which Mayo. Donald F. Humason Jr., and members of the Building, Law and Police departments and the City Council participated.
At the Jan. 19 meeting, Planning Board chair William Carellas said the board receives a number of calls about non-compliance, and doesn’t want to push them all onto Superintendent of Buildings Carissa Lissee to enforce because she doesn’t have the staff. He asked what the city can do to create a more business friendly environment, and also enforce compliance of regulations.
“If it becomes known by business people that we do enforce compliance, they’re going to comply,” said Planning Board member Jane Magarian at the meeting.
Carellas said one of his proposals was to adopt language from the City of Springfield on enforcement that states no certificate of occupancy will be issued when there’s a violation of the ordinance. He said at the meeting he is mainly concerned with actions that are gross and negligent, not all that are non-compliant. “99 out of 100 times when somebody sends someone a letter, they comply,” he said.
Also, since that meeting, as new permits are issued at the Planning Board, Carellas has outlined the steps required by the applicant to take, including recording the decision at the Registry of Deeds.
“Sometimes we find that never happens. It’s an attempt to keep things on track and eliminate problems later,” VInskey said.
Vinskey said the changes in enforcement are mostly rewording and consolidating a lot of the abilities the board already has. He said a lot of it is based on Springfield’s language.
Also in the proposed amendments are changes in permit validity times.
One change will extend a special permit duration to commence construction or use from two years to three years. The change to vested permits duration changes the time period to commence construction or use from six months to one year. Also, site plan approval duration changes the time period specified from two years to threefeatured, Westfield Planning Board, City Council
Vinskey said a few years back, the state in their state legislation bumped the two year period to three years, so municipalities can adopt that more flexible language.
“Things are more complex these days we find, and it’s not unusual for someone to come back to the board after two years and ask for more time, due to financing and pandemic delays. It’s more or less updating the ordinance to the state standard,” Vinskey said.
Vinskey said overall the changes show that the city is taking enforcement seriously, not just the planning board, but city-wide.