HAPPY NEW YEAR AND HAPPY 350th BIRTHDAY, WESTFIELD
I began 2019 by filing a motion requesting the Council President re-establish the Zoning Review Committee, and ask that it hold its first meeting within 6 weeks.
A 1987 city ordinance provides for a zoning review committee that is required to meet on an as-needed basis, with not less than one meeting per year, to review the zoning ordinances and make recommendations to the city council and planning board on modifications.
The committee is composed of the superintendent of building, chairman of the planning board, chairman of the board of appeals, director of community development, director of public health or his representative, members of the city council industrial development and zoning committee and fire chief or his designee. The committee could be updated to include the position of City Advancement Officer.
This would be a transparent and better way to make changes to city ordinances, rather than the process we recently went through when the City proposed changing special permit authority from the City Council to the Planning Board.
That issue went directly from subcommittee to two public hearings. The public hearing process is somewhat restrictive in that it only allows questions of fact, speaking in favor or against an issue, and no new information can be considered by the subcommittee, after the public hearing is closed.
Many times, important information and history only come to light when members of the public come forward. We need to provide time for the word to get out to the public. This helps Councilors and Planning Board members make more informed decisions, and helps applicants and architects be aware of issues earlier in the process, saving time and money, rather than later when residents complain, after the work has been done.
A Zoning Review Committee would allow the Council to consider changes, do its work before scheduling public hearings. Councilors could gather information from anywhere or anyone, research, work on issues for as long as it takes, before going through the public hearing process.
The community and its legislative bodies, benefit greatly from an informed and engaged public. Consider the recent attempt to extend the term of Mayor to four years. We were told that people were in favor of it. I attended those meetings and did not agree with that assessment. I was the only Councilor to fight and vote against the proposal that slipped this directly onto the ballot.
There were no public forums on the ballot question, and many people might have missed the question entirely had I not launched a citywide campaign to make voters aware. On Election Day, Westfield voters rejected extending the term of Mayor by a 2 to 1 margin. Our form of government works best with an informed and engaged public.
Dan Allie, City Councilor At-Large