Westfield Planning Board to discuss enforcement

Jay Vinskey, City Planner for Westfield. (WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – After several meetings discussing noncompliance with special permits, the Planning Board asked City Planner Jay Vinskey to invite the mayor and relevant departments to its next meeting on Jan. 19 to discuss and codify enforcement measures.

Planning Board member Philip McEwan said he had been listening to the discussion about noncompliance issues and it was obvious that nobody knew what to do about them. “If you look at the zoning ordinance, approval has six or nine pages on approval, and little if anything about how to revoke a permit,” he said, adding that the city needs something, and the Planning Board is not the only permit-granting authority.

“It’s got to be a little clearer as to who determines noncompliance,” McEwan said. He added that the board should not become nit-pickers, giving the example of one fewer shrub planted than requested, but that they need to treat people equally, especially if the non-compliance poses a safety hazard.

Board chair William Carellas noted that Planning Board member Jane Magarian had brought up the same issue at the last meeting.

Magarian said the board needs some type of guidance as to when they start looking at enforcement around noncompliance. She said maybe not the first time somebody doesn’t comply, but if they bring someone in several times, it becomes substantial.

“What I like about putting it in writing, is that everybody knows what’s going to occur. It has to be major and wilful,” Carellas said, and questioned how to get started.

“In theory, we’re going to have everybody here at the next meeting. At that point in time, we need to lay out what Phil just said. The city needs this, how does the city go about doing this,” Carellas added.

Vinskey said he wasn’t certain what the board was trying to codify.

“We’re trying to codify a process. If someone is in noncompliance, what are the steps you take. It’s got to be a major thing — not a dead plant. It’s a problem, and we have to do something about it,” said Planning Board member Rich Salois.

Magarian said the board has agreed that this is something that they need to address. “From there, we need to know where to go for noncompliance,” she said.

Vinskey said according to the ordinance, it is the building department’s duty for enforcement. “Technically it’s out of our hands, except for the part of pulling the permit, (which would have to be) egregious. I don’t think it’s anything that would practically happen,” he said.

Magarian agreed it wouldn’t be the first or second step, “I still think it’s something we have to have available to us,” she said.

Vinskey also gave the example of recently driving by an apartment complex that had been granted a special permit, and seeing that it had already been built without going through the required precondition notifications on their special permit, including a stormwater pre-construction meeting. “What do we do in those circumstances,” he said.

Salois said in that case it sounded like they got their permit and then thought they could do whatever they wanted to do. He said if they didn’t meet the requirements, they shouldn’t get occupancy permits.

Planning Board member Cheryl Crowe asked whether it is the duty of the Planning Board to let the building department know what is going on. “The city is growing very fast. I think sometimes there’s too much weight on the building department. How would (they) know this needs to be done if nobody brought it to their attention,” Crowe said.

Vinskey agreed that the department is understaffed. “We as a board have always championed things to the end. We have notified the building department that the Planning Board is good,” he said.

Crowe said the board needs to communicate more.

Vinskey said it is the applicant’s responsibility to notify the board that the site plans are completed, stamped and approved, before they give them to the building dept. “That usually doesn’t happen,” he said, and suggested maybe scheduling a meeting once a year to go through all outstanding permits.

McEwan said the building inspector has the ability to fine people up to $300 a day, but to his knowledge that has never been done. He said if the city went to someone on an issue of non-compliance and said that 30 days from now, they would be fined $200 a day, that would settle it.

Carellas said he agreed with McEwan, and the practice is done in Springfield. He said Westfield would need a buy-in from everyone that if someone is in noncompliance, they would be given a number of days before they would start being fined.

Salois said a lot of people spend a lot of time on permits, including the board, for people to do what they want after they receive them. He asked Vinskey to compile a list of examples of non-compliance to bring to the next meeting when the other departments involved would be invited.

In a separate issue, the board also agreed to allow video on future meetings, in response to comments from several residents that they would like to be able to see plans that are presented. Carellas said he had been unaware that the plans were not visible on Channel 15.

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