Welcome to the continuing series of discussions with thought leaders who are bringing new and innovative solutions to the challenges government faces in delivering services to the citizen.
My guest for this episode is Co-Chairwoman of the Planning Board for the Town of Ipswich Massachusetts, Heidi Paek. Heidi and I discuss a range of topics including the upcoming Oct 15, Special Town Meeting and the proposed amendment the Ipswich Protective Zoning Bylaw to set conditions for a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center.
Prior to joining the Planning Board in 2011, Heidi served on Ipswich’s Commission on Energy Use and Climate Protection, which measured the town’s carbon footprint and developed a Climate Action Plan. Heidi grew up on the north shore. She and her husband moved to Ipswich in 1996.
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Heidi and Guy discuss the role of the chairperson on the Ipswich Planning Board and describe a typical meeting. The Ipswich Planning Board is authorized under the Massachusetts General Laws to regulate the laying out and construction of ways in subdivisions and to insure the safety, convenience and welfare of the present and future residents of Ipswich. The Board is also authorized by the Ipswich Protective Zoning Bylaw to approve site plan review applications for all non-residential development and to grant special permits for various residential and non-residential uses.
Along with the School Committee, the Select Board and the Finance Committee, the Planning Board is among those entities of town government that have the most direct impact on people. The Board deals with issues that can inflame passions and members need to make decision that may not please some in the community.
Heidi discusses a recent controversial issue. She tells of the need for board members to "leave our opinions in the hallway" and to look at the existing bylaw, to understand what is allowed and not allowed, and then to see how applications and proposed construction projects measure up. Hiedi says the bylaws are enacted by the will of the people at previous town meetings and, "Sometimes, it’s truly a pleasure to vote in support of a project that meets the criteria of the bylaw. Other times, it’s not so gratifying."
Heidi relates another recent example dealing with a new Assisted Living Facility that’s being built on County Road and how pleasing the process was to work with the community, experts, the developer and other board and committees in town. Heidi says, "Before we reached our decisions, we sought the expertise of many other groups. And when we asked for changes and improvements, the applicant was very willing to work with us."
Heidi and Guy talk about the upcoming Special Town Meeting taking place on October 15, 2013. Heidi describes the Planning Board's role in preparing for a town meeting. Among the issues the board has worked on that will be voted upon at the meeting are propose regulations for a medical marijuana dispensary. A working group, including members of the planning board, planning staff, the health agent, the chief of police, and others devised draft bylaws, after researching the Commonwealth's model bylaw and similar ones enacted in other towns. Three public hearings to seek comment and input were held fine-tuning happened during the public hearings. The members of the Planning Board also appeared before the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee for their review and some additional minor improvements.
The interview concludes with Heidi and Guy encouraging as many people as possible to take the opportunity to participate in the “pure democracy” of the town meeting.