Selectmen Vote to Combine Planning Board & Zoning Agent Positions
Bellingham Town Administrator Denis Fraine
written by Lynn S. Ulsh, Bulletin ReporterAt its June 22 meeting, the Board of Selectmen discussed the plan to merge the part-time Town Planner position with a Zoning Enforcement position to create a new full-time position.
Currently, according to Town Administrator Denis Fraine, Bellingham has a contracted Zoning Enforcement Agent for 8 hours a week; however, Fraine noted that with the building proposals in the offing for the town, “this just doesn’t cut it.”
The Planning/Zoning Enforcement Agent would attend both Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings and would be part of the municipal team. Fraine said that this position is not meant to compromise the Planning portion of the job but that, by attending both meetings, this one person would be able to enforce the decisions made by the Planning Board.
The matter had first been discussed in public at the June 11 Planning Board meeting. The contract for the part-time Town Planner had come up for renewal; however, the Planning Board Chairman, Brian Salisbury, announced that the Board had received a letter from Selectmen Chair Mike Soter outlining the idea for the change in position.
At that meeting, then-Town Planner Stacey Wetstein challenged the authority of the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator to change the position without a vote at Town Meeting. Several members of the Planning Board were concerned that whoever gets the new position will not have the experience that Wetstein has.
When asked why Wetstein’s position wouldn’t simply be expanded to include zoning enforcement, Soter replied that the Selectmen will need to create a new position and advertise the posting but that Wetstein may apply for this position.
Wetstein said that when she met with Fraine, he did not say that she was welcome to apply.
Planning Board Member Patricia Murphy also cautioned that the town needs a true Planner with projects such as The Bellingham Shoppes and other large projects on the horizon.
Soter said that according to the town by-laws, the Town Planner position is a sub-contracted position, and the Town Administrator, on the advice of Town Counsel, has the authority to make the change to the position.
The Planning Board voted to hold off on the contract renewal until after the June 22 Selectmen’s meeting in order to see how the Selectmen voted on this matter.
At the June 22 meeting, Soter noted that the new position will involve working with the Planning Board and enforcing the approved plans through zoning enforcement that has become necessary because of the increased challenges to zoning by-laws.
The Town Administrator as well as members of the Selectmen and the Planning Board will be present at the interviews for the new position. Soter insists that Planning will still be a crucial part of this position, with zoning enforcement duties getting more attention than in the past. Both the Planning/Zoning Enforcement agent and the Planning Board will move from the Town Hall Building to the Municipal Building and become part of the municipal team.
The Board of Selectmen voted 5-0 to approve the new position.
According to Soter, Wetstein resigned after the Planning Board meeting, when she saw the direction the town was going with the decision. Town Counsel Talerman has been covering Planning Board concerns until the new position could be filled.
Additionally at the June 22 meeting, Police Chief Gerard Daigle announced the promotion of Officer Kenneth Lamarre to Sergeant. Lamarre has been a full-time officer in Bellingham since 1987 and had served as the Student Resource Officer in the early 2000s. Fraine made the official appointment, which was fully ratified by the Board.