, Gloucester, MA

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October 17, 2013

Editorial: Rockport house plan saga shows broken permit system

Rockport Building Inspector Paul Orlando had issued the required building permits to homeowner and developer Ron Roma, who now expects to break ground on his planned 10,820-square-foot house in the days ahead.

And that seems fine.

The problem, however, is that Roma did not get the chance to dig into this project months ago. For, in the end, the permits issued by Orlando made it clear that this proposed house is being built within the scope of town bylaws and zoning regulations — just as it had essentially been planned from the start.

What happened? Roma and contractor Alan Battistelli, who serves on the town’s Board of Appeals but obviously did not participate in the hearings over this proposal, can just chalk the delays up to Rockport’s intentionally tangled “Site Plan Review” system, which opens the door to neighbors and other residents to gripe about a project such as Roma’s, yet includes no provisions for blocking it or mandating any changes.

And while, yes, it’s good for a builder to be able to have dialogue with a project’s neighbors, it’s pointless to allow complaints that aren’t grounded in any town limits or regulations. And by virtually all counts, that was the case here.

Was Roma’s proposed house too big for its location? Not according to zoning regulations. Would it cause undue traffic problems for the neighborhood? Of course not; it’s a residence.

The longer these meetings dragged on, the more obvious it became that the only real issue hanging over the house was that residents just didn’t like it, didn’t like Roma – or both. And that’s a pathetic way to run a municipal permitting system.

Rockport officials like to think of their town as business-friendly, and open to development. And thankfully Roma can now go forward — providing the town with added property tax revenues, and at least temporarily, some local construction jobs.

But the lesson from this project is that Rockport’s “site plan review” system is badly broken. And they would do well to fix it.

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