To the editor:
As former Rockport Planning Board members who served at the time when Site Plan Review was adopted in 2001, we have been dismayed at Editor Ray Lamont’s and the Gloucester Times’ ongoing attacks on Site Plan Review.
In your editorial of Oct. 17th, you refer to the Site Plan Review process as being “intentionally tangled” and “pathetic.”
We are puzzled at the paper’s vehement opposition to Site Plan Review and your characterization of the review process for the 10,820 square foot house proposed by Roma III Ltd. at 129 Granite St.
Site Plan Review is a very valuable planning tool in Rockport, as it is in communities throughout the Commonwealth, and has served our town well over the years.
The construction of this house by Mr. Roma at 129 Granite St. is clearly a “high impact” project that warranted Site Plan Review by the Planning Board. The process allowed the Planning Board to conduct a coordinated review of the proposed project and to seek input from other town boards, neighbors and the public.
In its review, the board was able to minimize adverse impacts of the project by imposing conditions that addressed, in part: the handling of stormwater from the site; the volume of fill and ledge to be removed; the location/screening/noise reduction of the outdoor HVAC system; the hours and days of blasting; design changes to building to improve views; landscaping that helps to minimize the obstruction of scenic views and reduces building mass; final grading and stabilization of the site; and lighting. Without Site Plan Review, the town could not have addressed many of these impacts.
As is often the case with zoning reviews, the Planning Board’s decision on the Roma house may not have gone far enough for some and too far for others; however, a board needs to use its good judgment and act within the confines of the law.
The Planning Board has used Site Plan Review to review numerous large and complex projects over the years, and it has served us well.
The Planning Board conducted Site Plan Review for the Shalin Liu Performance Center, the Cape Ann Tool Company, the conversion of the Old Farm Inn, the Granite Savings Bank, and a 10,900 square foot residence on Thatcher Road, and the list goes on.
These reviews all resulted in projects with reduced impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and Town. Through Site Plan Review, the board was able to conduct a comprehensive review of these projects and to impose “reasonable” conditions to address impacts similar to those of the Roma III project, and more.
The “inconvenience” to an applicant of having to go through the Site Plan Review process is a small “price” to pay to minimize impacts from a large project on a surrounding neighborhood and the town. And many of the applicants find the Planning Board’s Site Plan Review to result in a better project.
In all of the projects that we examined when serving on the Planning Board, the Site Plan Review process was a friendly, non-adversarial one.
The “friendly” component of the Site Plan Review process was not apparent on the Roma project. Rather, from the start, the perceived disdain of Site Plan Review, and even the public and Planning Board at times on the part of the applicant and the applicant’s representative made the process more “tangled” and lengthy than it needed to be.
We hope that Site Plan Review will continue to serve Rockport well as it has over and over again. As with any bylaw, modifications may be desired from to time. If we can improve or strengthen Site Plan Review, let’s do it.
SAMUEL W. COULBOURN