Town stepping up enforcement of zoning, environmental laws

By Shenandoah Briere | Apr 02, 2018

Problem property owners beware: the town is putting you on notice.

Through cooperation with several town departments and the possibility of a new budget item, officials are stepping up enforcement of town zoning and environmental laws. The effort comes after years of complaints by residents over everything from illegal dumping to violations of the state’s wetland protection law.

Currently, the town is investigating more than a dozen properties, town attorney Anthony Savastano told the Select Board at its April 2 meeting. Officials from the Board of Health, Conservation Commission and the Building Department have also been brought in to assist.

It is unclear which properties are under investigation. Savastano could not disclose names due to pending, ongoing, or possible legal action.

With more than 500 hours already dedicated to the process, the effort has become costly for the town. The Select Board is now proposing creating a separate budget item for costs associated with the bumped up enforcement effort.

The Select Board will also be meeting with the Board of Health, Conservation Commission, Building Department, and others, if needed, to stay up-to-date.

Select Board member Shawn McDonald said property violations are already known by the board, and action is being taken. The problem won’t be gone overnight, he said, as manpower and financial issues could prolong the process.

“We do know that there exist some violations that are being addressed,” McDonald said. “There’s wetland violations, there’s demolition violations and of course the ever present smelling violation, I guess the odor violation. At some point in time, within the next 60 days, we will start getting complaints about smells, especially with the composting facilities and the heat.”

McDonald also mentioned requiring formal inspections for sites of Class II and III licenses prior to renewal. The licenses are issued to used car dealerships and junkyards, respectively.

Select Board Chair Frank Gracie noted it could be a challenge to fit a new budget item in.

“We have to do it,” Gracie said. “We’re having some financial challenges this year with the budget. It’s not in balance. Greg [Barnes] is working diligently to make that all work--we’re going to have to add this to it, but we’ll figure out a way because it has to be done.”

The announcement was welcomed news to Scott Pehrson. The Dartmouth resident was in the audience at Select Board meeting, and has been documenting infractions near his Hixville Road home on his Facebook page, Illegal Dumping Dartmouth. He's even taken photographs from a plane to get a better view of what's going on deep inside some pieces of land.

Although he’s glad to see the town making an initiative, he said he felt there was little effort by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals in the beginning. He is currently suing the Zoning Board of Appeals and Reis Asphalt, one of the businesses he alleges is part of the problem.

“I know town officials have been working hard on it, but the impact on my family, my mother and myself has been extremely difficult,” Pehrson said.

In other Select Board business...

Chair Gracie said the town will begin interviewing candidates for the Town Administrator position beginning next week. The screening committee will schedule multiple interviews on either April 10 or 11, with the remaining ones being on April 18.

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