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Gorman accuses Planning Board of unsavory tactics

Date: 7/9/2014

EAST LONGMEADOW – At the Planning Board’s July 1 meeting, Selectman William Gorman accused the board members of utilizing unsavory tactics with regard to discussing decisions made by Building Inspector Daniel Hellyer.

While discussing confusion regarding the site plan of the Great Woods XI subdivision, Gorman, the Board of Selectmen’s liaison to the Building Department, raised his voice and became animated, criticizing the Planning Board for its handling of matters related to the building inspector and letting personal bias affect their judgment.

“The trouble is, Mike [Carabetta, Planning Board chair], you can’t get along; you don’t want to get along; [and] you people want to continue your bull crap, fighting all the time,” he said. “It isn’t going to happen while I’m a selectman. You’re either going to work with him or I’m going to keeping going higher and I’m going to keep bringing people in here to get this straightened out or the board will be gone, period.”

Gorman also recently defended Hellyer when he was before the Board of Selectmen in June to answer to concerns raised by resident John Turner regarding zoning violation complaints that Turner said were not being addressed by the inspector.

Hellyer agreed to re-inspect the properties and reported back to the board later that month that the majority of the claims were unfounded and took exception to what he called assaults on his character.

In question on July 1 was the board’s concern that the current plans for Great Woods did not match the plan that was approved. The new plan did not meet the proper setback requirements and a foundation was laid without a building permit. Carabetta told Rick Granger, representing Dan Roulier and Associates, developer of the site, that the company should have come back to the board for approval of the changes.

Granger explained that the updated plan had what he believed to be the proper setbacks and he showed it to Hellyer, who agreed.

“I didn’t know I had to come back to Planning Board and I think that’s the problem,” Granger said.

Planning Director Robyn Macdonald explained to the board that Hellyer determined that the area in question was a side yard and therefore the same setback requirements did not apply. Hellyer was not present at the meeting.

Planning Board member Ralph Page said regardless of whether it was a side yard or not, because the building envelope in the plans changed, it should have come back before the board in order for the amendment to be approved.

Carabetta noted that Dan Roulier and Associates had not received a building permit nearly two and a half weeks after applying for it, but still began work on the foundation.

Planning Board member George Kingston questioned Hellyer’s decision and said even if a permit was issued the board might have appealed the ruling.

“Since we were never notified of that ruling by the building commissioner, there was no way we could know he made such a ruling unless [Dan Roulier and Associates] told us, which you did now,” he said. “Therein lies another problem as well. We’re not being aware of decisions that are being made. We have no ability to appeal them if we disagree.”

Carabetta said he and Gorman had a meeting with state Building Inspector Harold Leaming, who said Hellyer has the authority to issue building permits as he sees fit, but Carabetta said that doesn’t absolve the Planning Board of its responsibilities.

“We have a Munis system and we have checks and balances and the reason we have all that is so things like this don’t happen,” he said.

It was at this point in the discussion that Gorman raised a series of complaints about the meeting. He accused the board of overstepping its bounds by attempting to supervise Hellyer.

“Dan Hellyer works for me; I’m his boss,” he said. “If Dan Hellyer isn’t doing his job, I’ll fire him, but I’ll make sure some of these people get fired too for overstepping their boundaries.”

He also said according to the state building inspector, the town could be brought to court because of the Planning Board’s actions.

Carabetta said the board was not superseding the scope of its charge, according to the law.

“[According to] the town’s bylaws, residences that are under special permit and/or businesses have to go back [to] the Planning Board for amendments,” he said.

Among Gorman’s other concerns were the facts that Hellyer was not present to answer to the issue and that Gorman himself was asked to attend at the last minute with no information. He accused Carabetta of attempting to inappropriately involve him in the situation

“What you should have done instead of roping me in and trying to suck me into something, you should have gave me the plans and let me look them over and I could have done some homework on them and I could have come herewith a little broader mind on what’s going on,” Gorman said. “Don’t you ever suck me in again, Mike, because I’m not taking your crap [and] I’m not taking any of this board’s crap. Do you understand what I’m telling you? That goes for all of you.”

He then told Granger to see him and Hellyer later to get the issues straightened out before leaving the meeting.

Full audio of the exchange can be heard here:

Addressing the meeting with Gorman and Leaming, Carabetta asked Town Counsel James Donahue to weigh in on the state inspector’s assessment that the building inspector has sole discretion with regards to building permits. Donahue said he couldn’t speak on generalities, but if he had specific facts, he could offer his interpretation.

Regarding how the board would move forward on the issue at hand, Donahue suggested requesting enforcement by Hellyer on the construction already performed without a permit in order to “bring the project into compliance by removing the foundation.”

Carabetta said he received a verbal decision from Leaming that the board could not do that. Donahue said that was not his understanding of the law, but couldn’t offer a concrete opinion on that decision because “there’s nothing in writing from him regarding what he’s speaking about.”

Donahue said Hellyer was the person who should be here answering questions regarding his interpretation of the plans and the bylaws.

“If you know the reason for his interpretation and you disagree with it, then take an appeal of the action to the Zoning Board of Appeals or the district or housing court, depending on the status of the situation,” he said.