WESTBOROUGH, Mass. – A controversial proposal to ticket violators of zoning bylaws was rejected by voters on Tuesday. Residents rejected an amendment to the bylaws that would have increased fines and given enforcement officers the ability to more easily ticket offenders.
The vote came during the Annual Town Meeting, which concluded after three non-consecutive, and sometimes grueling, nights.
Article 25, which pit members of the Finance Advisory Committee against members of the Board of Selectmen and code enforcement, would have increased fines incurred by those violating the town's signage and disturbance bylaws. If passed, enforcement officers would have been able to issue fines similar to traffic tickets. Appeals would have been made in district court.
The amendment was meant to streamline the current enforcement process, where code officers currently need to go to court first to get an order, a time consuming process. However, the Finance Committee previously voted 4-3 to recommend the article be defeated.
"One of the basic tenants when approaching Town Meeting is first, do no harm," said Finance Advisory Chairman John Arnold. "We've heard of no groundswell of problems with the (current) enforcement mechanism."
Arnold said the amendment was a "broad and sweeping change" and the committee wasn't convinced it was necessary or a better alternative to what was on the books. Arnold said that the current method of enforcement usually leads to conversation and resolution when someone unintentionally breaks zoning law. The amendment didn't allow enough flexibility in enforcement when it comes to simple and civil disagreements.
He also warned that fines could stack up against someone as they were attempting to appeal a violation in court.
"I'm not looking to fine people and create revenue for the town," said Building Commissioner/Zoning Enforcement Officer Tin Htway, who supported the article. "This gives us the tools to enforce (bylaws) more effectively."
Htway said the amendment would help his department enforce sign regulations, an issue which often takes a lot of time to bring into compliance. He said his department would use its discretion when enforcing the bylaw.
Finance Committee member Edward Behn said that while the town trusts the current enforcement officers, the amendment would set in a place a mechanism where, "if we did have someone who wanted to slap a fine on someone for any reason, they could."
"We are a nation of laws, not men or women," Behn said, invoking John Adams.
Residents did approve revamping the town's sewer connection fee system. Resident Dominic Caprioli objected to raising the connection fee for a single family dwelling from $3,000 to $5,000, a proposition he said was "punitive." Voters, however, rejected his amendment to lower the fee back to $3,000.
Based on selectmen's recommendation, the town voted to take no action on two articles. Those articles would have made tenants or property owners responsible for clearing snow and ice on a sidewalk that abuts their building, or be fined. Town Manager James Malloy said the article was proposed in response to a new Supreme Judicial Court decision, but that further review was needed.
Few were in attendance during Tuesday's meeting. One count revealed less than 70 residents, including town officials, voting on an article.
"The numbers may be small, but quality is more important than quantity," Moderator Joseph Harrington said as the meeting convened.