Snow Conditions

24Mar11

IceboatDespite the official arrival of spring on March 20, Old Man Winter issued a reminder this week that he hasn’t yet ruled out an encore performance of Let It Snow. Still, the deep blanket of white that many of us feared would still be with us in June has all but disappeared, along with the ice on Lake Quannapowitt. It’s hard to imagine that less than three weeks ago they were still iceboating on the Lake.

So as I prepare to revisit the ugly subject of snow, please remember that this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

A few weeks ago, the Wakefield Conservation Commission responded to an issue at Shaw’s supermarket on Water Street in Wakefield, Massachusetts. It seems that with all the snow we got this winter, the supermarket’s plowing contractors were piling snow where they shouldn’t be piling it – namely on the landscaped islands throughout the parking lot and on top of existing parking spaces.

But doesn’t Shaw’s own or lease the property? So why shouldn’t they be able to do what they want on their own property? In this economy and given the brutal winter we just endured, isn’t it a little unreasonable and anti-business to force a local store to spend extra money to abide by some idealistic practices with respect to snow removal?

These are not unreasonable questions. A little review may help put this in some perspective.

Shaw's Supermarket construction, Wakefield, MAWhenever a store like Shaw’s comes to town and proposes constructing a large building like the one on Water Street, the town has a permitting process designed to protect the town’s interests and make sure that the proponent adheres to local bylaws. The same thing happens when a developer proposes a subdivision or a new condominium complex. The developer is frequently referred to as the “applicant” because he typically must apply for Special Permits and variances in order to build his project.

That process includes public hearings. The applicant typically hires at great expense attorneys, experts in various fields (architects, drainage experts, etc.) to look out for his interests. For the most part, the town relies on boards of elected or appointed volunteers to look after the town’s interests and the public’s interests. These include the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

Conservation CommissionThese town boards spent many months and countless hearings negotiating with Shaw’s hired experts and attorneys over all sorts of issues – from the number of parking spaces and the location of trees to the type and height of fencing and the manner of snow management. Trust me. As a reporter, I sat through a lot of those meetings late into the night.

What emerged from the long months of Shaw’s hearings was a multi-page ZBA decision addressing such issues as signage, the appearance of the building, landscaping, drainage and a litany of other matters. To that July 23, 2003 ZBA decision was attached an “Order of Conditions” with no fewer than 59 specific conditions that Shaw’s and the town agreed to.

Condition 14 addresses snow removal and refers to a “Snow Management Plan” with a requirement “that snow not be stored in any landscaped areas or in any manner that affects visibility for pedestrians or vehicles, and further that on-site storage does not reduce the number of parking spaces below the minimum required pursuant to the town bylaw.”

To obtain its Special Permit to build its store in Wakefield, Shaw’s was willing to agree to this as a condition. In fact, the attorney for the applicant typically drafts the decision and the Order of Conditions for the town’s final review and approval. One would expect the applicant to be familiar with conditions that its own attorney wrote, and not to be surprised when they are actually enforced.

Bit if people think it’s not worth paying attention to conditions like the manner of snow removal, then maybe it’s not worth paying attorneys to write them.

[This column originally appeared in the March 24, 2011 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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