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Two boards that are worth mentioning

There are times when the common man (or woman) gets frustrated with the powers that be. Complaints may include that government works too slowly or that it doesn’t listen to the voices of those it governs. Are those complaints true? Well, at certain times, in certain societies, under certain circumstances, yes, absolutely.

But there are other instances where the opposite is true. At this point in time all one has to do is look at the Planning and Building Department in the town of North East as an example. The two main boards under that department, and it should be stressed these are volunteer boards, are the North East Planning Board and the North East Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). They are each manned by a chair, and then six and four additional members, respectively. Democratic to the core, the boards vote on applications that come before them based on the town’s code book and zoning laws. Right now, as in times past, both boards are in the midst of fairly controversial applications.

The Planning Board has been considering the site plan for a new supermarket, proposed by Southern Realty & Development LLC (SRD) — which has its supporters and detractors. Currently the application is suspended as one of the co-applicants is considering recanting the authorization he gave to SRD to act on his behalf, without which the application cannot move forward as it now stands. (See story, front page.)

The ZBA is entertaining a special permit application from The Watershed Center — a plan for a farm-based education center for sustainable living that has become a hot button issue in the town. Thanks to an opposition group that funded a set of engineering and architectural studies about the proposal and also hired some very experienced attorneys, that application now has to retrace its steps and potentially submit numerous documents anew. In essence, it’s back to the drawing board for The Watershed Center.

Both boards did their due diligence with these applications. They listened closely, asked intelligent questions, conferred with their experts (attorneys, engineers, planners, etc.) and held discussions among themselves about the best courses of action. And while doing so took time, it was time well spent, during which public comment was accepted, studies were reviewed, applicants were questioned, pros and cons were considered and thought was given to the smallest of details. In other words, the boards were doing their jobs, and doing them well.

Somehow, despite all of the public controversy swirling around these applications, the board members managed to stay above the fray. The chairs, Dale Culver of the Planning Board and Julie Schroeder of the ZBA, handled the public, the applicants, the experts and their board members with wisdom and perfect aplomb. They, and the rest of their boards, were fair, even-tempered, smart and level-headed. And while some may not agree with their actions, there surely cannot be criticism of their motives. It is clear both boards have the town’s best interest at heart.

While neither SRD nor The Watershed Center would likely say they enjoy the current hiccups in their applications at the moment, none have criticized the boards for how they have handled the process. Quite the contrary, the applicants have acknowledged they’ve been handled fairly by the town.

Knowing fair treatment awaits them once their applications are complete must allay some of their concerns now, when their patience must be wearing thin. Certainly living and working in a town with such fine stewards of the community is something special, worthy of appreciation and a moment’s pause to say thank you to those who take their volunteer jobs so seriously. Such actions have not gone unnoticed, and now, just as importantly, have not gone unmentioned.