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Northfield board reappoints 35-year ZBA member

NORTHFIELD — Despite controversy over the decades-long tenure of Zoning Board of Appeals members, the Selectboard has decided to re-appoint a member with more than 35 years of ZBA service.

“To tell you the truth, before you came to talk to us, I was ready to say ‘you’ve been on (the ZBA) for a long time, it’s time to step down’,” Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Wright told Bill Forrest recently. “But I found talking to you very useful. I think you have something to add to the board.”

There was, however, a caveat to those kind words.

“If you find it becomes too much (to serve on the board), or you’re not as interested, consider the needs of the town,” she added.

One concern over Forrest’s appointment was the complaint that he spends six months each year in Florida.

Forrest said that’s not true, he spends at most two months each year in that state. But, he said, if he starts spending more time down South, or anything else interferes with his service to the ZBA, he’d be “happy to step down entirely or to an alternate position.”

Concerns over the length of ZBA members’ service on the board — Forrest and Chairman Ed Shearer have more than 70 years between them — were raised in the summer by several residents.

On the advice of the town’s lawyer, the Selectboard will interview each ZBA member seeking reappointment.

Other complaints have been that the ZBA’s members don’t follow proper procedure in rendering their decisions. To rectify this, the Selectboard has recommended that ZBA members attend training sessions, two of which have been held. Forrest attended both, and said he found the second particularly helpful.

Part of the reason for the complaints, said Forrest, is that the ZBA often has to make unpopular decisions.

“Because of the laws, you can’t always vote for what people want. You have to vote for what’s legal,” said Forrest. “Any time something affects a large group in town, it will be controversial. And any time there’s a T or an I not crossed or dotted, it invites a lawsuit.”

The Selectboard acknowledged the difficulties of being on the ZBA.

“The ZBA is the toughest board in town on which to serve,” said Selectboard member Jack Spanbauer, thanking Forrest for his decades of service.

Selectboard members agreed that Forrest’s experience is an asset to the ZBA, rather than a detriment.

“We’ve replaced half the board in the last six months. I think there’s something to be said for having someone with a long-term perspective on the board,” said Spanbauer.

Forrest and Shearer may each have more than 35 years on the board, but several of its members are now serving in their first terms.

“We have plenty of new blood on the board, and we still need an alternate (member),” said Forrest. “I think it’s a good idea to have people who’ve been on the board a while to help guide the group, but not necessarily to lead them.”

Besides experience on the ZBA, Forrest has dealt with zoning matters from the other end, as a working contractor.

Forrest is a general contractor, owner of William Forrest Builders, which works on residential and commercial projects. He often has to deal with building inspectors and zoning and planning boards in other towns.

“I think your construction expertise is valuable. I don’t think anyone else (on the ZBA) has that.”

In the end, Forrest was appointed to another five-year ZBA term by a unanimous Selectboard vote. Shearer’s term will expire in 2016.

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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