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Town Council: Conservation Commission Regulations May Have Been Improperly Approved

A Mansfield Town Council John Hucksam shows that regulations passed by the Conservation Commission may have been improperly approved.

Certain regulations passed between February 8, 2010 and September 24, 2012 by the Conservation Commission may not have been approved through the proper procedure according to a new report from Mansfield Town Council John Hucksam.

Talking to the Mansfield Board of Selectmen, Hucksam said he looked though the Conservation Commission’s agendas, notices, minutes, and regulations from the nearly 32 month period after it was discovered that the commission may have improperly implemented certain regulations and amendments.

Hucksam came to the conclusion that it was not clear if the commission provided the proper notice of their public hearings or adoptions of regulations or amendments, it was not clear if the commission had proper votes assuming they had the public hearing, and it was not clear if the commission had properly voted in terms of adopting or amending their regulations.

While the commission has the authority to regulate, any proposed regulation has to be published for the public to see, subjected to a public forum, and must be within the scope of the powers granted to the committee by the town’s bylaws. According to Hucksam, there may be cases where regulations were not published, public hearings were not held or not advertised, and some regulations may conflict with town bylaws.

Examples of conflicting rules include a town bylaw that defines a no disturb zone at 25 feet while a regulation from the Conservation Commission defines the same zone at 25-50 feet. There is also a $200 per day fine which is in conflict with a bylaw according to Hucksam.

Conservation Committee Chairman Joseph Mulkern was invited to take part in the discussion but was not present when the selectmen addressed the issue.

“I was under the impression that he (Mulkern) would show up and I’m frankly a bit disappointed at that,” Selectmen Chairman Olivier Kozolowski said.

Selectman Jess Aptowitz was also disappointed and expressed more frustration in the lack of the presence of a Conservation Commission member. 

“I find this very insulting. They were told we’re having this meeting,” Aptowitz said, “Why don’t they come in here so we can look at them face to face and have these discussions? I think this meeting is a waste of time, they should be here.”

Hucksam said that he would be willing to work with the commission and Town Manager William Ross to figure out which regulations are compliant with the bylaws and which ones need to go through the proper process.

The selectmen did vote 5-0 to suggest that the commission should go over the regulations in questions with town council and Ross.

If a regulation was not passed in the proper manner, it will have to go though the process again if regulation is in the committee’s power to create. If a regulation is not within the committee’s power to pass based on the town bylaws, a proposal can be sent to town meeting to expand the bylaws to allow for the commission to approve the regulation.

After the discussion, it was asked in public forum how this would effect anyone trying to conduct business that requires assistance from the commission. According to Hucksam, all regulations should be assumed to be valid until it is proven to be invalid.

With new zoning to be proposed for the Cabot Business Park later this year, the board hopes for this issue to be resolved quickly so the other committees involved in the zoning process are aware of what limitations they must take into consideration.

“We’ve met with the Finance Committee and the Planning Board and are talking about zoning chances to the industrial park and conservation should be there,” Kozolowski said. “In my person opinion knowing what regulations remain is kinda important to be able to participate fully in that.”

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