"Town lacks the authority to adopt rules and regulations for Webster Lake”
WEBSTER – The Attorney General's Office this week issued opinions on the items submitted for approval of warrant articles from the October 17, 2011, Annual Town Meeting.
At that meeting, residents voted to adopt a new by-law banning all billboards higher than 40 feet and larger than 100 square feet, and would not permit renewals of any existing billboard that violates this by-law.
The purpose of the warrant article, which was brought by citizen petition, was to force the removal of the 85-foot high billboard currently located at Exit 2 off I-395.
The attorney general's opinion noted that Webster has a zoning by-law which allows billboards in other than residential districts, which then have to conform to regulations of the Massachusetts Outdoor Advertising Board.
The proposed new restrictions described in Article 14 were presumed to be intended as a general by-law, as the article did not follow procedural requirements for zoning by-law changes. In addition, the town did not repeal the existing zoning by-law.
Therefore, the opinion states, “The adoption of the by-law under Article 14 creates an internal inconsistency between the Town's zoning by-law and the Town's general by-law as applied to large billboards.
The Attorney General recommended that the Town “consult closely with Town Counsel before applying the by-law adopted under Article 14 to signs which comply with the provisions” of the Outdoor Advertising Board.
The Town cannot tell the Advertising Board whether or not to grant a permit or renewal, and so it would appear that Article 14 cannot be applied to the existing billboard.
In a comment on the decision, Board of Selectman Chairman Dan Ricci said that he and town officials would be meeting to discuss the results and determine next steps. “The important thing is that there aren't going to be more billboards, that we're not setting a precedent.”
The Attorney General's office also issued an opinion on citizen-petition Article 16, which would amend the Webster Lake Rules and Regulations to add time restrictions for operating commercial vessels, specifically prohibiting their operation after 9:00 p.m. EST or before 8:00 a.m. EST.
The article was disapproved because Webster Lake is a “great pond,” a natural lake over 20 acres, which must be accessible to the public, and is under the jurisdiction of the State. Further, the general regulatory powers of cities and towns is limited to great ponds under 500 acres. Webster Lake is 1,270 acres in size.
The opinion states that “Because Webster Lake exceeds five hundred acres in size and based upon the plain language of the statute, the Town lacks the authority to adopt rules and regulations for Webster Lake.”
Webster voters amended the proposed time restriction by-law at a December 5 town meeting to prohibit the operation of commercial vessels between sunset and sunrise. As that proposal isn't materially different than the one disapproved in this decision, it would appear that it could be rejected as well.
Mr. Ricci said the Town is waiting for that decision to come from the Attorney General's office, along with another December warrant article which proposes to limit the length of boats allowed on the Lake to 40 feet. He feels that the safety aspects associated with larger boats may cause the attorney general to rule differently in that case.
The hours and boat length warrant articles were aimed at stopping a proposal by local businessman Christopher Robert to bring a paddle wheel boat to Webster Lake for history and scenic tours and events like weddings.
Mr. Ricci noted that even if the December articles are disapproved, new noise restrictions in effect will impact viability of the boat, as will the fact that a liquor license was denied.
The Attorney General's office approved three other warrant articles, including number 19, which allows out-of-state vehicles to be charged for parking at the town beach and exempts residents; and number 20, a noise article for establishments.
- Friday, 20 April 2012
- Posted in Categories: : News