MINOT – Selectmen and the Planning Board failed to come to a complete agreement over how to interpret town ordinances regulating when building permits may be issued for lots along new subdivision roads.

At question was whether building permits could be issued on a subdivision road only after townspeople have officially accepted the road at the annual March town meeting or whether permits could be issued after selectmen, on the advice of the Planning Board, the road manager and an engineers report, determine the road was constructed to the town’s minimum street requirements.

At Thursday’s public hearing, which followed a workshop with a developer and engineer of Center Minot Heights subdivision, the Planning Board unanimously backed the interpretation that would allow building permits to be issued once the road was judged to meet town standards.

Selectmen, with George “Buster” Downing absent, split 2-2 with Dean Campbell and Ralph Gilpatrick supporting the Planning Board’s position and Steve French and Eda Tripp holding firm that building permits could be issued only after the road in question had been formally accepted at the annual March town meeting.

Campbell keyed on the ordinances’ definition of a road: Any public way that has been accepted by the town, county or state or any street constructed to the standards set forth in the minimum street requirements for town acceptance ordinance and proposed to be accepted by the town as part of a subdivision plan.

“The ordinance make a distinction between approved and accepted,” noted Campbell.

He then pointed out that the ordinance allows permits to be issued for lots that meet frontage requirements on “approved town ways.”

“The ordinance allows us to issue permits upon approval of a road in a subdivision. If we do not issue permits, we open ourselves up to litigation,” Campbell said.

Tripp recalled how, dealing with the Prospect Hill Heights subdivision in the fall of 2002, the Planning Board required developer Don Fortin to substantially complete his road so he could bring the road to March town meeting for acceptance and thus be eligible for building permits in the spring of 2003.

“Just because we misinterpreted the ordinance in the past doesn’t mean we should continue to misinterpret it,” Campbell replied.

Planning Board Chairman John Geismar agreed that his board had erred. “I apologize to the developers for sending them around the yard a few times.”

French said he opposed the Planning Board’s interpretation because townspeople believed building permits can’t be issued until they have accepted the road.

Tripp noted that at this year’s March town meeting voters rejected a Planning Board addition to the road ordinance that would have established provisions that clearly set down, in one section, steps to allow issuance of building permits on the selectmen’s approval rather than on the townspeople acceptance of the road.

“The intent of townspeople was not to issue building permits unless on a road that they have accepted,” said Tripp.

Resident Steve Holbrook backed Tripp. “The people wanted the final say in their hands, to be able to accept the road and they didn’t want building permits issued beforehand.”

Geismar noted that the town’s ordinances are the expressed will of the people and that a judge would look at what is written and not what people might say they intended.

Faced with a lack of unanimity, Campbell suggested that the next selectmen’s meeting the board consider sending the ordinances to the town’s attorney for a legal opinion.


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