Roots once again on planning board agenda following last meeting’s debate

The outdoor lighting is seen to be reflecting off another neighboring house at night. (Photo from Heidi Leonard/The Westfield News)

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Confusion will more than likely be on the city’s planning board agenda tonight–and this has drawn the ire of at least one city councilor.

The Westfield planning board’s chair Philip McEwan moved a vote on allowing Roots Athletic Complex at 181 Root Road to continue partial operations following the building inspector’s OK to tonight after debate arose within the planning board on Dec. 20. The debate was over language regarding voting on allowing the operation of Roots in the original permit, which would have allowed the complex to continue operations indoors while repairing issues to the outdoor portion of the soccer fields.

It wouldn’t be all too uncommon for a hearing to be continued within planning board to a following meeting, but the confusion comes from the fact that a vote was taken at the Dec. 20 meeting. The vote came out with four in favor of allowing the inspection and possible operation of Roots, and two against. However, debate arose after the board was read the following from the permit: “The planning board may, by an affirmative vote of at least five members,” allow the use or partial use of the building.

Debate came about how to interpret that language, whether that meant that five affirmative votes were needed or whether at least five board members needed to vote for the vote to actually count. After several minutes of discussing the matter, McEwan decided to table the vote and move it to tonight’s vote.

This decision though, has upset at least one city councilor, and has made her question how the process occurs.

“I just have a basic problem with a board or commission taking a vote, looking at the vote, not liking the vote and putting it out to vote again in the next meeting, it doesn’t seem like democracy to me,” ward 4 councilor Mary O’Connell, said.

“I feel that it’s an incorrect way to run an appointed board. I just feel as if we depend on the planning board to act with certain responsibilities and I wouldn’t say it’s unethical, but it’s irresponsible to the democratic process,” she said.

O’Connell said that she was puzzled after the fallout of events and feels that the board should look at city council rules when trying to settle disputes like this in the future.

For now though, the planning board operates under separate rules from the city council, and no changes are expected.

On the other side, city planner Jay Vinskey said that what occurred was within the abilities of planning board because the action on Roots was an administrative action rather than one that occurred through a public hearing.

“This was an administrative action based on one of the actions in the original approval, which basically said if you want to operate before you’re completely finished you need the board to approve it,” Vinskey said. “And there was an interpretation on if you needed five people to vote or needed five people to vote to proceed.”

Vinskey said that the matter wasn’t settled, which resulted in McEwan moving it to tonight in order to come to an appropriate and complete endpoint. Vinskey also said that the matter is essentially an internal one, with the debate being over language within the permit rather than the permit as a whole. This is another key point as to why it is considered administrative.

Planning board will meet in Westfield’s city council chambers at 7 p.m. tonight.

Roots Athletic News: