Great Barrington Town Hall briefs: Parking rules; citizen petitions deadline; Blue Hill Road brouhaha

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By Tuesday, Jan 23 News
Terry Cowgill
The Great Barrington Selectboard listens and reacts to Dr. Benjamin Abelow, whose car was towed for parking after a snow emergency. From left: Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton, and Selectboard members Steve Bannon and Dan Bailly.

Doctor’s car towing provokes debate on parking

Great Barrington — A physician whose car was towed five days after a January 4-5 snowstorm has asked the selectmen to conduct a “thorough review” of the town’s parking policies and to authorize a refund of the towing fees because of “many administrative and managerial failures.”

Dr. Benjamin Abelow, a Main Street resident, read a statement detailing his travails. Click here to read it and the invoice for almost $150 he received from Steve’s Auto Repair on State Road.

Abelow said he was told by the Great Barrington Police Department that overnight parking was permitted everywhere except during snow emergencies. That prohibition exists so that the Department of Public Works can conduct snow removal unobstructed by the presence of vehicles.

“Why did it take five days for the [Department of Public Works] to clear the sides of Church Street?” Abelow asked the board. “Citizens have the right to expect that if plowing has not been done within a couple of days, they may again park in the street.”

See video below of Dr. Abelow and his discussion with the selectmen:

Abelow suggested that, if circumstances prevent workers from clearing the street of snow for more than 48 hours, then signs should be posted warning residents and visitors.

Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton sympathized with Abelow and was receptive to the idea of reimbursing him for the towing charges, as was Selectman Ed Abrahams. But Selectman Steve Bannon said doing that for one or two motorists who had been towed was one thing, but what if 200 people wanted the same treatment?

Stanton explained that the town recently underwent a change in parking policy whereby a previous prohibition against overnight parking from Nov. 15 to April 1 from 1 to 6 a.m. was changed to a ban on overnight parking only during snow emergencies.

Dr. Benjamin Abelow makes his case. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Stanton, a former Railroad Street resident, acknowledged that “there are some challenges in our policy.” He added that, “I for one agree with you 100 percent and I don’t think your car should have been towed and I think the communication isn’t clear, the signage isn’t clear and we need to make some major changes.”

Stanton told Abelow that, if all else fails, he could always park at the lot at the top of Railroad Street. But Abelow says a police officer told him he could not park there overnight.

“You most certainly can,” Bannon said. “That’s something we need to deal with. It’s an administrative problem, which you pointed out.”

Tabakin defended the DPW and Superintendent Sean VanDeusen: “The DPW is excellent in snow removal. They did an excellent job over the holidays. If they could have gotten out there earlier, I’m sure they would have.” Tabakin attributed any failure to “weather and overtime scheduling.”

The broader issue of parking was expected to be on the agenda for the next selectboard meeting Monday, Feb. 12, anyway, but Stanton suggested putting Abelow’s case on it as well.

Town hires attorney in O’Brien case

As directed by the selectboard last month, town manager Jennifer Tabakin has hired a lawyer to represent the town in the matter of enforcing a cease-and-desist order issued to Gary J. O’Brien, whose trucking company has been told to halt its illegal practices on Roger Road.

Blue Hill Road resident Michael Andelman asks about the Gary J. O’Brien situation in the Roger Road neighborhood. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Williamstown-based attorney Donald Dubendorf has been hired to represent the town in the matter. Click here to see Dubendorf’s CV. The case will reach a critical point when O’Brien appeals the order through the Great Barrington Zoning Board of Appeals in a hearing set for Tuesday, Feb. 20. Dubendorf is expected to attend.

Last month, several angry residents who live near O’Brien’s trucking operation went to the selectmen’s meeting to complain about a decades-old problem: a heavy-equipment business whose vehicles roar up and down the residentially-zoned Blue Hill and Roger roads at all hours of the day and whose owner seemed to be ignoring the cease-and-desist order issued by building inspector and code enforcement officer Edwin May.

At that time the board had few answers, so Tabakin was directed to research the matter and return with some answers for the agitated residents. After her return, the board directed her to hire the attorney.

See video below of Blue Hill Road resident Michael Andelman talking to the selectmen Monday night about the situation in his neighborhood:

Citizen petitions for annual town meeting due Wednesday, Jan. 31

Town manager Jennifer Tabakin reminded town residents of the upcoming deadlines for citizen petitions to have items placed for a vote on the warrant for the annual town meeting.

The last day to submit petitions to town clerk Marie Ryan is Wednesday, Jan. 31, no later than 4 p.m. In the open town meeting form of government in most of New England, registered voters may gather signatures on a petition in order to have items placed on the warrant (a k a the agenda) for a vote of all qualified voters at the town meeting. If the item passes, it becomes law.

“That means that every registered voter in town is a legislator,” Tabakin said.   “Any ten voters have the right to petition the Selectboard to put an article on the town meeting warrants.”

All petitions must have signatures of at least 10 voters in Great Barrington, though Ryan suggests they have in the range of 15 to 20 in case some of the signatures are deemed invalid.

Several citizen petition items have become law in recent years. Last year, for example, voters approved a resolution “to cultivate Great Barrington as a safe and inclusive community” but defeated a petition for the creation of “a formal delegation of school committee members, town officials and citizens to open discussion with other school districts and towns to create an expanded regional high school.”

To learn more about the open town meeting form of government, see this handy guide put out by Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin.


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