Frustrated with how Town Hall departments have handled numerous resident complaints about problem businesses and the lack of inter-department communication, Town Manager Scott Lambiase is creating a new Inspectional Services Department with Marty Golightly at its head.
The department would combine the building department, zoning enforcement, inspections, and the health department under one umbrella, with a unified, online case tracking system for handling complaints, according to Lambiase. Golighty, who currently serves as Abington’s public health director, will assume the title of Director of Inspectional Services, and be charged with overseeing day-to-day management of the departments, developing new policies and processes, improving communication throughout the functions, and bolstering customer service.
“Marty has shown to me over the past year that he is capable of multitasking and coordinating many moving parts and activities simultaneously,” Lambiase told Abington News. “I think he will be a great leader of the department.”
Selectmen unanimously gave Lambiase the green light to make the changes on a temporary basis. Lambiase said he would provide a progress report in December and then again in June. If it works well, the changes would be effectively memorialized in the FY ’23 town budget (which would start July 1, 2022).
“It just creates a better customer experience and makes sure complaints don’t fall into some sort of void,” Lambiase told selectmen Monday night.
The change is partly in response to a number of complex cases involving complaints by residents about businesses flouting town zoning rules and a perceived lack of response from town hall departments.
The Board of Selectmen in recent months has juggled formal complaints against 267 North Quincy Street, 662 Adams Street, and 0/22 Hjelm Street. (More details on each below)
“Right now the system is not working at all,” Lambiase told selectmen.
Earlier this month, Lambiase reached a separation agreement with Building Commissioner Marshall Adams. Multiple Town Hall sources told Abington News that Adams’ departure was not related to those cases, but rather internal management and administrative issues.
Lambiase, who is a licensed building commissioner in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is currently acting as Abington’s Building Commissioner. James Blanda, one of the building department’s current inspectors, is currently finishing up coursework needed to become a building inspector, and will take a larger role within the department when formally certified. Marion Wong-Ryan will continue overseeing zoning enforcement.
Selectman Alex Bezanson endorsed Blanda’s role within the rejiggered department.
“Everyone I’ve talked to who has dealt with Jim likes him,” Bezanson said. “I think people will see a change with Jim in there.”
Lambiase previously worked in the Town of Duxbury, which has used a similar inspectional services model. That town’s Department of Municipal Services, which Lambiase managed before coming to Abington, includes the town’s Building Department, Board of Health, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Procurement.
Goloightly and Lambiase will receive additional stipends to cover their additional responsibilities in the coming months. Specific amounts were not mentioned during Monday’s meeting. Lambiase said the cost of all the changes can be absorbed within the departments’ existing budgets.
Updates provided on commercial property investigations
267 North Quincy Street
Because the property’s owner has stopped cooperating with the town, Abington is now asking the courts to get involved. In a complaint filed in Brockton Superior Court, lawyers for Abington say Victor Cimino, the sprawling property’s owner, has not worked towards addressing dozens of zoning and code violations since the town gave him a compliance order in March. “The [owner] has violated and continues to violate numerous local and state laws relative to the operation and use of the Property, and in its current condition the Property contains several significant fire hazards and threats to public health and safety,” the complaint states. The list of unaddressed violations include illegally storing vehicles underneath power lines, illegally storing more than 2,000 gallons of flammable materials, a lack of fire extinguishers and fire hydrants on the site, the presence of residential trailers, unregistered vehicles and boats, unlicensed auto repair shops, and enough garbage and trash to qualify as an unpermitted solid waste transfer facility. The complaint asks the court to force Cimino to fix the problems and reimburse the town for its legal fees.
662 Adams Street
The Planning Board may have approved a site plan for the truck storage business at 662 Adams Street, but the controversy may not be over. Robert Sullivan, of Milton, bought the residential property last year, illegally leveled a hill in the back of the property, and started using the site to store and repair large trucks without any town permits. He then ignored multiple cease and desist orders from the town.
During this process, the owner of the house next door, Patrick Kearney, filed formal complaints with the Board of Selectmen, which is required by the Town Charter to conduct an investigation.
The Planning Board in April approved a site plan for the property that included a number of conditions, including maintaining a 20-foot vegetated buffer between the properties, and a prohibition on work being performed on the vehicles. Sullivan was also prohibited from allowing anybody to live in the house that remains on the property (under town zoning bylaws, a site in this zoning district can’t be used for both residential and industrial purposes at the same time; another cease and desist has been filed against Sullivan to remove the home’s occupant).
Kearney, however, insisted that the property still violates zoning rules requiring 90 feet of frontage; the property only has 73 feet of frontage. The town’s attorney determined that because the property was a pre-existing, non-conforming use (it was a residential home in an industrial zoned neighborhood) that became a conforming use (vehicle storage is allowed in an industrial zoned neighborhood), that it didn’t need to meet frontage rules.
(Editor’s note: Following the original publication of this article, Abington News learned that the Kearney’s have appealed in Land Court the Planning Board’s decision to approve the site plan.)
The Kearney’s disagree, but the Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to accept the opinion from the town attorney and close the investigation. Selectman Alex Hagerty was the lone dissenting vote. By closing the case, however, the Kearney’s are now able to appeal the ruling to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which they indicated they will do.
Selectman Mike Kolodziej, who voted to accept the ruling, said he “wasn’t happy” with the decision either, but that it would allow the Kearney’s to proceed to the appeals process. Kearney also told the board he feels Sullivan continues to flout town zoning rules. Selectmen said if Kearney can capture any violations on camera or video he should file another complaint for investigation.
0/22 Hjelm Street
The town’s attorney’s also ruled that they do not see any violations at a cluster of businesses located at 0/22 Hjlem Street, which is a private road located off Bedford Street. Neighbors, led by Bill and Kathy Creighton, filed a complaint with the Board of Selectmen that the property owner, Michael Noonan, had illegally expanded his commercial site, was using a residential property for commercial purposes, filled in environmentally sensitive areas, and disturbed the nearby neighborhood by operating vehicles in the middle of the night.
In a letter to selectmen, the town’s attorney said that the wetlands issue needs to be resolved by the Conservation Commission. Noonan is currently the chairman of the Conservation Commission and has recused himself when issues involving his property come up. Kathy Creighton is a former member of the Conservation Commission. The state Department of Environmental Protection has said Noonan needs to have engineers survey his property to establish exactly where the wetland boundaries are.
The town’s attorney also said there is evidence that the property has been used for residential and commercial purposes dating back before Abington adopted its zoning code, which would make the existing operations grandfathered. Selectmen voted 4-1 to accept the town attorney’s findings; Hagerty again was the dissenting vote. It is not clear whether the Creighton’s will be appealing the decision.
[DISCLOSURE: The author of this article is a member of the Abington Planning Board]