Much has been written about the proposed change to the Cottage Estate bylaws and I suspect there’s lots more to say. The Feb. 6 Stockbridge Planning Board meeting was informative and (for the most part) respectful. Opinions about the project (both pro and con) were thoughtful and well-reasoned.
The “normal” process for advancing a project of this scope (or any project outside the bylaws) would be through special permits. Prior to the 1980s, the decision-making body for special permits was the Stockbridge Planning Board. In the 1980s the town voted for a bylaw change to place this authority with the Stockbridge Board of Selectmen. This bylaw change also required a unanimous vote of the Selectmen to obtain approval. The idea that one individual could have so much power in a community that values democratic principles is anathema to me and, I suppose, many others. Since at least one of our selectmen (and perhaps two) are opposed to the project, this special permit was dead on arrival, thus the project’s owners chose the path of recommending the change to the Cottage Estate bylaws. I can’t blame them for that.
I agree with those who insist there should be no change to the current Cottage Estate bylaws. What we should be voting on at the May Town Meeting is a change to strip the Selectmen of this undemocratic power for special permitting. This power should rest with the Planning Board and require a simple majority vote. The only cases where I could see an exception would be for projects such as 37 Interlaken that will have a significant impact on the town. For these large scope projects, the decision-making authority should rest with Town Meeting. That’s democracy!