ZBA Meeting and Some Anecdotes

By S.D. Plissken | September 28, 2018

Last night, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) approved the variance for the Binker Brothers (Chris and Michelle Penta) to use their own Grange property in a commercially-zoned part of Milton Mills as a retail antique shop. The vote was unanimous.

Hurray! But it is not over. The ZBA mentioned several times that there was a follow-on stage in which the Planning Committee, the DPW, and the Police would have to approve also. The Police were to decide if the presence of three or four cars would obstruct visibility.

And if someone appeals in the next thirty days, the whole process can begin again.

There you find one of the thorny knots that obstruct businesses in Milton. All of these boards and committees are overlapping, interlocked, referenced, and cross-referenced, working from manuals originally copy-and-pasted from State exemplars and then “tweaked” over the years to make them even worse. And therein lies a problem.

My late grandfather worked all his life as a tool and die maker for the General Electric Company (GE). I often helped him do various household projects in his retirement years – painting the house, repairing the roof, building a wall, etc. He had a sort of joke that he would make when he had considered some way or means of accomplishing our objective and then rejected it. He would invariably say, “We’ll send that to Planning.” At the GE, that was what they always said when they tabled things, usually forever. Planning was where ideas went to die.

I have an acquaintance who grew up in Massachusetts. (He escaped). That acquaintance told me a story of how they think there. In the police section of his hometown’s annual Town Report, every year, the Police Chief would document with impressive charts and graphs the particular intersection that had experienced the most accidents in that year. Now, this was never “Death on the Highway.” You could count the  minor fender-bender accidents on one hand. And the solution to this grave problem? They would put up a traffic streetlight in that intersection.

Can you guess what happens next? In the next year, another intersection would move to the fore as being now the one that had the most fender-benders. And the solution to that new problem was to put up another traffic streetlight. And so on, through all the years, until nearly every intersection in town had a traffic streetlight. You may well imagine that there were still minor fender-benders, maybe even more than before, but they had created also a new traffic congestion problem.

When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. My friend heard recently that the proposed solution to the manufactured traffic congestion was to make all the major streets in town into one-way streets. (Rochester went this way). The townspeople finally rebelled and said “no.”

We may note that reversing the original failed idea is never seriously considered. When some ill-advised government notion fails, some additional complication, or some further intervention, is always the “fix” instead.

I employed a contractor last winter for a household project. He reminded me that “all of the towns around here” had created their various boards and committees at just about the same time – the late 1970s and early 1980s. (One might even suspect they all got their bad advice from a single source). He said that “the general idea was to make sure that nothing ever changed.”

I will take that with a grain of salt, but it is true that the net effect of a passel of committees with overlapping and competing authorities is to impede change. That is how Hitler managed his satraps – he set them all against each other with overlapping authorities. Only he could “resolve” the bureaucratic differences that inevitably arose. Stalin was the same. That is the way authoritarians think.

Everyone seems to think that the Milton town government needs to “encourage” businesses. I do not know from where this bad idea comes. (Maybe the same source as the committees). It is obviously wrong, but is also obviously widely held.

But, putting that aside for a moment, if you really want to “encourage” businesses, I mean, if it is really more than just lip service, why not separate the overlaps of these committees? (Use an axe). Does the ZBA really need to reference the DPW, the Police, and Planning as the next stage for a simple variance?

I am certain – absolutely certain – that a typical Grange meeting took up more parking space – with horses and buggies – than the Binker Brothers will ever have at any one time as antiques customers. And horses are generally taller than cars. Did the Police of that time have to pass on “visibility” before the construction of the Grange hall could proceed? Of course not, they would have regarded that as absurd and tyrannical.

Or go the other way. Combine the committees that have overlapping authority into fewer committees. The Planning and Zoning were originally one entity. Right now, you are just stuck in a bureaucratic morass. “Less is more.”

Get out of the way. And reduce taxes. Do that first. Then do it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. That would be the most “encouraging” thing that could be done. Who knows which of the fine home businesses on the Milton Made Products Site might blossom into something bigger and better if the ever-increasing demands of the town apparatus were not sapping their strength?

By the way, when one is going through a list of standards, each one of them is a criterion. Criteria is the plural. This is similar to data (plural) and datum (singular).

Author: S.D. Plissken

I thought he'd be taller.

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