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December 01. 2013 8:31PM

Chamber urges training for Manchester planning, zoning boards

MANCHESTER — Make the city planning and zoning boards more professional and efficient.

This was one of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s top recommendations to improve the permitting process for businesses and building projects in the Queen City.

The chamber presented its list of eight “action items” Tuesday to the aldermen’s Special Committee on Job Creation and Economic Development.

“I think these will go a long way to make Manchester a good place to do business and foster development and redevelopment,” Bob Duval, the president of TFMoran, the Bedford-based planning and civil engineering firm, told the committee.

Duval and other chamber members have spent the past year meeting with city planning officials to develop the recommendations.

The first recommendation is to extend the validity of planning board decision to two years. The change, which is already under consideration by the board, would match the two-year period for zoning board actions set by the Legislature.

The central recommendation is for planning and zoning board members to receive training, both in the relevant laws they oversee and, in the case of chairmen, in the effective running of meetings.

“It really makes a difference to have a board that has a grasp of land development principles and planning and zoning laws,” Duval said. “So many times, it seems, meetings end up going on tangents that have no bearing in planning and zoning law.”

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long agreed that elected members of city boards, including the aldermen, could benefit from more training. The committee backed his motion to refer the chamber’s proposals concerning board training to the administration committee.

Long said the aldermen should consider rejoining the state municipal association, which provides training to local boards, or making other funds available for training.

The chamber also recommends the city examine “performance zoning” in certain areas. The program, which has been successfully implemented in parts of Bedford and Dover, sets goals for development, rather than strict regulations governing, for example, setbacks and parking. “In my office, as soon as they hear you need a variance, or two or three, it doesn’t take a lot until they lose interest,” Duval said.

Planning director Leon LaFreniere said several of the chamber’s proposals are already under discussion with the planning board as part of an ongoing overhaul of its regulations.

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