September 20 2019

Longtime Planning Board Member Jack Kelly Resigns Citing Frustration Over Lawsuit Response

By: Rich Hosford

A longtime member of the Burlington Planning Board resigned suddenly on Thursday in the midst of a lawsuit with a car dealership owner and what he said was lack of support from the Board of Selectmen and the town administration. 


Jack Kelly announced his resignation at the end of the Planning Board meeting on Thursday night. In total he had spent 17 years on the board with the most recent stretch starting in 2012. He was also a Town Meeting member for many years and in total said he has a combined 40 years as an elected official in town. 


The lawsuit in question was filed by car dealership owner Herb Chambers and is in regards to the project on Cambridge Street that includes breaking the joint Porsche/Audi dealership into two separate buildings that was approved by Town Meeting in 2018. In the lawsuit, explained in a letter that Chambers sent to Town Meeting members in August, Chambers is alleging the Planning Board misinterpreted the language of the 2018 bylaw when it approved the application on the condition that no other brand of used cars be sold at those locations.


Chambers is arguing the bylaw language was meant for new vehicles and was included to assure Town Meeting and the Planning Board that they wouldn’t add a third dealership to the location. Not allowing the reselling of used vehicles obtained by trade-in, he argues, is overly restricting and an “erroneously interpretation” of the language. He said it is standard practice at dealership to re-sell vehicles that are traded in as long as they meet the standards of that dealership. 


In his statement of resignation, Kelly said this dealership is historically a distinct case and should be treated differently than other dealerships because of promises made by the owners in the past.


“Back in 2004 the current location of the present Porsche/Audi dealership was not zoned to allow an automobile dealership but was grandfathered for the operation of the C.N. Wood Company which sold backhoes, bulldozers and several types of construction equipment,” he said. “By some creative stretch of the imagination an application for a car dealership was submitted on the theory that the passenger car dealership was like the construction equipment dealer and not substantially more detrimental than the company that sold backhoes and bulldozers. A majority of the Planning Board back then believed the traffic generated by a traditional automobile dealership was too much for that location. The proponent of the dealership then promised the would sell only luxury vehicles which would generate significantly less traffic than a traditional dealership. Based upon that promise by the dealership, the Planning Board at that time narrowly approved a luxury car dealership by a 4-3 vote.”


Kelly went on to say that concerns over traffic and safety were what lead the current Planning Board members to put on the conditions it did when approving the special permit for the current project. 


“Information such as that has not been disclosed to the Town Meeting members,” he said. “Yet that dealership now complains they are not being treated like other dealerships even though they promised they would be a different type of dealership and would operate in a way that produced substantially less traffic.”


Kelly also complained about the Board of Selectmen and the administration for not approving more legal funds to continue fighting the lawsuit. He said he felt the Planning Board was undercut by the move and not given the chance to fully defend itself in court. 


“Although the selectmen and administration cannot stop this board from speaking out or fighting back by making known the truth and facts, this board seems ready to let the unsubstantiated allegations go unchallenged, leaving some people to erroneously believe those unsubstantiated allegations are true,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience be part of this deliberate marginalization, diminishment and undermining of one of the most professional and hardest working departments in town. Consequently, after more than 40 years of holding elected office as either a Town Meeting member or a 17-year member of the Planning Board, I have decided this is my last Planning Board meeting.” 


Board of Selectmen Chair Joe Morandi said the board made the decision to limit the legal funds in what he believes was the best interest of the town and its taxpayers. 


“As far as I was concerned I based my vote on what I thought was right for the town of Burlington and if Mr. Kelly doesn’t agree with it, it’s not my issue,” he said. “I’m here to represent the Town of Burlington and I thought that the best thing for the town was to let this go.” 


So what happens next? Town Clerk Amy Warfield told BNEWS that the only board that requires a special election to fill a vacancy is the Board of Selectmen. When there is a vacancy in the Planning Board, she explained, that board’s members will make a recommendation for a temporary replacement to the Board of Selectmen. If approved, that person will serve until the April, 2020 Town Election. Whoever wins that election will serve out the remainder of Kelly’s term which ends in 2022. 


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