Robert Howarth and Phil Schneider, members of the Hampden, Massachusetts, Planning Board, resigned after residents publicly accused them of improprieties related to special-permit requests that would pave the way for a self-storage project. Though residents had been vocally opposed to the development, some took to social media to criticize board members and how they were handling the planning process after a meeting in which Howarth indicated he’d met privately with the applicant, according to the source.
The self-storage facility is proposed for two adjacent properties at 2 Somers Road and 16 Somers Road, with an entrance at 23 E. Longmeadow Road. The planning board held a public hearing for the first parcel on July 28 and another for the second parcel on Aug. 11.
Hosworth cut short the Aug. 11 meeting due to excessive heat but revealed that he’d spoken to the permit applicant in advance. This caused residents to suspect a deal was being made behind closed doors.
“This man [Howarth] is beyond disrespectful, rude and dismissive,” resident Heidi Hannington wrote on a community page a week after the meeting. “Clearly speaking to the landowner without the knowledge of the rest of the board not only breaks rules set forth by this town, but is also dishonest and makes one wonder if this person thinks he stands alone waiting to make a payday by getting this project pushed through—unbelievable even for small-town politics.”
After other inflammatory comments were posted online, Howarth, who served as board chair, and Schneider submitted their resignation to town administrator Bob Markel. “After over a combined 80-plus years of living in this great Town of Hampden, and many years of public service to the Town of Hampden through various boards and committees, we have come to the conclusion that the time spent and effort given by us is no longer appreciated or understood by the townspeople that we have so diligently served,” the men responded in writing.
The matter has complicated decision-making on the special permit due to legal timelines. Four of five board members are required for a vote on special permits. In addition to two members resigning, associate member Richard Green is ineligible to vote because he has property that abuts the target self-storage site, which leaves only two eligible voters.
As a result, planners are in a race to get new board members temporarily seated until the next town election. The public-hearing process for the special permit for 2 Somers Road was scheduled to close on Sept. 2, though the petitioner allowed a waiver to push the deadline back to Sept. 8, according to the source. Candidates can submit applications until Sept. 7.
To keep pace and have new members seated in time, a joint session between the planning board and board of selectmen has been scheduled on Sept. 8, the same day planners must meet to decide on the permit. If the planning board is unable to adhere to the timeline, the special permit would be “constructively granted,” Markel told the source.
The planning board is also scheduled to hold a continued public hearing on the permit for 16 Somers Road on Sept. 15.
The Reminder, Two Resign From Hampden Planning Board Amid Controversy