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A ZBA dilemma

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A former board chair with 25 years’ experience lacks the votes to get reappointed to a position he resigned from

Former Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Ben Sturniolo, a 25-year veteran of the board, seeks reappointment to the ZBA after resigning earlier this year. But at Tuesday’s (May 24) meeting, selectmen were deadlocked at 2-2 with one abstention on a substitute motion to appoint Sturniolo to fill a current vacancy on the board.

“Mr. Sturniolo is probably the most experienced Board of Appeals person we’ve had in the last eight decades,” Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini said.

But Cicolini cast one of the two votes against reappointing Sturniolo. “I think it sends a bad message,” Cicolini said, referring to recent efforts to encourage new and less experienced candidates participating in local government.

Cicolini instead backed the appointment of ZBA alternate member Robert Northrop, who is interested in becoming a full-time member of the board. That motion failed on a 2-2 vote with one abstention. “I’d hate to see Mr. Northrop get discouraged.”

Selectman Michael Serino and Board of Selectmen Vice-Chair Debra Panetta each supported the substitute motion to reappoint Sturniolo and also voted against the appointment of Northrop. Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano sided with Cicolini on both votes. Selectman Corinne Riley abstained from both votes because her husband, Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member Christopher P. Riley, is a candidate for the ZBA vacancy.

Selectmen advertised for applicants to fill the ZBA vacancy following Sturniolo’s resignation earlier in the year.

“Hello … as you know a few months back I needed to resign my position as Chair of the ZBA, needing to care for two members of my family who were not well,” Sturniolo wrote in a May 14 text to selectmen.

“The situation has improved and I have secured the needed assistance. I served 25 years on the board, and would like to be considered for reappointment,” he said.

Selectmen Serino and Panetta supported Sturniolo’s reappointment passionately, citing his 25 years of service and invaluable expertise as a longtime board member. Serino said he personally didn’t see how the board couldn’t grant Sturniolo’s request.

“I made the motion to put Ben on [the board] in 1995, and he did a phenomenal job,” Cogliano said. But the chair agreed with Cicolini that Northrop should be given a chance to move up from his alternate seat.

“I also like the fact that Mr. Riley applied for this position,” Cogliano said.

Cicolini stressed that he doesn’t want his vote to be construed as opposition to somebody with 25 years of experience. “He didn’t take a temporary leave. He resigned,” Cicolini said.

“We’re trying to build interest in other residents,” he said.

Selectmen voted to invite Sturniolo, Northrop, Riley and Leo Fonseca – another candidate who responded to the ZBA vacancy posting – for interviews with the board in the first floor conference room at Town Hall on June 14 at 6 p.m. Cogliano told The Saugus Advocate following this week’s meeting that it is possible for selectmen to vote on filling the ZBA vacancy after interviewing the four candidates.

The Board of Appeals holds public hearings and acts on applications for Special Permits, Variances and Comprehensive Permits. Most Board of Appeals hearings are for Special Permit applications for residential or business uses not allowed by right.

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