EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 25, 2013

Vacancies, expired terms hobble boards

LAWRENCE — One of New England’s largest developers was ready to do business with the city on July 16, when it was scheduled to ask the Conservation Commission for an approval needed to leverage state tax credits to help finance the construction of 65 apartments at Malden Mills.

But two seats on the five-member commission have been vacant for as long as two years, so when a third member called in sick that night, the agency lost its quorum and was unable to hear the application from Winn Development. With the clock running out for the company to apply for the tax credits, Conservation Commission chairman Tennis Lilly scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, the day before Winn Development’s deadline for applying.

“Hopefully, there won’t be issues that arise,” said Vincent Manzi, a lawyer for the developer, who is seeking a ruling from the commission that stormwater runoff from the project won’t worsen drainage problems on the site, which is in a flood zone.

It’s a story playing out with increasing frequency in a city whose boards, commissions and authorities are hobbled by vacancies and served by members whose appointments expired years ago, but are extending their service until their seats are filled, as allowed by state law. All but a handful of the seats are filled by the mayor with the approval of the City Council. A few are filled by the state.

Today, 16 of 20 seats on four key city agencies — the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission and Lawrence Redevelopment Authority — are either vacant or are holding onto their quorums only because members whose terms have expired are continuing to serve while waiting for the mayor to act. On the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board, every seat is vacant or held by a member whose appointment has run out.

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