EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 10, 2013

Salem board will decide whether to join planning project

Some residents believe it usurps local rights

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — Selectmen will decide Monday if the town will participate in a regional planning project some say seizes local control from communities.

Salem is one of several communities in the state where residents have fought proposals to join A Granite State Future. It’s a three-year initiative launched by the state’s nine regional planning commissions with the goal of developing comprehensive plans for towns through community input.

But some residents, including Selectman Stephen Campbell, say the federally funded program takes away communities’ rights to make planning decisions if they participate.

“Having one set of goals and rules for different towns doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said yesterday. “We don’t need more rules taking away people’s rights.”

Campbell said participating in the project would obligate the town to do anything the federal government orders.

“Once you take their money, you are sort of beholden to them,” he said.

A group of Salem and Windham residents, led by Ken Eyring of Windham, appeared before selectmen in September to oppose the town’s plan to participate.

“I am here because I’m concerned about my children’s future,” Eyring told selectmen. “We have a system of government and it’s being usurped.”

The board voted to have Town Manager Keith Hickey ask the Nashua Regional Planning Commission and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development how the town would be impacted if it joined.

The planning commission answered the town’s questions, saying it would retain local control, Hickey said yesterday. But no response was received from the federal government, frustrating selectmen.

Selectmen decided earlier this week to resolve the issue at their next meeting.

While Campbell and Selectman Everett McBride Jr. oppose participation, Selectmen James Keller and Michael Lyons believe the town would benefit from the group’s research.

“I don’t believe in conspiracy theories,” Keller said yesterday. “I’m not in agreement that the federal government is usurping our rights. ... I would like to see us participate.”

Selectmen’s Chairman Patrick Hargreaves said he wants to research the issue further before making his decision.

Hickey said it would be expensive for the town to conduct its own studies on planning issues, but he will abide by the board’s decision. There is no cost to the town to join the project, he said.

“If they don’t want a voice at the table, they won’t have a voice at the table,” he said.

Participating in the program has become an issue for the same reason in Windham, Danville and several other communities in the state, according to Glenn Greenwood, program manager for A Granite State Future.

Windham decided to join, but Danville opted out.

The program is funded through a $300,000 federal grant.