June 20 2018

ZBA Chair Steps Down After 18 Years on the Board

By: Rich Hosford

A longtime member of one of Burlington’s boards announced he is stepping down after almost 20 years of service.

John Alberghini said on Tuesday that he will not seek a new term on the Zoning Board of Appeals and that this week’s session would be his last meeting. Alberghini has been on the board as either a full time member or an alternate member since the year 2000. He has also been the board chairman since 2013.

Alberghini was not the only board member to announce they were leaving. The chairman started the meeting by announcing that fellow member David Kelly, who had recently secured a new job, would not be able to meet the time commitment to continue to serve. Kelly was first appointed to the board in 20115.

“He’s decided to move on to much bigger and better things,” Alberghini said of Kelly. “I want to thank him for all the hard work he’s put in in the last few years and I commend him for his service to the town.”

Selectman Joe Morandi, who before being elected to his current position was a member of the ZBA, then came forward to offer his thoughts on both Kelly’s and Alberghini’s retirements.

“David I want to thank you for the time you’ve put in for the board,” he began. “this is an appointed position, it is not a paid position. There is nothing to gain from this except your experience with the town and what you’ve done for the town and the residents. So I want to thank you for your time for myself and the Board of Selectmen.”

Morandi then addressed Alberghini.

“What’s it been, about 20 years?” he said. “I truly want to say thank you. I sat on the board with you, it was a pleasure, I learnt a lot from you. To give that much time to the town and not get anything for it I wanted to come here tonight and personally say thank you from the Town of Burlington, for all the things you’ve done. Good or bad, we’ve had our incidents both ways, but you’ve put a lot of time in this town.”

Alberghini told BNEWS in a phone interview on Wednesday that he decided to retire from the board because he felt it was the right time to do so. He retired from his engineering job last year and is enjoying some down time.

“I’m starting to spend a little more time on some of my hobbies, my interests,” he said. “I just thought it was time.”

When asked about some of the times that he was happy with how the board handled difficult issues before them he said he was proud when they were able to make compromises in the midst of controversy. One relatively recent example he pointed to was the Planning Board’s attempted appeal of the building permit for the Residence Inn by Marriott in The District. That situation highlighted the purpose of the ZBA: To make informed judgements when there are questions about the intent and interpretation of the town’s bylaws.

Alberghini said the judgement they came to was a compromise that had the one true hallmark of being a successful give and take; nobody left completely happy.

“There were a lot of people who had very strong feeling,” he said. “When we were able to forge a compromise a lot of those people felt let down, on both sides. I think that is actually kind of a sign of a good resolution when nobody is really upset but nobody really happy either. I’m proud of the fact that we, the board, were able to find a resolution that met the intent of what the bylaws were and that didn’t leave anybody unduly upset or unduly ecstatic.”

Aside from brokering big compromises, Alberghini said he is proud of all the smaller decisions the board has made during his time as a member and as chairman that have helped Burlington maintain it aesthetic. Most of those decisions the board faces have to do with the many appeals of the signage bylaws and the board has spent a lot of time working with companies to ensure they have the visibility they need without compromising the look of the town.

“I think the board in general over the years has tried to maintain an attractive environment,” he said. “You can drive around other towns and see signs that are large and ostentatious. When I drive around town and I see the more attractive environment Burlington has compared to our neighbors and I like to think that some of that is because of me.”

The hearings Alberghini spent the most time studying and preparing for, he said, are the appeals brought by Burlington residents. The board often hears from property owners asking for a variance to make some modification on their properties not allowed under the bylaws and are asked to make exceptions, often for legitimate reasons that may have been unforeseen by those who wrote the rules.

“It’s impossible for a bylaw to cover every situation and it’s up to the ZBA to make that determination,” he explained. “What’s really important is how the ZBA deals with citizens. If someone has a house and wants to do something with it and are told they can’t that’s very important to them. It might be the most important thing in their lives at that time. You can’t take the responsibility lightly.”

To prepare for those discussions Alberghini said he would visit each site.  

“I can’t say how many miles I’ve driven in town,” he said. “I go to look at all properties that have hearings. Sometimes I’d get funny looks stopping in front of people’s houses but it’s something I took quite seriously.”

Finally, Alberghini said he worked to make sure everyone felt heard and hopes that, even if things didn’t go their way, everyone felt the process was fair. He said he hopes the next chairperson will continue that practice.

“When the meeting was over, win or lose, whether it was a board member or an applicant that didn’t have a vote go their way, I wanted everyone to leave having had a chance to have their say,” he said. “I never wanted to have anyone leave thinking they didn’t have a fair process. That’s what I want to be my legacy.”


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