Because the zoning board of appeals did not file a timely response to an Open Meeting Law complaint about a proposed zipline hearing, the state has extended the deadline in the matter.
The board, which met on Tuesday, August 13, acknowledged the deadline extension from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, but did not discuss the matter.
In a letter to Carlo M. DiPersio—the Sandwich resident who filed the Open Meeting Law complaint with the state on June 25—the AG’s office stated that it has extended the deadline for Mr. DiPersio to request further review of the matter until September 30.
Specifically, Mr. DiPersio had filed a complaint against the way the board had worded its announcement of the May 14 original public hearing on whether Heritage Museums & Gardens should be granted a special permit to build and operate a ropes course on its property near downtown Sandwich.
Mr. DiPersio alleged that the state’s Open Meeting Law was violated by the board in its announcement because the word “community” was omitted from the description of the applicable Sandwich Zoning Bylaw governing an outdoor recreational facility.
Town Attorney Michele E. Randazzo, in a letter of response sent to Assistant Attorney General Carrie Benedon, said Mr. DiPersio’s complaint is invalid.
Mr. DiPersio did not file the complaint within 30 days of the alleged violation, and the content of public hearing notices is not covered by Open Meeting Law, Ms. Randazzo wrote.
“There is simply no requirement under the [Open Meeting Law] that the May 14, 2019, meeting notice contain a verbatim recitation of the applicable provisions of the Zoning By-Law,” she wrote.
“To suggest that the public was misled about the nature of the application pending before the board is simply incorrect,” she added.
Nevertheless, the AG’s office found that Ms. Randazzo’s response itself missed the deadline.
“Because the board took six days beyond the standard 14 business days to respond to your complaint, your deadline to file the complaint with our office for further review will also be extended by six days,” the AG’s office wrote to Mr. DiPersio.
Mr. DiPersio said during a telephone interview on Wednesday, August 14, that he would be refiling his complaint with the AG’s office well before the extended deadline.
But, he added, the open meeting complaint is only one small way in which the neighbors of Heritage’s proposed zipline are seeking to preserve their historic neighborhood.
“We are prepared for a long fight,” Mr. DiPersio said.
Several Heritage neighbors have joined in an appeal of the zoning board’s decision to grant a special permit which would allow Heritage to reopen its controversial treetop ropes course. The appeal was filed with the Barnstable Superior Court on July 12.
The zoning board voted on June 25 to grant Heritage a special permit that would allow it to reopen the ropes course and adventure park, which had been closed—and determined to be an unlawful use—by a court order in the summer of 2018.
The board’s decision this spring was unanimous and included several conditions, including the prohibition of concessions, music, and lighting, as well as limited hours of operation.
The layout of the proposed park replicates the one that had been closed, but the new ropes course will be placed on the Heritage side of the 100-foot buffer zone located between Heritage’s property and the surrounding neighborhood.
Before the course is allowed to be moved, the museum will also need approval from the Sandwich Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee and must obtain building permits from the town building inspector.
Mr. DiPersio said the neighbors and their attorney, Jonathan D. Fitch, will be in attendance at the yet-to-be-scheduled historic committee meeting.
“I’m not sure the historic district committee members are prepared to set a precedent that would allow amusement parks in historic districts up and down the Cape,” Mr. DiPersio said.
The pending Superior Court appeal names Ursula Price, Nancy Andrews, and Randolph Morgan as the plaintiffs. Zoning board members Christopher Neeven, Robert Jensen, Timothy O’Neill, Gerald Nye, Erik Van Buskirk, James Killion, Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, and the Adventure Park at Heritage Museums & Gardens are the defendants.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs state that they feel that the decision made by the zoning board “is arbitrary, capricious, and exceeds the authority of the ZBA” and that the land upon which the adventure park is set to operate is R-1 residential and not for zoned for commercial use.
The neighbors are worried that the traffic and noise will destroy their quiet, historic neighborhood.
Additionally, the plaintiffs state that the new proposed park is the same operation that was doing business from 2014 through 2018—when it was closed by order of Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty II.