Sandwich Planning Board Meeting, July 7, 2020

Starting Tuesday, Zoom meetings, such as this planning board meeting last summer, will be a thing of the past as town regulatory and advisory boards and committees begin meeting in person again.

Sandwich boards and committees have covered a wide range of subjects in the last couple of weeks—from building in a flood zone to changing the colors of a business sign—but the common buzz was about getting together again in person.

Those in-person meetings will begin Tuesday, June 15, when the Massachusetts state of emergency will be officially lifted. That means no more Zoom or Google Meet participation by board members and audiences.

Although most board and committee members said publicly they are happy to be meeting face-to-face again with their colleagues, some said privately they will miss the convenience remote meetings have provided.

“The in-person meetings will last longer,” predicted Mary Foley, chairman of the Sandwich Historic District Committee. “We will lose the efficiency of the Zoom meetings—we’ll have to unfold all those plans to look at them.”

Members of the HDC, the conservation commission, the planning board and others have enjoyed the shared-screen function, which allows everyone—including audience members—to look at the plans, architectural renderings and other documents on their personal computer screens.

Although there is a wall-mounted screen in the meeting room at the Sand Hill School Community Center, it has not been widely used by the many groups that met there regularly before the coronavirus pandemic closed most buildings last year.

Most presenters were still using easels facing the board members, making it difficult for members of the public to get a glimpse. Board chairmen may take that into consideration when boards and committees return to Sand Hill sometime after Labor Day.

The Sand Hill School Community Center is currently occupied by the Sandwich Public Library and is expected to continue as the library’s temporary headquarters until summer is over.

Library Director Joanne Lamothe said this week that the reopening of the Main Street building—currently under renovation—has been pushed back to the end of August, due to delays in the delivery of furniture and shelving.

“Even after we get the furniture and shelving we still have to go through the occupancy permit process and we could be finished before the end of August,” Ms. Lamothe said. “But it’s safer to say we’ll be open to the public by Labor Day.”

The library board of trustees is planning to hold its first in-person meeting—on July 13—at town hall.

Most other advisory and regulatory boards will go back to meeting at the Human Services Building at 270 Quaker Meetinghouse Road—the current home of the council on aging.

The Human Services Building was the main meeting place for many years, but lost most of its advisory boards and audiences when the old Sand Hill School was renovated and turned into a community center in 2018.

Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. has filed a bill with the state Legislature to allow public boards to continue to conduct meetings remotely until September as long as the public can participate.

But Sandwich Planning Director Ralph A. Vitacco, who has been the administrator for many of the town’s remote meetings, has stopped announcing that the remote meetings may be continued.

“We will be meeting in person after June 15,” he has said at almost every meeting in the last two weeks.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association has been pushing the Legislature to permanently allow remote meeting participation.

“Remote meetings have engaged more residents than ever before and have significantly increased transparency and insight into government operations and decision-making,” Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the municipal association, has said. “Communities do not want to snap back to the overly confining pre-pandemic rules, and many are not in a position to do so quickly.”

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