NATICK – A Natick Planning Board decision to withhold a legal opinion from the public – related to a controversial property development proposal – may be a misconception, according to a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
Jordana Greenman, a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Real Estate Law Section Council, said the board may have “destroyed” its position not to publish the legal opinion issued by City Attorney Karis North. North gave its opinion on the Board of Directors’ motion and recommended that the Board not make it publicly available on the basis of legal and client law.
However, the board may have abandoned its ability to withhold opinion from the public after CEO Terri Evans discussed some details of the opinion in an open meeting, according to Greenman.
“(Evans) must have destroyed the legal privilege. What she did is not private,” Greenman said.
Evans declined to comment upon hearing of Greenman’s remarks. A call and email to North for comment was not returned.
The Daily News have requested a copy of the legal opinion under the Federal Freedom of Information Act.
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Evans said during the public board meeting on December 2 that the statement would not be released until two weeks later at the board meeting on December 16. Evans said the board was following North’s advice on attorney privilege.
Again, Evans cited North’s recommendation of attorney and client privilege when she said on Dec. 16 that the board would not make the statement publicly available.
“Cities and towns are not exempted from the law, but they often pretend they are,” Greenman said of communities citing legal and client law as a reason for not making public documents public.
In the case of the Natick Planning Board’s action, Greenman said it was “unfair to the public, the community and the couple”.
The couple is Joel and Linda Valentin, who applied to the city for special board of directors permission to build condominiums on property at 50 Pleasant St., South Natick.
Details on Valentin’s application for approval
The motion came after the city assembly approved an amendment to the local statutes to preserve history in spring 2019. The amendment to the statutes was sponsored by the planning authority, and the wording of the proposed change was drafted by the authority and the Valentines.
After the application was submitted, some 50 Pleasant St. neighbors turned the project down. In public meetings before the board, they claimed it was too big and detrimental to the character of the neighborhood.
Some neighbors organized a repeal of the constitutional amendment, and the town council approved the repeal last month.
More:The Natick couple claim racism is related to Tuesday’s city council vote to change statutes
Evans’ comments in a public meeting
During the boardroom meeting on December 2, Evans checked North’s opinion and read direct quotations aloud.
Evans, based on North’s opinion, stated that the Valentine’s motion would be governed by post-repeal local history preservation statutes. At the same meeting, the board unanimously voted to reject the Valentine’s motion because it was based on a section of the statutes that no longer existed.
Evans declined to say when the board had requested the legal opinion when questioned by the Daily News.
The Valentins say they were deceived by the board of directors. They argue that the board repeatedly told them in public hearings that the repeal efforts did not affect their motion as it was filed prior to the repeal efforts.
North’s statement focuses on state law and its relationship with the timing of the repeal efforts and Valentine’s application for a special permit.
Evans cited parts of North’s opinion when she publicly reviewed it during the December 2nd board meeting. One said: “There is a case law that provides that a special permit granted after a constitutional amendment must comply with this revised constitution.”
Another said: “Without approval prior to the announcement of the planning authority hearings on the proposed amendments to the Articles of Association, an applicant will have no vested rights or protection from those changes.”
The board held public hearings on the proposed repeal on March 11, ahead of the April spring meeting, and the announcement of the hearings was announced at least two weeks in advance.
The Spring Town Meeting has been postponed to July due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some articles, including the repeal efforts, were included in the city assembly’s arrest warrant in the fall. The planning authority held public hearings on the repeal on September 9, and the public notice was announced at least two weeks in advance.
Henry Schwan is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymetrowest. He can be reached at [email protected] or 508-626-3964.