Chris Olney: Candidate For Planning Board


To the Editor and Residents of Manchester:

Five months ago, I was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Planning Board.  I am now running for election to the Board.

My brief tenure has been a learning experience.  The Planning Board has been grappling with major issues as we attempt to improve the Town’s zoning by-law and implement the recommendations spelled out in the master plan, while dealing with routine matters that come to us for approval.

Here are some of the questions that we are facing: 

  • What exactly is our role? Both as a Board and as an individual member of the Board? Whose interests are we to represent?
  • How do we engage with our fellow citizens?  The Board deals with property subdivisions, site plan reviews, even curb cuts. We even have the illogical responsibility of endorsing plans that do not require approval.   How can we make these processes more efficient, transparent and understandable? 
  • How do we weigh property owners’ rights while considering abutters’ perspectives and interests as well as what is best for the Town as a whole?
  • Is zoning meant to prevent or control new development with strict rules that often have unintended consequences?  Should it encourage development that benefits the Town?  Both?  It is clear that we are in desperate need of more diverse and affordable housing options.  How can we facilitate solutions to this pressing problem?

The Board is undertaking the task of making the current zoning regulations easier to understand while making them conform to the character of Manchester and the wishes of the Town’s citizens as expressed in the newly adopted master plan.  It is sometimes confusing, contentious and is made even more difficult by COVID-19 because we can only meet “virtually,” gazing into our computer screens and trying to guess what others are thinking.  We are making progress and I am looking forward to a lively discussion through a series of public workshops and formal hearings before presenting “recodification” to Town Meeting for adoption.

There are some major changes headed our way.  The pandemic may well change much about how we conduct our lives. How will these changes affect how the Town uses its land and infrastructure?  The land on the far side of Route 128 is about to see major proposals for new development. It is inevitable.  Can we guide the development to serve the Town’s financial and cultural interests or do we try to react to developers as they push us with detailed plans and threatened legal action if we resist?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these questions.  But I am willing to work with others to find them.  And I am convinced that the Planning Board needs to be proactive and must take a broad and long-term perspective, using the master plan as our guide.  Manchester has changed since my childhood.  It will continue to change in future years.  Do we sit back and watch change happen or do we make an effort to guide it to make this an even better place to live?

I would appreciate your vote in the upcoming election on June 30.  I am not aware of any other candidates, except that Gary Gilbert has announced a write-in campaign.  He would be an energetic and capable addition to the Board and I encourage a vote for him as well.

Chris Olney


planning board, bos, town election, town meeting, property rights, citizens, zoning, recodification