NEWBURYPORT — The longtime chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals resigned following what city officials called the mismanagement of a decision filed by the ZBA regarding a funeral home on High Street.
Edward Ramsdell, who resigned June 28, had served on the city's Zoning Board of Appeals since 1995, and had been its chair since 2003.
In a June 27 letter to the mayor, Ramsdell said he "regretfully" found it necessary to resign from the board, effective the following day. In turn, Ramsdell also resigned as Newburyport's commissioner on the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.
"I have greatly enjoyed my time on the board and the MVPC," Ramsdell wrote. "Hopefully I have assisted my fellow members over time with various matters including the undertaking of the new responsibilities by the board such as the DCOD (demolition control overlay district) portion of the ordinance."
Planning Director Andy Port said Friday that Ramsdell's resignation was the result of his handling of a decision regarding the Twomey-LeBlanc and Conte Funeral Home's application for a special permit to pave a parking lot and build a small garage on its property.
"There was some discussion of the way that was handled, and it was felt that it would be best if he resigned," said Port.
Port said the department does not have a replacement lined up for Ramsdell, but that the ZBA vice chair, Rob Ciampitti, will assume the role of chair for the time being.
In recent months, Louie Hebbelinck, who owns Twomey-LeBlanc and Conte Funeral Home at 193 High St., and his attorney, Lisa Mead, have fought to build a parking lot on the property, to the dismay of abutters who believe the lot would negatively impact the character and quietness of neighborhood.
For years, the gravel space behind the funeral home has served as an informal parking lot for people coming to the funeral home. Earlier this year, zoning administrator Jennifer Blanchet notified the funeral home that its use of the gravel lot was illegal, and asked the business to stop allowing cars to park there.
Subsequently, Hebbelinck's application was split into two parts — one for the garage and one for the paved parking lot. The two applications were both denied by the ZBA in March, and now Mead and Hebbelinck are appealing the decision in state Land Court.
In a letter to Ward 2 City Councilor Jared Eigerman, Eric Goodness, whose property at 189-191 High St. abuts the funeral home, described a series of "disenfranchising" visits to the Planning Department that led him to discover the ZBA's written decision to deny the application was not on file there or in the City Clerk's Office. He said he believed the decision had been illegally destroyed by a city employee.
Mayor Donna Holaday said Ramsdell did not destroy the board's decision, but said she could not comment on more specific reasons for his resignation.
Holaday noted that controversies over decisions made by the ZBA have arisen in recent years, and said pressure reached a tipping point over the funeral home dispute.
"The ZBA has been under fire over the last several years. It reached a point.... based on the situation, we talked and he said, 'it's time,'" said Holaday.
Still, Holaday said she was grateful for Ramsdell's years of service on the ZBA.
"He gave so much of his time and energy to serving on this board," she said. "I'm very grateful and I have tremendous respect for him."
Ramsdell did not respond to phone calls or emails from The Daily News on Friday.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.
TO READ Eric Goodness's letter to city councilors raising questions about actions by the Planning Department and ZBA go to Newburyportnews.com