NORTHBOROUGH — The Northborough Planning Council voted last week to recommend a series of zoning articles to Monday night’s town hall meeting.

The vote, however, came after President Kerri Martinek and planning board member Michelle Gillespie clashed over issues including what Martinek said were social media posts “pushing” community members to struggle against the advice and the articles it offered.

Gillespie immediately refuted Martinek’s comments, calling his actions at the meeting “inappropriate.”

“I’m not going to continue your witch hunt, Kerri,” Gillespie later said.

Amendment would ban new internally lit signs in downtown

An amendment to the sign by-law is one of nine zoning articles in the mandate of the municipal assembly.

Proposed by members Anthony Ziton and Amy Poretsky, the bylaw would define and partially regulate signs with interior lighting.

This revision to current regulations would prohibit internally lit signs specifically in the downtown business district. The change would also ban internally lit signs in residential neighborhoods, with the exception of agricultural signs.

The Planning Board said existing signs would be grandfathered under this amendment, meaning any business that currently has in-house illuminated signs would be exempt unless their sign is torn down or altered.

“This is just a small step to try to bring a consistent look to our signage in our downtown area,” Ziton said, noting that other cities have similar regulations.

Martinek and Gillespie debate on social media

Gillespie has frequently expressed concerns about this amendment and its impact on business.

This latest discussion then took place in a meeting on Tuesday.

Martinek said she was “really disappointed” to see some council members posting messages on social media calling on people to come to the meeting that night and “urging them to fight the Planning Council”.

“I think as a member of this board, it’s really inappropriate to do that as a member of the board,” she said.

Gillespie called Martinek’s comments a “misrepresentation and false accusation”.

“There are other members of this council who participate extensively on social media, talking about you and Amy Poretsky,” Gillespie continued, speaking to Martinek.

“I don’t participate in social media,” Gillespie said.

Martinek also argued that Gillespie, who is a real estate agent, should have said she had an internally lit sign on her businesses in downtown Northborough before talks about changing the sign bylaw.

“I did what any business owner does,” Gillespie replied, indicating that she was complying with city guidelines to get her sign. “I followed the rules. I applied and it was approved.

Gillespie called on Martinek to step forward and allow the public to have their say on the proposed settlements at Tuesday’s meeting, which was a public hearing on the settlements.

The Planning Council recommends articles

Public comment on the regulations had itself been discussed ahead of this meeting, with manager Scott Rogers expressing concerns about the possibilities for the public to weigh in on these articles in March.

He noted that any changes as a result of the Planning Board’s public hearing would not be included in the terms of the town meeting, as the council meeting was scheduled to take place after the Selectmen’s term of office closed on March 14.

Rogers previously asked that opportunities to provide public comment be clearly marked, saying he was waiting for a public hearing to share his thoughts.

“I feel I missed the opportunity to make substantive comments or adjustments to the bylaws proposed this year,” he said, noting the hearing schedule after the close of term.

Martinek said the board opened up time for public comment “repeatedly.”

Rogers argued that the public didn’t know when those opportunities would take place, however.

Martinek then allowed the public to comment Tuesday on the proposed zoning regulations, which also include a regulation adding language around breweries and a proposed moratorium on trucking and distribution uses.

However, it limited attendance to residents of Northborough, meaning some attendees who wanted to comment on the regulations were unable to do so.

This included Corridor 9/495 Chamber of Commerce President Karen Chapman, who announced her intention to speak on behalf of businesses against the restrictions imposed by the Sign Amendment.

The Planning Council eventually voted to recommend all of his articles.

A town meeting is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at Algonquin Regional High School.

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