SHIRLEY -- Under a relatively new policy, selectmen now require all other town boards and departments to submit a formal request before seeking advice from town counsel, for which the town has an expense line in its annual budget.
On Monday night, Planning Board members turned out to lay its case before selectmen, as they had been asked to do, perhaps expecting resistance but encountering only questions.
"It's not that we objected" to the request, selectmen Chairwoman Kendra Dumont said after the meeting. "The aim was to understand what the other board was looking for and had all the necessary information lined up for the attorney to review before the meter started ticking."
The case is complex, and selectmen concurred with the Planning Board that sorting it out calls for legal advice, which they agreed the board could seek from an attorney with expertise in the field.
But when Selectman David Swain suggested that the Planning Board tap its own $1,000 annual budget to pay for it, the administrator and members objected.
"The Planning Board has never had its own legal budget," member Susan Snyder said.
In the end, selectmen agreed to pay for it, but asked for a cost estimate first.
The case the Planning Board will seek legal advice on began earlier this year, when the board received a letter from an attorney representing a local woman who is trustee of a property on Great Road where a foundation was laid about 20 years ago and for which a special permit was issued at that time.
Records show the foundation in its final form was never inspected.
Located next to an auto-repair business, the foundation in question was presented on the special-permit application as 3,000 square feet but was actually 4,000 square feet as built.
According to Building Inspector Donald Farrar, the original permit likely passed muster with his predecessor, but when it was reissued in 2005, the completed work was not inspected to determine if it met local building requirements.
Although he has paperwork in his files pertaining to the project, Farrar said he did not inspect the foundation and was never asked to do so.
But the attorney's letter states that since the foundation exists, the original permit -- with extensions since issued -- should stand.
"It was never signed off on," Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Greeno said of the later permit.
Farrar backed him up. He was not contacted to inspect the foundation, which has since been backfilled, he said, and to do it now would mean digging it up, at least in part, to determine if building codes, such as drainage, were met.
The permit had a limited shelf life, and in the years since it was first issued, the Planning Board issued a series of extensions at the request of the business owner, Jeffrey Dusti, to "keep it alive," Greeno told the selectmen.
Now, the Planning Board needs legal advice.
"Someone has to look at it because we don't know," he said.