It's been years since the planning board has reviewed a major development, and the rust showed last week when looking over a plan for a hotel and restaurant at the old Fandangle's site.
John Gault himself must have cringed when none other than Tea Partyer Ray Shakir, a planning board alternate and free market champion, questioned the need for another hotel and Mexican restaurant in town.
We applaud board chair Steve Porter for calling Shakir's line of questioning "very inappropriate," as his comments were totally irrelevant.
It is, of course, the planning board's charge, through Conway's zoning regulations, to preserve the rights of property owners while protecting the town from unsavory developers.
But our free enterprise system works by allowing the marketplace, not a governmental board, to determine whether Conway has too many hotels and Mexican restaurants — or ski shops and burger places, for that matter.
With a Fairfield Inn proposed at Fandangle's, the coming expansion of Walmart, an 80,000-square foot building behind TJ Maxx rumored to be a Market Basket, and other commercial projects likely to follow, Shakir's comments raise a broader point about the planning board's role and responsibility in handling the upcoming wave of development.
The board must stay close to Conway's regulations, of course, but a waiver process gives planners lots of wiggle room to both demand the best aesthetic and at the same time work with property owners non-confrontationally.
Planner Steven Hartmann's comments that "you're not getting any sympathy from me," when the hotel asked to reduce the number of trees of a certain size required by regulations from 120 trees to 60, sends a message of inflexibly, and is not productive or useful.
Every site is different, and the obvious solution here to make it work is to require more, smaller trees or fewer bigger ones. It shouldn't be that hard, and a good philosophical place to start is for the board to realize it is not in the hotel developer's interest to put up a hotel with no curb appeal and not enough trees.
Parking is another major issue that always comes up, and we encourage planners to be flexible here, too. The number of parking spaces is determined by a formula based on square footage, but has anyone ever seen Lowe's parking lot more than 25 percent full?
It's a total waste of money and energy — and a contributor to global warming — to have required Lowe's to build, and now maintain and plow, all that extra black top.
Why insist on uber-parking lots when that space could be used for something more useful like another building or green space?
We are not suggesting the planning board roll over to developers. In fact, we encourage the board to be tough. But a lot has changed since the boom days of pre-2008, and the town will be best served by an open-minded, professional approach. The unproductive comments are best left outside the door.