Meeting/Hearing Process

Overview of the Planning Board / Zoning Board of Appeals Application Process 

In general, project reviews and approvals follow the path below.  Note, however, that project needs vary, and specific criteria and procedures may differ. 

Stage 1 - Preliminary Inquiry

  • If you are a potential applicant, the best first step is to talk to the Ashland Planning Department to discuss your proposed project and who you may need on your project team (designers, engineers, attorneys, etc.)

  • For Special Permits and Site Plan Reviews:  Applicants are strongly encouraged to request a Pre-Application Conference with the Planning Board. This meeting can identify issues to be addressed during the permitting process.  No binding commitments are made, and the submission is not considered a formal application, but Planning Board input may inspire project revisions which can save an applicant time and money.

  • When initial documents are ready, the Planning Department may recommend an informal technical review with Town Staff to ascertain any initial concerns.  (This technical review is optional.)

Stage 2 – Application Process 

  • Following the by-laws, each Board has its own jurisdiction and a proposed project may require approvals from both Boards. The table below notes the Board overseeing various processes.
Application Type
Regulatory Board
Administrative Appeal of Building Inspector DecisionZBA
Design Plan ReviewPlanning Board
Earth Removal PermitPlanning Board
Modification/Extension of Special PermitZBA
Modification/Extension of Variance ZBA
Scenic Road PermitPlanning Board
Site Alteration Special PermitPlanning Board
Site Plan Modification Planning Board
Site Plan Review Planning Board
Special Permit (Depending on by-law regulation)ZBA & Planning Board
Subdivision Planning Board
Wireless Communication Facilities
Planning Board

  • Once the application has been submitted, Town Staff has 3 days to determine if a complete application (CA) has been filed or to notify the applicant that it is incomplete before the application is stamped into the Town Clerk’s office. This applies to all Public Hearings:  Special Permits, Variances, Site Plan Reviews, Subdivision Applications or any Appeal. 

  • After the application has been stamped, regulatory deadlines begin:

    • Boards have 65 days to open a public hearing.   

    • Per M.G.L Ch. 40A Section 11, a public hearing requires notice in local newspapers for 2 consecutive weeks, and all abutters within 300’ are notified by mail (even if in another town). 

    • General public meetings and discussions do not require notification, but we ask applicants to send out a notification to abutters as a courtesy.

    • Prior to the public hearing, Town Staff (or Board members) may request further information from the applicant or ask other departments for evaluation (Conservation, DPW, Board of Health, etc.)

  • For Site Plan Reviews: 

    • Within 7 days of CA, the site plan is submitted to the Board of Heath, Building Inspector, Conservation Commission, Department of Public Works, as well as the Fire and Police Departments.

    • Within 30 days of CA, the Planning Board may hold a fact-finding and public information meeting focused on responding to public questions and concerns.

    • Within 60 days of CA, Design Review (if required) is completed.  Though the applicant may initiate the Design Review process at the time of the application, it is strongly recommended that the start is coordinated with the Planning Board to avoid extra meetings or inefficiencies. 

Stage 3 – Going Before the Board 

  • Once the public hearing is opened, the Board has a set time to review and vote on an application.  These times may be extended if the applicant agrees.  If the allowed time is not met, an applicant can file a Constructive Approval for the Board’s failure to act.
    • Special Permit, Planning Board – 180 days 

    • Variance – 100 days 

    • Site Plan Review/Design Plan Review – 120 days

    • Subdivision –  90 days

  • During the public hearing, the Board will hear presentations from the applicant and their project team. The Board and the public will ask questions and provide comments.

  • Occasionally, public hearings may last a single meeting, but the approval of the majority of applications will take longer and depend on the scale and complexity of the proposed project.

  • When it feels the project is fully vetted, the Board votes on the project.

Stage 4 – After the Vote 

  • Within 14 days, the Board’s decision is formally documented by the Town Staff, signed by Board members, and stamped by the Town Clerk’s office. 

    • Abutters are also notified that a decision has been filed 

    • There is a 20-day appeal period (for the majority of cases) during which any party can file an appeal of the decision. 

    • If no appeal has been filed within the appeal period, the decision stands and may be recorded with the Middlesex registry of deeds. 

  • For most cases, the applicant has 2 years to act on a decision. The applicant may request a time extension from the Board for good cause.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Planning Department.