Roundup of BOS news: Wary of demolition delay, new contract for Fire Chief, support for new pumper truck, and hedging on Town House windows

by beth on March 20, 2015

Post image for Roundup of BOS news: Wary of demolition delay, new contract for Fire Chief, support for new pumper truck, and hedging on Town House windows

Above: Some of the votes at this week’s Board of Selectmen meeting pertain to the Fire Station’s leaky roof, an inefficient pumper truck, and the department chief’s contract renewal. (photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

I haven’t had a chance to report on Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting. But Southborough Wicked Local has posted three stories on selectmen’s votes.

Here they are. (Plus a little more relevant information from me.):

Southborough selectmen weigh demolition delay – :

Selectmen appear wary of a demolition delay bylaw as proposed for Town Meeting next month.

The bylaw proposed by the Historical Commission would create a mandatory nine-month period before structures built before 1925, or those deemed historically significant in the town’s historical property survey, can be torn down. The purpose of the bylaw is to preserve and protect historically significant buildings or structures, according to the proposed bylaw.

The majority of selectmen said on Tuesday night they were not comfortable taking a position on the bylaw as proposed. The board suggested the Historical Commission take another look at certain aspects, such as the nine-month time frame.

Selectmen Chairman Bill Boland took issue with including the historical property survey, which was completed in 2000 and revised in 2015. He said some residents might be surprised their properties are on the list.

“Who determines that historical significance?” Boland asked, noting one Main Street home built in 1960 is on the list. . .

“We were about to lose our icon of Southborough and we still might in the end result,” [Historical Commission Chair Joseph] Hubley said. “At least this bylaw would allow us to work the owner to see if there is a way to keep it from demolition.” (read more)

Southborough fire chief has new deal – source:

Under the new contract, [Fire Chief Joseph] Mauro’s pay will be $110,000 for the first year. It will increase to $114,400 the second year and $118,976 the third year. (read more)

Southborough selectmen debate capital projects – Southborough Wicked Local:

Selectmen Tuesday night voted to bring the purchase of a $550,000 new fire truck to Town Meeting next month, but held off on making a decision on a $306,000 project to replace the Town House windows. 

On the fire truck:

The new fire truck will replace a 2000 pumper. It serves as both a pumper and rescue truck that carries the Jaws of Life equipment. . .

Town Administrator Mark Purple said the money will be borrowed and repaid with the town’s ambulance fund.

Fire Chief Joseph Mauro said the current truck was not designed to be a rescue-pumper. The new truck will be designed for the specific equipment. . .

Mauro said the new truck will last about 20 years. The old truck will be sold or traded-in.

On the windows:

John Parent, the town’s facility manager, said replacing the building’s original windows is a big project and “long overdue.” The Town House opened in 1870.

“We are starting out with 144-year-old windows,” he said, noting the windows are sealed closed with fixed exterior storm windows.

He said the new windows will be energy-efficient and will help regulate heating and cooling in the building

“When the sun hits the windows it just cooks,” he said. “It is like an oven. It is really hard to regulate the temperatures in the building when you don’t have energy efficient windows.”(read more)

Note: Selectmen were concerned by Parent’s analysis of a 78 year payback period for the window replacement. But Parent’s presentation highlighted other reasons he deemed replacement important.

The Facilities Manager said that there is a safety issue with having windows that can’t open (in case of fire). He also pointed out that for much of the year, windows cause offices to bake, impacting employee productivity.

Selectmen weren’t sold on the investment. They opted to hold the vote until after the Historical Commission takes a stance.

In the meeting, selectmen also debated a proposed $20,000 in engineering design for the Fire Station roof. According to Parent, the roof is leaking substantially needs to be replaced.

He advocated that the roof needs to be designed correctly to avoid problems of the past. Given uncertain future of public safety buildings, Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf was concerned about timing of designing a new roof. She asked if the insurance company will address damage caused by ice dams. Parent said yes, but the Town has a deductible.

Town Administrator Mark Purple said the building would be used for at least another five years. “We’re going to invest some money to improve that roof, to maintain the integrity of the building.” Selectman Dan Kolenda was confident that regardless of public safety building decisions, “that building itself is not going anywhere.”

The vote passed by four. Phaneuf said she opposed only because she needed more information.

1 Al Hamilton March 20, 2015 at 1:16 PM

We should be quite cautious on the Demolition Delay By Law:

1. There are 100’s of buildings in town that will be impacted. I was not able to find an on line listing of these buildings on the Town Web site. You may wish to look at http://mhc-macris.net to see if your property is on this list.

2. We should expect that a full listing of impacted buildings be made available on the town web site.

3. We should ask what the process is for making the list. Were the criterion made by an unelected board? Did any elected official approve the list?

4. Was each effected property owner notified? Was a public hearing held on each property?

5. This by law clearly will impact the values of some properties. Will the owners be offered compensation?

6. Will current owners and their agents be required to disclose this restriction when the properties are offered for sale?

2 RB March 26, 2015 at 12:04 PM

Thank you Al for providing the link to the Mass Historical web site.

I would STRONGLY advise each and every property owner to access the http://mhc-macris.net site and input your address – you may be in for a rude awakening!

I was!

The data for the house in which I grew up in is WRONG, as is the data for a neighboring house. The houses were built in 1957 and 1956 respectively, however whomever provided the data to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (perhaps conveniently) added several years to the houses’ age, listing their construction dates as 1950.

I cannot see approving the bylaw when the information used to enforce it is potentially flawed!

3 Michael Weishan March 20, 2015 at 5:41 PM

Hello Al,

As a member of the Historical Commission, I’d like to chime in here in a personal capacity to clear up some of these questions for you. At our upcoming meeting Monday The Commission will mostly likely pass a revision to the language that simplifies the entire process to only include structures built before 1925 that appear on the Survey Report. If your house was built before 1925 and is on the list, this affects you. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The list was drawn up 15 years ago by an independent certified consultant and paid for by article at Town Meeting, and recently updated by another independent consultant. This list is available at the Town Library and we encourage all members to consult the binders to discover the history of their homes. The Commission will also be scanning the entire report for easier viewing, and be circulating explanatory literature very shortly. I believe the Commission will also be holding a public informational meeting. Stay tuned.

Please keep in mind that the proposed by-law only delays, but does not PREVENT demolition and has NO negative effect on property values. In fact, communities with historic preservation by-laws like these consistently outpace towns that don’t in terms of real estate values.

All the surrounding towns to Southborough have passed similar legislation long ago and have only experienced positive benefits. By-laws like these are generally not real estate disclosure items, any more than zoning restrictions are. It’s up to potential buyers to educate themselves about the Town laws that govern the community.

Finally, this proposed delay only affects those people who wish to DEMOLISH a home. And by that I mean tear down totally. This by-law does not affect expansions or renovations. Total demolition of historic structures doesn’t happen very often in Southborough, because frankly, old-homes are a sought after item and often represent a means to enter our very expensive real estate market. But when it does, it’s usually some outside developer. If that’s the case, and you’re the next-door neighbor or abutter, this by-law will be very beneficial to you, as it gives you, the public, a seat at the table.

We all benefit from the preservation of Southborough’s historic nature. It increases the desirability of our town, helps protect the tax base for the schools, and quite frankly, makes this a nicer place to live.

4 Al Hamilton March 21, 2015 at 3:33 PM

1. The law covers interior demolitions as so it is broader than a total tear down.

2. The delay is not 9 months in time, there is a roughly 32 day process before the 9 months timer starts so it is really a 10 month delay.

3. The postings for the required meetings must be paid for by the property owner.

4. The property owners are required to permit access to the property (a power we do not even give to the assessor or police). I would presume that the Historic Commission would be responsible and liable for the actions of person so admitted to the property.

5. The property owner must bear the time and expense of “actively seeking alternatives with the Commission and any interested parties”

6. There is no requirement on the commission to vet any “interested parties” as to their ability to carry out the desired renovations.

7. As previously mentioned the Commission can require the property owner to make certain repairs at the owners expense.

8. The Historic Commission is authorized to promulgate rules and regulations regarding this by law.

9. Their is no appeal mechanism, the decision of the Commission is final.

As written, this is a pretty major piece of legislation that will take rights currently held by property owners to do with their property as they see fit and transfer those rights to an unelected board.

5 Al Hamilton March 21, 2015 at 11:46 AM

I was able, after some searching, to locate a copy of the demolition by law. It can be found in the draft warrant that was in the Selectmens meeting packet last week.

http://www.southboroughtown.com/Agendas/Packets/Packet031715.pdf

Start at Page 26.

If you own a property that is old or potentially historic or have a building on your property that is in less than pristine condition this is a document you need to read.

The by law gives the Historic Commission, an unelected body, substantial powers over potential sale and construction on properties with structures that it considers of historic and in some cases permits the commission to force the owners of those properties to spend money performing maintenance and repairs on structures it considers historic.

This is a major piece of legislation that will have a material impact on 100’s of families in our community. The consequences need to be understood by every town meeting member.

I have still not been able to locate an on line listing of the properties that the Historic Commission wants to apply this law to. I believe that they should immediately make this listing public on the town web site so that those who are immediately impacted can know who they are. It is only fair that they know well before town meeting in case they want to make their voices heard.

6 beth March 21, 2015 at 1:29 PM

I just want to point out that this comment was written before the previous comment by Michael Weishan was posted. His comment may not address all of Al’s concerns. But it does address some of them.

7 Michael Weishan March 21, 2015 at 2:22 PM

Hello Al,

I would like to respond again to your points in a personal capacity, as I think it is very important that my fellow citizens understand the proposed by-law and vote yea or nay based on its merits, not on misinterpretations of it, however well intended.

To respond specifically to your comment: “The by law gives the Historic Commission, an unelected body, substantial powers over potential sale and construction on properties with structures that it considers of historic.”

That is an incorrect reading of the bylaw.

I will again simply point out that the proposed bylaw merely delays, but not prevent, demolition of historic structures (those, by and large, built before 1925). The bylaw simply puts into legal formula a process by which historic structures can be demolished, rather than the rag-tag ad hoc system currently in place, which is essentially no system at all. As I mentioned previously, this kind of regulation exists already in most of our surrounding towns, has functioned very effectively there, and has not caused any undue hardship to private ownership.

As to your comment that “in some cases [the bylaw] permits the commission to force the owners of those properties to spend money performing maintenance and repairs on structures it considers historic.”

That is also a misreading of both the letter and intent of the bylaw. The clause you are referring to — “Demolition by Neglect” — allows the building inspector to alert the Commission to structures he/she feels are deliberately being allowed to fail in order to hasten their destruction. This has become an issue in some towns where outside developers have bought up properties and then deliberately opened them to the elements in order to lessen or remove any objection to development plans, along the lines of “Well, now there is not much left to save anyway.” The by-law does NOT give the Committee powers to order normal maintenance or other work to be performed on historic properties as you suggest. On the contrary, we would encourage owners of historic properties who might find themselves unable to maintain them to come to us for help. While we are not funded to make direct grants, we do have knowledge of and access to various state and federal programs that might be of use, and we have no problem asking our fellow citizens for pro-bono help to preserve the historic fabric of Southborough. We all benefit from the Town’s historic nature, and the Historical Commission’s mission is to safeguard that for the benefit of all citizens of Southborough. We stand ready to help.

And finally, while it’s true the Historical Commission is an unelected body, we are appointed by vote of the Selectmen, who are indeed elected, so in essence the citizens of Southborough have a voice in who sits on the Commission. This is now my second tour of duty on the Commission, having served, incredibly, with the father of our current Chairman, Joe Hubley in the 90s (!!), and in all that time no one has gone rogue trying to diminish the rights of property owners! lol. I trust our friendly, pro-Southborough nature will continue into the foreseeable future. :)

I hope this assuages some of your concerns. As I mentioned the Commission will very shortly be publicizing the by-law once the language is finalized Monday.

8 Al Hamilton March 21, 2015 at 4:22 PM

I leave it to the reader to determine if I am misleading:

“In the event that the Commission and the Building Inspector both determine that they are not able to negotiate an agreement with the owner, for any reason, or that the owner has agreed to undertake but has failed to satisfactorily complete such repairs in a timely manner, then the Commission and the Building Inspector may take such action as permitted, including seeking a court order that specific repairs be undertaken so to secure the building against the elements, vandals and vermin, to halt further deterioration and to stabilize it structurally. The Commission may forbear from commencing an action in court for any reason”

9 Tim Martel March 23, 2015 at 9:49 AM

Al, the sub-section that you copy/pasted is contained entirely within the “Demolition By Neglect” section. So its only relevant to *unoccupied* historic buildings, which are either deliberately left open to pests/vandals/elements, or not maintained over time.

Perhaps that last part should be better quantified, but otherwise I have no issue with it.

10 beth March 23, 2015 at 10:53 AM

Tim’s comment prompted me to look at that.

Within the draft bylaw, there is an earlier section that defines the term and specifies “unoccupied building”:
DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT
A process of ongoing damage to the features, viability and/or functionability of an unoccupied building leading towards and/or causing its eventual demolition due to decay and/or structural failure and/or severe degradation over a period of time as a result of a general lack of maintenance, and/or failure to secure the building from pests or vandals, and/or failure to take reasonable measures to prevent the ingress of water, snow, ice, and wind through the roof, walls, or apertures.

11 Al Hamilton March 23, 2015 at 1:43 PM

Tim & Beth

You are correct. The section I cited relates to “Demolition by Neglect”

I have not yet seen the list of buildings covered by the by law. I did take a detailed look at the Mass list that is available on the Historic Commission Web Site. It covers some 800 building in our town. The list covers more than buildings that were once homes. It includes Barns, Chicken Coops, Bridges, Bridge Abutments and a variety of other structures.

So, if you had an old barn or shed on your property could the Historic Commission force you to repair it? I don’t know but as I read the by law the answer is yes.

Could the Historic Commission force the Town to repair Fayville Hall for example? (The second floor is condemned after all).

I spoke to someone over the weekend who owns a property that would fall under the control of the Historic Commission. The had no idea their property was on the list or any inkling about what the Historic Commission had in mind.

If the Historic Commission was a private entity we would require them to send a certified letter to every person who’s property was on the list and the abutters and invite them to a public hearing or hearings. Shouldn’t we hold the Historic Commission to the same standard?

I have some sympathy for what the Historic Commission is trying to do but this is a major piece of legislation that will impact a lot of people who have no idea what is in the works. In my opinion, it has not been properly vetted with the community and is a serious overreaching of governmental power over the rights of property owners.

12 beth March 23, 2015 at 3:52 PM

The Board of Selectmen asked for a list to be made available.

Tonight, the Historical Commission will discuss the feedback they got. Hopefully, we will soon get more clarity on which homes are covered.

13 Michael Weishan March 23, 2015 at 5:26 PM

Hi Beth

Again, as an interested private citizen, I really feel I must combat the inaccuracy of some of these statements.

There appear to be 627, not 800, historic buildings, structures burial grounds etc that predate 1925. This list will be made public this week, but anyone can look RIGHT NOW to see if their property is built before 1925 and included. Here is the link. http://mhc-macris.net/

To respond specifically to Mr. Hamilton:

AH: “So, if you had an old barn or shed on your property could the Historic Commission force you to repair it? I don’t know but as I read the by law the answer is yes.”

The answer is no. Please keep in mind this is a DEMOLITION by law and has nothing to do with repair.

AH “Could the Historic Commission force the Town to repair Fayville Hall for example? (The second floor is condemned after all).”

No; for the same reason above.

AH “I spoke to someone over the weekend who owns a property that would fall under the control of the Historic Commission. The had no idea their property was on the list or any inkling about what the Historic Commission had in mind.”

“Under the control” is unnecessarily inflammatory and inaccurate. “Subject to possible delay in case of demolition” would be accurate. According to the assessor’s office, we have 2834 single family properties in Southborough. Approximately 400 odd of these would be subject to the new by-law, if, and only if, the owners decided to demolish their home. That’s 15 percent of the houses in Southborough. Keep in mind too, that if you have mortgage on your home, you are not allowed to demolish it unless you wish to pay off the mortgage in full, making the percentage of those affected by this proposed by-law miniscule.

I was at the Building Inspector’s office this afternoon to find out exactly how many total demolitions actually occur each year. Due to a change over in computer systems, it’s a little hard to tell, but there appears to be only one demolition permit issued in the last year that remotely would remotely qualify if we had had this bylaw in place: 84 Main Street. According to the inspector, demolition requests are very rare in Southborough, in the low single digits most years, and most are for modern structures.

AH “If the Historic Commission was a private entity we would require them to send a certified letter to every person who’s property was on the list and the abutters and invite them to a public hearing or hearings. Shouldn’t we hold the Historic Commission to the same standard?”

The Historical Commission is not a private entity. It is an official Town Board established by warrant in the 1970s to protect and preserve the historical nature of Southborough. We meet monthly, and are meetings are open to the public. Our agenda is also public, and is published in advance of our meetings. This by-law has been under open public discussion since the fall.

AH: “I have some sympathy for what the Historic Commission is trying to do but this is a major piece of legislation that will impact a lot of people who have no idea what is in the works. In my opinion, it has not been properly vetted with the community and is a serious overreaching of governmental power over the rights of property owners.”

As I have just noted above, the historical by-law is no more or less threatening than a set-back requirement; it will impact less than 1% of average homeowners; it takes away no more personal liberty than the requirement to get a burning permit. We all live here in a shared community, and in doing so we agree to abide be certain regulations for our mutual good. Does this limit my personal liberty? I suppose it does. But it also limits my personal LIABILITY from damages caused by the thoughtless acts of others. Every time we destroy a piece of our shared cultural heritage without at least attempting to document it, we are ALL diminished, and I believe it is time to take the wild-west out of this process and establish some easy to follow, uncomplicated rules to give history a chance in Southborough, for all our sakes.

14 Al Hamilton March 24, 2015 at 7:47 PM

I am afraid I do not read the by law the same way.

1. It applies to unoccupied structures. The list I saw included barns and chicken coops. So, if I had an unoccupied barn or chicken coop on the list the Historic Commission could force me to spend money to stabilize the structure etc. regardless of my wishes.

2. If there really are so few demolitions in Southborough, why do we need this intrusive by law? If it is not a problem, why are we spending our time on it?

3. The law will cover about 15% of the homes in Southborough I think we are in agreement. What percentage of these home owners know that their properties are falling under the control of the Historic Commission.

4. If Fayville Hall at some point became unoccupied then it would fall under this by law.

5. Clearly, our government does not want to subject itself to the same sort of notification process that it imposes on private citizens. But is this fair? If we are about to restrict the rights of 15% of the property owners shouldn’t we, out of a simple sense of fairness, formally notify them? What harm can come of a little sunshine?

Finally, suggesting that it is ok to impose these substantial restrictions because we it will only impact a few people a year is a terrible reason to enact legislation. The question we should each ask ourselves is would we want to undergo an expensive and intrusive 10 month delay if the property in question was ours?

I have some sympathy for the goal but this particular form is a serious overreaching of governmental power.

15 beth March 25, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Did you go to the Historical Commission meeting Monday night to ask questions directly?

I wasn’t able to attend the meeting. But I spoke to a member. They were making revisions in time for the final Town Warrant. They are also putting together more information to share publicly, including a Q&A. I will be sharing those (hopefully soon.)

I would suggest that at this point, continuing to nitpick the earlier draft would be tantamount to spreading disinformation about what the article does. I suggest waiting for that information to see if you still have all the same disagreements.

Side note – Would it really be a problem if Fayville Hall falls under this bylaw? How quickly would you expect our town to demolish that historic structure?

Whether this bylaw passes or not, I just can’t imagine the town reducing that building to gravel overnight. http://www.mysouthborough.com/wp-admin/edit-comments.php#comments-form

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