Wrapping up Town Meeting: Demolitions will be delayed and recycling supported

by beth on April 15, 2015

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Above: Town Meeting gave a standing ovation to retired Town Clerk, Paul Berry. (Photo by Beth Melo)

Last night, 80 voters overruled 54 to determine that Southborough will have a bylaw to delay demolition of historic buildings.

Clearer majorities chose to support other articles, including a solar bylaw, recycling sticker, and actions supporting town recreation.

The demolition delay was the biggest item of the night. It started with a presentation, followed by  five proposed amendments, many questions, and some debate.

Two approved amendments were language fixes by the article’s sponsors. Subsequently, two members of the Board of Selectmen unsuccessfully asked voters to make changes to regulations and enforcement.

Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf wanted to edit an “overreaching” clause to penalize a property owner for ignoring the law by prohibiting building permits for two years

on the parcel of land upon which the demolished significant building was located and all adjoining parcels of land under common ownership or control.

She wanted to eliminate reference to adjoing land. Historical Commission’s Michael Weishan referred to the penalty as the only bite in the bylaw. He explained that otherwise, a developer has been known to demolish a building and build the rest of a development around it while the two years passes.

Also overruled was Phaneuf’s request to include a requirement that owners of properties on the list be notified. Notifying owners was generally supported. But the legal liability of including it in the bylaw and ensuring receipt concerned town counsel and others. 

BOS Chair Bill Boland looked to remove the section on Demolition by Neglect. He worried that an elderly homeowner could be forced to fix a falling down barn.

Weishan explained that it stops developers from using nature to destroy properties. He argued that language allowing the Building Inspector to use judgement should ease other concerns.

After his motion  to remove the neglect section was voted down, Boland told residents that was his only concern. He advised voting for the bylaw if “you don’t care about that.”

Some owners of historic homes had concerns about the onus put on owners to participate

by providing information, allowing access to the property and securing the premises; for participating in the investigation of preservation options and for actively cooperating in seeking alternatives with the Commission and any interested parties.

Thomas McCarthy urged voters to reject the law. He reminded those with newer homes that he and others are “your neighbors”.

Steven Phillips said he was on the fence. He like the idea of a delay to protect heritage, but worried about what the stipulations would mean.

In the end, the majority voted for preservation. They further chose to protect town character by restricting commercial solar installations to the industrial and industrial park districts.

Residents also voted in favor of town recreation. Measures passed will fix tennis courts, request a home rule petition for an extended lease of 911 field and borrow to fund new lights for Choate athletic field.

The outcome of one article is still open, even after Town Meeting closed.

A citizen’s petition to allow residents access to the recycling center of the Transfer Station passed. But the vote only served as advice to selectmen who will vote on next year’s rules and regs in May.

Phaneuf and Selectman Paul Cimino supported the article. Boland indicated that if costs don’t support $25, the board may opt to choose $35 or some other amount. (Selectmen Dan Kolenda and John Rooney were absent.)

Public Works Planning Board Chair Desiree Aselbekian told the room that she supported it, though her board voted against it.

She clarified that the board voted months ago, and took the stance that instead all residents should be allowed full access to the Transfer Station. But she believes selectmen appear to be “cold” to the idea of funding fully through taxes. So, she supported the alternative proposed by resident Jack Barron.

1 southsider April 15, 2015 at 11:09 AM

I was disappointed that this Article was discussed last night.
One TM member provided very specific details of recent communications ( including official Press Releases ) to Southboro residents from the Historical Commission indicating their intent to withdraw this Article from this year’s warrant.
I think I keep up with town affairs and I, too, expected this Article to be withdrawn.
No one from the Commission disputed the member’s information. Yet they went ahead and presented the motion for TM vole.
I know people should not attend TM for any single Article but this did make me wonder if some residents who had concerns about this Article were misled by the Commission.
Although I think there is some wisdom in protecting our historic structures legally, the more I think about how this was handled, the less I like it. I’m sure there was no purposeful intent to deceive but the ‘proper’ thing to do would have been to stand by those recent public pronouncements and use the next year to button down language and deal with specific complaints. Then the Commission could argue the merits of the Article on a level playing field.

2 beth April 15, 2015 at 2:39 PM

I completely understand your frustration. I expected some people to feel duped. But I sincerely believe the committee wasn’t attempting to mislead anyone.

And I have to admit that I just realized I accidentally contributed to the miscommunications.

The Historical Commission voted to pull the article based on incorrect information given to them by town officials.

As Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf told Town Meeting, she believed it was a zoning bylaw. Therefore, she told the committee that they would need a 2/3 majority for the article to pass. She also said that they would have to wait two years to bring the issue back if it failed. Other town officials at that meeting backed her statements.

The board learned that the information was incorrect last week. They then had to meet to decide whether or not to bring the article forward. By Open Meeting Law, they were required to provide 48 hours notice in posting the meeting. That meant they weren’t able to meet on the issue until Monday.

Instead of simply listing meetings and agenda links, I try to help residents note agenda items they may be interested in – highlights. When I saw the vote on their Monday evening agenda. I mistakenly assumed the vote was pro-forma to clean up something at a previous meeting. My posting of their agenda highlight that morning was inaccurate and misleading.

[Their agenda stated “Demolition Delay Bylaw, vote to modify motion to indefinitely postpone. Continued discussion, discuss and vote on amendments to be presented at Town Meeting.” I summarized as “Vote to make motion to postpone Demolition Delay Warrant Article”. That is what I mistakenly believed the first sentence meant. Obviously, I didn’t pay enough attention to the second sentence, which wouldn’t make sense in that context. So, for my contribution to that I apologize.]

I learned that the bylaw would be presented to Town Meeting after Monday night’s meeting. I tried to publicize that the bylaw would be voted on Tuesday night. But it was very short notice.

As for their vote to bring the article forward – members said they decided that it was their duty. The article wasn’t just something the commission wanted. They had pursued it at the urging of many in the community who were upset that the town had no such law. They believed that voters had a right to decide.

Now the question is – where do you go from here? If you sincerely believe that enough people would have showed up to oppose the article if they knew – I pose to you that it’s not too late.

I’m no expert on the details, but citizen’s petitions are the way residents force the town to allow votes to decide an issue. To be clear – I don’t advocate for that here. But if you truly feel that you and other voters were swindled, you can look into that.

3 Frank Crowell April 15, 2015 at 4:43 PM

Why not survey your readers to get sense of how they feel about this? I for one feel like southsider.

4 beth April 15, 2015 at 7:09 PM

I’ve done opinion polls for fun. I don’t recall doing them for anything important.

Not everyone reads the blog regularly. Most of those who do, don’t submit comments. A survey only shows the opinions of people who participate in surveys!

And given the turnout at Town Meetings, it’s fair to say only a small % of residents show up to vote. I can’t help but notice that many people who comment passionately for or against something don’t show up to public meetings on the topic.

I’m just not sure my survey respondents would be a fair sampling to judge by.

5 Al Hamilton April 15, 2015 at 8:29 PM

It is hard to call Town Meeting a Fair Sampling our our residents either. I learned about this on Monday. Like many I believed we had dodged this nasty legislation for this year. I would have canceled a business trip to speak against it if I han any reasonable notice.

Oh well, it’s law now, Better up the legal budget, we know what is going to happen the first time we try to apply this. (The good news is that given our track record in court the results are predictable)

6 Frank Crowell April 16, 2015 at 8:52 AM

I was looking for you to turn an exceptation of some people feeling duped into something a little more substantial – that’s all.

In the not too distant future when an overzealous minority wish to impose their will on a “historical property”, please keep the threads handy so we all remember how this went down.

Just to be clear though, I do not blame you for any of this. I thank you for allowing a forum for discussion. I would not know half of what goes on in this town if it were not for this blog.

7 Betsy Rosenbloom April 16, 2015 at 3:50 PM

Beth – plesae don’t beat yourself up! You provide a wonderful service to the community. Your readers know that you would NEVER intentionally mislead or deceive and you do your best. This political stuff is often complicated. No one gets it right 100% of the time. As someone posted on this blog elsewhere, ANYTHING can happen and if you want to be 100% sure of the disposition of an issue, you have to go to Town Meeting. Thanks again for everything you do to keep us informed!

8 Steve Phillips April 15, 2015 at 7:08 PM

It was unfortunate that Mr. Boland’s sensible amendment to remove the Demolition by Neglect provision was voted down with very little discussion. This bylaw covers “Any combination of materials forming a shelter for persons, animals, or property” so it includes unoccupied barns and sheds. The building inspector can order a homeowner to spend money to “secure the building against the elements and vandals, to halt further deterioration, and to stabilize it structurally.” Under the letter of this bylaw, elderly homeowners who have no intention of moving can be brought to court under section 63-7 and be forced to spend potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on major structural repairs to unoccupied structures on their property. It gives me little comfort that the building inspector is given some “prosecutorial discretion.” This is an improper intrusion on private property rights.

And why is the demolition by neglect section in there in the first place? To protect the town against a hypothetical vindictive developer who might deliberately allow a property to deteriorate out of spite. I guess this happened once somewhere. If it ever got to that point the property would be razed in 9 months anyway, but Southborough homeowners are paying for this hypothetical case with a real loss of property rights.

Unlike the stated goal of this bylaw, which was to establish a negotiation process which is specifically triggered by a developer’s request for a demolition permit, the “demolition by neglect” provision can be invoked at any time against a homeowner who has no plans to sell their property (section 63-6A). I think that this was a very regrettable overreach by the Historical Commission. Section 63-4, granting a new right of intrusion into private property and forcing owners to deal with other “interested parties,” concerns me as well.

Section 63-3H(ii) should have also been updated to clarify the ambiguity over whether properties can be held indefinitely if the Historical Commission doesn’t think the owner is making a “bona-fide-enough” attempt to shop for a purchaser. I don’t THINK this allows an indefinite hold, but it shouldn’t take a lawyer to understand the implications of this section.

The Historical Commission is in the process of evaluating the Main Street district for recognition as a National Register Historic District. Neighborhood support for this proposal has been based on the understanding that this designation does not have any effect on property rights as long as no federal funding is involved. This proposal will require approval of 51% of affected property owners to move forward. But now antique homeowners in town have to be starting to question the future direction of the Historical Commission. Are we heading towards a nanny state where unelected town boards are telling homeowners what color they can paint their shutters?

I understand that there was some confusion about the requirements to pass this bylaw, but it was the responsibility of the Historical Commission to get their ducks in order before Town Meeting. They had access to Town Counsel and should have learned the facts before deciding to withdraw the proposal in the first place. This vote was too close, and lacked enough support from the selectmen, to have taken place with such poor notification.

While I wholeheartedly approve the goal of preserving our town’s antique and historic properties, I think that the Historical Commission really shot antique homeowners in the foot on this one, and I think that it is going to take some effort to regain the trust of the homeowners who are affected by this bylaw.

9 Al Hamilton April 16, 2015 at 9:30 AM

Just so we are clear, I have a good friend who lives in a Cambridge Historic District.

When he wanted to paint his house, the Historic Commission told him what colors of Benjamin Moore Paint he could choose from.

I am not making this up.

The busy body nanny state has gotten the thin edge of the wedge into Southborough. The steady hammering will now commence.

10 Kate Daly April 17, 2015 at 11:05 AM

Have no fear Mr. Hamilton – as an architect with amble experience working within Cambridge’s Historic District regulations, and the historic regulations of most of Southborough’s surround towns, I can assure you that this demolition delay bylaw is absolutely nothing like the regulations to which you are referring.

11 Resident April 16, 2015 at 11:06 AM

I wish that people would refrain from the “chicken little” “the sky is falling” rhetoric on this topic. Cambridge has one of the most strict Historical Districts in the State, and for good reason. When individuals buy a home in the historic district in Cambridge, they know what they agree to and they certainly know what they are gaining – property in one of the most valuable neighborhoods in America.

No one is proposing a highly-regulated historic district in Southborough. And if and when they did, there would be ample opportunity to ask your questions and weigh the positive and negative aspects of such a proposal.

This warrant article was discussed at great length. All of the proposed amendments were vetted and ALL of the questions asked were answered.

I own a historic home in Southborough and will be bound by this bylaw. I am strongly in favor if it because I have educated myself on both the advantages and disadvantages and am not basing my opinion on misinformation, exaggeration and hyperbolic rhetoric.

12 Frank Crowell April 16, 2015 at 12:15 PM

Do you think that some “historical” home owners thought this warrant article was pushed out until next year?

Do you think there are some property owners in town that do not know they own a structure that is “historical?”

If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then some people were duped and it is just a matter of how many. Just that simple to me.

13 Resident April 16, 2015 at 8:43 PM

To answer your questions – probably yes and probably yes, but I disagree with your conclusion that it means that some people were duped.

I am never surprised by how little attention residents in this town pay to town government. Democracy is not supposed to be spoon-fed to you. It requires participation and responsibility. The Historical Commission worked tirelessly on this bylaw from what I could tell. They worked diligently with the BOS, Town Council and the Advisory Committee. They abided by all Open Meeting Law requirements; posted their meetings with 48 hours notice, detailed the agendas for their meetings, met in public and invited all discussion and debate. When they determined that they had been given false information by the BOS, they rallied and pulled together a very informative presentation.

Beth notified the Town that the warrant article was not going to be postponed almost 24 hours in advance which was plenty of time for residents to make the meeting if they cared to do so.

Because the group in opposition, who planned to show up only to participate in the one issue that concerned them, didn’t keep themselves well-informed is no reason to cry “foul play!” The Historical Commission’s considerable efforts succeeded and their meager efforts did not. End of story.

14 Steve Phillips April 16, 2015 at 11:33 AM

I apologize for what some may see as “chicken little” rhetoric, but I respectfully disagree about the significance of this issue.

The new “demolition delay” bylaw was touted as a temporary period to allow a window of negotiations between developers and the town, to be triggered only when the owner applies for a demolition permit. However, its actual wording is far more sinister. All owners or potential purchasers of potentially applicable properties in Southborough should be aware of the following:

YOU MUST FULLY MAINTAIN ALL UNOCCUPIED BUILDINGS ON YOUR PROPERTY OR YOU WILL BE SUBJECT TO COURT ACTION AND FINANCIAL PENALTIES BY THE BUILDING INSPECTOR AND THE HISTORICAL COMMISSION. THIS LAW APPLIES EVEN IF YOU HAVE NO INTENTION OF MOVING OR SELLING YOUR PROPERTY. THERE IS NO TIME LIMIT ON THIS REQUIREMENT.

If your unoccupied building has a leaky roof, cracks in the foundation, a hole large enough for vermin to enter, a broken window, or is not fully secured against vandalism, it is in violation of our new bylaw. This applies to any barn or shed on your property as well as your home.

This provision is NOT subject to any 9-month delay, and in fact has no time restrictions whatsoever. At any time the building inspector determines that he/she doesn’t like the way you’re maintaining a building, he can initiate a public hearing with the Historical Commission. Once they approve, he can take any measures necessary to force you to repair your outbuilding, including court action, liens on your property, and even action against any adjoining property you own.

As an example, at least two, and probably all three of the buildings at 84 Main Street are undergoing “demolition by neglect” as we speak. Any prospective historically-minded purchaser of this property should understand that he can be FORCED to put a new roof on the decaying chapel on Deerfoot road and to perform significant work on the barn/carriage house as well. So there is a potential liability of at least hundreds of thousands of dollars to anyone who would consider preserving these buildings. This new bylaw creates a perverse incentive for the current or new owners to make sure that these buildings are demolished under the existing demolition permit rather than allowing them to remain standing and become subject to the new bylaw.

This bylaw was improperly vetted and poorly understood by the voters at Town Meeting. I appreciate the efforts of the selectmen who tried to fix the worst problems with this bylaw, and it’s unfortunate that the voters chose to ignore their concerns. If you are an owner of a property containing an old barn or shed which is falling down, you should probably consider applying immediately for a demolition permit, since this seems to be the only way to avoid the onerous provisions of this new bylaw.

15 Mark Ford April 16, 2015 at 5:10 PM

Can the Bylaw be overturned? Could a citizen’s petition demanding another Town Meeting to revote this issue be circulated? This was a touchstone issue in Southborough, and while not illegal, the last-second reversal of the promise to pull the article is sneaky–not in keeping with the spirit of the town. I wouldn’t mind spending town money on this to make a point.

16 Al Hamilton April 16, 2015 at 8:28 PM

I believe it would take 10 signatures to put this on the next ATM and about 100 to require a special.

I agree with you, this was passed without proper vetting. The Historical commission was meeting even as town meeting quorums were being calculated. This is no way to implement a major piece of legislation, the historic commission has fallen to a new low in transparency.

By the way we should also legislate that all town committees must cease work from 2 hours before Town Meeting until it is adjourned.

17 Michael Weishan April 16, 2015 at 5:23 PM

I want to weigh in here in my private capacity, but with the acknowledgment that it was I who gave the presentation at Town Meeting regarding the Demolition Delay By-Law.

While people like Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Phillips, and Mr. Crowell certainly have the right to their opnions, they do NOT have the right to continually misstate, twist and manipulate the truth in an attempt create fear and division. This was a tactic used by Goebbels, who once famously stated that if you tell a lie often enough, it starts to become the truth, and everyone knows how that turned out…

Let me just give you a quick example, from Mr. Phillips above.

YOU MUST FULLY MAINTAIN ALL UNOCCUPIED BUILDINGS ON YOUR PROPERTY OR YOU WILL BE SUBJECT TO COURT ACTION AND FINANCIAL PENALTIES BY THE BUILDING INSPECTOR AND THE HISTORICAL COMMISSION.

Incorrect and false. The Historical Commission has no ability fine or bring anyone to court, nor does it have any role except to advise the Building Inspector as to the historic nature, or lack thereof, of a property in question; nor does the bylaw address “unoccupied outbuildings.”

THIS LAW APPLIES EVEN IF YOU HAVE NO INTENTION OF MOVING OR SELLING YOUR PROPERTY. THERE IS NO TIME LIMIT ON THIS REQUIREMENT.

Partially true in terms of timeline, but deliberately inflammatory and misleading. The fact of the matter is the Town routinely requires homeowners to abide by safety and fire regulations on an on-going basis, and the Building Inspector and Fire Department historically have required homeowners to comply with MGL building codes for reasons of public safety. There is nothing new here for anyone to get exited about, especially as a clause was deliberately inserted into the by-law to take into account financial hardship.

I won’t bother to continue enumerating these deliberate misstatements, because there are simply too many. However, it should be plain to the citizens of Southborough that making unsubstantiated and unsupported claims like these simply to create fear and uncertainty gravely wounds the democratic process. Derisive comments like the term “nanny state” simply reduce the discussion of substantive issues to the level of school-yard name calling, and serve no one.

Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, let me make it clear that no one was “duped” here. There was some confusion on the timing it is true, but that’s the hazard of citizen-run government. This bylaw was on the published agenda of the Historical Commission since the fall, had 4 months of legal vetting, and was ultimately supported by the Advisory Board 7-1 and by 65% of the voters at Town Meeting. Only two people spoke against it. Regardless of whether this by-law went at this Town Meeting or next, it would have been the same by-law, and had the same voter reception.

I believe that the real problem for these gentlemen is that, for once, historical preservation won the day here in Southborough, and despite their protestations to the contrary, that just sticks in their craw. Unfortunately for them, the majority has spoken, and they are on the losing side of the issue. There are still one or two towns in Eastern Massachusetts that don’t currently have or are not contemplating similar legislation, Marlborough being the closest. Perhaps these gentlemen would be happier flying their “Do Not Tread on Me” banners there.

It’s my personal opinion that the vast majority of my fellow citizens will come to appreciate this by-law, and the Historical Commission plans, I believe, to do public outreach including some type of direct mailing to affected homeowners very shortly. There will also be open meetings where citizens can come to ask questions and learn more about the history of their property, as well as the ability to ask questions directly to the Commission at: historical@southboroughma.com I would encourage citizens seeking to allay any worries or concerns about how the by-law may affect them to contact the Commission directly, rather than being swayed or worried by the obvious factual errors and misstatements in the commentary above.

18 Al Hamilton April 16, 2015 at 8:40 PM

Mr Weisham

I realize that my last name is Hamilton which is as WASP as it could be but I should inform you that members of my family were exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps.

Your comparing me to Fredrick Goebbles the Nazi Propaganda Minster is beneath contempt.

Shame on you. I will be filing a formal complaint with the BOS asking for your removal as your behavior is unfit for a public official.

We may reasonably disagree about matters of pubic policy but this is far beyond the pale.

Shame, Shame, Shame on you .

19 John Rooney April 16, 2015 at 8:26 PM

Mr. Weishan, While I understand and appreciate your passion for this particular piece of legislation, I find it wholly inappropriate and offensive to compare those who have commented in opposition to Goebbels, the person responsible for orchestrating the gruesome final solution.

I personally know both Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Phillips. Both are zealous supporters of participatory government who have expended unparalleled volunteerism for town efforts. Their reading of the legislation, though surely contrary to your interpretation, is neither tortured nor tenuous, and do not, in any imaginable manner, parallel someone who had an utter lack of belief in anything except the drive for power.

As you know, I too had many issues with the bylaw, particularly the Demolition by Neglect section. I offered those concerns to you in an effort to obviate concerns that are now shared by others. When so many people share the same concerns about the by-law’s language, there should be a willingness to listen and understand; not an abusive ad hominem attack.

I certainly hope your outburst is out of character and, upon the re-reading of your post, you find yourself similarly stunned by your Goebbels analogy.

JR

20 Steve Phillips April 16, 2015 at 9:17 PM

Mr. Weishan obviously doesn’t know me very well if he thinks that I am an opponent of historic preservation. However, since this discussion has officially proven Godwin’s Law of Internet trash talk — “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1” — I’ll just finish up with a couple of direct quotes from the bylaw. This is my last word on the subject in this forum, but since I believe I’ve just been accused of lying, I feel some obligation to explain the basis for my conclusions.

Mr Weishan states: “Incorrect and false. The Historical Commission has no ability fine or bring anyone to court, nor does it have any role except to advise the Building Inspector as to the historic nature, or lack thereof, of a property in question; nor does the bylaw address “unoccupied outbuildings.”

Here are the relevant sections of the bylaw:

Section 63-2 Definitions, paragraph 1. “BUILDINGS AND STRUCTURES – Any combination of materials forming a shelter for persons, animals, or property that constitute the historic built environment of the town.”

Section 63-2 Definitions, paragraph 3. DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT – A process of ongoing damage to the features. viability and/or functionality of an unoccupied building leading towards and causing its eventual demolition due to decay and/or structural failure and/or severe degradation over 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.”

Section 63-6 Demolition by Neglect, paragraph C: “… the Commission and the Building Inspector may take such action as is permitted, including seeking a court order that specific repairs be undertaken to secure the building against the elements, vandals, and vermin, to halt further deterioration, and to stabilize it structurally.”

Section 63-7 Enforcement and Remedies: “The Building Inspector is specifically authorized to institute any and all actions and proceeding, in law or equity, as they may deem appropriate to obtain compliance with the requirements of this bylaw. … As used herein, “premises” refers to the parcel of land upon which the demolished significant building was located and all adjoining parcels of land under common ownership or control.”

21 Rebecca Deans-Rowe April 17, 2015 at 8:36 AM

I would like to respond in a personal capacity to the concerns regarding passage of our new Demolition Delay Bylaw.

As a member of the Commission, I acknowledge and regret that the circumstances leading up to Town Meeting were not ideal, and I am sorry for the confusion and concern this has caused. We followed what we believed was appropriate protocol for determining the majority required for passage of this bylaw. The information we received was inaccurate, and, in future, I believe we will more confirm such details.

Regardless, I was not amongst the majority voting to withdraw the warrant article. I felt we had (and have) responded to the need for a simple and much needed protection, and the town should be allowed to vote on whether or not to accept it. I felt confident that we could achieve a super majority given the remaining time to build on existing widespread support.

Given the correct information removing the primary concern for proceeding, reconsideration seemed prudent. The decision to move ahead with the vote was carefully considered by all, with concerns noted, and with the comforting knowledge that the town would ultimately determine to accept or reject the bylaw, as the democratic process allows.

I find it quite concerning that so many people are eager to interpret the circumstances as deliberately misleading or deceptive. It is discouraging, not to mention illogical. As a Commission, we would have been in a much stronger position if we had proceeded on track and had time to build support for the bylaw. Because we could not vote until Monday evening to go forward, we lost valuable time for outreach. But with every Town Meeting there exists a representative sampling of voters. It was completely correct and reasonable to allow this representative sampling to vote, even if it was not entirely advantageous.

I would suggest that everyone take a breath, step back, and allow the Commission time to consider how best to address concerns. Please have some faith in your fellow citizens and neighbors. We are working for the common good, and I believe you will appreciate our future efforts. Stay tuned.

22 Mark Ford April 17, 2015 at 9:04 AM

I couldn’t make Town Meeting this year, and may well have supported this bylaw. That said, you can’t assert that it “would have had the same reception” at another town meeting. I assume that the opposing side may have had more opportunity to organize, and it might well have wound up differently. I also think that the “outreach…to affected homeowners” should have taken place before the vote, not after it, especially since homeowners may not even be aware they’re in an affected property.

Invoking a heinous antisemite as half of a comparison is distateful, I think, no matter the intent.

23 beth April 17, 2015 at 11:24 AM

There was a passionate reaction to Michael Weishan’s comment including a Goebels reference.

In my follow up with him, he clarified that he was referring to the infamous practice of propaganda, not calling people Nazis.

He also defended that it was an opponent of the bylaw that started the Nazi reference in emails accusing the commission of using Gestapo-like-tactics. (I’m presuming that “topics” was meant to be “tactics”.)

Here is his full statement.

“I am not now, nor was I suggesting then, that anyone is a Nazi, and if they took that inference, they are incorrect. I was referring to the corruption of the political process, and the similarity between the practices of the infamous propaganda minister and certain people in town who deliberately attempted to thwart the democratic process by spreading lies and falsehoods. One individual was particularly egregious, sending out chain emails to residents telling them that this bylaw would stop them from replacing their windows; painting their house; putting up shutters; or adding an addition — all untrue, which he knew full well when he sent them. (He also accused the Commission of “Gestapo-like topics” — so I wasn’t the first one to go down that particular analogy road, and yes, I too was quite offended, so I understand why some people may feel aggrieved.) My point was and is that it’s one thing to be misinformed or concerned about a matter and then be corrected. It’s entirely another to know that you are lying in the first place, be corrected, and then continue to spread the same falsehoods as this individual did. That is hugely dangerous to the democratic process, and historically has taken us to very dark places.”

24 Frank Crowell April 17, 2015 at 12:58 PM

I was not the one making Nazi references on this blog or in any flyer circulated.

Mr Weishan’s statement is not an apology and don’t care if he offers one or not. My father, who fought in WWII in the European theater and had two of his fellow solders killed while standing next to him, might have had a different opinion.

If this is a good bylaw and if it had a solid majority support then another TM to overturn it should be resounding success for the proponents of the bylaw. Obviously, the supporters are afraid of something.

25 Michael Weishan April 17, 2015 at 2:16 PM

Just for the record, my family too suffered losses in WWII. My father fought for three bitter years in Italy; his brother was shot down over Germany on what should have been his final flight, Christmas Eve 1943. He was interned in a prisoner of war camp until 1945. My maternal uncle battled his way half-way across the Pacific. My mother’s family lost countless relatives in Poland. So please let’s not make this serious issue into a kind of one-upmanship game about WWII loss. I stand by the intent of what I said, and I want to remind Mr. Hamilton who is always such an advocate of personal liberty that I made it VERY clear I was speaking in my personal and private capacity, and I have every right to do so, as does he, whether he likes the content or not. I will however sincerely apologize for using an historical example that caused some distress and has frankly only served to derail attention from the real point of my message, which was to alert readers here that there was an active campaign to discredit a very good piece of legislation using scare tactics and misinformation. Oddly enough I agree with Mr. Crowley above that after a year with the by-law in place, if a majority think it too onerous, that they are welcome to propose a repeal. I don’t think that will happen, but that’s up to the citizens of Southborough.

26 Steve Phillips April 17, 2015 at 3:40 PM

Just for the record, I have not made any Nazi references, either on this blog or in private email, so I do not believe that I am the individual Mr. Weishan is referring to. However, I would prefer to focus on the substance of this issue so that we can all understand exactly what powers this new bylaw gives to our Historical Commission and Building Inspector.

For example, section 63-6C contains specific language authorizing the HC and Building Inspector to take residents to court to enforce repairs under the demolition by neglect provision. If the HC really does not have this power, as Mr Weishan claims, I would like to understand how his statement can be reconciled with the clear language of the bylaw. Other language seems to clearly include barns, garages and sheds in the definition of properties subject to the demolition by neglect provision (I’ve quoted the relevant sections of the bylaw in a previous posting). I am no lawyer, just a concerned citizen trying to understand the implications of this bylaw.

I look forward to working with the Historical Commission to gain a better understanding of this bylaw as currently written, and to explore whether this bylaw could be improved to the benefit of Southborough residents.

27 Mark Ford April 17, 2015 at 4:34 PM

…count me among those who’d advance that calendar. I just don’t like the optics of this process.

28 Sean Connelly April 17, 2015 at 11:50 AM

Came here for Godwin’s Law. Glad to see Steve beat me to it.

29 southsider April 17, 2015 at 12:40 PM

I fully expected to read an apology from Mr. Weisman when beth published his statement (above). Instead, I read a justification for it!
Just say ” I’m embarrassed that I used such a comparison and am truly sorry to all I have offended. I promise to spend more time reconsidering my language before hitting the submit key in the future. I was very very wrong.”

And I still believe that a Commission that was fully aware of the controversial nature of their proposal had a duty to abide by their Press Release and other pronouncements indicating that they would postpone this Article.

30 White Cliffs April 17, 2015 at 3:48 PM

Perfect example of a Town impacting the value of a property by commission members controlling someone else’s options…..

31 Al Hamilton April 18, 2015 at 11:24 AM

The deed is done. Whether done fairly or not is a matter for another day. We have vested the Historic Commission with authority that rivals the ZBA, Perhaps we can repeal this assault on property rights but I would not make book on it. I note that the promised list is still not on the committees web site.

So, what next. Given that we have given the Historic Commission substantial dominion over 600+ properties who can we hold responsible for the actions of the Historic Commission. The answer is their appointing authority, the Board of Selectmen. I believe that candidates for this powerful position must be very carefully vetted to understand when they might invoke this great power they are vested with.

Unfortunately, since we have given the Commission great power to stick its nose in other peoples business, prospective members must expect the same treatment with respect to their views on how far it is proper to control others use of their property.

For example, one member of the Commission has engaged in real estate transactions in our town. That member has reserved the right, in a deed restriction, to tell buyer and future owners what color they may paint their house, how often they may mow their lawn and now they must maintain certain structures on their property.( This information was gleaned from public records). I do not dispute the members right to enter into this free market transaction. However, I believe the public has the right to know to understand just how far each member believes it is proper to control the actions of other property owners in town.

Mr. Weishan and Ms. Deans-Rowe’s terms will expire at the end of June. If they wish to be reappointed the BOS should carefully vet their views on when it is appropriate to use this great power. Hopefully, others, with a more circumspect view on the use of
government power, will also put their names forward.

Finally, if he seeks reappointment, Mr. Weishan must be held to account for comparing Mr. Phillips, Mr Crowell, and myself to Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister, architect of the Holocaust, and vicious anti Semite. The BOS will need to decide if this is the type of temperament they want in this powerful position.

32 Al Hamilton April 18, 2015 at 5:44 PM

To: Southborough Historic Commission

From: Al Hamilton – Resident

Re: Negligent Building Owner Currently Engaged in Demolition by Neglect

Dear Commission Members:

Now that the Town has passed the Demolition By Law I feel it is my civic duty to report to you an egregious example of Demolition by Neglect in our community.

The building in question dates from the turn of the century and clearly meets the age requirements and historic requirements. The owner’s negligence has been persistent for well over a decade to wit:

An Historic annex was torn down.

The foundation leaks with the most likely source being a cess pit located a few feet from the rubble foundations that is still in use.

The building has been attacked by mold

Portions of the structure have been condemned by the Building Inspector as structurally unsound.

The board must address this egregious neglect by a landlord with a historic record of not providing timely repair and maintenance of their buildings. I am of course referring to Fayville Hall and the Board of Selectmen.

Town meeting has spoken and vested the Historic Commission with this power. The neglect is clear. The Commission must act in order to maintain its integrity. The board must immediately seek an injunction against the BOS or be tarnished with the brush of political favoritism which will cloud any future use of the power given to them. A private person might very reasonably ask, how can you apply this law to me and not to one of the biggest neglectors of historic property in our community? What special influence do they have that I do not?

No, the law must be applied impartially and Town Meeting did not exempt the Town Of Southborough from its prevue. Failure to seek remedy will only lead to charges of political favoritism and inappropriate influence.

The Commission must act now.

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