Tonight, over 90% of Town Meeting voters approved potential spending of more than $27M on a project to build a new public safety complex. $4.5M of that will be spent on the underlying land – the 60 acre St. Mark’s Golf Course.
Sweetening the deal for voters was the perpetual Conservation Restriction on 93% of the parcel.
[Editor’s Note: The Article passed includes language to place a proposition 2 1/2 override on the May ballot to pay for the bonds.]
It took 4 hours of amendments, presentations, discussions and debate. But just before 11:00 pm, voters raised their hands in support. About 10 minutes later, the count came in at 657 for and only 65 against
The proposed amendment to Article 1 by selectmen including the perpetual Conservation Restriction was a recent development. It came out of the St. Mark Master Plan Committee’s findings and selectmen’s take on the town’s pulse. The board determined that far more support existed for preserving the vista than to preserving future rights to develop other buildings.
That take was borne out when a motion to change the CR to only 25 years overwhelmingly failed.
The perpetual CR garnered support for the article by many who initially fought the deal. An original proponent of Article 4 to “Save Our Heritage” by opposing the deal, Freddie Gillespie, spoke as a member of the Open Space Preservation Commission. She explained that Open Space and many Article 4 supporters changed their minds based on the amendment.
There were a lot of naysayers who came to the mike tonight. Some wanted to save the entire 60 acres. Some were opposed to the cost for the land and/or building. Questions were raised about a “rushed deal”, critical unknowns, higher tax bills, and more.
The deal was villified as a $30MM megaplex that would destroy a 120 year old historical golf course. Questions were raised about the golf course value and the value of Town owned land included in the swap.
But in the end, speeches about the need to preserve the course got more applause than those opposed. And a passionate speech about the the terrible conditions our emergency personnel work and sleep in got the biggest applause of the night.
At close to 11:00 pm Moderator Stephen Morreale terrified the crowd (or was I the only one terrorized?) when he said we would be back the next night.
Fortunately, once Article 1 passed, Article 2 was quickly supported. Then reconsideration of Article 1 was immediatley disposed of. Voters started pouring out. But those left agreed to indefinite postponements for Articles 3-5 and rejected reconsideration of Article 2.
Finally, with advice from others. Morreale allowed voters to approve moving Articles 6-8 to be handled at a Special Town Meeting within the Annual Town Meeting.
Updated (3/9/17 8:01 am): In my hurry to post in the middle of the night – I forgot to mention one big detail, now referenced in the Editor’s Note above.
Though voters authorized the spend, necessary funding appears to require a proposition 2 1/2 override. Town election voters will be asked to approve that in May.
That’s a much bigger pool of voters who won’t be forced to sit through all the presentations and debate TM voters did last night. (Last night’s votes cast represent less than 10% of the Town’s registered voters.)
And obviously, the ratio of highly invested neighbors to the golf course and supporters of public safety personnel vs average taxpayers was different at last night’s meeting than a Town election.
Frankly, I am not clear on what happens if the vote fails at the ballot in May. I’ll be looking into that for a follow up post.