Threat of citizen petitions forces Special Town Meeting to carry on

At the Tuesday night Board of Selectmen meeting, Selectmen considered cancelling the Special Town Meeting scheduled for October.

The October meeting was originally scheduled to accommodate a vote on the Planning Board’s new zoning bylaws. Recently, the Planning Board asked the BOS to hold off on the zoning vote until January. On Tuesday, they expressed their desire to cancel the October meeting all together.

Selectmen Bill Boland voted to “control our own destiny” with a date that worked for the town, rather than be forced to react to pending petitions which could force a meeting within 45 days. Selectmen John Rooney concurred. (Chairman Dan Kolenda was absent.)

Selectmen were originally on the fence about going forward, delaying it, or putting off the decision. Several minor administrative but pressing articles had been added to the list for the fall Warrant. They were concerned about putting them off. And Rooney explained that the expenses involved in holding the meeting are less than he expected.

Before making a decision, Selectmen solicited feedback from Advisory, the Planning Board, The Town Administrator, town chiefs and residents with citizen petitions.

The Planning Board confirmed the desire for a Special Town Meeting between January and the annual meeting in April. The Advisory counseled any additional meetings should take place before mid-February or after the April Town Meeting. (Mid-February is apparently when the Governor releases the state budget.)

Rooney pointed out that the Planning Board was previously confident about October readiness. How could they be confident about January?

Planning Board Chair Don Morris assured that the new Town Planner would finish the process. He reasoned that employee who will have ownership of the bylaws should have participation in their creation. Rooney responded that seemed like a lot of pressure to put on a new hire.

Asked their opinion, the Planning Board objected to holding the interim Fall meeting. They wanted to put off the two citizen petitions on the warrant:

  • The first petition proposes an “easy fix” to the legal language problems in the zoning code. Planning Board member Kathleen Bartolini expressed concerns that if the town accepts that fix, they will be less likely to review major zoning changes next year.
  • The second petition is an initiative by Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Leo Bartolini to have the Town Planner report to Selectmen and the Town Administrator instead of the Planning Board. Morris requested the opportunity for a new hire to prove himself before a vote.

Bartolini rejected the request. As of the Tuesday night meeting, he purported to have collected 169 signatures and would continue to collect more if necessary.

The ZBA chair also argued that the appropriation of mitigation funds for Police and Fire should not be delayed further. He said his board worked hard to get the funds needed for the new system and they were assured that it would be taken care of at this meeting.

The sytem in question is replacement of the town’s outdated computer-aided-dispatch (CAD) system. Chief Moran confirmed that waiting until after January 1st would trigger increased costs to the project.

Selectmen counseled the Planning Board that they would have to face the petition issues sooner or later. According to Selectmen, 200 signatures would force a Special Town Meeting within 45 days. They believed in Bartolini’s ability to accomplish that.

Boland also pressured the Planning Board to consider bringing something to the meeting. He expressed special concern about the lack of zoning language around marajuana dispenseries.

The Planning Board responded that they believe the bylaws need to be presented as a complete package. They do not want to split anything out.

For now, the Warrant will hold places for Planning Board zoning bylaw revisions.

An additional debate was held over the need for a  future special meeting for zoning measures.

Selectmen and Purple believed that with many adminstrative items being handled in the fall, the Planning Board would be able to use all or most of one day of the annual Town Meeting to handle the zoning.

The Planning Board responded that they have been expertly advised that zoning should have its own special meetings at a seperate time from town business.

Selectmen countered that they don’t have to worry about getting lost in other business. The zoning rewrites are sure to attract plenty of attention.

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