In case you didn’t make it to last night’s Special Town Meeting (and judging by the turnout, you probably didn’t), here’s my recap.
It was a long night with the two controversial articles explained and debated at length. By a close margin, voters called for delaying a decision on both: the Medical Marijuana Dispensary zoning and the Barn Hollow open space parcel.
The only other article with significant discussion was Article 9, the proposed legal fixes to the zoning by-laws. It was amended, then passed.
As expected, Article 10, changing the Town Planner’s supervision to Selectmen, was withdrawn in deference to the joint policy adopted by Selectmen and the Planning Board this September.
For those of you interested in the details . . .
Article 1: Medical Marijuana by-law, amendment to the zoning code
Earlier in the evening, the Planning Board held and closed their public hearing on the issue. At that meeting, they reached a compromise with the Board of Health to amend the article.
The proposal expanded the allowable zone to include the Industrial District and the Business Highway District.
To do this, they also requested removing language that created a buffer of 1,000 feet between the facility and residential zones. (It would still remain 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds and other places children congregate.)
Some residents objected to allowing dispensaries close to homes. There was a perception that the last minute proposed amendment was a “bait and switch”.
Planning Board member Paul Cimino explained that his board was also willing to support the original proposal.
With opposition mounting to amending the article, Board of Health Chair, Dr. Louis Fazen, urged voters to postpone.
His suggestion was echoed by some others who believed that more discussion and public hearings were in order before voting on a plan. The floor agreed, 83 to 67.
Article 7: Acceptance of land parcel off Fisher Road and Barn Lane as open space
Upon introducing their article, the Planning Board recommended postponing the vote.
Recently, Selectman John Rooney negotiated a potential compromise with the developer and residents of the neighborhood. The Planning Board and Selectmen wanted time to try to work out a deal.
The Advisory Committee and Open Space Preservation Committee objected. Board members and residents debated the issue for about an hour before comments were cut off.
Many shared the concerns of Advisory Committee member John Butler. He believed that reopening the original deed agreement with the developer would set a terrible precedent. With 300 potential open space issues in town, he advised that the town accept the parcel and then work things out as “a good neighbor”.
Butler also suggested that because the development roads were accepted by the town, developer Kevin Giblin would no longer have an incentive to negotiate. Finally, he warned that if a compromise measure was reached, it would be handled by town boards without coming back to meeting for a town vote.
Rooney made an impassioned plea of fairness on behalf of the residents directly effected. He showed pictures of the land in dispute and explained the history from their perspective. He pointed out the town’s failure to properly handle the space restrictions. (For instance, the town approved the developments as landscaped before they were sold.)
He explained how the development had been presented for sale, the questions that the homeowners asked, and the information they were provided both at time of purchase and in intervening years.
He insisted that the residents were cautious and reasonable in their belief that when they purchased their homes, they were also purchasing the pieces of land in question.
For those who weren’t swayed by the fairness issue (and many weren’t), Rooney also issued a warning. He was confident that if the town took the land, the homeowners of Barn Hollow would have a legitimate law suit against the town.
Rooney cautioned that accepting the parcel would result in the land being tied up in a legal battle that would cost the town money, and likely end in an unfavorable judgement for the town.
Voters approved postponing a decision 79-66.
Article 9: Amendments to Zoning By-law
Before voting on (and passing) the article, two amendments were considered. (Yes, amendments to the amendments.)
These were revisions requested by resident David McCay.
McCay stated that a specific phrase “of a small-scale nature” added an unintended layer of additional zoning constraints for any “”nonconforming” properties. After some discussion of the legal ramifications, residents voted to approve that amendment.
The other request was to remove reference that major residential development applicants must be in compliance with state regulations and the Board of Health.
McCay saw this as burdening the Planning Board to know these regulations, which isn’t their responsibility. Some others viewed this as simply a reminder to the applicant that they must do their due diligence on regulations and required approvals. That amendment was rejected by close margin.
Updated (4/8/15 1:00 pm): Fixed misspelling of David McCay’s last name. Sorry!