Special Town Meeting to focus on Main Street (not Public Safety Building) – October 4th

Above: Public Works has already begun work to promote the Main Street Reconstruction project. Voters will be asked to continue the project or pursue a different path. (image from DPW presentation)

A Special Town Meeting will be held on October 4th, 7:00 pm at Trottier Middle School. As of now, the focus of the meeting is what was originally an add-on item. Voters will decide whether to continue the “Main Street Reconstruction” project or simply repair and repave the road.

Initially, the Town planned to hold the fall meeting to move ahead with a Public Safety Building project. The project would replace the current Fire Station and Police Station. It would be built on or overlapping the current site, plus additional land owned by St. Mark’s School.

The Town had targeted Annual Town Meeting this past spring for a vote. But negotiations with St. Mark’s held up the project. In April, selectmen hoped to hold a Special Town Meeting on the topic this fall. They wanted approval to add the project as a referendum item on the Presidential Election Ballot.

Earlier that month, the Town failed to get approval for the next stage of the Main Street Reconstruction project. Revisiting the issue in May, selectmen decided to add Main Street to the already planned fall meeting. Since then, MassDOT has agreed to keep the project on their TIP (Transportation Improvement Project) list, though a year further out.

Some residents objected to the Town’s decision. They claimed the voters understood the project and made a clear choice against it. But some, including selectmen and most members of the Main Street Design Working Group, were unconvinced that was true. (Scroll down for more on that.)

This Tuesday, Board of Selectmen Chair John Rooney announced that the Public Safety project wouldn’t be ready for the fall. He explained that land issues with St. Mark’s are still unresolved. So the project is in a holding pattern. He hopes to have more to share within a month.

Still the Town will hold the meeting to decide how to proceed on Main Street. The Town’s article will again ask for power to negotiate or take land easements (temporary and permanent) for the roadwork. In response, a Citizen’s Petition is seeking to lay the issue to rest. 

The Warrant Article by petition will ask voters to officially support stopping the project. Assistant Town Manager Vanessa Hale shared the gist. It asks the Town to:

  • Repair and repave Main from Sears to E Main
  • Do this as we would any similar street
  • Cease efforts to obtain private property for the purpose of converting Main Street to federal highway standards

Rooney said they plan to close the Warrant at the end of August. Which means there is still time for other articles to be added.

More Citizen Petitions could come up. And the Town will likely add some administrative items. (They may also revisit another failed article from April – disposition of Town owned buildings. If they do, I’ll let you know.)

As for the decision to pursue Main Street Reconstruction project – This week, selectmen again justified that it is common for big projects to require multiple Town Meetings for approval.

In May, selectmen and most Main Street DWG members agreed it was worth doing. They weren’t convinced that the April vote represented how most residents feel about the project. And as long as it was unclear, they believed pursuing the TIP funding (from state and federal budgets) was worth doing.

Some believed that many residents opposed to the project turned up while those in favor of the project didn’t understand it was in jeopardy. Officials hope to do a better job getting the word out to everyone this time around.

Some believed that voters were confused or persuaded by the other side about the impact of the project. The Town’s presentation that night focused on easements. Meanwhile, some opponents painted a picture of a state highway that would destroy the character of the Main Street area and hurt property owners. Supporters claim that is inaccurate.

The Town will prepare a presentation for voters to help them understand what the completed project would look like, and why officials believe it is necessary. They have already begun PR efforts.

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan made a presentation to selectmen at the May meeting to “debunk myths”. The slides and video are posted to the Town website.

The good news is that by having articles on both sides of the issue, the meeting should clarify where voters stand. (Town Meeting voters that is. After all, the turnout for these meetings is generally a small percentage of registered voters! If you care one way or the other, best save the date.)

Of course voters could leave the Town in a murky area. The easement article requires a 2/3 majority. It’s possible for a majority, but less than 2/3 to support the project. But my understanding is that would likely result in losing MassDOT support for the project. If so, the non-TIP project would win by default.

If the easements fail to pass, they would likely be back at a future Town Meeting in some form. I believe any proper repair of Main Street will require some easements.

And many of the controversial issues around the project would likely remain even without TIP funding. Public Works and the Main Street DWG have justified most choices as necessary for safety reasons or compromises where residents have differing opinions.

19 Comments
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SouthboroDave
5 years ago

I encourage all to review the slide linked to in the above post. I cannot understand why anyone would vote against this project. Our Main Street is deplorable. 16yrs in the making, I want to be one of the residents that finally gets this approved.

JMO
5 years ago
Reply to  SouthboroDave

Did I miss something, or is the actual 30/85 intersection view left out? That is the sticking point for me. I will not vote in favor of this project until I see that. The imagine I have in my mind from posting years ago was horrendous. It look like someone blew open the whole area, and it looked awful.

SouthboroDave
5 years ago
Reply to  JMO

I agree there should be 4 pictures (one from each direction), but there is a view from the Police station looking west. You can see the intersection in the distance.

SB Resident
5 years ago
Reply to  SouthboroDave

Main St is deplorable, but it can be fixed without putting 4 ft shoulders on each side of the road. I walk Main St. all the time and when I picture it with the widened road, for me it takes enough away from the charm I feel from our town that I am against this project. I don’t want the rest of Main St. to look like what the Western couple of miles look like. Hopefully that helps you understand why anyone would vote against it. While the free price tag is tempting, there is more value in maintaining the way the town looks now.

SouthboroDave
5 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

Respectfully disagree. The western couple miles of 30 look fantastic. Give the blacktop a few years to fade and it will look like an old gray winding road through a beautiful small town.

SB Resident
5 years ago
Reply to  SouthboroDave

I think you aren’t thinking west enough. The newly paved part is 100% amazingly fantastic and exactly like what all the people against this project want the town center part of main st. to look like. It’s the part from old northboro rd into westborough that I was refering to. The opposition is solely about width. It is forcing land taking, will increase speed, and is ugly.

Downtown Resident
5 years ago
Reply to  SouthboroDave

We vote against it because we don’t want our nieghbor’s front lawns to be taken away from them. We vote against it because we don’t want a huge intersection in our neighborhood. We vote against it because we believe that it will look too city like. We vote against it because drivers already surpass the 25 mph speed limit and we don’t want to make it easier to speed through the center of town.
We would simply like the road to be maintained as all other roads are.

Sboro1992
5 years ago

Ugh….this town. Downsize the ridiculous Main Street project. Pave the street/fix the sidewalks. And get the poor police a decent building. For all they do for this town. I don’t think any of us would put up with keeping a job working in a building like that for as long as they have. Just sayin’

Frank Crowell
5 years ago

Still negotiating with St Mark’s. Why do I get the feeling that when it comes to St Mark’s and Fay School the tail wags the dog.

Al Hamilton
5 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

I am disappointed that this has not move forward more quickly but nothing in Town Government or Academia happens quickly. I have confidence in the BOS’s actions to date.

JohnnyGoogle
5 years ago

So a do over?
Did Britain take a do-over after the Brexit vote?
Will we get a do-over if Trump somehow wins in November?

SouthboroDave
5 years ago
Reply to  JohnnyGoogle

yes.
no, wish they did though.
i hope so.

Al Hamilton
5 years ago

For the record, I am in favor of this project but the BOS has it’s work cut out for itself. The opposition appears to be organized enough to put forth a warrant article. Those advocating for this project will need to get 2+ voters to Town Meeting for each person in opposition. This is a tall order.

The BOS needs to be actively out in front leading not standing behind a committee they appoint. They were elected to lead, they called this meeting, now they need to be out front communicating with the public and doing the hard work of getting those that support their point of view to the meeting.

If the BOS is not interested in doing so then we should cancel the meeting as we will just get the same result.

Booze lined Oak Hill
5 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

BOS actually get out in front of something. Hahahahahaha.

New Resident
5 years ago

Most of the land in that part of town is owned by St. Marks, Fay School, and other private owners and I do not believe that any of these properties have historical restrictions. The schools or homeowners could put up any sort of architectural monstrosity that they want and I don’t believe the town could stop them as long as it didn’t violate building codes. So much for town government controlling the “charm” and “character” of that area.

Steve Phillips
5 years ago
Reply to  New Resident

You’ve brought up an important point. Main Street has preserved its history, not through regulation by the town or state, but through deliberate choices made by generations of property owners over many years. It’s a lot more expensive to scrape and paint your house every two years than to put up vinyl siding and imitation shutters, but the reason we own these homes in the first place is because we value their history and the memories they preserve of our town’s past. As owner of a 200-year-old home on Main Street, I’m concerned that the proposed federally-funded road expansion is going to create a domino effect of antique properties being redeveloped for business usage or demolished to make room for new construction and parking lots. I think this would be a real loss to our town which would overwhelm any of the perceived benefits of this project.

southside resident
5 years ago
Reply to  Steve Phillips

Whoa! This is one huge illogical jump to a conclusion on your part. Why in the world would fixing a road make you (or any of your neighbors) more likely to redevelop your house for business use? Or Fay or St. Mark’s or anyone else? If a town resident thinks investing in a road improvement is a good thing, why would that translate into this domino effect you profess? Or even if you think it is a bad thing? I agree that vinyl siding and demolishing antique properties would be a loss to our town, but these hypotheticals are so very unrelated to the road issue — kind of like a lot of the presidential distraction arguments that have nothing to do with the topic under discussion. An “antique” word comes to mind – this is preposterous!! Or ridiculous.., in the “worthy of ridicule” meaning of the word.

Donna McDaniel
5 years ago

Just a historical note about the suggestion that a Historic District would be a way of preventing some projects from Main Street…. been there, didn’t do that. I don’t recall which Town Meeting year but a study group recommended such a district… from the end of Main on the east and past Fay School on the west. It was defeated–not even close! While some want to protect their property (for the sake of the town?), others only seem to see more government restriction. Not an easy idea to “sell” to the voters.
I can’t help but remember this from the last time Main St. was being debated.. In my Villager column I invited those who were proclaiming their fondness, indeed their commitment to preserving our town’s history, to come join us at the Historical Society! It’s not clear how long a handful of volunteers can keep it up. There’s a history to be preserved but, well, let’s just say the count of new volunteers has yet to start. Where are you all?
The Southborough Historical Society’s website has info.

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