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.
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.