Town Meeting: Recreation lighting projects and Historic preservation (or not)

Above: The historic Fayville Hall will be up for sale through selectmen. Preservationists are disappointed not to have a restriction required, but hope that a newly passed bylaw will encourage a buyer to maintain the facade. (photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

I already updated you on what passed and failed at Town Meeting, including last night. And I filled you in on action around some of the business from Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Now, here’s a deeper look back at a few more highlights.

In today’s post:

  • Recreation lighting projects were approved over abutter objections.
  • A significant bylaw will encourage historic preservation.
  • And a building that selectmen received authority to sell could benefit from that bylaw. But, there’s no preservation requirement.

On Wednesday night, three of the Conservation Preservation Act projects approved related to lighting outdoor recreation facilities.

Advisory objected to the spending about $400,000 in one year on the lighting projects. But Recreation pitched that the lights last a long time and increase residents’ access to recreation.

You can read more details, including voters’ comments, in Southborough Wicked Local. But, here are some broad strokes.

Some residents raised objections for each project (especially abutters to the tennis courts and Mooney Field). 

Baseball parents turned up to help pass Article 20 lighting the diamond at Mooney Field (at Finn.) That likely helped with approval of the prior article, lighting at Richardson Tennis Courts (at Neary), which passed by just 4 votes.*

It was a surprise to learn from a question raised on the floor (by Bill Boland) that Article 18 “to create a new, regulation size basketball court” will mainly go to lighting.  Unlike the other two articles, lighting wasn’t even mentioned in the article or its description. Also unlike the other two projects, it hasn’t been to any zoning meetings. (It’s possible that a height variance isn’t required for this project.)

However, like the other two projects, it will still have to go through Planning Board for approvals. So if neighbors have issues, they can raise them at that time.

Later, after Baseball parents left, an abutter attempted to call for reconsideration of the Tennis Court lights. Reversing a decision that was made at Special Town Meeting in October, the acting Moderator Roger Challen** didn’t allow it. He said it went against precedent. 

Challen (and Town Counsel) explained that the meeting is ruled by not only the bylaws but “Town Meeting Time”. Bylaws don’t specify who can call for reconsideration. But TTT (rules from which are printed in the Warrant) specifies that it must be someone who voted on the prevailing side. Acting Assistant Town Moderator John Wilson explained that otherwise voters of losing articles would keep jumping up through the meeting.

Other CPA articles that passed that night, plus some additional articles on Thursday, related to preservation efforts. I summed up most of that in my earlier post on the Historical Society Annual Meeting this Saturday. Click here for that.

That post focused on preservationists’ success. What some preservationists weren’t happy about was voters’ decisions on authorizing selectmen to sell Fayville Hall. 

Moved up to before that vote, the Historical Commission and Planning presented the Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings bylaw.

The bylaw provides more potential uses for historical buildings as long as owners preserve the facade. The bylaw will fill an important gap left when residents successfully abolished the Zoning Board of Appeals’ ability to grant Use Variances. It also will allow more floor space for accessory apartments than under special permits through the ZBA.

Historical’s Michael Weishan said the new codified method, makes permitting legal and logical. And he said:

This helps people afford living in Southborough because it also provides another venue to accessory apartments, which have been rather arbitrarily and often capriciously denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals previously.

Craig Nicholson (a ZBA member) asked several questions about terminology and the authority of the Planning Board. One objection was the “aging” definition for Historical Buildings as any 85 years or older. He contended that a common house like his wouldn’t be historic when it’s older. And he didn’t think that all old houses should be entitled to the extra uses.

David Parry, who served on the subcommittee to write the article, rebutted that the owner would be entitled to apply for, not recieve, the permit. Nicholson rebutted that meant decisions would still be “arbitrary” just made by a different board. 

Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano**, who worked with article writers, argued that wasn’t true, because the bylaw was “so comprehensive. . . more comprehensive than the average permitting plan”. 

The article overwhelmingly passed. 

Next, voters were asked to authorize selectmen to “dispose of” Fayville Hall and its abutting parking lot. Some residents were concerned that nothing in the article required them to use the newly passed Adaptive Reuse bylaw. 

Selectman Dan Kolenda repeatedly indicated that preservation would be a consideration. And they promised to make the process public. But they wouldn’t make specific commitments.

Weishan made a motion to amend the article to include a preservation restriction requirement.

Some argued that would tie selectmen’s hands too much and be a much more difficult process. Weishan said that the goal was to protect the building forever, not just through the first sale.

The issue was debated for some time. In the end, the majority of voters chose to give selectmen more flexibility and authority. The majority of voters rejected the amendment, then passed the original motion by more than a 2/3 vote.

*I personally know of at least 2 voters who supported the Tennis lights who came for baseball. Like many who came for Article 20, they left as soon as that passed.

**Roger Challen stepped in as Moderator for night 2 & 3 with assistance from long time former Moderator John Wilson. Stephen Morreale had a conflict that he didn’t foresee when he ran last year. (Town Meeting is supposed to start on the 2nd Monday in April. Because of Passover and Holy Thursday, followed by spring break, Selectmen decided a couple of months ago to reschedule the meeting to April 25th.)

***Speaking of Town Counsel . . . there were two Citizen Petition Articles that revolved around him. Both led to passionate debate and both failed. That’s deserving of a separate post. I hope to get to that early next week!]

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Southern Breeze
6 years ago

I would like to thank the Advisory Board for trying to keep it sane with the lighting projects in town.

SB Resident
6 years ago

Town meeting approval or not, the cost of the lights at the tennis courts (and the basketball court) is just crazy. It is insane to spend that much money on something that I predict will get little use (at least the abutters, which I am not, can take comfort in that). We get plenty of sunlight in our warmer months when both these courts are primarily used.

The baseball lights are a different story and will actually be used considering they will be used by the leagues that will schedule the usage.

It makes me sad that recreation would even ask for these things at these insane prices and that our selectman would support it, it shows a lack of understanding of value. I could come up with 100’s of better ways to use that money that would benefit a far greater number of residents and leaders truly interested in greater access to recreation should be able to do better.

Given that it is likely the baseball families that effected the tennis court lights vote, it seems clear to me that a true popular vote of the residents would even come close to passing that article. As a result, I think recreation should reconsider the lights and find better ways to spend the money that will benefit a greater number a people.

Kelly Roney
6 years ago
Reply to  SB Resident

I should have asked this at Town Meeting: The tennis court article was about rehabilitation and included lights, right? The courts at Neary could use resurfacing. Is that in the plan?

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