On Tuesday night, David Parry butted heads with selectmen while presenting his plan to remove utility poles from Main Street. To Parry’s frustration, the board decided that more information is needed before they can consider ordering a feasibility study. And they continued to envision it as a potential future project, separate from Main Street reconstruction.
Selectmen did agree that ultimately a decision should be made by Town Meeting voters. But those voters would be at an Annual Town Meeting – the next of which takes place after the construction project is slated to begin.
Selectmen asked Town employees to continue pushing to meet with utilities and get the cost information, plus a schedule for such a project.
The board didn’t appear to be in full agreement on what was needed for a next step. Selectwoman Lisa Braccio indicated that the full cost of a feasibility study should be a priority. But Selectman Brian Shea believed, rather than going to Town Meeting voters “piecemeal” they should also learn the full costs of project construction.
Meanwhile Parry continued to argue that the projects could coincide. He pushed that preparation wouldn’t take the one year Public Works has been stating. He claimed the design part of the study could be done in 1-2 months, easements done quickly, and the the study paid for through a private contribution.
The contribution was $5,000 offered by developer Tony Kwan. Parry said they could not only “kick start” the study with $5,000 but that it would cover the cost of the study. He claimed that had been stated in past meetings by Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan.
Selectmen said that $5,000 was an outdated quote for a deposit to just one of the three utility companies involved.* Selectwoman Lisa Braccio said she worried they would just be wasting Kwan’s money if the study/project was too expensive to proceed.
The cost of the study and time frame for the work were just two of the things Parry and selectmen argued over. But follow up commenters asked selectmen to look past Parry’s “abrasive” speech and focus on “the message, not the messenger”.**
Among selectmen concerns was, why remove poles from Main St and not streets of other residents they heard from. Main Street Working Group Chair Marty Healey addressed that. He pitched that Main St is the street that is being torn up. Since, he assumed that wouldn’t be done again in their lifetime, the time to do something is now.
Healey pointed out that his group had voted to get more information on how to build in a contingency for future pole removal.
Referring to the businesses downtown, Main Street resident Karen Connell said removing the poles would benefit the people we are asking the most of. She expressed concern for business owners that will lose money during the reconstruction project without gaining the benefits (since the project doesn’t extend past Park Street).
Christo Baltas, owner of Southborough House of Pizza, spoke as one of those businesses. He supported Parry’s project for poles to be moved during Main St construction. But, he said he wouldn’t support a separate project down the road as envisioned by some.
Baltas is the second generation to own the restaurant. He told selectmen that the business village on “Main Street is dying”. He would oppose a project that would cause more disruption, tearing up poles in 5-10 years.
[Editor’s Note: Concerns over how to revitalize the Main Street Business Village were raised by the Economic Development Committee earlier in the meeting. I wrote about their efforts related to a survey on improving the area yesterday.]
None of the three presiding selectmen showed enthusiasm for the project. Chair Dan Kolenda introduced Parry’s presentation with a list of concerns he wanted Parry to address. The biggest hurdle for him was finding money to pay for the project that is assumed to be over $1M in cost. He referred to recent debates with Advisory over $30,000 in this year’s budget. Kolenda said it led to cutting funds in this year’s budget for a firefighter and DPW equipment. If money was somehow found for this project, why should it be spent there instead of on other Town needs?
Parry refused to respond to Kolenda’s concerns unless he would be allowed to outside of the 15 minutes allotted his presentation.
Shea and Braccio both agreed the project would be good for downtown. But they were also concerned about costs and priorities. Braccio echoed Kolenda, again saying that she had also been approached by residents who asked why spend on Main Street instead of their streets.
Shea said he would be willing to present an article at Town Meeting when the costs are known, but he didn’t have the appetite yet to advocate for it at the Transfer Station on weekends.
*In July, Galligan told the Main Street Working Group that $5,000 would cover a deposit for Verizon. The utility would then look at details and get back to them with a better estimate for the cost.
That was prior to a change among utilities that Galligan informed selectmen and Parry about later in the month. National Grid is now in charge of coordinating pole projects. Galligan said they still haven’t learned what a deposit will cost for all the three utilities to look at the plan under the new setup, let alone full costs.
Prior to the change in pole ownership, Verizon told Galligan these types of projects take a year to design. All three utilities need to coordinate and agree, and each have full veto power on the project.
**Dialogue between selectmen and Parry was often contentious, especially between him and Chair Dan Kolenda.
It began with Selectman Brian Shea respectfully requesting Parry to refrain from leaving messages with obscenities on his household’s voicemail. Parry said, “I apologize, I did what I was supposed to do.” He justified he was just passing along an anonymous message to selectmen. Since Shea was on vacation, he had to leave that on his voicemail.
Kolenda and Parry had an angry back and forth over the messages, including ones left for the Chair. Kolenda argued that the messages were uncceptable. Referring to purported threats:
I served in a combat zone Mr. Parry. Your verbal threats mean nothing to me. But they should never, ever occur.
Parry claimed Kolenda was exaggerating, that they weren’t threats and were someone else’s words.
Later, Braccio said she appreciated Parry’s enthusiasm and persistence. But she objected to his “almost disingenuous” accusations made by email about Town employees. Braccio said that Parry’s messages accused employees of refusing to work with him. She stated that staff had spent over 100 hours working with him on his proposal, and the Town’s consultants tasked with supporting work. Town Administrator Mark Purple supported the statement, calculating that over $2,600 had been spent by the Town.