At the second night of Town Meeting, preservation Articles passed with flying colors, along with a measure to speed up future meetings. A proposed change to the zoning code on the Site Plan appeal process got tangled up in arguments and failed to pass the threshold.
Voters authorized dedicating over $880K in CPA funds to new open space and historic preservation projects. Most of that was in support of the new Southborough Golf Club and its Conservation Restriction.
Before endowing the CR, voters learned that the Board of Selectmen signed the final papers this week. Community Preservation Chair Freddie Gillespie led a round of applause for the long efforts of the many behind that success. Later, the small group of attending voters and officials was thunderous in its applause for Gillespie’s efforts on all of the CPC projects.
Over $646K of CPA funds were authorized for the Golf Club property. Gillespie previewed that the actual figure will be lower. Bids to fix the Golf Course parking lot and retaining wall came back lower than estimated. But the related Article was bundled with renovating two holes impacted by the Public Safety Building project. She explained that there wasn’t enough time to hash out what the revised figure should be. Any funds that aren’t used will be returned to the CPA’s unreserved fund.*
Voters also unanimously approved $175,000 to purchase 30 acres of Open Space and thanked the Halloran family for its generosity.** Another $32K+ will go to the first phase of a restoration project for the Library’s historic facade. And over $26K will go to restoration of the Old Burial Ground, contingent on some required paperwork.
There were few questions and no criticisms made on the CPA Articles. In contrast, earlier that night, Town Meeting spent over 30 minutes questioning and debating Article 32 to amend the zoning code.
The Article would have eliminated the option for voters to appeal Planning Board actions on Site Plan Approval to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Proponents argued that the current process pits the boards against each other. The process was considered unusual by the Land Court, isn’t seen in most Towns, and complicates Town Counsel’s representation of Town boards.
Opponents Jack Bartolini and Sam Stivers argued that eliminating it would force residents, abutters, and small businesses to incur costly legal fees if they want to appeal a decision believed unfair.
Many made veiled references to issues and a court case stemming from the Park Central development. David Parry, supporting the amendment and the Article called the project out as an example of why the change was needed. Jim Colleary argued against the Town rushing into zoning changes based on one controversial development project.
Complicating the debate was confusion over an amendment to the Article proposed by Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Andrew Dennington. Dennington argued that the language clarifies the intent of the code change, rather than leaving it silent.
Betsy Rosenbloom questioned Town Counsel on the language, concerned over the wording. In the end, she said she was too uncertain about possible problems in the wording and couldn’t support it. Others questioned if the words on the screen were correct as they seemed to call for “striking” some language without specifying adding the replacement words shown to be added.
The motion to amend passed, with only a majority needed. A motion was made by Colleary to indefinitely postpone, who argued that the Town should take more time to look at it. As a former ZBA member, he also argued that the Town board is better equipped to handle and care about local issues. His motion failed.
In the end, 64.3% of voters supported it (72-40). That was not enough to pass the 2/3 bar.
Later in the evening, Rosenbloom asked to reconsider the original motion. She argued that it was concerns about the amended language that prevented her from supporting the Article. And between speaking with the Planning and ZBA Chairs** and the arguments made by Selectwoman Lisa Braccio, she wanted to vote for the concept behind the original Article.
Moderator Paul Cimino denied her motion. He explained that when the amendment on the Article passed, the original Article was “disposed of” and couldn’t be returned for a vote.
Good news on a Town Code change that did pass. Voters overwhelmingly passed a measure to group uncontested Articles for a single vote. That should speed up the pace of future Town Meetings.
*I believe returning reserved CPA funds requires a Town Meeting vote. But that’s commonly done without issue at Annual Town Meeting. Although, in this case, funds are to be borrowed. So, it may just mean borrowing less.
**If any hands were “opposed” to the Open Space purchase, I couldn’t see them.
***In arguing her motion, Rosenbloom incorrectly stated that both Planning and the ZBA wanted to pass the Article to avoid the boards being pitted against each other. In fact, the ZBA was split, and the majority commented in opposition to the Article. They opted not to vote on a position. ZBA member Craig Nicholson stood to comment, but sat when her motion was denied.