The fall Special Town Meeting will be held in six days. The Article that has the most attention from readers is definitely the zoning changes proposed for Downtown.
I’m following up on some of the questions in blog comments about Wastewater Treatment. (Scroll down for that.)
In addition, I’m happy to see that the Town posted the official version of the Amended Article voters will be asked to pass. (This will replace the version posted in the Warrant.) They also posted the Board of Selectmen’s analysis of how passage of Article 10 will result in differences between current and proposed zoning. (I would call it a redlined document, but it doesn’t use colors.)
[On Friday, I posted my own analysis with charts comparing current and proposed zoning. You can look at that here.]
There is some land that will remain in the Business Village Zone. (Those are the parcels split between the business and a residential zone, plus property currently owned by the railroad company, CSX.)
For other materials and to see if more handouts are posted between now and the meeting, check here.
Below I’m sharing some context and links related to questions and claims about costs the Town could incur if the zoning passes.
Several comments on the blog have asked questions about the Town’s plans for a Wastewater Treatment facility. Some have claimed that the zoning would pave the way to force voters to pay for a facility that benefits developers.
If a project was proposed to be paid by Southborough taxes, Town Meeting voters would have to pass it. However, while the zoning change requires a 2/3 approval, funding downtown infrastructure may not. (If a project was funded without the Town issuing a bond or triggering proposition 2½, only a majority would need to support it.)
So, what kind of project are we potentially looking at?
In February 2019, the Economic Development Committee held a forum to brainstorm issues around revitalizing downtown. In it, the public learned about serious septic limitations preventing development of some commercial properties like restaurants.
The EDC pursued and received a grant to study how to resolve septic issues (and to assist with the zoning effort). A Wastewater Treatment Feasibility Study was conducted to “evaluate an option for independently treating” up to 20,000 gallons per day wastewater in the area of the current Village Business District.
The study estimated that a project (map right); would cost $3,298,000. (Click here for a conceptual drawing of a downtown plant.)
The consultants, Weston & Sampson, recommended pursuing grant funding. They also recommended a follow up study on how the project could be funded outside of grants.
The second report put forward multiple options. It looked at full funding by taxpayers, split funding with an account funded by properties that would directly benefit, and a real estate tax charge. It listed pros and cons for each scenario. (You can find all documents related to the wastewater study grant here.)
It’s worth noting that the cost scenario tables assume no offset by state or federal grants. Town officials have stated hope of pursuing grants for any costly infrastructure projects.
The study reports were issued in June and July. In August, the EDC discussed the status of reports and grants. But there wasn’t a presentation of the content or discussion of next steps on the wastewater treatment project. The Board of Selectmen has yet to include the reports on their agenda for discussion.