Town Meeting Wrap Up: Noise Bylaw, PILOT Committee, and clarifying Neary Feasibility Study (Updated)

An amendment to eliminate the use of gas leaf blowers ⅔ of the year failed. But the bylaw that passed will limit hours of use.

A lot happened at last week’s Annual Town Meeting. Here is my final coverage on the discussions and votes.

As I quickly recapped last week, the Noise Bylaw and PILOT Committee Articles passed. I should have specified, since these Articles would rewrite Town bylaws, they still need to be approved by the Attorney General’s Office. That can take a few months.

I’m sharing more details on the Articles and discussions below. But first, I’m following up on the Neary Feasibility Study as promised.

[For my coverage of other debates that took place last week, click here.]

Clarifying – Neary Feasibility Study approval

As I wrote about last week, voters were told that despite the listed cost they would likely be paying only part of the $950K for a Feasibility Study. 

What I had initially written inaccurately was that the work would cover design/construction schematics. That was based on back and forth comments that left me with the wrong impression.

The presentation actually specified the study would encompass documents related to:

  • education program;
  • initial space needs summary;
  • documentation of existing conditions;
  • establishment of design parameters; and
  • developing and evaluating alternatives

The supposition is that if the Town gets far enough into the work to be billed that full amount, we would reach the phase where the Mass School Building Authority would reimburse 38% with Southborough only responsible for $589K. But at that point, the Town would likely be taking on what could be a $65 M construction project.

As I previously wrote. . .

Decisions will all be made through public meetings, including those of the Neary School Building Committee. As part of the rationale, Malinowski reminded that the Town could benefit from use of the Woodward building to house other facilities that need more room.

There was debate about the merits of spending on the study and of looking at a project at Neary. There were multiple arguments urging that Woodward would be a better site to add on to. Bill Harrington of the Council on Aging said the Woodward site wouldn’t be a good match for the senior center due to its split levels.

Malinowski stated that Woodward’s permitted capacity doesn’t allow adding another grade, and the site doesn’t have flexibility for a big addition.

Voters worried that the project will lead to a $65M school building project. Malinowski noted that the old Neary building needs serious work (like a roof) to be kept as a viable building. And that work would trigger certain code and ADA Compliance with spikes the cost of the renovations.

He pointed out that wheelchairs can’t fit through bathroom doorways that are surrounded by cinderblocks. And cutting into walls built in 1970s includes risks related to asbestos.

If the Town pursues a school building addition/renovation/replacement with support for MSBA, they would reimburse for 38% of that cost. But the Town is more conservatively projecting a 20% cost based on the fact that voters may want some elements that the state won’t pay towards. He used auditoriums as an example.

During discussions, Malinowski also indicated that the study will focus on the Neary site but also look at some of the details around the other schools, including Woodward.

Noise Bylaw

[As I’ve previously disclosed, my husband served on the Noise Bylaw Committee.]

The Noise Bylaw was passed 69-61 without any amendments. As I suspected would happen, amendments that were proposed came from both voters seeking to make it stricter and looser.

Proposals included increasing the allowed hours for noise, increasing fines with no first warning, removing a section on noisy pets. Peter LaPine who brought forward the Citizen Petition at last year’s meeting* moved to limit use of all gas powered leaf blowers to between March 15 – May 1 and October 15 – December 15. Bylaw Committee member Lisa Dunderdale supported that the leafblowers were by far residents’ biggest complaint about noise. That was supported by commenters from the floor who lamented the lack of peace and quiet in their neighborhoods.

I’m going to leave the rest of the coverage of that discussion to a write up by the Community Advocate. You can read it here.

PILOT Committee

Back in 2019, Town Meeting voted to have the Select Board reinvigorate the PILOT Committee. It was a non-binding action and one the Board paid lip service to, then ignored. Instead, the Board opted to have a single member, Marty Healey, represent them in negotiations with the Town.

The Select Board and majority of Advisory considered the results to be a success. Petitioner Patricia Burns Fiore was less impressed. She advocated that creating a standing committee to do research to support the Select Board’s efforts may help. Voters agreed. 

The Community Advocate saved me some time by writing up that discussion as well. You can read that here.

*Updated (5/11/22 1:05 pm): Peter LaPine reminded that his Citizen Petition Article discussed at last year’s Annual Town Meeting had been postponed from when it was brought forward in 2020. That year many of the Articles were pushed off the agenda. (At the time officials intended to convene a fall Special Town Meeting in 2021, which didn’t happen.) He also noted that his amendment would have ended the spring cleanup using leafblowers at May 1st (not the 15th as I originally wrote.)

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