Friday, November 5, 1999
Win some, lose some at Special Town Meeting
Affordable housing dodged a bullet on Tuesday as voters at the Special Town Meeting said no to a petition which would have prohibited building the proposed development on the Conant Land. Voters also said no to the town's purchase of the former Saint Irene Church on Bedford Road, but yes to the transfer from free cash to balance the FY00 budget and yes to the new cell tower bylaw, with one amendment from the floor. Attendance at the meeting started at 418, but dwindled by the time the meeting adjourned at 11:30 p.m.
No to Conant Land restriction
Under Article 1, housing authority chair Marty Galligan set the stage for discussion of the Conant Land with a crisp presentation of the scaled-down affordable housing development on the Rockland Road edge of the parcel. While the petitioners who drafted Article 6 conveyed heartfelt arguments about the benefits of preserving the land, they could not overcome the competing argument that to vote for the conservation restriction would effectively undercut the work of the housing authority since receiving its mandate last spring.
Speaking on behalf of the board of selectmen, John Ballantine summarized the stance of most town boards that they wanted the housing authority to move forward with plans for affordable housing before a conservation restriction is considered on the Conant Land. "There are real issues regarding water and septic in the town center," said Ballantine, "but these are separate from the Conant Land." Speaking personally, Ballantine said, "This is not Solomon's baby. We can achieve two objectives at once."
As a further obstacle, town counsel offered an opinion midway through the discussion that the petition was "fatally flawed" in that it failed to exclude the expansion of the town offices and fire station from the control of the conservation commission, failed to specically describe the land excluded and failed to make the finding required by state law that the land is not necessary for town purposes.
Baldwin Road resident Ralph Anderson questioned the need for a conservation restriction at any time and instead urged petitioners to trust future Town Meetings to act responsibly with respect to the Conant Land as they have in the past. Petitioners were urged to withdraw the article and reach consensus about how to accommodate town center and conservation concerns and affordable housing outside of Town Meeting.
The article came to a vote and failed, 85 in favor to 214 opposed.
No to Saint Irene's
It wasn't so much fiscal conservatism as that no one could come up with a compelling use that led to the defeat of Article 2, the proposed purchase of the former Saint Irene Church. Selectman Vivian Chaput failed to convince enough voters that the cost of five cents thousand dollars of assessed value was "a relatively small price to pay for an insurance policy" which would give the town an unrestricted lot in the center of town for future municipal needs. Concerns about septic limitations and water quality also swayed enough voters so that, although a majority of 210 to 168 voted for the purchase, the article failed to garner the required two-thirds support.
Yes to new cell tower bylaw
With the moratorium on building wireless communications facilities in town about to expire, there was a hint of "do or die" in the discussion of the cell tower bylaw revisions. Nevertheless, stressing that Town Meeting was acting as a legislature, bylaw architect Don Allen carefully explained all changes from the last draft, available to the public in the office of the town clerk. These changes reflected comments from town boards, town counsel and representatives of the telecommunications industry, the most notable of which allowed cell towers to be erected on all land, not just public land, so long as the 900-foot setback and other requirements of the bylaw were met.
These changes did not go far enough for planning board member Dan Holzman, who offered an amendment to allow a wireless communications facility to be installed in existing structures, such as church steeples, without complying with the setback requirements. "We wouldn't have to see any monopoles in town," argued Holzman. Although bylaw drafters felt that putting these facilities in buildings, most likely in the center of town, ran counter to the philosophy of the new bylaw to keep cell towers as far away from people as possible, the amendment was adopted and the article carried with a vote of 340 to 7.
Yes to balanced budget
Article 4, to make up a $189,043 shortfall in the FY00 budget by a transfer from free cash, passed unanimously with very little discussion. The big question before Tuesday's vote was whether the state would certify free cash in time to allow Article 4 to be moved. Finance committee chair Tony Allison relayed the news that, not only was free cash certified, but, at $823,512, the certified amount was significantly higher than the $500,000 ballpark figure town financial personnel had expected. The passage of Article 4 made the contingency plan set forth in Article 5 unnecessary.
Former FinCom member Beth Hambleton pointed to the need for the budget fix to renew the call for a town financial director. After the confusion surrounding the budget at the spring Town Meeting and the inadvertent omission of a free cash transfer, which accounted for a major part of the Article 4 adjustment, Hambleton said she had little faith in the numbers being presented now. She questioned whether the FinCom had the time to evaluate the budget in the detail required, and stressed that a financial director could better provide reliable numbers.
The tangible effects of Article 4 will appear in mailboxes soon. Tax bills can be issued now that the town has a balanced budget.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito