WVN #365: Selectmen, HDC still at odds
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The selectmen and the Historic District Commission aired their differences over the Town Center project but found little common ground.
Also in this newsletter: The School Committee admits it violated the Open Meeting Law by being imprecise in describing a closed session.
SELECTMEN, HDC STILL IN CONFLICT
The Board of Selectmen and the Historic District Commission, meeting for their first extensive exchange of views since the Commission was sued by the Town Center project developer, reached only one point of agreement in a confrontational session on Aug. 9: Twenty Wayland and the Commission will meet on Sept. 1, along with their lawyers.
Selectmen Chairman Steve Correia said at one point that there are two sides: those who are for the mixed-use development on Route 20 and those who are not.
The discussion showed that it's not as simple as being either for or against the project.
"I voted for the Town Center," Commissioner Meaghan Winokur told the selectmen. But, she went on, she would have voted no if she had suspected that Twenty Wayland planned to "tear up" the Historic District.
The vision of a 370,000-square-foot commercial-residential-municipal development on Route 20 that voters approved in 2006 didn't include a number of elements that have cropped up since then. The one that concerns the HDC is a plan to widen Routes 20 and 126-27 and add new traffic lights, changing the character of the District. The Commission is obligated to make decisions based on state and local laws concerning historic assets.
The HDC issued a Certificate of Hardship allowing the changes only if construction proceeds beyond the first planned phase -- about 94,000 square feet, including a 45,000-square-foot market.
The selectmen, echoing Twenty Wayland's position, argued that the roads are already unsafe.
"The growth is coming," said Selectman Joe Nolan, a former road commissioner. He argued to have Twenty Wayland pay for changes that will have to be made sooner or later in any case. The selectmen claim authority to decide on road changes as a safety issue. Commissioners say that no safety problem has been demonstrated and that it would be unwise to damage the Historic District if the Town Center turns out to be much smaller than originally planned. The documents cited by the selectmen all say there will be a safety issue in the future with project buildout, not that there is one now, HDC Chair Gretchen Schuler emphasized.
Selectmen Chairman Steve Correia said that "history is changing...always moving, always improving." He suggested that the road changes might even improve the appearance of the Historic District.
One example of lack of communication between Twenty Wayland and the HDC was the Commission's discovery that Twenty Wayland had filed a new application earlier that day. Even after the meeting began, commissioners still hadn't seen it.
When the HDC's pro bono attorney, Barbara Buell, commented on the other side's continuing silence, Twenty Wayland Project Manager Frank Dougherty expressed his disagreement in an unfriendly tone. When he added "And that's the polite answer," there was a murmur of disapproval from some attendees. Buell coolly noted that she has heard nothing from the developer's attorney since June.
Dougherty offered to withdraw the new application but was informed that, having been filed, it couldn't simply be dropped.
A long-standing complication came into the discussion: in settling a lawsuit by Glezen Lane neighbors, the Board of Selectmen required that road changes be made before construction begins. Schuler noted that the Commission was never consulted when that deal was being worked out, even though it directly affected the Historic District.
When Selectman Tom Fay said the Glezen neighbors were unwilling to discuss changes in the agreement, a leader of that group who was in the audience strongly contradicted him. "That is absolutely not true," said David Bernstein. Bernstein cited a June 27, 2009 email from Town Administrator Fred Turkington, which thanks the group for being willing to talk but concludes that decisions by MassHighway made such discussions fruitless.
It hasn't been shown, however, that MassHighway or any other agency would prevent Twenty Wayland from building the project in phases.
Twenty Wayland filed suit on July 30, 2009 and has lost every motion it made before a Superior Court judge, whose latest ruling is that fact-finding is needed to determine whether there is a traffic hazard. Earlier rulings refuted Twenty Wayland's and the selectmen's claim that the HDC had no right to be represented in court by an attorney.
Body language at the meeting gave an indication of alliances and divisions. Former Selectman Michael Tichnor, a long-time advocate for the Town Center, arrived with Twenty Wayland's Dougherty. Planning Board Chairman Kevin Murphy and SOSWayland co-chair Cynthia Lavenson entered during the meeting and sat with them, along with representatives of KGI, the parent company of Twenty Wayland. Notes were passed and comments whispered.
As the HDC members left the meeting room, Schuler was reported by the Town Crier to look "upset". But what she really was, she told WVN, was "annoyed and disgusted".
-- WVN Staff
SCHOOL COMMITTEE RESPONDS TO MEETING LAW COMPLAINT
The School Committee replied to an Open Meeting Law complaint by quickly apologizing and admitting its error.
Attorney and former Selectman George Harris had told the committee that it erred when it made a motion to go into executive (closed) session to discuss "food services."
When Harris appeared at the Committee's Aug. 3 meeting, Chairman Louis Jurist was apologetic, admitted that the wording of the motion was imprecise and vowed to get it right in the future.
It turned out that the Committee went into executive session to talk about negotiating with the food service workers' union. That discussion is permitted under the law, but a motion to go into executive session must be stated clearly and in detail so the public can judge whether the executive session is warranted.
Several Committee members also took responsibility for the error and said they take the law very seriously. They subsequently formally approved a motion suggested by Harris vowing to follow proper procedure in the future. Harris will notify the attorney general that his concerns were satisfied, which resolves the matter.
-- Tom Sciacca
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor