WVN #379: Voters reject 2 Town meeting measures
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Did you know that a proposed zoning change could expose Wayland to possible loss of federal help in case of flooding? Neither did the overwhelming majority of Wayland residents, including the Planning Board that proposed it at a Special Town Meeting.
Zoning bylaw revision was one of two consequential articles that voters rejected at the Nov. 16 meeting. They also rebuffed a second attempt by the selectmen to pursue unspecified development at the site of the former septage treatment plant.
Special Town Meeting Article 11 was billed as "housekeeping," a years-long effort, partly with hired legal help, to remove inconsistencies and ambiguities that had crept into the zoning bylaw since a previous revision in 1972. Nothing substantive, said the Planning Board, which sponsored the 53-page article. It had received little public attention.
But during 40 minutes of debate at Town Meeting a few voters who had done what appeared to be last-minute research pointed to serious and substantial changes, including the deletion of language involving the Federal Flood Insurance Program. This came as a surprise to most of the 223 assembled voters, including a number of former selectmen and former members of the planning and zoning boards.
One of them was Lawrie Glick who, after others had introduced amendments to patch up the article, finally introduced an ultimately successful motion to pass over, thus rejecting the entire article.
"I was on the ZBA (zoning board) for seven years," Glick told the meeting. "I missed this...I didn't realize this was a complete revision...If I didn't know about it, I assume others also didn't..."
Planning Board Chairman Kevin Murphy defended the article, saying that there had been many public meetings where the changes were discussed.
Former selectman George Harris argued that there were dozens of substantive changes and asserted that the public hadn't attended the meetings. Linda Segal, former selectman and present zoning board associate member, pointed out that the required Planning Board public hearing for the zoning articles was on Oct. 12, the same night as seven other board meetings. The zoning board had to attend a hearing of its own.
Other voters lined up at microphones to agree with previous speakers and point out other problems with the article. Former ZBA member Bill Sterling said some of the proposed changes could render the bylaw more lax and wondered if that was the intent.
The Planning Board didn't help its case when it had to hand out three pages of corrections of errors printed in the warrant. One voter called the errata sheets "incomprehensible."
The selectmen and Finance Committee had unanimously recommended that voters pass the article. Yet while the Planning Board struggled to field questions and concerns, Selectman Tom Fay and FinCom member Bill Steinberg, the assigned point persons for the article, did not participate.
There appear to be at least two lessons in this: 1) As has been demonstrated in the past, simply scheduling and advertising meetings according to law isn't enough to stimulate public awareness and discussion; and 2) Town Meeting remains a vital institution to prevent flawed legislation from being enacted.
Voters were careful to compliment the Planning Board and staff for creating an article that was in many ways accurate and useful. Expect to see a revised article introduced at the annual Town Meeting next spring (at the earliest), presumably after a good deal of public participation.
During the 3-1/2-hour meeting, another important article failed to pass. The selectmen failed, for the second consecutive Town Meeting, to persuade voters to let them buy out Sudbury's interest in the decommissioned jointly operated septage treatment plant on Route 20.
Voters approved 12 articles that remained in the warrant after two were passed over as planned. One of these articles concerned funding no longer needed for renovating a new location for WayCAM. The other concerned town acquisition of former agricultural land, still under discussion with the owner.
Several articles received extensive and informative discussion, including one on the future of a scenic vista often declared to be Wayland's most beautiful. Hint: the view includes belted Galloway cattle (aka Oreo cows).
SELECTMEN DENIED AUTHORITY TO DEVELOP SEPTAGE SITE
Voters were skeptical of an article at the spring Town Meeting to buy out Sudbury's share in the closed septage treatment plant. A new article on Nov. 16 didn't overcome that skepticism. After about 25 minutes of debate, citizens voted to pass over Article 6.
The Board of Selectmen had presented an optimistic scenario of buying out Sudbury's interest for about $130,000, leaving them free to pursue ways of creating tax revenue on the Wayland-owned land. Sudbury had already voted to approve the deal. Without a buyout, the joint operating agreement could extend to 2017.
Many voters spoke about potential risks. Some questioned the bald statement in the warrant that there is no indication of hazardous materials at the site. We can't be sure of that without more evidence of due diligence, they said, and any environmental remediation decreed by the aggressive Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection could run well over $1 million.
Others were concerned about the usefulness of the existing building, which contains little office space and was built mainly to chemically process waste. Demolishing the building for another kind of development is estimated to cost $500,000, and voters suspected that cost would be borne by Wayland if it bought out Sudbury's interest.
Another issue was the valuation and the risk involved in assuming pension liabilities for former workers.
The argument behind the successful motion to pass over the article was essentially: Be prudent. Why hurry? Study it more thoroughly, be prepared to answer technical questions, and come up with more specific ideas.
THE FUTURE OF MAINSTONE LAND
Voters approved Article 9, allocating $40,000 in community preservation funds to pay for appraising 218 acres now zoned for agriculture and spectacularly visible from Old Connecticut Path and Rice Road. Twenty-five minutes of discussion brought out considerable information about the site and its possible uses.
The Community Preservation Committee and Conservation Commission had consulted about the property with the Sudbury Valley Trustees, an organization devoted to preserving open space. The Hamlen family, which owns the land, is reported to favor keeping the acreage open beyond the present generation. The plan behind the article is to negotiate a price for a conservation restriction preserving the open space. Supporters hope for funding not just from community preservation reserves but from state and federal grants and other donations.
The first step is the appraisal. Community preservation funds can't be used for land acquisitions above such values.
One voter, former Planning Board member John Dyer, said he didn't oppose an open land plan or advocate development, but that spending money for an appraisal wasn't necessary; a common-sense figure would suffice. He recommended extensive discussions including the Planning Board.
Sensible development on about a third of the 218 acres could encompass 150 houses or 300 condo units, Dyer said, adding more than $3 million to Wayland tax revenues.
Other voters said that open space eases environmental impacts and raises property values for all homeowners.
In last year's record in the assessors' office, the land is appraised at $5.6 million. Under agricultural designation the tax obligation is greatly reduced.
REPAIRING WATER PIPES
Voters asked questions for nearly a half hour before approving Article 3, which allows $510,000 authorized last spring to be used to clean and reline pipes on Glezen Lane and Old Connecticut Path rather than Stonebridge Road.
Voters grilled Don Ouellette, director of the Department of Public Works, on technical details and on how the decision was made to change the location of the work. Some voters said that the Cochituate area seemed to need the work more than the chosen streets. Ouellette had responded to earlier questioning at the selectmen's warrant hearing by saying that tests showed an emergency situation on Glezen and Old Sudbury Road. But he had also disclosed at the FinCom warrant hearing that the four-inch water mains at the Route 30/27 intersection are so clogged that they are not providing useful fire flow.
At Town Meeting he said he had run the decision past the DPW Board and Town Administrator Fred Turkington. An amendment to try to stretch the funds to cover both Old Sudbury Road and Cochituate Center failed to get enough voter support.
"DUDLEY WOODS" STUDY
Voters readily approved article 7, providing $75,000 to study the future of seven acres near Dudley Pond.
A voter speaking in opposition claimed that the will of the people was to preserve the area as open space and thus no study was necessary. But at spring Town Meeting that vote fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed to preserve the land as open space.
Some citizens are interested in combining housing with open space.
POTENTIAL WAYCAM SITE
Passage of Article 5 gives the selectmen the power to lease the former weight training room in the high school field house. Rebuilding the high school will force WayCAM, the local public access cable channel, from its current studio. The 2,000-square-foot room provides adequate space for WayCAM, which trains students as well as broadcasting local meetings and events. WayCAM is supported by cable user fees.
Once celebrated in a 1904 House Beautiful magazine article, Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theater is among the oldest continuously operating community theaters in the United States. Article 8 allocates $6,000 in community preservation finds to restore and preserve the deteriorating proscenium.
MUNICIPAL SERVICES DISTRICT
In Article 12 the Planning Board successfully presented a smaller version of an earlier plan for parking school buses. To avoid parking at the high school, near town wells, buses have been parking near the DPW garage near the Middle School, but that cramps DPW operations. To overcome citizen objections, the new municipal services overlay district hugs Route 20 near the defunct septage treatment plant and avoids private residences.
Voters talked for 25 minutes before adopting the energy-saving Stretch Code as a town bylaw. This qualifies the town for state grants for energy-saving projects that have brought more than $100,000 each to a number of communities already certified.
Objections raised: Benefits are overstated, the new regulations will increase the cost of home renovations, state money may not be granted in the future, and energy-saving measures can be taken without the code.
Supporters said the new regulations will take effect a year later in any case, will have an excellent payback, and won't cost homeowners a great deal of extra money. Wayland's energy committee has a goal of 20 percent energy savings over the next few years.
PELHAM ISLAND BRIDGE REPLACEMENT
Article 15 provides easements at no cost to enable the bridge across the Sudbury River to be replaced at a cost of $3.13 million in state and federal funds. For ten years the picturesque and deteriorating bridge has been covered by a temporary span.
A Pelham Island Road resident objected to closing the crossing for the year or more required for the project, without a clear emergency response plan, citing delays in ambulance responses to emergency calls. Officials say a response from Saxonville could be quicker than a vehicle from Wayland via Route 20.
A spokesman for the River Stewardship Council said the group has consulted on the design, hoping for a result that is aesthetically in keeping with the Wild and Scenic Sudbury River and continues to provide a canoe launching site. The warrant mistakenly asserted that a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers was not required for the project, but the Army Corps has in fact approved the project on the recommendation of the River Stewardship Council.
AQUIFER PROTECTION DISTRICT
The Planning Board, Conservation Commission and Wellhead Protection Committee sponsored Article 16, which tightens restrictions in order for Wayland's wording to comply with DEP regulations. Passage of the article means that any use rendering impervious more than 15 percent (instead of 20 percent) of a lot in the Aquifer Protection District requires site plan approval.
QUESTIONS AND FUMBLES
Article 2 proposed by the Board of Selectmen looked so simple: delete $227,000 from borrowing authorized earlier but not in fact borrowed because it was no longer necessary. Voter questions about $27,000 that had been earmarked a decade ago for connecting the Town Building with the town's Route 20 wastewater treatment plant led to complications and unanswered questions.
Why was the money no longer needed? Because the plan to connect to the system was started and then abandoned. When was that decision made and who made it? No answer. Was this a decision made in public? No answer. Will the town still continue to pay an annual fee of $8,000 or more for the right to connect? Long and unclear answer, clarified by a town resident. Yes, so the town still retains its right to connect to the wastewater plant at a later date.
The article was approved.
Experienced Town Meeting voters are aware that, well in advance of the meeting, selectmen are assigned articles to study carefully, discuss with proponents and staff, and then introduce and explain to voters. At this meeting only Selectman Joe Nolan seemed to be consistently prepared to speak. Other selectmen sometimes seemed lost when not following a script. In one case, Moderator Peter Gossels interrupted Selectman John Bladon to point out that he had just read the wrong version of the motion for an article.
Some citizens have wondered whether the selectmen are running into trouble as a result of over-reliance on staff.
ALICE DRIVE AND HIDDEN SPRINGS LANE
Article 14 makes these two developer-built streets town ways. Spring Town Meeting passed over the same matter because some relevant boards hadn't reviewed the article and required paperwork had not been properly filed.
-- WVN Staff
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor