WVN #496: Voters nix DPW garage -- for now
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Officials laid out their plan in four Town Meeting articles for a new Public Works garage on River Road and a large rental housing development on Route 20. Voters approved one of the articles on Sunday afternoon but said no to the second. Two related articles remain to be dealt with when Town meeting resumes on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
The Sunday April 7 session of Town Meeting is available at WayCAM's on demand archive:
Voters took the first step with Article 9, a plan for an access road from Route 20 past the transfer station to the proposed DPW garage near River Road. Complications had increased as information came to light about wetlands, wildlife habitat, methane and archaeological concerns.
With comparatively little time to spare before Town Meeting, the Board of Public Works had negotiated with the Board of Health, Conservation Commission, Historical Commission and others in what Board Chairman Mike Lowery described as "one of the grand civic processes" to reach an agreement that pleased nobody completely but satisfied everybody sufficiently. The Conservation Commission supported the Article unanimously.
If anybody wanted to name the road, Lowery suggested Accommodation Way.
Residents questioned the order of the four related articles: Why not decide first on DPW funding and zoning for new housing? What would the access road cost? How could it be paid for without DPW funding? But voters turned down an amendment to change the order.
Lowery and others argued that the changes will be made at some point whether the garage is built or not. The article costs nothing and is simply a transfer of land involving the Conservation Commission.
Voters approved the article by a 191-52 vote. But even speakers who voted yes expressed reservations. Most significantly, although the ConCom had agreed to the land transfers, it has yet to receive an application for the hearing which would determine all of the mitigation measures needed to use the access road.
Next came Article 10, asking approval to borrow up to $11.4 million to build a new 38,000-square-foot garage. The figures included $900,000 for the access road (18 times an earlier estimate). The DPW project has been in the works for a long time, and proponents advanced many arguments for voting yes:
-- The garage on Main Street near the Middle School, dating from the 1930s, could be condemned if it isn't replaced soon. Any more money spent on repairs is wasted.
-- Cost cutting reduced the planned size by 16% and the price by 12%.
-- There are firm construction bids, a sign that the garage could be finished as scheduled by October 2014 and on budget.
-- Interest rates and construction costs are low but could rise if work doesn't start soon.
-- The River Road location clears the way to demolish the decommissioned septage treatment plant on Route 20 and make way for a housing project that would improve Wayland's affordable housing percentage while bringing new property tax revenue and up to $6 million from the sale of the land. The land sale could pay half the cost of the garage.
Some voters continued to ask questions. Will the town follow the pattern of the well-done high school project or the costly Public Safety Building that came in late, flawed and well over budget? What about major issues involving the road which the Conservation Commission hasn't even held hearings on yet? What if it costs far more than imagined to satisfy access road problems? After all, federal and state agencies haven't weighed in yet. Why not slow down and make a coherent plan first?
The vote was 195 to 95, a majority but not the two-thirds required for borrowing.
The Permanent Municipal Building Committee had come to Town meeting armed with a backup proposal which included spending on the existing DPW garage. There were arguments that such an amendment to an article that had no reference to the existing building was out of order, and a 10-minute recess was called to sort things out. Moderator Dennis Berry then ruled that it was within the scope of the article. Whatever the procedural arguments, the proposed amendment prevented any accusation that voters had been denied a second chance.
The amendment asked for authority to borrow $900,000 to keep the plans alive while making any essential repairs on the existing garage. It drew a majority, 127-103, once again less than the required two-thirds.
That would seem to delay any action on garage funding until at least a fall Town meeting.
So what happens next? The last two pieces of the plan are Articles 16 and 17, to transfer control of the septage facility and two abutting parcels and change zoning to allow the River's Edge housing development. They'll come up early in Tuesday's continuation session.
In Sunday's 4-1/2-hour session voters decided other significant matters:
Middle School Roof and Other Capital Spending
Replacing the Middle School roof stirred a flurry of questions:
Why not repair it? Answer: It's too old for that; sooner or later, it collapses.
Why has the cost gone up over the $1.5 million already appropriated for this project? We discovered that the old roof, including asbestos, must be removed. HVAC costs more than expected.
Has asbestos caused any harm? Five years of air quality monitoring show no asbestos released into the environment.
The final cost is expected to be $2.915 million. The town borrowed $1.5 million earlier and needed to come up with an additional $1.415 million to be eligible for $1.028 million in state reimbursement.
The Finance Committee recommended funding the $1.415 million with a mixture of borrowing and cash. An amendment was proposed to borrow the whole amount, on the principle that an investment lasting a long time should be paid for over time. FinCom Vice Chairman Tom Greenaway said the Committee was "largely indifferent" on the choice left to voters.
As a result of a 203-20 decision in favor of the amendment, the free cash total will be $500,000 larger because the FinCom Capital Budget assumed only $915,000 would be borrowed.
The capital budget took very little meeting time. In contrast to recent years, when voter challenges amended or deleted items, there were no motions for deletion. The FinCom was more successful this year in "scrubbing" the capital budget before the warrant was published, pressing departments to provide required backup information to help evaluate each proposal.
Recreation Study OK'd
Article 14 requested $92,000 from the Community Preservation Fund for further study of a plan to build three athletic fields at the town-owned Loker Recreation Area on Route 30.
Though some voters argued that the need hadn't been proved, much of the opposition came on environmental grounds. After Dow Chemical closed its research facility, environmental cleanup and monitoring went on for almost 10 years. The property was cleaned up to a residential standard in 2000. That outcome was further reviewed by a Licensed Site Professional before the Town bought the property from Dow with a deed restriction for recreation and conservation uses. During a subsequent 10-year indemnification period there were no claims.
Still, some said that even the remotest chance of human harm is too much. Nobody mentioned that the Town Center mixed-use project is being built on the former Raytheon property, a portion of which is a hazardous waste site where environmental cleanup and monitoring continue.
Loker proponents said that the new fields would replace other areas in town now being used.
Voters decided, 156-57, to allow the Recreation Commission's plan to proceed.
Added Employee Power Denied
A casual reader might have missed a few key words in two parts of the warrant that led voters to argue against them.
The Board of Selectmen proposed Article 12, which would give nine high-ranking town employees the right to attend Town Meeting "and speak to articles and answer questions." Key words: "speak to" and "Town Counsel."
Lawyer and former selectman George Harris rose to call this "a very deceptive change" in the Town Code that would allow non-residents to take part in a way that has never been allowed in Wayland's 375-year history. Under the proposal, he said, employees could raise points of order, introduce motions -- in other words, take sides. One can imagine pressure on employees to do as they're told by their bosses.
The article was amended to make only one Code change, adding the public buildings director (a relatively new position) to the list of those allowed to sit on Town meeting floor and answer questions if asked. "Speak to articles" and "Town Counsel" were struck from the article.
Except for those named in the Town Code, anyone who is not a registered Wayland voter must be voted the opportunity to speak to Town Meeting.
The other little-noticed key words were in the second motion under the Article 5 Omnibus Budget where the Finance Committee recommended that the town administrator be made responsible for the operation, maintenance and administration of the Town Building and other facilities. Key words different from last year: the inclusion of "the Wastewater Treatment Facility." The plant serves the Town Center and nearby residential and commercial customers.
Anette Lewis, a lawyer and former road commissioner, said this change was recommended without any discussion in public and refers to an entity that is chartered as independent from town government, supported entirely by fees.
Town Counsel Mark Lanza, asked for his opinion, argued that the Wastewater Management District Commission (WWMDC) is a town board.
Lewis' motion to delete the wastewater facility carried by a vote of 100-65.
The WWMDC and the Town have been sued by the Town Center developer. The WWMDC has been left in the dark at times about some actions taken by other town officials. At WWMDC public meetings, the commissioners, in response to citizen questions, have said they have not seen or approved the bills for legal services undertaken on their behalf.
The wastewater commissioners are not always directly copied on important correspondence between the town administrator and Department of Environmental Protection, and such public documents are not posted on the town website. The most recent example is the DEP's Jan. 15 letter to the town administrator explaining the background and commitment behind an Administrative Consent Order, copied to the developer but not to the commissioners. Neither the letter nor the Order were included in the selectmen's correspondence packets. http://www.waylandtransparency.com/docs/wastewater/DEP_coverletter_Turkington01.15.13.pdf
Public documents providing greater insight into this problem are posted here:
The WWMDC was not included in a meeting at DEP that resulted in the state's Nov. 9, 2010 letter to the town administrator. In that letter, DEP's understanding was that "The Town anticipates that the transfer of legal ownership of the septage facility solely to the Town of Wayland will be completed by early January 2011."
Despite attempts at three town meetings to transfer that legal ownership, voters have yet to support doing that. The same septage facility property is now eyed for the River's Edge housing project coming up at Tuesday night's town meeting under Articles 16 and 17.
Town Meeting Continues
Town Meeting continues (and could conclude) on Tuesday evening in the High School Field House, beginning with Article 15. Voters will be deciding on proposals about the former Finnerty's property, the decommissioned septage facility on Route 20 (River's Edge housing project), and amendments to our dog control bylaw.
Until Town Meeting concludes, a reconsideration of any article already "disposed of" can be requested. The bar for Moderator Dennis Berry to consider such a request is very high.
If emails flying around town today are any indication of what might happen Tuesday night, voters cannot take anything for granted.
-- WVN Staff
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor