Sep 30

From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 30, 2022

Posted on September 30, 2022 at 11:11 AM by Tiffany Marletta

The 40B Appeal Process
By Gregory T. Federspiel

With the ZBA’s denial of the proposed 40B project on Upper School Street and the applicant’s subsequent filing of an appeal of this denial to the State, the project moves on to the next phase of review.  The appeal at this stage is made to the Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) which is operated under the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD.)

The applicant and the Town are the two statutory parties in the appeal.  It is possible for other parties to participate but any third party must apply for party status to the HAC.  If full party status is granted, the third party is allowed to present pre-filed testimony, and both pre- and post-hearing briefs to the HAC.  Alternatively, a third party might be granted interested party status only, giving the party the right to be noticed on all official business during the administrative appeal and to file a brief after the close of the evidentiary portion of the process, but not to present evidence of its own.  Those seeking party status in the SLV appeal should be in contact with the HAC very soon.

The appeal process before the HAC is not based on the proceedings held by our ZBA.  Rather, the HAC starts “fresh”, conducting a de novo hearing.  New pre-filed testimony and cross examination of expert witnesses takes place before an administrative hearing officer.  The proceedings, which are open to the public for the purpose of listening only, are recorded with a complete transcript prepared by a court stenographer.  

The HAC is scheduled to hold a “conference of counsel” next week to identify the issues in the case.   Our ZBA’s denial focused on environmental degradation that could result from the project and public safety concerns.  A date will be set for the parties to prepare and file a joint pre-hearing conference order for further conferencing with the HAC presiding officer.  Subsequently an order setting the schedule for the proceedings and clarifying the issues for adjudication by the HAC will be issued.

Once the official order is finalized, the applicant will submit its pre-filed testimony and expert witnesses in support of the appeal.  The Town will then have the opportunity to submit its pre-filed testimony and list of expert witnesses after which the applicant will have time to file rebuttal testimony.  

Once all the pre-hearing testimony is filed, an administrative adjudicatory hearing conducted by a presiding officer employed by the HAC will be held.  The hearing is limited to cross-examination of the opposing party’s witnesses.  Unlike a typical court hearing, these hearings do not take direct testimony.   Instead, all testimony is filed in writing ahead of time and the hearing is reserved for cross examination of witnesses that the parties decide to pursue.  It is only through cross-examination that witnesses provide live testimony.  

Once the hearing is complete and a transcript is produced, the parties file post-hearing briefs.   The full HAC reviews all the materials and will render a decision based on their review.  The entire process could take upwards of a year or more to complete.

The decisions of the HAC may be appealed to Superior Court.  Appeals are based on the record before the HAC, not on any new evidence.    

The Town will be spending significant money on legal fees and expert witnesses to defend the ZBA’s denial.  Voters likely will be asked to make a supplemental appropriation at the upcoming Special Town Meeting in November to pay for these new expenses.

During the pendency of the appeals process, the Town could receive 40B applications for other proposals.   Thus, it behooves us to continue to work on advancing plans for officially designated affordable housing units in Town.  Demonstrating tangible progress toward meeting the goal of 10% of our housing being designated as affordable allows us to have a “safe harbor” from new 40B projects.   Tangible progress for Manchester means adding some 11 new units a year.     

Sep 23

From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 22, 2022

Posted on September 23, 2022 at 9:27 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Climate Preparedness Week and other Resiliency Efforts
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library, in partnership with the Massachusetts Library System and Climate CREW (Communities Responding to Extreme Weather) are celebrating Climate Preparedness Week which runs September 24-30.  A virtual lecture and numerous hands-on activities geared toward different age levels are planned.  For a complete list of the activities and how to register visit the Library’s web site.

Featured guided walks include a leisurely walk up Powder House Hill Thursday, 9/29 late morning and a more strenuous two-hour hike through the Wilderness Conservation Area that straddles the Manchester/Essex town line on Friday morning, 9/30.   Manchester Essex Conservation Trust’s Jeff Cochand will lead the Powder House Hill excursion and MECT board member Tom Barrieau will lead the Wilderness Area hike.  Part of the conversations during the outings will include the importance of local land conservation as part of broader efforts to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The importance of healthy ecosystems and the role they can play in making us more resilient to the impacts of climate change is the focus of a second year of study being conducted by a team of researchers from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design on behalf of the four municipalities of Cape Ann.  Funding for this second-year effort was secured from the State by Senator Bruce Tarr and Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante.

(Year 1 efforts are wrapping up and have included a simulation of a Category 3 hurricane on the area, options for how to mitigate some of these devasting impacts, strategies for net zero affordable housing, and emerging technologies for waste to energy conversion (especially timely as Gloucester begins to evaluate plans for a new wastewater treatment plant that could serve all of Cape Ann.  These studies can be found on the web site of TownGreen, a Cape Ann organization advocating for climate resiliency.)   

The study will include conducting an inventory of our open spaces – upland forests, wetlands, salt marshes, and coastline – assessing their current health, and developing recommendations for how we can improve the health of these important ecosystems in order that they help guard against the worst impacts climate change could bring.   Pilot improvement projects will be undertaken in each of the ecosystem types, including an urban environment that can contain small areas of natural habitats providing a surprising level of benefit to a neighborhood.  

Through a separate state grant, Manchester will be studying options for better protecting our core Village area, including our waste water treatment plant and Town Hall, from bigger storms and rising sea levels.  Numerous options will be explored, from nature-based solutions to more traditional “armoring” techniques (e.g.: higher seawalls, a harbor storm gate.)  As part of this local study we want to be sure to capture the preferred approaches a majority of residents have for protection against bigger storms and rising seas.  We will work with our younger residents in an outreach program that includes one on one interviews as well as more traditional public forums to capture the ideas and preferences residents have.

Both of these new projects will be getting underway in the coming months. Interested in getting more involved?  Volunteers are needed to help guide the work and educate your fellow residents about the findings of the studies and how we might best put to use the results.  Please be in touch through the Selectmen’s Office at Town Hall.     

Sep 17

From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 17, 2022

Posted on September 17, 2022 at 11:43 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Water Resources Protection Task Force
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Water Resources Protection Task Force (Task Force) was created by the Select Board last December to help the Town assess its drinking water resources and to recommend action steps that will ensure the Town has an adequate supply of clean water for domestic consumption for many decades to come. A group of over 20 dedicated volunteers under the leadership of Steve Gang has been collecting background information and new data as they get up to speed on numerous aspects of our water system.

The last time the Town undertook a similar effort was over 30 years ago. The main result of this earlier effort was the completion of the “Horsley Witten Water Resources Protection Plan”, an analysis of our water sources compiled by the consultants of the same name along with a series of recommendations the Town could take to better protect our water supplies. Many but not all of the recommendations were implemented. One of the tasks of the new group is to revisit the old report to see which of the recommendations that were not implemented might still be worthwhile to pursue as well as develop new recommendations. In fact, Scott Horsley, one of the original authors, has been retained by the Task Force to assist in this and other tasks.

Six subcommittees of the Task Force are working on specific areas. A summary of the six and the focus of their work is as follows:

Usage and Demand for Drinking Water: Historic and current trends; indoor vs outdoor use; grey vs black water use; pricing (rate) options; conservation opportunities

Supply and Sources of Drinking Water: Watershed protection; potential new sources; regional options

Effects of Climate Change: Trends and Projections (temperature, precipitation, sea level rise impacts) case studies from other communities

Quality and Contaminants: Treatment levels; PFAS, potential for other contaminants; short/long term solutions

Citizen Awareness and Engagement: Surveys; document citizen concerns; assess willingness to make various tradeoffs

Town Responsibilities, Authority and Accountability: Who should be doing what? Best practices for sustainable management

Staff support for the Task Force is being provided by Grants and Special Projects Coordinator Sue Croft. DPW Director Chuck Dam, who is well versed in water system management and Town Engineer Nate Desrosiers are providing valuable input and guidance to the Task Force. In addition to Scott Horsley, one of the premier water experts in our region, other consultants are being utilized as necessary.

One new consultant is being brought in to help verify where the water comes from that feeds our main reservoir, Gravelly Pond. Using thermo-imaging, we should get a better picture of ground water travel into the pond which in turn, will help guide future watershed protection efforts and contamination risk reduction.

The Town also is utilizing the EPA “CREAT” Tool (Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness) which is helping us assess impacts on our water system that we can expect as climate change continues to advance.

The Task Force continues to hold public meetings as they advance their work over the coming months. They will be providing updates to the Select Board at regular meetings ultimately providing various recommendations to the Board that aim to ensure a reliable, high quality supply of drinking water for decades to come.