Jul 31

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 31, 2020

Posted on July 31, 2020 at 1:59 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Town Election Round-up and Upcoming State/Federal Elections
By Gregory T. Federspiel

With all that has been going on it seems that the local elections that we held belatedly on June 30th did not garner the usual attention.  Indeed, turnout was fairly light with 710 voters casting ballots out of more than 4100 registered voters.  None-the-less, important decisions were made and, with a couple of write in candidates jumping in, we had a tight race for the Planning Board.

Construction at the elementary school required us to move town elections to the middle-high school cafeteria.  The space worked out well and with school not being in session there was plenty of parking. There was one ballot question as a follow-up to the Annual Town Meeting where voters tentatively approved a capital improvement exclusion of $750,000 for watermain work.  Exclusion votes (meaning the funds to be raised are outside the confines of Proposition 2 ½) require approval at Town Meeting and at a town election by ballot.  The request passed 539 to 155.  The Town’s capital replacement program has recently been relying on exclusion votes that equal what we have stopped paying in interest and principal for borrowed funds resulting in no increases  in taxes.  We anticipate this topping out at $1.0 million annually, paying for about a third of our annual capital needs. 

Alan Wilson was once again re-elected as Town Moderator.  Alan is highly respected among his Moderator peers.  His preparation for a town meeting is second to none.  This past town meeting required a whole new level of planning given COVID 19.  But, as usual, Alan’s attention to detail ensured a smooth – and certainly unique – Annual Town Meeting as the Town’s business was conducted outside on the football field!

Voters returned David Shaw as one of three Library Trustees. The three trustees provide important guidance to the library staff and are always trying to look ahead, anticipating the needs of library patrons – a task that has grown increasingly complex in today’s digital world.   

Voters also reelected Planning Board Member Chris Onley and Mary Foley. Both bring a passion for ensuring we guide future development in a way that is in keeping with the cherished character of the Town.  Two write-in candidates for a third Planning Board vacancy came close to splitting the vote equally but Gary Gilbert ended up winning by 55 votes.  It is always good to see residents willing to step forward to run for an elected (or appointed) office.   With the new Master Plan as its guide, the Planning Board has a full plate of initiatives to dive into, including the pursuit of a new mixed use “40R” district in the Limited Commercial District, recodification of our zoning regulation, and the diversification of our housing stock. 

Matt Harrington became the newest member to represent Manchester on the District School Committee.  He is joining the Committee during the challenges of trying to figure out how best to educate students this fall while still protecting the health and safety of teachers and students alike – not an easy task.

For the two open selectmen seats, voters gave green lights to Ann Harrison and John Round.  While both are new to the Board, they are not new to town governance.  Ann has served on the School Committee and the Finance Committee while John serves on the Historic District Commission.  Neither has wasted any time as they have jumped right into the Selectmen meeting topics, taking on new assignments and contributing to the discussions and decisions that are made at the twice monthly meetings. 

Coming right up is the state primary election and then the national election in November.  With the pandemic still very much with us, voting by mail has been expanded and is available to all voters.  You should have received a postcard in the mail recently which you can return requesting a ballot for either or both upcoming elections be sent to you.  Primary ballots are due back at Town Hall August 26 and the November ballots are due back October 28.  Mail in ballot requests can also be made through the Town Clerk’s Office.   Elections are central to our democracy – be sure to exercise your right to vote. 

Jul 24

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 24, 2020

Posted on July 24, 2020 at 10:09 AM by Tiffany Marletta

A Primer on 40B
By Gregory T. Federspiel

The Town anticipates that a developer will be putting forth a proposal for a large apartment complex on Upper School Street across from Utopian Farm Stand and Atwater Avenue.  The proposal is for a “40B” project.  General Law Chapter 40B, Sections 22-23 of the Massachusetts state statutes, known as the Comprehensive Permit Law, or simply 40B, was enacted back in 1969 by the state to facilitate the construction of low- or moderate-income housing.  The law establishes a consolidated local review and approval process (one comprehensive permit) that is handled by the Zoning Board of Appeals to cover all aspects of the local approval process.  Other boards and committees can provide input to the ZBA but the ZBA is the permit granting authority for a 40B permit.

Developers willing to include a minimum of 25% of the proposed new housing units as affordable per state guidelines can seek a 40B comprehensive permit.  The development can create greater density and other variations from local zoning regulations through the 40B process.  For communities that have not met the minimum threshold of having 10% of their housing stock designated as affordable, the developer can appeal any local decision to the state Housing Appeals Committee, where modifications to local conditions often occur.   Manchester currently has under 5% of its housing stock formally designated as affordable.

For housing to be affordable, the cost of the housing must not exceed 30% of the income of a household making 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI).  We are part of the metro Boston area which, in 2019, had an 80% AMI of $80,300 for a family of three.  This translates to spending no more than $2000 a month on housing, including utilities. Assuming such a household has the funds for a 20% down payment, they can purchase a house in the $400,000 range; the median assessed value of a house in Manchester is nearly double this.    

The ZBA’s formal public hearings are the official start of the local review of a 40B project.  Prior to appearing before the ZBA, a developer must receive project eligibility approval from the state.  Before issuing such approval, the state agencies involved will seek comment from the municipality.  In anticipation of these comments, developers will often seek preliminary agreement for the project from the Board of Selectmen in order to put forth to the state what is known as  a “Friendly 40B” – that is, a project that has local support because of the contribution it can make to the community’s need for more diverse housing options and the contributions the developer agrees to make to local needs (infrastructure, public safety, land protection, etc.) 

Before determining whether to support the project, the Selectmen will hold public sessions dedicated to the review of the proposed development. We expect this to begin by the end of the summer and conclude by the end of October.  The developer, with or without Selectmen support, will proceed to secure the project eligibility from the state.  By mid-winter, 2021 the project is likely to begin the comprehensive permit review process before the ZBA which could last through the summer. The ZBA process is independent of any preliminary agreements that the developer and Selectmen may have reached.  Additional approvals from the state are needed before the project can break ground, putting us into 2022.

A “Friendly” 40B process affords an opportunity to negotiate mitigation measures from the developer.  Otherwise, the town and the developer often end up fighting before the state’s Housing Appeals Committee where we may end up on the short end of a decision.

The 40B process has many steps to it and can get quite involved.  It has been many years since a project was proposed in Manchester.  No doubt this one will generate a high degree of interest.  The Town will create a dedicated part of our web site for information as the process unfolds in the coming months.   


Jul 17

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 17, 2020

Posted on July 17, 2020 at 9:31 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Selectmen’s Annual Workshop Sets Priorities
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Each summer about this time the Select Board meets to review the work of the past year and to identify the priorities for the coming year. The workshop held last Saturday, 7/11, provided just such an opportunity.  There is always a long list of possibilities, but we try to focus on the most important items.  Of course, as the pandemic so vividly demonstrates, you never know what surprises await us. 

In looking at the priorities for the past year, we were successful in hiring new leadership in our public safety operations.  Last Fall Chief Fitzgerald was promoted to lead the Police Department and we recently brought on board Chief Cleary to head up our Fire and Rescue operations.  Public outreach was another high priority.  We were able to tap the talents of Tiffany Marletta to serve as a part time Communications and Outreach Coordinator.  The Board’s quarterly newsletter has been re-established, the Town has a much more robust presence on social media platforms and the web-site has been redone.  

A strong and hard- working 375th Anniversary Committee put together a wonderful list of monthly activities for this year.  COVID has prevented much of these from going forward – but many, we hope, will be salvaged in the coming months.  New union contracts for 3 of our 4 unions are being finalized.  An option has been secured for the possible location of a senior center (the Cornerstone Church on School Street.)  An array of capital projects has been completed, including new water lines, relined sewer pipes, improved intersections, and advancing the design work for the Central Street Culvert and better flood control on the lower end of Sawmill Brook. 

A priority from this past year that needs more progress is the training of our boards and committees along with better coordination of the work these volunteer groups do.  While some of our boards and committees have statutorily prescribed duties and serve in a quasi-judicial role with permit granting authority, most of our boards and committees serve in an advisory role, making recommendations to the Selectmen. (Some serve in both capacities.)  Making sure each board and committee member is well versed in their roles and ensuring the work of various committees align with Selectmen priorities will garner more attention in the months ahead.

With the new Master Plan in place, many of the priorities the Selectmen have identified going forward stem from recommendations contained in the new Plan.  Work on examining greater flexibility in what can be built in the Limited Commercial District, lands to the north of Route 128, is just getting underway and will be an important project for the year.  As part of this work, the merits of creating more housing options under a “40R” district will be explored.  Ultimately voters will have the final say about any new zoning recommendations that might emerge.  The Planning Board has been working on re-formatting and updating the zoning regulations to make them clearer and to remove outdated sections.  This work also will culminate in bringing the work before the voters, most likely at next year’s Annual Town Meeting.

A third major land use topic that will likely occupy a considerable amount of Board time is a proposed new housing project across from Atwater Avenue on the upper end of School Street.  A developer is working on plans to present a “40B” housing project to the community in the coming months.  40B refers to the state statute that allows a developer to create a more dense housing project than normally allowed if a community has under 10% of its housing stock designated as affordable.  We are currently under 5%.  More information will be forthcoming  in the coming weeks about the 40B process and the specifics of the new proposal. 

Rounding out the priorities for the coming months is the Senior Center project, on-going work to enhance communications with all residents and decisions on a new compost facility. 

Of course, all the while we will be attending to the array of municipal issues that come up from public trees to nuisance dogs and, no doubt, more items related to COVID.  While we never know for sure what lies around the corner, I do know that we will not be bored!