Two Big Issues Remain Front and Center
By Gregory T. Federspiel
As a community we have been dealing with large issues that have generated a lot of interest and concern. Lots of opinions abound and the debates have turned contentious at times. Sharing different viewpoints and perspectives is healthy and ultimately can lead to better decisions if we all remember to keep the debate civil and avoid personal attacks. I am a firm believer in local decision making, despite how challenging it can become. I also hold firm to the notion that people can have honest disagreements on the best course of action without being disagreeable/accusatory toward each other.
Our continuing debate regarding the best way to provide public service dispatch is a good example of how differing perspectives leads to different conclusions. This a not a battle between what is THE right approach. Rather, the choices one favors depends on which outcomes you value the most.
A fundamental question at the heart of the dispatch debate is whether two dispatchers should be always available to have the capability of dedicating one dispatcher to a large incident from the very beginning of that incident. It is not surprising that our Fire Fighters/EMT’s place a high priority on this capability. While thankfully it does not happen very often, if a firefighter is rushing into a burning building, they want to know that the dispatcher is not having to juggle other calls, that their full attention is being given to the incident at hand. Police Officers typically do not face this same level of need and thus are generally more comfortable with having one dispatcher on with an ability to bring in a second dispatcher a little later into a large incident.
The dispatch discussion will continue at the Selectmen’s meeting on October 4th where additional details regarding the financial and operational impacts of the two basic choices – staying in-house or moving to the regional center -- will be reviewed. If the conclusion is that we should have two dispatchers on for large incidents we still need to decide if we want to provide this level of service by: 1) bringing in a second dispatcher after the incident is underway, 2) place two dispatchers on duty all the time in-house, or 3) go with the dispatch service the regional center can provide. If Selectmen decide to pursue the regional option, the next step is to formally request a feasibility study by the State. The results of the study would form the basis of a contract proposal from the State which becomes another decision point.
A second big issue that has taken up considerable time and attention and will continue to do so is the proposed 40B project at Shingle Hill by Strategic Land Ventures, SLV. After spending months seeing if the developer and the Town could come to terms on an acceptable project, the negotiations ended without agreement. SLV submitted their application to the State to proceed as a conventional 40B project. Just the other day MassHousing issued a letter of eligibility for the project, allowing the applicant to proceed with applying for a comprehensive permit before our Zoning Board of Adjustment, the ZBA.
The letter from MassHousing acknowledged the many concerns that the Town and others have about the project and encouraged the developer to address these concerns during the comprehensive permit process. In essence, MassHousing declined to get into the substance of the concerns punting to the ZBA for its review and, assuming an appeal of the ZBA decision is made by one party or another, to the State’s Housing Appeals Commission, HAC.
Assuming that the application is made to the ZBA, the Board will begin a series of public hearings on the details of the project, what waivers are being sought from our regulations in affect at the time of application and assessing the appropriateness of the proposal. This likely will be a lengthy process involving many hours of hearings with presentations by various experts hired by the proponent as well as opponents of the project.
At the end of its process, the ZBA will issue a decision either denying the project or approving it with various conditions. In either case there is the strong likelihood the decision will be appealed to the State’s HAC and beyond. It could take years for this process to unfold.
There is no lack of issues that the Town must tackle. There will always be differing opinions on how best to address these issues but regardless of these differences we can treat each other respectfully and trust that in the end we all have the best interest of the Town in mind.