Town Meeting Wrap-up and Next Steps
By Gregory T. Federspiel
A couple hundred residents attended the Special Town Meeting last Saturday, 11/13, debating and voting on eight articles. Thanks to the strong preparations of Town Moderator Alan Wilson and Town Clerk Diane Bucco and her team of volunteers, the meeting went smoothly despite the extra challenges meeting during a pandemic imposed. Arthur Steinert stepped in as Assistant Moderator to facilitate the interaction of the two meeting spaces that were utilized at the high school.
Dominating the afternoon debates was the question of relocating Chebacco Road. Many viewpoints both for and against the relocation were aired. Proponents focused on the improved protection to Gravelly Pond a paved road further away from the shoreline would provide while opponents focused on the process mistakes Hamilton made. In the end the vote failed by 11 votes to get the required 2/3rds majority with a 90 - 61 vote.
Hamilton agreed to redo both the ENF process and the local Conservation Commission permitting process which were part of the motion made at the Town Meeting. They will need to decide whether to try again to gain Manchester approval for the project or instead move forward with reconstructing and paving one of the two existing rights of way they own on Manchester’s land. If the former, clear and frequent communications along with broader public engagement in the layout choices will be needed to avoid the skepticism some voters expressed about the process this time around.
Voters approved moving forward with the engineering work for a possible new multi-purpose athletic field at the Old Burn Dump site on Pine Street. Again, there were voters on either side of this issue though a strong majority were in favor at 118 - 30. Proponents spoke to the long-standing shortage of field space in town while opponents felt that other options for the land deserved more consideration before deciding.
This design effort will now join the design efforts underway for renovating Sweeney Park. It is possible that these two projects could be combined into one construction bond proposal that could be paid for largely through Community Preservation funds and grants. If voters were to approve both construction projects, the Burn Dump field (we’ll have to come up with a new name!) would go first to provide alternative space while Sweeny undergoes reconstruction. But these decisions are for the Annual Town Meeting in the Spring.
Voters easily approved providing funds for replacing the worn-out Eastern boat for the Harbormaster. They also approved the renumbering of the zoning by-laws. A set of obsolete sections of the by-laws was approved to be deleted. These zoning by-law changes are the first in what is anticipated to be a series of proposed changes on which the Planning Board is working. Additional proposals should be ready for the Annual Town Meeting.
The concept of partnering with a private developer (non-profit or profit) to renovate and expand the housing owned by the Manchester Housing Authority (MHA) and possibly repurposing the DPW facility on Pleasant Street for additional housing was approved by a vote of 122-16. This was a non-binding vote that gives the MHA and the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust, who have been working on this concept for the past few years to bring desperately needed cash to the table, enough of a green light to seek interested developers. If a myriad of details works out, a fully developed proposal will be brought back to voters for approval. While MHA and the MAHT work on this concept, the DPW, using funds voters approved last year, will be developing options for a new DPW complex.
I am always excited to see residents attend Town Meeting to debate and decide important issues for the Town. And I appreciate the fact that people will take the time to attend, listen, participate, and vote. A recurring theme running through many of the articles was a desire for clear, readily accessible information. Staff will continue to work to make available timely information on the Town’s web site and at the numerous board and committee meetings that are constantly happening. Your suggestions for informing the public are welcome.