August 25, 2023
A Busy Fall of Important Decisions
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Excuse the cliché but, where has the summer gone? It is hard to believe September is nearly here. A wet start to the summer did not help but here we are, on the cusp of the start of fall. While the business of the Town has been advancing all summer, the pace of decision making will begin to pick up in the months ahead.
There are important decisions that residents will want to tune into. There is the question of where to place the Tuck’s Point Rotunda as we prepare to rebuild the supports under the iconic structure. Renderings of the three main options will be presented at a public forum on September 14, 7:00PM at Town Hall or via Zoom. Rebuilding in the existing footprint but elevated by 4 ½ feet, relocating the Rotunda to dry land for better protection, or raising it in place in two phases are the three options being considered.
A new facility plan is being crafted. The plan assesses the condition of town buildings and proposes needed renovations or new facilities. The draft plan will be available for public review beginning in September. The Select Board and Finance Committee will begin their review at their next meetings. Finalizing this plan impacts our capital budgeting significantly.
Another major issue that will have large budget impacts is the future direction of the School District and any changes to how Essex and Manchester share the expenses of the District. This issue will loom large as the fall advances into winter leading up to the Annual Town Meeting in April for the 2025 Fiscal Year budget votes.
There is also the work of the MBTA Task Force and the decisions the Planning Board will be making on what new zoning proposals to bring to the voters. The new law mandating by-right multi-family housing on at least 37 acres in town at a minimum density of 15 units per acre has a December 2024 deadline for compliance. The Task Force has begun to methodically address this mandate, starting out with an examination of our current baseline and a thorough understanding of the state guidelines. A new set of Frequently Asked Questions has been posted to the Task Force’s web page. On-going and frequent community wide discussions will be needed as the Town works through a response to the new law.
Part of the calculus for both the MBTA zoning work and our facility planning is the impact of climate change. Parts of the village core area face new flooding due to sea level rise and bigger storms. Critical town infrastructure is also threatened by these same forces which must be considered when thinking long term about town facilities. A recently completed Vulnerability Action Plan for the Village core area provides important guidance.
Facility planning, School District funding, MBTA zoning and climate change are all major topics that impact the community. Robust discussions are needed to help determine the solutions that ultimately must be made on each of these topics. An array of community engagement strategies will be deployed to foster these discussions. Strategies will likely include public forums, surveys, open houses, and informal round table gatherings. Presentations at different clubs and organizations can be arranged.
Most of the decisions facing the community will require Town Meeting approval in one form or another. Over the course of the next 8 months or so, a continuing series of community outreach, dialogue and
engagement is needed to prepare for the final votes. If successful, this concerted effort, while not guaranteeing unanimous votes, should lead to well informed votes and outcomes that residents can appreciate and respect.
As always, there is much to discuss and decide. Your participation and guidance through the upcoming series of community dialogues starting up this fall is strongly encouraged.