Town Meeting Postponed until June
By Gregory T. Federspiel
It is back to the football field for the Annual Town Meeting. The Selectmen plan to vote to officially move the Annual Town Meeting to June 21 at their upcoming meeting on March 1st and to use the football field once again at the high school as the outdoor venue.
While the pace of vaccinations is improving it is clear we will not be far enough along to hold the Annual Town Meeting (ATM) indoors come early April, our normal ATM date. Last year the warrant for the ATM was already finalized before we were hit with the impacts of the pandemic. Thus, we had to rely on the moderator announcing postponements every 30 days until we were able to meet in June. This year the Selectmen, under the emergency declaration that is still in effect due to the pandemic, can set the delayed date as part of the official warrant.
Like last year, the warrant will focus on the articles that must be acted on and we will hold off until another town meeting those articles that are not particularly time sensitive. This means that proposed changes to the zoning regulations, including the recodification and other proposed changes, will wait until a fall town meeting. The assumption here is that we will be able to meet indoors come the middle to late fall. We also should be able to meet in the new elementary school with its higher seating capacity and audio/visual capabilities which will help in presenting the various zoning regulation changes.
A fall vote on various zoning articles provides more time for the community to review the proposed changes. Zoning regulations can be complex and the more time we have for people to become educated on the changes and the advantages and disadvantages of the modifications being considered the better. It also gives time to take in more feedback on changes and fine tune the language in response to citizen input.
Citizen petition articles must be acted on thus these will be part of the June ATM warrant. To date, four citizen petition articles have been submitted. All four relate to land use and the regulation of development. Petition articles are, by town bylaw, due 60 days prior to the Annual Town Meeting. With the later date, we have a later deadline for petition articles – the new deadline is April 21. The four petition articles received are:
1) To pass over any proposed zoning recodifications at this year’s Annual Town Meeting
2) To take advisory votes on whether to oppose the 40B project proposed by SLV and to express support for alternative affordable housing projects in town
3) To propose amendments to our earth removal bylaw to include prior approval by the Planning Board for blasting involved with projects of more than 20 housing units or a non-residential structure of over 100,000 square feet
4) To propose a new Section 46 to Article X of our local bylaws requiring two means of access/egress for larger developments (over 100 dwelling units or over 75,000 square feet)
The first petition article may itself be passed over given the recent decision to not place any zoning proposals on the warrant. The second petition article is advisory only thus the votes are non-binding. While the votes can be instructive in terms of gauging public sentiment the state mandated process for reviewing a proposed 40B will have to continue. The last two petition articles seek to put further parameters around larger development projects (though 40B projects could still obtain waivers from the state from these parameters.)
The development of the proposed FY22 budget continues. While voter approval will now take place June 21, both the Finance Committee and the Selectmen aim to wrap up their work on the proposed budget sooner rather than later. Further discussions regarding the proposed School Budget will take place at a joint meeting of both Boards of Selectmen and Finance Committees from Essex and Manchester along with the School Committee scheduled to take place in a couple of weeks.