Annual Town Meeting in 10 Days
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Annual Town Meeting is set for April 25, 7PM at the Memorial Elementary School. We are delayed a few weeks from the normal 1st Monday in April as the Selectmen wanted to give time for the Omicron variant to fade. Luckily it has and the next variant has not kicked in thus we should be able to gather without much worry. Be on the look-out for the Annual Town Report and Finance Committee Report – these will be delivered to all households by April 22. You can also find them on-line.
The warrant for the meeting contains 13 articles. Articles 1-9, and 13 are the standard articles we see at every Annual Town Meeting dealing mostly with budget items. I will review these in more detail next week. The focus for this piece is on three articles: Article 10 – Amending the zoning regulations for a portion of the Limited Commercial District; Article 11 – Approving a local room tax on short-term rentals; and Article 12 – Changing the official name of the Board of Selectmen to Select Board.
The proposed changes to the Limited Commercial District (LCD) affect lands north of Route 128 and to the east of School Street. This area encompasses the Manchester Athletic Club, the medical building, the storage units, and some 60 acres of undeveloped land. Currently we allow research labs and light manufacturing only in the far western section of the LCD (west of Pine Street and north of Route 128.) The proposal would make it possible for these uses to be built in the far eastern section of the LCD as well. In both cases the use can only go forward after a special permit has been granted. For the area east of School Street the provisions are further modified to allow higher buildings (55’ instead of 35’) and greater lot coverage - up to 40% for buildings and 60% for impervious surfaces. However, strict performance standards for on-site stormwater management must be met. The amendment also allows the Planning Board to reduce set-backs on a case by case basis through the special permit process when such reductions result in a better site design.
The main motivation for this amendment is to allow for the possible development of a research lab as a way to grow our commercial tax base. The area remains under the strict provisions of our water resource protection overlay district. The vote to approve the amendment must pass by a 2/3rds majority. Voters are being asked to approve the amended zoning regulations, not a particular project. The Planning Board, the Finance Committee, and the Board of Selectmen all recommend approval of these amendments to the LCD.
Article 11 asks voters to approve a local room tax on room/unit rentals including short term rentals. The State modified the law allowing a local room tax to include short-term rentals. The tax is collected by the property owner and sent to the State which in turn sends the funds quarterly to the municipality. The room tax does not apply to the rental of a unit for 14 days or less in a calendar year. While we know that property owners are renting out space for short terms and will be subject to this new tax, we do not have an accurate tally on how many are doing this. Thus, we do not know how much revenue the Town will generate from this new source. But any funds collected go the general fund and will help in lowering our dependence on the property tax. Both the Selectmen and the Finance Committee recommend approval.
The last “special” article, Article 12, seeks voter approval to officially change the name of the Board of Selectmen to Select Board. The gender-neutral moniker has been adopted by many communities as well as the State-wide Association of Select Boards. The change corrects the current situation where everyone is called a “Selectman” regardless of gender. The vote is to amend the Town’s General By-laws by replacing the words “Board of Selectmen” with “Select Board” and the words “Selectman” and “Selectmen” with “Select Board Member” or Select Board members”.
The complete warrant as well as the soon to be distributed Annual Town Report and Finance Committee Report can be found on the Town’s web-site. Please plan on attending the Annual Town Meeting. Child-care will be provided at the Memorial School.