October 28, 2022
Town Meeting a Time for Fact-based Debate
By Gregory T. Federspiel
I have commented many times that I always look forward to a Town Meeting. I realize that, while many residents attend, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the meetings. None-the-less, I am a firm believer in the value of a community coming together, debating the merits of proposals that effect the Town, and voting, with each resident having equal say. I trust voters to make sound decisions after hearing the pros and cons of an issue. While I may occasionally disagree with a decision, I have a lot of respect for the process. I look forward to hearing different perspectives that are presented in an orderly and fact-based manner.
Information flow in today’s hyper-digital world is easier in some ways but harder in others. Certainly, it is easier to provide access to documents and spread the word about upcoming events. Virtual attendance at meetings has significantly expanded participation in meetings. However, misinformation is also much easier to spread, and fact-checking often does not seem important to some who just want to express an opinion. I worry about the diminution of fact-based opinions and the ease of misrepresentations – all the more reason from my perspective to uphold the tradition of an open Town Meeting.
I encourage voters to do their own homework and come to their own conclusions with regard to the proposals that are the focus of the November 14th Special Town Meeting. The full text of the proposed zoning changes is on the Town’s web site along with a summary of what the rational is behind each change. For the more substantive changes there are charts comparing the existing bylaws to what is being proposed. (See the PowerPoint presentation that was created for the October 12th Open House the Planning Board held.)
Articles 1 and 2 are supplemental money articles related to additional funds needed for defending the ZBA’s decision regarding the proposed 40B project and for the possible purchase of a new ambulance.
Article 3 is a citizen’s petition article seeking to adopt a new recall provision for elected Town officials.
Articles 4-16 relate to proposed changes to the Town’s zoning regulations. Much of the regulations are slated to be updated and reformatted without changing the current intent of the regulations. The section-by-section summary of changes found elsewhere in this edition of the Cricket gives a good overview.
In two instances, projects that currently need a special permit are proposed to be allowed “by-right” if the stipulated conditions are met. One instance is contained in Article 10 regarding non-conforming uses. The proposal would make it easier for the owner of a non-conforming single or two family home to make changes as long as the non-conformity is not further expanded. (Appeals of a permit issued for a by-right use can be filed with the ZBA.) (Article 8 improves the Special Permitting process with stronger performance standards.)
In Article 14, up to 20 accessory dwelling units that are subject to long term leases and are under 900 square feet as part of a single-family home occupied by the owner is also proposed to be a by-right use. (If Article 14 fails because voters want to continue to require a special permit for such a use, a few changes to who can apply for an ADU is proposed in Article 15 while continuing to require all ADU’s to obtain a special permit.)
The one new use being proposed is Senior Housing. (See Article 13.) A Special Permit is required before this new use would be allowed.
Our current zoning by-law has not benefited from a cover-to-cover update for decades. Updating the by-laws to be consistent with new state laws and court cases, as well as being easier to read and interpret is seen by the Planning Board and the Select Board as an important step in ensuring the zoning in Town continues to guide future development in a way that balances personal property rights with the collective vision residents have for Manchester. Each article deserves careful review and debate before being voted on.