Selectmen’s Annual Workshop Sets Priorities - July 14, 2020
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Each summer about this time the Select Board meets to review the work of the past year and to identify the priorities for the coming year. The workshop held last Saturday, 7/11, provided just such an opportunity. There is always a long list of possibilities, but we try to focus on the most important items. Of course, as the pandemic so vividly demonstrates, you never know what surprises await us.
In looking at the priorities for the past year, we were successful in hiring new leadership in our public safety operations. Last Fall Chief Fitzgerald was promoted to lead the Police Department and we recently brought on board Chief Cleary to head up our Fire and Rescue operations. Public outreach was another high priority. We were able to tap the talents of Tiffany Marletta to serve as a part time Communications and Outreach Coordinator. The Board’s quarterly newsletter has been re-established, the Town has a much more robust presence on social media platforms and the web-site has been redone.
A strong and hard- working 375th Anniversary Committee put together a wonderful list of monthly activities for this year. COVID has prevented much of these from going forward – but many, we hope, will be salvaged in the coming months. New union contracts for 3 of our 4 unions are being finalized. An option has been secured for the possible location of a senior center (the Cornerstone Church on School Street.) An array of capital projects has been completed, including new water lines, relined sewer pipes, improved intersections, and advancing the design work for the Central Street Culvert and better flood control on the lower end of Sawmill Brook.
A priority from this past year that needs more progress is the training of our boards and committees along with better coordination of the work these volunteer groups do. While some of our boards and committees have statutorily prescribed duties and serve in a quasi-judicial role with permit granting authority, most of our boards and committees serve in an advisory role, making recommendations to the Selectmen. (Some serve in both capacities.) Making sure each board and committee member is well versed in their roles and ensuring the work of various committees align with Selectmen priorities will garner more attention in the months ahead.
With the new Master Plan in place, many of the priorities the Selectmen have identified going forward stem from recommendations contained in the new Plan. Work on examining greater flexibility in what can be built in the Limited Commercial District, lands to the north of Route 128, is just getting underway and will be an important project for the year. As part of this work, the merits of creating more housing options under a “40R” district will be explored. Ultimately voters will have the final say about any new zoning recommendations that might emerge. The Planning Board has been working on re-formatting and updating the zoning regulations to make them clearer and to remove outdated sections. This work also will culminate in bringing the work before the voters, most likely at next year’s Annual Town Meeting.
A third major land use topic that will likely occupy a considerable amount of Board time is a proposed new housing project across from Atwater Avenue on the upper end of School Street. A developer is working on plans to present a “40B” housing project to the community in the coming months. 40B refers to the state statute that allows a developer to create a more dense housing project than normally allowed if a community has under 10% of its housing stock designated as affordable. We are currently under 5%. More information will be forthcoming in the coming weeks about the 40B process and the specifics of the new proposal.
Rounding out the priorities for the coming months is the Senior Center project, on-going work to enhance communications with all residents and decisions on a new compost facility.
Of course, all the while we will be attending to the array of municipal issues that come up from public trees to nuisance dogs and, no doubt, more items related to COVID. While we never know for sure what lies around the corner, I do know that we will not be bored!