Construction, Dispatch and Zoning Update
By Gregory T. Federspiel
With summer nearly upon us it also means that municipal construction season is also here. New England weather, municipal funding cycles and school schedules often make it challenging to time projects well.
First, a success story – the new floats and ramp off of Tuck’s Point are ready to go. Harbormaster Bion Pike put the finishing touches to the project this week. The new system, funded through a state grant, is a big improvement over what was there previously. The floats are further out and thus will no longer bottom out at low tide. The new pilings replace the former anchors and are extremely strong, designed to withstand significant storms. The ramp is ADA compliant and is no longer putting a strain on the Rotunda itself. Congratulations to the DPW, the Harbormaster and the contractor for a job well-done! No more wet shuttling out to the floats in the yellow dingy.
The big construction project for the summer is the relining of the water main on School Street. The main will be relined from Central Street up to the Essex Country Club. The old main is heavily tuberculated, meaning it has become incrusted with mineral deposits, thus the pipe capacity is reduced. The pipe will be cleaned out and relined restoring the pipe to its original capacity. New valves serving each property will be installed. While the project does not require digging up every inch of the pipe, the project will still cause a fair amount of travel disruption. Detours will be needed. We are hopeful the bulk of the work will be completed by the fall though the contractor has up to four months to complete the project. Regular updates will be provided throughout the course of the project.
While not our construction project, another road project that has the attention of the Select Board is Hamilton’s plans to pave Chebacco Road. Voters came close last fall to garnering the 2/3rds majority required to relocate the road further away from our water supply but the vote came up short. Hamilton is moving ahead with plans to pave the existing gravel road. While this will lead to some water quality improvements it poses some new water quality challenges and the Board hopes to work with their counterparts in Hamilton to minimize any new risks.
Regarding public safety dispatch, the Select Board has begun discussing next steps now that voters have weighed in, expressing a preference for keeping dispatch services “in-house” on the non-binding ballot question. At their meeting on June 6 the Board discussed the results for the first time and revisited some of the details of what it would take to bolster our in-house operations to match the capacity levels that the North Shore Regional 911 Center could provide us. One train of thought was that we would benefit from a methodical series of improvements, making strategic changes one step at a time. The reality is improving our operations will take time. And, similar to the split vote amongst voters, a majority of the Board may still decide that longer term a move to the regional center is in the best interest of the community. Staff are researching some additional options as well. The Board plans to continue their discussions and make decisions regarding next steps at their meeting on June 21 (Monday the 20th is the Juneteenth holiday.)
Another major topic discussed at the June 6th Select Board meeting was how to move forward with the slate of zoning amendments that the PB has advanced. Originally a June 11 Special Town Meeting was targeted as the date to have voters make the final decision on the proposed changes. This date was postponed over concerns about assembling a quorum on a Saturday afternoon in June. A later date in June was debated but in the end the Planning Board recommended, and the Select Board agreed that waiting until the fall would be the best decision. Not only is vacation time and other special events avoided otherwise causing people to miss the meeting, but time is gained to allow the Planning Board to conduct more public outreach and a more thorough vetting of the proposals. A stronger turnout and a more informed public should produce a better result.
A drawback to delaying a vote on the proposed zoning changes is that it potentially holds up applications for permits. Applications can proceed after the Planning Board’s public hearing held last month following the current by-laws and can be acted on by the ZBA or PB as appropriate. However, the applicant has some risk in that if the zoning changes are eventually enacted and impose stricter requirements that the application does not meet, the applicant would have to come back before the permitting body for a second review. Most of the proposed changes are reformatting in nature and keep the current regulations essentially as they are. There is some proposed loosening of the regulations and a handful of instances where the regulations are more restrictive. This handful of changes could be cause for a delay in a small number of projects. The Boards felt that the benefits of waiting until the fall outweighed this drawback.
Keep an eye out for additional updates on these topics and many more in the weeks and months ahead.