November 10, 2023
November 13th Special Town Meeting: Citizen Initiated Articles
By Gregory T. Federspiel
At the upcoming Special Town Meeting, set for this coming Monday, November 13, beginning at 6:30PM in the gymnasium of the Memorial School, 14 articles will be presented to voters for action. Last week I provided information on Articles 1-10. This week the focus is on four articles that were initiated by residents, not by a Town board.
Citizens can petition to place articles on any Town Meeting warrant. For this Special Town Meeting, four petition articles were submitted to the Select Board for inclusion. Because there were a few questions about whether the petitioners met every detail for successfully putting an article on a warrant, the Select Board, determining that the spirit of the law was met, has put these four articles on the warrant under their own authority. Doing so avoids debating whether the articles are properly before voters and will allow residents to concentrate on the merits of the articles.
Article 11 asks voters to authorize the Select Board to acquire the building that has been the home of the private, non-profit Manchester Community Center (MCC.) The article states that the acquisition should be by purchase or eminent domain. An easement for access to the building from Beach Street over property owner by Harbor’s Point Associates is to be included. The vote will also include a sum of money to be allocated for the acquisition costs (currently suggested to be $350,000.) Furthermore, the proponents of the article want the property to be resold to the MCC through a negotiated payment plan between the Town and the MCC.
This article differs from Article 8, which the Select Board and Finance Committee prefer. In Article 8, voters are being asked to authorize the Select Board to enter into a 10-year renewable lease for the same building to be used for a variety of community uses, including continued use by the MCC. A $10,000 appropriation is sought to help pay for building utilities. Both articles are aimed at continuing the use of the building for community purposes. The private, non-profit MCC was on a month to month lease of the land on which their building sits. However, this lease is being terminated and, per the signed lease agreement between MCC and Harbor’s Point Associates, unless the MCC relocates the building, the building ownership transfers to Harbor’s Point Associates. The Select Board believes the quickest and most assured means of continuing the use of the building for community purposes is through a new lease arrangement.
Article 12 asks voters to adopt a new local bylaw that requires all zoning amendments to be approved by a ballot vote as part of a local election in addition to being approved at a Town Meeting. The Town has a special act that was approved back in 1991 that is referenced in the article which allows for certain questions to require a ballot vote if voters so choose. Town Counsel researched the applicability of this special act to the zoning approval process and does not believe it applies. There is case law which concluded the approval process of zoning matters as specified in state statutes cannot be altered by local bylaws. For these reasons, Town Counsel does not believe the Attorney General’s Office, which must approve all local bylaws, will approve this proposal. Voters can still proceed to see what the AG’s Office will do. Currently, the 1991 Special Act has been used for bond votes over $1.0 million. Otherwise, most issues that come before voters are debated and decided at a Town Meeting.
Articles 13 and 14 relate to the Town owned lands comprising Powder House Hill. Four parcels make up the bulk of the holding and these parcels were handed over to the “care, custody, control and management” of the Conservation Commission in a Town Meeting vote back in 1977. The lands have long been used for passive recreation purposes. Given this history, Town Counsel believes these lands are already considered to be “Article 97” lands and fall under the protection of this article of the Amendments to the Commonwealth’s constitution. Nevertheless, Article 13 seeks affirmation that the lands are subject to the dictates of Article 97 meaning that it takes a 2/3rds vote of the state legislators (both the House and Senate) in addition to other measures before such lands can be put to a different use.
Article 14 asks voters to authorize the Select Board to convey a conservation easement to a third-party entity whose purpose is land conservation. Before doing so, the multiple steps that Article 97 requires would have to be met.
For the full warrant and other information related to Monday’s Special Town Meeting, please visit the Town’s website. See you Monday evening!