At Special Town meeting on Tuesday October 5, the residents of Tewksbury will have the opportunity to weigh in on several articles, including Article 17, which seeks to change the planning board term from five years to three years.
The inspiration for the article was born out of a very simple question: Why is the planning board’s term five years but other boards are three years? A quick look at the Massachusetts General Laws revealed that the term may be either three or five years.
The Tewksbury planning board was established in 1947. The current structure provides for only one seat per year to be up for election. There has rarely been a contested race in the last 15 years. People don’t like to challenge an incumbent because it appears personal. When two slots are open and people can run for a seat rather than against a particular person, election participation improves. Debate happens and important topics are discussed.
Having more opportunity for residents to serve on the planning board on the same cycle as other three-year boards helps create more openings for new ideas, new conversations and new perspectives. We have to recognize that our town is changing, and we need to make space for new voices. The planning board is composed of residents who shape the look and feel of Tewksbury. These residents have access to the input of our professional town planners, engineers and public safety personnel who make recommendations about projects — all of which helps the board make final decisions.
I ask every resident who has driven past a new home being built, a new storefront being developed or a new apartment complex rising from the street to think about how these projects make them feel. Developers own a piece of land, zoned for a particular use, and when the time works for them, decide to start construction. Getting through the hurdles of design and permitting are where our planning board has input into the façade, footprint and public impact of these projects. Every choice the board makes, no matter how small, shapes the future of our town. By increasing the frequency of our board elections, we give residents more power to assess whether these decisions are consistent with their vision of Tewksbury. The board must attempt to do right, both for the developer and for residents, but should always keep an eye firmly fixed on the future.
More than 500 signatures have been gathered from Tewksbury voters in support of this article, representing a wide range of ages, political views and neighborhoods. Many residents agree that this forward-thinking article, which phases in over time, will help make our planning board more inclusive and will bring it in line with other boards, including the school committee and board of selectmen
If we never evolve as a community, we will continue to get the same results. Creating more opportunity, more often will produce great new things — new ideas, new dialogue, new people participating in our town government. Please join me at Special Town Meeting on Tuesday, October 5 at 7 p.m. and vote for the future of our community.
Editor’s note: The Carnation has reached out to opponents of the article and will publish any letters that arrive before Town Meeting. Some residents have asked about guidelines for “name withheld” letters and op-eds. Generally, candidates, elected officials and article proponents must attach their names. Requests to hold back names of, for example, young people, town employees or those who reasonably fear retribution may be honored. No letter sent anonymously will be considered for publication. Learn more about the team’s reasoning here.