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Select Board Grants Morning Liquor License, Reviews New Precinct Map, Sets Date for Approval of Letter to MassHousing

The Select Board met last night to address a variety of matters. Despite a fairly crowded hall, no citizens rose to speak during the section of the meeting designated for resident comments.

Attorney Joe Devlin appeared for the restaurant group, based in Nashville, that manages several hundred “99” locations across nine states, 65 of them in Massachusetts. An officer change request was approved unanimously by the Board. 

The Board also unanimously approved a request by National Grid to move a pole on Marshall St.

Next up was a liquor license transfer request from Deli King to Michael Liu, who also owns other area restaurants, including Stelios, Jade Pacific and Chung King Rick’s Cafe in Billerica. Liu said he plans to perform renovations and, with co-petitioner Yanping Zhan, rename the long-time Tewksbury eatery “Mike’s on Main.” 

The plan is to offer traditional American cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with alcohol service a competitive differentiator over other breakfast restaurants in town. There will also be occasional entertainment.

Select Board member Ann Marie Stronach stated her opposition to extending the liquor license and asked whether any other restaurants in town serve beginning at 8 a.m. Town Manager Richard Montuori replied that only Wamesit Lanes holds such a license. 

“I have always been a vocal board member not in favor of early morning liquor hours,” said Stronach. “I just want to make sure that you’re aware of that, that this does not have anything to do with this application, it’s just a matter of practice for me.” 

Liu said his other restaurants tend to see light liquor sales in the morning.

“I see this as a service for residents who don’t need to go out of town to get a mimosa,” he said.

The applicants also requested an entertainment license to have TVs, music once or twice per week and a jukebox. 

“Some residents have raised concerns about noise,” said board member Jayne Wellman, who pointed out that there is a long-term care facility nearby. Member Todd Johnson noted for the record that the board did receive correspondence signed by 10 or 12 residents, though no one in the hall rose to speak on the agenda item.

Board member James Mackey queried Liu about any problems with liquor sales at his other restaurants; Liu stated that there have been no reported issues.

“The question my colleague raised around the 8 a.m. opening I think is an important one for the community,” said Wellman. “I understand the brunch market is an important and growing market in this area and, to your point, Tewksbury does not have many facilities that compete in that particular space.”

The board unanimously approved the renovations, victualler and entertainment licenses. The vote to allow liquor sales beginning at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. on Sunday, was approved 4 to 1, with Stronach voting nay.

Before moving forward with new business, chair Jay Kelly opened the floor to residents. No one stood to speak.

Redistricting Difficulties

Town clerk Denise Graffeo presented the town’s plan to accommodate the redistricting driven by 2020 census data.

“Tewksbury’s 2020 population is 31,342 residents, which represents an increase of 2,381 compared to the 2010 census, or an 8.2% increase,” said Graffeo. 

Once data is released, each city and town is required by law to establish new precinct lines. There are some restrictions: No precinct may contain more than 4,000 residents, and every precinct’s population must be within 5% of the average.

“Normally under state law, cities, and towns would update their precinct lines first, and then the state lawmakers use our precincts as the building blocks for the congressional state senate and state representative districts,” said Graffeo.  

But this year was different. The Mass. constitution mandates that legislators must live in their districts for a year, so with the Nov. 2022 election looming, in early October, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law legislation that officially reverses the order and forces cities and towns to shape precincts around the state-set boundaries. 

“Unfortunately, it appears that the legislature is using our 2010 precinct boundaries to draw their 2020 districts,” said Graffeo. That means that, given significant population growth, there is no way to set Tewksbury precincts without a split precinct on the House side.

Graffeo said her staff received help from the Secretary of State’s office, which recognizes the difficulty the flipped process has caused some towns.

Current senator Barry Finegold retains the entire town of Tewksbury. However, on the House side, Tewksbury will have three representatives: David Robertson, Tram Nguyen and Vanna Howard, who represent, respectively, the 19th Middlesex, 18th Essex and 17th Middlesex districts.

There are downsides for Tewksbury. Financially, the town will need to print more ballots, purchase a new machine and add staff. And, not having a majority of residents in any one district makes it more difficult for a resident to run for and win one of the three seats.

“Tewksbury appears to be the odd man out, if you will,” said Johnson. “We are impacted, in my opinion, disproportionately to our surrounding communities.” 

Johnson particularly called out the potential for “no representation” if Tewksbury’s priorities don’t align with those of Lowell, or other town that represent a larger share of voters for a rep. In fact, he sent a letter to the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting stating in part:

“If precincts are split it will cause voter confusion and increase voter dissatisfaction with election officials.  Our local Town Clerk’s office staff is already stretched to the limit because of voting law changes. This will add more work and stress which will ultimately lead to mistakes and increase voters’ fears that their votes will not be properly counted and processed.”

Other Select Board members echoed Johnson’s concerns and thanked him for the communication to the redistricting committee. 

Wellman specifically called out Baker for not trying to improve the process. 

“Governor Baker has always campaigned on local experience and local control,” she said. “If we’re a minority within any of our districts, that does disadvantage us.” 

Graffeo said her office has been advised to move ahead with Select Board approval of a map because it’s highly unlikely that the legislature will not approve the state-level maps, but if something does change, her office can go back and redraw the lines at a later date.

MassHousing Letter for Chapter 40B

Town Manager Montuori outlined the process for assembling the letter that the town will send to MassHousing in response to the proposed 40B development at Ames Pond.

All residents, boards, committees and department heads were asked to provide comments. 

“Hanover has said they want to come to the table,” said Kelly, who thanked town staff and residents, particularly abutters, for the extensive number of substantive comments received. 

“It’s the applicant’s right to submit their application for a 40B,” said Kelly. And … it’s our right to ask the right questions to make considerations based on everything we talked about, from safety to water to sewer to traffic to populating the schools.”

Once the letter is approved by the board, likely at a special meeting Wednesday or Thursday morning, the letter will be signed by Kelly on behalf of the Select Board and sent to MassHousing. Then, the town awaits a site suitability ruling. Eventually, the proposal goes to the ZBA. 

The Carnation will continue to cover both the redistricting and the 40B processes.

Finally under new business were formalization of Halloween trick-or-treating hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 31; the addition of a new member to the North St. and Trahan Reuse Committee; and a $7,000 gift from the Stephen J. Dame, II scholarship fund to purchase a piece of equipment for the skateboard park, dedicated to Dame. 

Dame was a TMHS graduate and skateboarding enthusiast who passed away in 2008 at age 19. 

The board tabled consideration of its 2022 meeting calendar; Stronach suggested moving from two-meetings per month to an every-three-weeks schedule.

Member Reports

Wellman reported that the Tewksbury Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee met for the first time. “We’ve set our meeting dates as the first Thursday of every month,” said Wellman. “It’s a great committee, and we are getting started on how we want to organize and do outreach and so forth.”

She also gave a shout out to the dispatchers working in the regional center serving Tewksbury and Dracut.

Stronach expressed confusion about the naming of the new elementary school. 

“I thought that the naming of the new school went to the school committee and then came back to the elementary building committee,” she said. “It has been brought to my attention that my thought process was incorrect, and there is actually a policy in the school committee that gives them the authority to name the building.”

She outlined the process and outcome for residents. 

See the Carnation’s coverage of the naming process.

Stronach also expressed excitement about the Tree Lighting, scheduled for Dec. 3. “I hope it is beautiful as it was last year in terms of the weather,” she said.

“The last thing I’d like to talk about is the local housing partnership,” said Stronach. “Many of you have already received a letter from several of the board members, resigning from their positions from that committee.”

Stronach is the Select Board representative to the LHP and spent some time providing background on the committee and recent projects, such as the Soldier On affordable veteran’s housing project.

“There has been some frustration on that committee,” she said. “In my opinion it wasn’t as effective as it should have been; we were definitely not working to our potential.”

Her recommendation to the board is to not dissolve the LHP but rather for the town manager and assistant manager to work with the planning and development department and housing authority to come up with a new approach. 

“I want to thank the local housing partnership because I think that they have done tremendous work over the years,” she said, requesting that a letter of gratitude be sent to those members for their service to the town.

Johnson took issue with the tone of the resignation letters received, pointing out that the Select Board and Town Manager have shown significant support to the LHP, from approving an expenditure for a consultant to approving all initiatives that the committee did manage to bring forward.

“The inference or direct statement was that those people who resigned felt as though that they were not supported by the town,” said Johnson. “I couldn’t disagree more.”

“If you want to resign, you should be able to do that because it’s a volunteer position, but you should not lay the blame at a body or management group that throughout the entire experience has been supportive of everything that they’ve asked for,” he said.

Johnson is also the chair of the Zoning Bylaw Subcommittee, which meets tonight at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. 

“We have crafted a proposed work plan for the balance of the year and into, I believe, early February with the goal of once again meeting the warrant deadline so we can present a revised zoning bylaw change to the community at the annual town meeting,” he said. 

Mackey announced that next Monday, Oct. 25, Tewksbury will host a Municipal Cybersecurity Summit for our town as well as surrounding communities. 

“Lots of work went into that,” said Mackey. There will be about a dozen towns and municipal organizations taking part with the goal of tackling the cybersecurity challenges facing local governments. That focus was one of Mackey’s campaign promises, along with a new website that he says should launch in November.

Finally, Kelly remembered Shawsheen Tech wrestling coach Mark Donovan, who recently passed away, and extended the Board’s condolences to Donovan’s wife, children, extended family and the community as a whole. 

Lorna is a 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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