The Select Board convened at 6:45 then entered executive session to discuss the town manager’s contract. Once back in public session, the Board unanimously approved a change in management for LongHorn Steakhouse.
TIL: Capital Grille, Season’s 52, Olive Garden, Eddie V’s and Yard House are owned by the same parent company that runs LongHorn.
1. Cake & wine pairings? Yes please: Fans of Al Fresca’s Market, which features flavored oils, prepared meals and items from the in-house pastry chef, will be pleased to learn of plans to expand into the vacant, adjacent Abuts Liquors and use the 7,200 sf of space to offer a selection of beers and wines to accompany the available takeaway options.
Tewksbury is also looking forward to a new boutique fine wine, craft beer and artisanal spirits store. These are community development wins made possible by new liquor licenses requested by the board plus automatic increases based on population growth.
Editor’s note: Team Carnation recommends the house-made red velvet cake.
2. Tewksbury will welcome 15 new poll workers: The Board unanimously accepted Nancy Baumoel, Heather D. Cuneo-Burns, Lisa Driscoll, Meredith K. Fahey, Kenneth W. Foley, Shirley A. Foley, Peter Foster, Denise L. Frost, Jeanne M. Hogan, Christine E. Kinnon, Richard Lerman, Joseph Lyons, Jr., Kelly A. Pagliuca, Niamh A. Sheehan and Karen M. Wanders as poll workers for the upcoming election.
All are Tewksbury registered voters and may serve through August 2022.
3. Patches funded: Salem Five Bank donated $600 to support the purchase of patches for autism awareness. Board vice-chair Jayne Wellman motioned to accept the generous gift with a second by member Ann Marie Stronach, who asked the town manager to send a note of appreciation.
4. Tax relief on the way: The board moved to improve access to tax relief benefits for seniors and veterans. Town manager Richard Montuori explained that the town must submit a home rule petition through our delegation in the absence of action by the state.
The petition increases the exemption from $175 to $500 and ups the income threshold from $40,000 to $55,000 while reducing the eligibility age from 70 to 65 to make more senior homeowners able to take advantage of the benefit.
The town manager also suggested authorizing the town to increase the exemption amount for veterans from $400 to $600.
For both, the Select Board would be allowed each year to increase the exemption to up to 5% of the individual’s annual tax levy.
“The board’s been very vocal and very involved in trying to figure out a way to help the most needy seniors and veterans,” said Montuori.
“It’s unfortunate in my opinion that we are resorting to a home rule petition to address this,” said Select Board member Todd Johnson. “I think this is a statewide issue and it should be addressed on a statewide basis. I know we’ve raised this topic with our delegation in the past. Sadly, we’ve seen no movement at the state level, but I do appreciate that if state government won’t help us, then we can avail ourselves of a home rule petition to at least benefit residents of our community.”
One sticking point is that the provisions are set to expire three years after implementation. Johnson asked Montuori to explore with town counsel whether we can eliminate that language or add a provision that the Select Board can continue the policy if the majority deems it appropriate.
“I don’t think it should run out after three years,” said Wellman. “That being said, being mindful of the budget is always important.” She asked Montuori to come back with an estimate on the cost, while pointing out that this program is in addition to the senior work-off and circuit-breaker programs.
Board clerk James Mackey thanked Montuori and chief assessor Joanne Foley for their efforts, while Stronach called the effort a creative solution to help both seniors and veterans.
5. Contract extended: While in executive session, the board voted unanimously to extend the town manager’s contract by one year, such that it runs through 2025, and authorized a 2.25% raise, in line with other town employees. The board also amended Montuori’s contract to allow him to carry over unused vacation time.
6. Ames Pond: As residents likely know, Mass Housing approved Hanover’s proposed 40B project for Ames Pond via a letter dated Feb. 17. However, Montuori said that Hanover has yet to submit a formal application to the town, which would trigger the Zoning Board of Appeals to begin holding hearings.
“There might be two driving factors delaying their application,” said Montuori. One, the town’s affordable housing inventory is technically still over 10% until the census figures are formally released, possibly in June or July. And, the mix of inflation and supply chain issues may be raising costs enough to impose a delay.
“The cost of construction is higher now than it’s ever been,” said Montuori. “That’s problematic for anyone doing any type of construction.”
He meets with Ames Pond abutters every other week and will continue to do so. As of now, however, a site approval letter is in hand and the ball is in Hanover’s court.
Next up, committee reports.
7. Mass DOT to hold session for businesses: In response to a request by Wellman, Montouri scheduled a session for Mass DOT to inform residents and business on the timing of Route 38’s upcoming construction, reconstruction and sidewalk and drainage improvements.
The session is scheduled for March 22 at 6 p.m. in the town hall; should that date prove unworkable, the alternate is March 29.
The meeting will be for all of the businesses and residents along the corridor and is open to anyone who wants to attend and learn about the project details. Montuori says the plan is to begin at Colonial Drive and work on 2,000 linear feet of roadway at a time, with paving likely happening at night.
The idea is for businesses to be able to learn when construction is due to pass by their locations and plan accordingly. When requesting that Montuori set up the info session, Wellman pointed out that some business owners may choose to take vacation or alter their hours.
8. Veteran transportation: The LRTA denied a request from the Bedford VA to provide bus service to enable area veterans to get to the hospital on public transportation, Wellman reported. That is a need that will increase if the SoldierOn project is approved, according to a conversation with Tewksbury’s veteran’s agent.
“There seems to be this public transit desert to the VA and likewise Middlesex Community College,” said Wellman. In response, she has reached out to the town’s delegation and neighboring towns that are also seeking options to explore ways to provide transportation for regional veterans who need it.
“No one knows how to fund it,” she said. “There might need to be some legislative relief.”
9. State Hospital funding: Wellman also followed up on the idea of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program to provide regular, dependable state funding for an additional ambulance and the Tewksbury police department needs generated by the State Hospital. This would be in addition to the earmarks the town currently receives.
Montuori said he’s asked to have funding included in the budget so that the town is not seeking an earmark annually, but at minimum there should be a fair and equitable PILOT program.
Both Johnson and Mackey endorsed the idea.
“Absolutely supportive, we’ve had a lot of discussions around this,” said Mackey. “Personally I was somewhat offended when I saw the earmarks that other communities are getting, and ours is the same one every year for a service that we are providing. I think the letter is a great idea.”
10. South St. contractor yard: For her final update, Wellman brought up the issue of the unpermitted contractor yard at the end of South St. and suggested an amicus brief be sent by the town to support Andover’s efforts to shut down that operation, which as these photos show is still up and running.
A month ago, the board asked Montuori to check in with Andover building inspector Chris Clemente on the status of this matter, ahead of the expiration of a 21-day appeal process in regard to the cease-and-desist order imposed by Andover.
Residents may remember that the Andover Zoning Board of Appeals called the yard a “50 year problem” and ordered the owner, Matthew Strong of Forever Endeavor, an LLC registered at 4 Rennie Dr., Andover, to remove all equipment, vehicles, construction and earth materials. Strong immediately filed an appeal. Montuori will explore the idea of an amicus brief or other ways Tewksbury might support legal action by Andover.
11. Fall fireworks a possibility: In her update, Stronach had better news: The annual Fall Festival run by the Public Events & Celebration Committee is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 2, but given the high level of interest from both vendors and residents, Stronach is exploring with the events committee adding an additional half-day on Saturday that would culminate in fireworks on Saturday night, leading into a full day on Sunday. Work is ongoing to pull in town groups and make this a big event for Tewksbury.
12. Outreach session for Ryan residents: Stronach also alerted residents of an outreach session by the Elementary Building Committee for residents who live near the Ryan School and parents of students in the Trahan or North St. to discuss the taking down of the Center school and how the move-in process will proceed. That session will be held this Thursday, March 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Ryan. Stronach says there will be additional meetings as well.
“I appreciate all of the women leaders across this town and the mothers, who I think are also leaders, and wish them all success,” said Stronach, acknowledging International Women’s Day.
Stronach’s term is up in April, and she is not seeking reelection. Previously, Wellman had recognized Stronach’s years of service to the town. She will be missed.
13. Lots and lots of asphalt: Johnson took a moment to thank the DPW workers for their hard work patching potholes.
“We often give praise to public safety employees for various rescues and other extraordinary acts to to serve our community, but I do want to give some commendation to the public works team,” he said. “The statistics were overwhelming in terms of the effort that was required to meet the unfortunate needs of the town on many of our roadways. And I’m sure we’re not done with it yet because we’re still in the midst of the freeze and thaw season, but their work was outstanding.”
Johnson asked Montouri to convey the Select Board’s appreciation.
“I know all of our suspensions and tires benefited,” he said.
14. Economic development plans afoot: Mackey updated the board on the ongoing work to revitalize the economic Development Committee given the promotion of Alexandra Lowder and completion of the new website. Progress has been made on creating a database of available space, and more materials are being prepared.
“One-pagers are being worked on for the process of opening or bringing a business to town,” he said.
Mackey also asked the town manager to ensure the DPW, as subject matter experts, are in the loop to advise the board when National Grid has pole requests.
15. Definitely not a Nigerian prince: Finally, Mackey discussed the recent spearphishing attack, in light of a lack of understanding among residents about what the effort entailed.
“I want to be very clear on spearfishing,” he said. “A phishing attack is what we all get in our email on a daily basis. A random ‘your Amazon account is going to be suspended. Please click here and put in your credit card information.’ That is not what happened here.”
Mackey has more than a decade of experience in cybersecurity and recently hosted a cyber-summit in town. He called this “probably one of the most well-coordinated and executed” attacks that he’s seen.
“They used a lot of open source publicly available information to curate a very targeted attack against the town,” he said. “They went out and bought a legitimate domain for an email.”
That defeated one of the main “tells” of an attack, a suspect email address.
“This was a legitimate email,” he said. “There was no failure of people, process or technology.”