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12 Takeaways From the August 9 Select Board Meeting

The Select Board met for a second consecutive night, having made a number of appointments on Monday.

Here’s what happened at the three-hour meeting.

1. State primary warrant and election workers certified.

The Board kicked off by reviewing a draft of the state primary warrant and a list of election staff requested by town clerk Denise Graffeo. Residents can vote on Sept. 6 — or now, with mail-in ballots — for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and local representatives. Graffeo noted that there are many new processes this year thanks to the VOTES Act and the 2021 town redistricting that came about as a result of the 2020 census.

“Most people have changed, even if it’s only the [precinct] number or location,” she said. “So it’s a good idea to double check, and you can always feel free to email or call the town clerk’s office.” 

She encourages residents to check out the town’s comprehensive voter options guide.

The Board approved the slate of election staffers and signed off to authorize Tewksbury Police chief Ryan Columbus to assign officers to the town’s polling places. 

Wardens are, by precinct, Eleanor Beattie, Christian Panasuk, Paige lmpink, Denise Lozowski, Karla Branchaud, Loretta Ryan, Charlene McNamara and Georgia Bey-Allen.

2. Tewksbury Home Build hits some bumps. 

Bruce Panilaitis, president of Tewksbury Home Build, spoke on the progress of projects slated for town-owned lots on Florence Ave., Rebecca Lane and Cart Path Rd. The land was approved at Town Meeting for development, with the expectation of adding five new homes to the town’s affordable housing stock by mid 2024.

“Right now, we’re holding off on Cart Path Rd.,” said Panilaitis. “There seem to be some questions about lot lines, and so we are working with the folks in that area to figure out what’s possible. And there’s also a little more wetland on that property than we thought.”

He said the group is prioritizing Florence Rd. and Rebecca Lane for now, with a focus on Florence. The ask last night was for the Board to formally transfer ownership of those two lots.

A sticking point: outstanding tax liens on the properties. Florence Ave. carries $149,300 in debt against a $247,200 assessed value. The plan was to cover back taxes from the approximately $5 million in Tewksbury’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, but Board vice-chair James Mackey suggested that the town should instead consider selling the lot.

“If this is a property that could be sold on the market, and the town could actually recoup that plus some, that may be a more beneficial option,” said Mackey.

The majority disagreed and approved the transfer of Florence Ave. by a 4 – 1 vote, with Mackey voting nay. The Board unanimously voted to transfer the Cart Path lot.

3. Board commits $500,000 for veterans housing. 

Soldier On, which recently held a kick-off reception for its build at 1660 Main St., circled back seeking $950,000, or $45,000 per unit, to fund the project, which is expected to yield 21 permanent housing units for veterans. As with the back taxes, that funding would come from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

In November, the Select Board declined to commit an additional $500,000 above the $350,000 already promised. At the time, member Jay Kelly called the request “a little bit ingenuine.”

Last night, Peter Graham and Bruce Buckley of Soldier On came back before the board seeking a total of $950,000 from Tewksbury against the projected $8.3 million build cost. That’s just over $45,000 per unit from the town. The remainder of the funding would come from a complex mix of state, federal and private sources. The budget includes a $417,000 developers fee that goes to Soldier On as well as $40,000 that was previously provided to Tewksbury Home Build.

Member Jayne Wellman quizzed Soldier On about how rents will be structured, what other host communities have contributed and whether some units will be set aside for female veterans.

Graham described a mix of vouchers and residents who are able to come close to the full rent and said that both male and female veterans will be eligible for units. 

“We may have discussed [an all-male building] in the past, but our model has evolved,” said Buckley. 

Graham described a mix of funding options, from credits for rehabbing historic properties to money tied to building on public transportation routes.

“I’m all for this,” said Kelly. “It might seem like a very big number. But listen, this is what the budget is for. So I think it’s a worthy cause.”

Kratman was also in favor of allocating the $950,000, but the rest of the Board was skeptical, especially because Soldier On was unable to guarantee preference for Tewksbury veterans who might want the units.

“We’re closing in quickly on a $1 million commitment,” said chair Todd Johnson. “This is going to be significantly funded, potentially, by Tewksbury. So we need Tewksbury to benefit.”

Kratman made a motion to approve the funding, which was seconded by Kelly. Members Jayne Wellman and Mackey, who is himself a veteran, voted nay and were joined by Johnson. 

“I support the idea of increasing the proportion of our funding to this project, but not to that level,” said Wellman. “The level that is requested would be approximately 20% of our affordable housing trust, which I’m not comfortable with. I would support something in the 11% or 12% range.”

Mackey concurred and proposed $500,000 total, or 10% of the existing fund.

“I would like to see us increase our commitment with the hopes that the state and those other avenues are going to take that goodwill and increase their funding sources as well,” he said.

That motion passed 3 – 2, with Kelly and Kratman dissenting. 

4. NMCOG, town plot affordable housing strategy.

Continuing the affordability riff, assistant town manager Steve Sadwick was joined by Chris Hayes, NMCOG housing and economic development planner, to discuss a formal affordable housing production plan.

They opened with some numbers: 31.8% of households in our region, and 30.3% in Tewksbury, pay more than 30% of their incomes for housing, while 14.4% in the region and 13.6% in town pay more than 50%. 

A few more stats:
> HUD’s FY22 median family income for the Lowell area is $126,500, up 12% year over year.
> Based on that, a typical family should spend $3,162.50 or less on housing monthly.
> Fair market rent for a three-bedroom unit is set at $2,192, up 13.9% from 2021.
> Tewksbury’s median home price is now $560,000, well above the state average.

Sadwick and Hayes discussed the various types of affordable housing and presented a proactive vision of how to meet resident needs going forward.

The town is expected to fall below the 10% affordable baseline set by the state once the 2020 census is certified. That gave rise to the pending 40B proposal at Ames Pond. Going forward, the goal is at least .05% subsidized housing production annually via a mix of infill development, cluster developments, adaptive reuse, transit-oriented housing, mixed-use developments and inclusionary zoning. 

Johnson stated that a goal of the Board is to be proactive and set benchmarks to ensure the town stays ahead of the 10% affordable mark and avoids being subject to 40B.

“A housing production plan can deal with both those things,” said Hayes.

The next step is outreach. Watch for a public meeting and a pop-up at the Community Market to gather input on the goals and strategies important to residents.

5. The DPW/school maintenance facility is significantly less expensive — and more green.

DPW director Brian Gilbert was joined by Jeff Alberti and Tony Wespiser from de­sign consultancy Weston & Samp­son for an update on the proposed combined school department and DPW maintenance facility.

Residents may remember that in March, Alberti came before the Board to report they had chipped away at the project, lowering the projected cost 20%, to $29.5 million, including contingencies. Now, the $37 million post-Covid price has come down about 25%, to $28 million via the adaptive reuse design; the town is also allowing an extended timeline to attract more competitive bids. 

“Why does the town need a new facility?” asked Alberti. “You have a multi-million-dollar fleet that you need to protect.”

In addition, the building no longer complies with codes, from sprinklers to ADA to egress to fire separations. And, the school maintenance team is currently without a permanent facility to work from and rents private space to store vehicles. 

The current, further slimmed down, concept has only one new building and features much more reuse of the existing facility to minimize costs. 

“We also reduced the extent of the site development,” said Alberti. “That included reusing the existing salt shed, reusing the existing fueling facility and limiting the amount of pavement.” 

He went on to outline green/sustainable opportunities for these buildings, including:
> A photovoltaic-ready roof system designed to support solar efficiently and at a very low cost.
> Maximization of natural daylight to reduce the use of artificial lights.
> Rainwater harvesting and upgraded insulation of the building envelope. 

“That’s a really important one,” said Alberti. “We want to design this building so that we can exceed code from an energy efficiency perspective from 20% to 35%.”

Wellman asked the consultants to explore more energy efficiency to lower ongoing operating costs and potentially reach net-zero; she also requested that Sampson reach out to National Grid for grants. Alberti said Sampson is closely monitoring federal ARPA money and other funding to help towns tap into any opportunities.

Kratman expressed skepticism that the project could come in at the proposed budget.

“I just still have major concerns about this investment,” he said. “There’s no doubt we have a need. We need a new DPW, and we also have a lot of other needs in the community as well.”

Johnson pointed out that recent large projects, including the high school,  have come in on time and on budget, while Montuori added that the town has been working on this project for a number of years, including baking it into the capital plan.

“It was really the Board of Selectmen that instructed us to stop putting band-aids on,” said Montuori. “We’ve done everything that we’ve been asked to do to get this project moving forward.”

As discussed at some length at May Town Meeting, the funding proposal does not include a debt exclusion. The final funding proposal will come before Town Meeting in October. 

Residents can view the presentation here.

6. Resident Dina Castiglia asked about a cease-and-desist order against the contractor yard at the end of South St.

“Do we have any teeth in the town of Tewksbury?” asked Fieldstone Circle resident Castiglia, citing a parade of issues, from traffic to runoff to lowered property values, stemming from the unpermitted contractor yard still operating despite the Andover ZBA denying its permit.

Johnson pointed out that under our system of laws, there’s not much that can be done while the matter is under appeal to Mass. Superior Court. 

“We don’t have any jurisdiction,” he said. “We have to rely on the goodwill of our neighbor.” 

The Select Board went on to unanimously request that another letter be sent to Andover asking for a meeting on the situation, signed by the entire Board. 

7. The long-awaited Starbucks is a big step closer to reality. 

The Select Board approved a license to operate a new 3,331 square foot facility with 55 seats and 25 tables inside, plus an outdoor patio with 10 seats and five tables. There will be a drive-up window as well as a walk-up pickup window at the patio area. The proposed hours of operation are 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

The projected opening date is Sept. 26, and the petitioner assured Johnson that this is achievable.

8. The ESBC gained newly appointed members

In additional committee appointments, the Board formally named Eric Ryder and new TPS assistant superintendent Lori McDermott to the Elementary School Building Committee. The Planning Board officially designated its seat to Ryder, while the School Committee asked that McDermott be included.

9. The town manager’s report included spending on BoH legal matters.

The town counsel’s invoice for the first two weeks of July included $425 for Board of Health legal issues, plus an additional $382 for the ongoing Oliveira Farm situation. The Board of Health canceled its July meeting. Hopefully residents will hear an update on the condition of the animals at the Marston St. facility later this month.

10. There are no Special Town Meeting citizen articles (yet) but the deadline isn’t until August 19

The Board discussed the warrant for the upcoming Special Town Meeting. Montuori says he is working on an update to elected official salaries, as requested by Kelly in May. Wellman asked that new multifamily developments have mandated infrastructure for EV charging; Montuori said Sadwick is in the process of drawing up that proposal for the warrant. He is also working on previously discussed retail marijuana articles.

The Board discussed whether to meet prior to the warrant closing, or to wait until after the Finance Committee does its review. 

“I think it behooves this board to meet before the warrant is closed … because it’s effectively our warrant,” said Wellman. The Board penciled in a meeting on Monday, August 15 at 6 p.m. with the expectation of receiving the draft warrant by end of day Thursday.

11. The town will receive free cybersecurity services.

In Board reports, Mackey reported that as of last week, the town officially entered into an agreement with world-renowned cybersecurity company Dragos, which will result in taxpayers receiving roughly $95,000 worth of services and technology free of charge.

Mackey has been working with the town manager and IT director to improve cybersecurity. Dragos specializes in protecting critical infrastructure. Its focus is ICS/OT, or industrial control system/operational technology, security. The services provided to the town will help protect power, water and other systems.

Kratman also updated residents that the North St. & Trahan School Reuse Committee continues to meet frequently and expects to have recommendations to the board by the end of the year.

Johnson outlined nine appointments made by the Board Monday night, including naming Jonathan Ciampa to the Planning Board and adding three members to the Reuse Committee, which Kratman says will help the group meet its quorum.

12. Johnson outlined four big-picture items the Board wants to accomplish now through April.

The Select Board met on August 3 in a working session to set big-picture priorities. 

“We all recognize that there is an annual town election every April, and the constitution of this board could potentially change with the results of an election,” said Johnson. “So we were very cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to bind a subsequent board, who might be made up of different people.”

That said, the Board did unanimously agree on four priorities:

Pipe breaks and the aging infrastructure that supplies our community with water. The goal in the short term is to conduct an analysis and refine the business plan around funding and actions to improve the water infrastructure. The Board has committed to using ARPA funding for the water system.

Add more affordable and sustainable housing stock so the town can “get out from under the 40B rock” and control its own destiny.

Completion of the Rt. 38 corridor, including securing funding for finishing road and sidewalk improvements and traffic mitigation.

Continue building a positive relationship with the Tewksbury State Hospital, which is both the town’s largest employer and a major user of town services.

“At the end of the day, all five Board members endorsed these goals,” said Johnson, who promised to post a summary and set a scorecard to measure progress.

“And I would be remiss if I didn’t appreciate and thank the town manager and the assistant town manager, because it’s easy for us to set goals,” he added. “More often than not, they have to actually execute on them.”

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.

3 Comments

  1. […] 2. The Tewksbury Home Build will present at the next meeting about the possibility of turning the Trahan property into affordable housing. The group is a 501(3)(c) charity whose mission is to improve access to affordable housing in Tewksbury. It currently has a number of projects in various stages, with some tax and lot line difficulties, as discussed at last month’s Select Board meeting. […]

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