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10+ Takeaways From the Dec. 20 Select Board Meeting

Tree House Brewing to get a jump on pours by serving in tavern, a tent beginning Jan. 6

The Select Board gathered last night for its final meeting of 2022 without member Jay Kelly. They were joined by Planning Board members Vinny Fratalia and Jonathan Ciampa.

NMCOG Executive Director Jennifer Raitt provided a briefing on the MBTA Communities law, MGL 40A §3A, which caused some agita when it was presented in January. That law requires that Tewksbury, like 174 other communities, have at least one zoning district “of reasonable size” in which multi-family housing with a minimum density of 15 units per acre is permitted by right, among other criteria. For example, the town may not require commercial or other uses on the same lot or as part of a project. The land may be publicly or privately owned, and there are exemptions for wetlands or protected recreation land, among other factors.

The goal of the law is to increase housing stock suitable for individuals and families. About 10% must be affordable for households making 80% of area median income, around $89,000 for a family of four. The popular 55+ developments don’t qualify, for example, because they are age-limited. Raitt appeared to update the board on what it will take to be in compliance with the final DHCD guidelines that were issued on Aug. 10. 

Based on Tewksbury’s 2020 number of total housing units — 12,139 — the minimum multi-family unit capacity we need to provide is 1,214 units, with a minimum land area of 50 acres. Half must be contiguous, with no portion less than five contiguous acres. And, it should be a neighborhood-scale district, not a massive single development site. 

“The end of next month is a deadline for the town to submit an interim compliance action plan, which simply is outlining how you’re going to work on achieving compliance with this requirement by the end of 2024,” said Raitt. She added that NMCOG  will provide help and tools that the town planner can use to estimate gross density and other factors.

“In Tewksbury we’ve worked pretty hard to get our affordable housing numbers up,” said Fratalia. “I don’t know many areas in town that can accommodate 50 acres.” 

Failure to comply will affect eligibility for state funding programs for housing, economic development, infrastructure, and transportation, but there is no dedicated funding to help upgrade infrastructure. 

“This seems to be all stick, no carrot,” said vice-chair James Mackey of the new law. “Where do another 1,200 units go? … It would be great if we had additional funding to do this.” 

Watch for more on this in 2023; as Chair Todd Johnson pointed out, the town needs to be proactive as this is a short-fuse project. Town Meeting must approve compliant zoning by December 2024, and Town Manager Richard Montuori says staff has already begun planning.

“We’ll be prepared to meet the deadlines,” said Montuori. “We don’t have to wait until October Town Meeting to bring it forward.”

Here is more info on the town’s housing production plan.

Raitt stayed around for info on the Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program. Digital equity is about making sure everyone has affordable access to the internet and the tools they need to safely and productively use it. NMCOG is offering a free technical assistance program from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute that will better position Tewksbury to receive state and federal digital equity funds — there is already more than $1 billion set aside at the state level. 

Some possible projects: Studying the feasibility of and developing municipal-owned broadband and providing training programs for digital skills, such as internet safety or business internet use and marketing.

Raitt said a regional approach makes sense.

“We’re looking at this as a partnership and also a regional process,” she said. “So right now we have Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, Pepperell, Westford and Tyngsboro potentially considering being heard.”

She is looking for input by January as to whether Tewksbury is interested in joining that coalition and said that ARPA and other funding opportunities are available.

“There’s a brand new billion dollars of funding for digital equity in Massachusetts,” said member Jayne Wellman. “So I think that’s part of the reason why you’re trying to move a little quickly. And so I fully support it.”

Dick Cuoco appeared for The Pushcart Cafe to request a Common Victualler License & Renewal Application. The Pushcart has expanded and now has 42 seats over 3,900 square feet, with that new space opening within the next few weeks.

Mackey motioned to approve the license, and that was a unanimous vote.

Al Mancini, Susan Young and Tom Branchaud appeared in support of a Tree City designation for Tewksbury. Mancini, who’s driving the effort, was joined by Young representing the Tewksbury Garden Club and Branchaud as chair of the Open Space & Recreation Committee. 

The town has already fulfilled three of the four requirements to join Wilmington, Andover, Chelmsford, Lowell, and other neighboring communities as a Tree City: A Tree Board or department (we have a forestry department and a tree warden); a Tree Care Ordinance, which is covered by Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 8; and a minimum community forestry annual budget of $2 per capita (check). 

All that’s left is an Arbor Day observance and proclamation.

“We need to recognise Arbor day with a celebration and planting of a tree,” said Mancini.

The Garden Club observes Arbor Day every year by distributing balsam fir saplings to third-grade students, a tradition that’s gone on for some 40 years. For 2023, that will happen at the new Center Elementary School. The trio appeared asking the Select Board to issue an Arbor Day proclamation, the final requirement to apply. 

“It would be really cool for the town of Tewksbury to celebrate trees,” said Mancini.

Wellman’s motion for the Select Board to issue a proclamation was accepted unanimously.

Tree House Brewing Company is seeking to start pours on the patio. Sarah Maggi Morin, chief of staff for Tree House Brewing, along with colleagues Nicole Joubert and Allison Masley, appeared to request 30 one-day beer and wine licenses so that it can start serving customers in a tent on the patio adjacent to the TewMac tavern. The idea is to open daily except Tuesdays from Jan. 6 through Feb. 9, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m, noon to 10 p.m. on Sundays. The licensed premises will be a temporary tent, with maximum occupancy of 298 between the tavern and tent on the patio adjacent to the McDonald’s lot line. There will be “a very strict” three beer maximum, said Maggi Morin. 

“We’re excited to roll this out because we’ve had a warm reception in Tewksbury,” she said. “We’re really excited to invite the community to be together in one space and enjoy our product.”

She pointed out that there will be construction happening within the main building to get the full operation going by golf season and that Tree House has done similar pop-up events all over the greater Boston area. No additional trucks are expected.

Johnson said he had received an email from an Eagle Drive resident sharing concerns about noise and traffic and thanked the petitioners for notifying residents even though that was not required.

Fratalia and other residents rose to question the noise that could come from a tent on the property.

“I mean, you have a facility you want to take over in 10 days that has four function rooms in it, the lodge room and three other ones,” he said “Why can’t you do the same thing inside the building and coordinate your construction around that rather than having to potentially put the residents that live there at a peak of noise.”

As to plans for food, the kitchen will not be opening, at least for now, but those visiting the site have options.

“We really welcome the opportunity to have Tewksbury food trucks come on in,” said Maggi Morin. “We’re not serving or preparing, but folks are always welcome in all our locations to bring food.”

Given that January can be a slow month for restaurants, this should be welcome by local businesses.

The licenses were approved by a 3-1 vote on a motion by Wellman and second by Mackey, with member Mark Kratman opposed and Johnson voting with the majority.

Mohammad Alomari and Tamer Alqasir appeared for ND Autos Inc., which does business as Barga Motors at 1258 Main St. They requested a transfer of  the business’s Class II Used Car Dealer’s License to Tewksbury Auto Service LLC as of Jan. 1. The business name will remain Barga Motors.

The Select Board set the date for 2023 May Town Meeting as Monday, May 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Tewksbury Memorial High School. Special Town Meeting will be Wednesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m., also at TMHS.

The board also authorized two seats to be added to the April 1 ballot: A two-year unexpired term on the Housing Authority arising from the passing of Bob Demers, and a two-year unexpired term on the Planning Board resulting from the resignation of Eric Ryder. That PB seat is currently being filled by Jonathan Ciampa and is in addition to the full three-year seat that is up in April. Vice-chair Bob Fowler has announced that he will not run again. 

Open and close dates for the annual and special Town Meeting warrant are set for today through Friday, Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. Any resident wishing to submit an article needs to have it to the Town Clerk by that date — preferably earlier so she can check signatures. A submission form is available.

In a review of entertainment licenses, Montuori suggested that businesses with just one television or radio, such as a sandwich shop, not be required to pay the $25 fee. Mackey confirmed that the town will update its license guidance.

Lowell Five has donated $3,000 to the Tewksbury Fire Department for equipment or public safety initiatives. TPD would like to use this donation for training and equipment. The board accepted the generous donation.

In his report, Montuori asked for approval of a town counsel invoice for $4122.50.

For board member reports:

Wellman invited the public to a menorah lighting tonight on the Town Common at 5:30 p.m. and reminded residents that students and staff are moving into the Center Elementary School on Jan. 5.

“We ask the community to please be patient as traffic patterns adjust and bus routes develop and congratulate the school department on completion,” said Wellman.

Mackey reminded residents that the window closes for the senior citizens and veteran property tax workoff program on December 28. 

“So if you’re interested in that program, I think work is available for pickup in the town manager’s office,” he said.

Kratman wished residents happy holidays.

Johnson called out advances the community has made this year, including a new school and fire station, extensive work on Rt. 38, a new zoning bylaw and a healthy stabilization budget.

“As we close out the year, I want to just recognize a few things,” said Johnson. “I want to thank my colleagues for their patience and their effort in helping to keep moving Tewksbury forward. I want to thank the town manager and his staff for their work and effort. It’s constant. It’s always much appreciated.”

What to watch the whole meeting? It’s available" width="400" height="225" allowfullscreen="true" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen">here courtesy of Tewksbury Telemedia.

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 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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