Zoning change squeaks through
Last night 155 voters and 15 guests gathered at TMHS for Special Town Meeting. Some attendees said they wore red in recognition of the “Red for Recreation” campaign, to show their support for articles that would expand recreational opportunities in town. A few children took advantage of free drop-in care provided by AlphaBest.
Article 1 funded $350,000 for sidewalks and $450,000 for road resurfacing as well as equipment for the Fire Department, including $45,778 for a new portable electric stretcher to equip a new ambulance. Article 1 passed unanimously.
Article 2 authorizes capital purchases, including $265,000 for about 100 lockers for the police station that will fit all the officers’ gear and allow for secure storage of firearms. There is also a replacement of a circa 1997 dump truck. It also passed unanimously.
Article 3 allocates $3.3 million for the new DPW/school maintenance facility approved by voters in May. That would fund a bid alternate that would enable all 11 staff members to be housed together in the newer building. The Finance Committee and Select Board voted unanimously to recommend approval. Voters agreed and passed the article unanimously.
Articles 4 and 5 use money from two of the town’s enterprise funds to purchase an air compressor and dump truck to support the sewer and water infrastructure. Voters unanimously approved both articles.
Article 6 moves $5,649,250 in free cash into the town’s stabilization fund. Article 7 moves $145,000 to fund the state-mandated process of reevaluating the value of real and personal property in town. This is required every five years. Voters unanimously adopted both.
Articles 8, 9 and 10 spend Community Preservation Funds to forward the town’s recreational opportunities.
Article 8 will fund installation of new lights, poles and associated electrical work at the LA baseball field on East Street. It was adopted, though not unanimously, with resident Al Mancini rising to question the amount of money the town spends on sports.
Article 9 will fund the design, engineering and construction of three dedicated Pickleball courts next to LA field. It passed easily, and several speakers rose to advocate for additional programs.
Kate Budga Gwilt rose in her role as co-chair of the Tewksbury Families for Recreation group, which she said has about 1,000 members. The group’s goal is to reinstate the recreation center in Tewksbury.
“I’m very thankful for positive support from town staff and the town manager,” said Bugda Gwilt. She stated that her group is seeking less outsourcing to private entities like AlphaBest and more town-funded programs that are affordable for residents and hopes to establish a recreation department serving all ages, with multiple staff.
“Hopefully we can incorporate a recreation department into our 10-year plan,” she said.
Also rising was resident Jennifer Dillon, who founded the town’s No Excuse Mom program, which runs free workouts around town.
“My mission was to show community parents that you don’t need to have a lot of money for private, expensive programs, to be able to get outside with your families, in the community and be active,” said Dillon. “Everyone should have affordable options to do this in their communities.”
She pointed out that Billerica’s rec department offers a catalog of over 50 programs for adults, teens, kids and even toddlers, at reasonable prices.
“The Andover recreation department is offering more than 100 programs for families just for this fall alone,” she said. “I want my children and all Tewksbury families to be able to have the same things offered to them.”
Article 9 was approved unanimously. Residents can join the TFR group’s mailing list at its website.
Article 10 will pay for the design, engineering and construction of an outdoor venue next to the Tewksbury Public Library that will give outdoor concerts a stage area and tent and make the Community Garden more accessible with concrete pathways. Montuori offered an amendment as the cost is $70,699 rather than $100,000. It was adopted unanimously.
Article 11 reallocated $628,280 left in the budget for a feasibility study for the Center Elementary School to reduce the amount that will need to be borrowed. It passed with one nay vote.
Article 12 transfers the Trahan School property from the School Committee to the town. The School Committee retains the North St. property for now because the building is being used for student activities. It required a 2/3 vote and passed easily, 108 to 1.
Related, Articles 13 and 14 would authorize the Select Board to enter into long-term leases, should an opportunity present itself. Article 13 gives the Board the authority to enter into a lease up to 30 years; Article 14 asks for a home rule petition to sign on to a lease of between 30 and 99 years.
Resident Patricia Meuse stood in opposition, saying that South Tewksbury residents have repeatedly stated what they want at the Trahan property.
“We filled out survey after survey,” said Meuse. “People want a park.” She questioned why the town can’t allocate some of its free cash to demolish the building rather than leasing it, especially since neighborhood residents would not have any direct say in what the use would be.
“It’s about time you listen to the people in the town and do what they asked,” she said.
Bugda Gwilt also rose in opposition and asked whether the YMCA was consulted on using the building for a recreation facility. Town Manager Richard Montuori replied that demolishing the structure would cost $2 million. There is currently interest from a hockey school, where players from all over the world would live in the renovated building while they train in town. And, the Y has looked at both the Trahan and North St. properties.
“Use of the school and creation of a park can coexist, and this is one of the requirements in the RFP,” said Montuori, adding that the town is not looking to add any new development on the 6.5 acre parcel, and the RFPs would be very specific on what could be done with the land.
Select Board member Mark Kratman supported the article, saying that saving $2 million on demolition could free money for a park or open space. Former Select Board member Ann Marie Stronach rose in opposition.
“Thirty years is a long time,” Stronach said. “What studies have been done to support this?”
Planning Board Chair Stephen Johnson pointed out that if the Select Board was not empowered to seek an RFP now, the wait would be six months until the May Town Meeting. “All this does is give them authorization to have those conversations,” said Johnson.
Stronach proposed an amendment to Article 13 that would add “and return to town meeting to propose a lease agreement.” The goal was to make Town Meeting the approving authority for any lease. That amendment failed by a vote of 45 to 80.
Resident Jomarie Buckley asked if there have been any other interested parties. Montuori said that, along with the hockey school and YMCA, there has been interest in providers of affordable housing. Voters gave the Select Board authority to enter into an up to 30-year lease for the building by a vote of 79 to 50. Article 14 also passed.
Article 15 provides tax incentives to Cambridge Isotopes Laboratories to expand its presence in the Ames Pond Economic Target Area. The ETA program seeks to bring in businesses that will provide high-quality employment opportunities. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council has designated Tewksbury as a Regional Technology Center Economic Target Area, meaning the town can offer up to a 10% investment tax credit and provide incentives for renovating unused buildings and expedited permitting. This article passed, though not unanimously.
Article 16 put parcels on Kernwood St. and Main St. under the control of the Conservation Commission to protect in perpetuity watershed resources, open space and wildlife habitat. Several additional parcels were pulled from the article pending more research on titles. It passed unanimously. Article 17 authorizes the town to sell some parcels, and it too was approved unanimously, with the removal of a 2.5 acre lot on Cartpath/Carter, also for title research.
Article 18 amends the bylines governing roadwork by authorizing a traffic guard or police officer to do some detail work previously requiring a police officer. It passed unanimously. Article 19 adds a Deputy Chief Engineer for the town’s Water Treatment Plant to the wage scale. It also passed unanimously.
Article 20 was withdrawn. It would have made significant revisions to the Conservation Commission Wetland Protection bylaw. Expect to see a public information session to inform residents of changes, such as removing abutter notification, before this proposal returns at May Town Meeting.
In Articles 21 and 22, developers asked voters to accept Frasier Lane and Terramor Drive as public ways, meaning the town will take on responsibility for maintenance and upkeep. Both passed.
Articles 23 and 24 amend the Tewksbury Zoning Bylaw to designate an Interstate Overlay District, which will expand the uses allowed in areas of town close to highways, such as the I-495 and Rt. 133 interchange, which borders Lowell and Chelmsford, and Woburn St., Andover St. and International Place, which borders Andover. Under this overlay, businesses that are zoned for the industrial, office research and general business zones would be allowed. These articles required a 2/3 vote. Article 23 passed 78 to 38, a margin of just two votes, while Article 24 passed 74 to 35.