Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tensions rise over Cook's Farm and parking

So it was a frustrating Town Council meeting on Wednesday night. All the worst of Franklin came to the front eventually during the night. A simple enough beginning with the taking of several streets by the Town. Approximately 80 streets are not owned by Franklin and many residents are not likely aware of this. The streets are plowed in winter so why doesn't Franklin own the streets? It is complicated and the current administration is working through the detailed process to do so. Once done then Franklin will legally plow the streets and maintain them as required.
That was a good move and the residents will see the benefits over time
The scheduled agenda juggled somewhat to cover the public hearing as noted and then back to some of the legislation before getting to the presentation on the proposed zoning change for Cook's Farm. Simply the presentation sounds wonderful, unfortunately there are details to be worked out and here is where the issues get messy.
  • The developer was a consultant in a meeting with the Economic Development Committee (EDC) as they discussed the Pond St property last Oct. 
  • The developer wanted to come back to the EDC with his proposal for Cook's Farm. 
  • He didn't get notification of being on the agenda and reached out to the Town Administrator at the end of January.
  • The Town Administrator advised the developer to put something together on what the bylaw change would look like so they (Planning) could review it. 
  • The developer did put his proposal together and sent it in.
  • The Town Administrator replied in March with issues raised (incorporating feedback from Planning).
  • The developer continues meeting with different groups within Franklin eventually with the Citizens Committee and then the Master Plan committee (Jun 18) before coming to the Council meeting now
Should a developer draft his own zoning bylaw to benefit his proposal?
No - that is a clear conflict of interest
Is the development a good one?
It seems to be good with good revenue and an acceptable use for the property but needs to have some zoning change to allow it.
The real question then is how it could fit within current zoning, or when and what specific zoning change would be worked on?
The current priority for the Planning Dept is the Master Plan. Which coincidentally is right where this proposal needs to be considered. From the Master Plan additional zoning bylaw changes would be needed to allow for the Master Plan to be implemented and that could be worked in due course.
It was suggested to hold a workshop so that the issues and alternatives can be addressed and appropriate actions set forward. The workshop should be held after the Master Plan is presented on July 17th.
Yes, yes, yes - not all of the councilors were thinking clearly during the meeting Weds night. Some were letting their emotions and biases control their better business sense. In the light of another day, in a different forum, the issues can be worked out. These decisions should not be rushed.

On a different topic, one of the action items seemed to be a simple adjustment to the downtown zoning to add parking as an option where it currently is not allowed now but is allowed in other areas of the town. As the discussion evolved, more and more information was revealed on the real reasons for the change.
  • The former Masonic Hall, now currently an empty lot was purchased by a citizen apparently outbidding the town for the property. Some on the Council think the Town could have done better on the offier.
  • The citizen would like to put in a parking lot to allow the Post Office to park there
  • The Post Office is currently using space on Emmons and in the town property at the Recreation building for their employee parking and to park their trucks.
  • Those visiting the post office can't use the parking lot at the post office until after 9:00 AM and that is both a safety hazard according to the post office and a disservice to the postal customers
The measure did get referred to the Planning Board by a 5-4 vote. All the other votes Weds were 9-0.

Oh and by the way, the Council did approve a non-binding question for Franklin residents to consider a mayor. How would that work? Not specified and hence the question wording is open to interpretation. If some one is not pleased with the current Council Administrator set up and wants a strong mayor, they could vote yes. If someone is not pleased with the current Council Administrator set up and wants a weak mayor, they could also vote yes. There are still a couple of options on what would be done with a positive result. One option would be to commission a charter committee to work out a proposal to bring back to the Council and eventually for the voters to approve or reject.