Thursday, September 26, 2013

Divided Council moves zoning bylaw changes to second reading

In my reporting on this current Council, there have been very few instances where a vote was less than unanimous. On Wednesday, the zoning bylaw changes put forward to allow development of the Cook's Farm property ultimately passed by a 5-2 vote. There were only seven of the nine Councilors voting as two recused themselves for connections to the property or family in some way.

It is telling that the two 'No' votes rose from Tina Powderly (who has approached everything she has done with professional integrity and intelligence) and Glenn Jones (the subcommittee chair of the Economic Development Committee). One of the key arguments against the proposal as outlined by Councilor Powderly was how this proposal did not fit with anything in the Master Plan which had been also presented on Wednesday and approved unanimously by the Council. Primarily it allows for higher density development when Franklin has been operating since the 1990's to managed its growth.

The population grew rapidly due to development of the farms, increasing the need for schools which we were fortunate to build with much State help while we were growing. That help (read funds) has dried up and instead of increasing to meet our current needs has flatten out and started to decline. Franklin is dependent upon State funds to operate. We do need to grow to expand our tax base. That is the only way we can get help. But putting in additional homes may not be the best way at this time to do so.

There are additional problems with this proposal. The Planning Board will re-do their vote on the changes. Apparently during the meeting on Monday, the motion to approve the bylaws was made before the hearing closed, comments on the measure were not properly solicited, and while the vote did pass, one member has retracted their vote due to the situation. Planning Board Chair Tony Padula explained these 'house keeping' steps were needed. He expects to be able to re-do the vote properly during their next meeting October 7th. This is still before the Town Council can take the measures up for their second reading on Oct 16th.

There was also discussion around the dead end calculation and how it should be handled. Why the fuss over this? A safety issue. If the streets are too narrow emergency vehicles can not get in and turn around to deal with an emergency. If the road in is also the only road out, it could create a situation where an emergency vehicle needing to leave to transport patients to the hospital can not get out of the development. This situation would be created by allowing higher density development in a smaller space allowing for profit to the property owners and developer but putting the residents at risk in case of an emergency.

I agree with the 'No' vote caste by Councilors Powderly and Jones. Rushing into this change in zoning bylaws can have a lasting effect on Franklin. The Master Plan was just approved. We should spend time putting those recommendations into place so that Franklin can be a place to live safely in the future, not just now.

Additional links with the "live reporting" from the Town Council meeting can be found here:

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