Thursday, January 8, 2015

Questions were raised, answers sought and opinions stated amid some tension

There was a full house in the Council Chambers on Wednesday evening. The meeting had officially opened at 6:00 PM and the Council went into Executive Session to discuss the negotiations on the fire fighter contract. Their meeting was held in the small conference room next to the Council Chambers to allow those arriving for the main meeting to enter the chambers. The Councilors filed in to the Chamber about 6:55 and got ready for the meeting.

The normal pledge of allegiance and moment of silence was skipped by Chairman Vallee as they "had already opened the meeting at 6:00".

The agenda was adjusted to include a motion by Councilor Kelly to officially vote on the Chairman. (Recall that the vote at the organization meeting in November was actually skipped at that time.

The minutes were approved from the Dec 17th session.

The change of manager for the liquor license for Artistry Kitchen was approved. As the use of the facility will be changing to a private function room until the new direction of the restaurant is ready to be re-opened, there needs to be an approval by the Planning Board. The use is different from that already approved. It is a minor deviation but does need to follow the process for approvals.

Former FinCom member Phyllis Messere Malcom was appointed to the Historical Commission.

"Community Development Grant"

There was a brief discussion on the possibility for Franklin to join in a "Community Development Grant" application. Bellingham is the lead community handling the paperwork and administration. Franklin and Hopedale are also possible partners. The measure will return to the Town Council in two weeks for approval.

Pond St zoning public hearing

The Pond St zoning public hearing opened. My notes from the long discussion are linked to. In brief, many of the questions and concerns raised were to gain assurances on what would be done. Right now, with the zoning change only, it is too early to say. Many folks don't understand the full process and the Council along with Jeff did not do a great job of explaining the process. My attempt at an overview would look like this:

  • There is a second hearing for the zoning change. 
  • If approved, the Economic Development Committee would then meet to draft the revisions to the new Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP is the official offer by the town of the property for sale. It would specify what could be done (within the zoning for the property) and what additional restrictions the Town may make to the purchaser.
  • The RFP would be posted for a period of time.
  • Responses, if any would be reviewed at the end of the period
  • Depending upon the responses, there would be additional meetings at the EDC to make a recommendation to the Town Council to proceed with the sale or not
  • If proceeding with the sale, then the Town Council would still hold meeting or meetings to decide (as done with the Emmons St property)
  • All that before the developer would go before the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and other town organizations to obtain the necessary permits and approvals.

There were some tense moments during the discussion as some of the answers to the community were not appropriate and some of the community objected (rightly so) to the body language of some of the members of the Council. Councilor Kelly addressed this during the Councilor Comments at the end of the meeting but long after much of the crowd had dispersed.

The Town Council did approve to move the zoning change to a second reading.

The audio recording for the Pond St discussion can be found here

Emmons St
Emmons St
former councilor Glen Jones and Town Administrator Jeff Nutting
former councilor Glen Jones and Town Administrator Jeff Nutting

Emmons St discussion

The Emmons St discussion took a surprising turn. It was anticipated to be perhaps a more contentious discussion as the drive through option seemed to be a 'done deal'. However, as revealed by Jeff Nutting. A meeting by the developer, Mr Calarese took place on Monday morning and the proposal was changed to removed the food drive through. He would like to retain rights to a bank drive through. That revelation took the wind out of most of the sails and those that spoke appreciated the change in face of significant community objection.

How the change will really look as the 'final' negotiations take place remains to be seen. The deal will come back before the Council to require a 2/3 vote. We'll be able to see how well the legalese is drafted to meet the community desires and the need for the town to obtain additional revenue.

The audio recording for the Emmons St segment of the meeting can be found here

Town Administrator Reports

Almost lost within the events of the evening were the real drivers to the selling of the town property at both the Emmons St and Pond St locations. Jeff Nutting provides updates on the overall town goals and objectives for 2015, showing much progress and accomplishments. He also laid out the objectives for this year. He provided updates on the Master Plan and the Five Year Financial Forecast.

The forecast says FY 2016 should be ok but FY 2017 is another budget year where balancing the budget will present some problems.

This financial reason is the driving factor behind the moves to sell both the Pond St and Emmons St properties. The town needs to expand its taxable base to bring in additional revenue. The link to the agenda for the financial forecast can be found here

The set of notes recorded live during the Town Council meeting can be found here:

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