Special Town Meeting convened Monday night attracting a sparse crowd of 125, possibly due to the 5th game of the World Series being broadcast at about the same time. All articles passed with little controversy though a few did provoke comments from voters. Town Moderator David Walrath broke with longstanding tradition and allowed a live broadcast of the meeting on Stow TV.
The Board of Selectmen chose to support two specific Warrant articles, believing strongly that voters should follow their lead, and the voters did just that. They first approved $58,000 to add to the monies already appropriated to upgrade the town water plant, located in Town Building. This upgrade follows a directive issued by the DEP that if the system was not brought into compliance with newer regulations, fines could be levied against the town.
Since the 1930s, that water system has served government buildings including Town Hall, the Fire Station and Library, but also the private First Parish Church and parsonage, who received that water at no charge. In response to a resident’s question on the subject, Town Administrator Bill Wrigley responded that as of January 2014, the Church will still remain on the system, but its water usage will be metered and paid for by the user.
A second warrant article strongly supported by the Selectmen was in favor of a one year moratorium on the placement of Medical Marijuana Treatment Facilities in the town. While no community can prohibit these businesses from locating within their borders, a town can create zoning regulations and related bylaws that specifically address where they can be located. The article, sponsored by the Planning Board, was asking voters to grant planners time to investigate how these facilities will operate and what Stow might like to determine about their existence here. The voters overwhelmingly supported this request. Stow will now join dozens of other towns in the state that also have enacted a similar one-year moratorium.
Assistant Planner Jesse Steadman said that not only will Stow need to determine in what parts of town these facilities could locate, but what regulations might be needed regarding the public use of products produced by these facilities. They will consider regulations around smoking or consumption of marijuana products in public, food regulations as they might apply to edible products produced with a marijuana ingredient, and considerations around noxious or nuisance activities surrounding such a facility.
Steadman said that the proponents of these facilities are seeking industrial or commercial space of 10-20,000sq. ft for cultivation and harvesting, and 2,000 sq. ft for retail, in some case, combining all of this space at one location. More than a few folks commented in the audience that the empty Pompo School might be an ideal location for such a facility and could bring lease income to the town, though it was possible these comments were made in jest.
A victory was also awarded to the Planning Board after this second attempt to win approval for a Lower Village Traffic & Pedestrian Design & Construction plan. This version of the plan came in $25,000 less than what was presented, and voted down, at the May Town Meeting. The new version of the plan would include drainage improvements, more favorable curb cut placement and inter-lot connections to allow drivers to move from one building to another, on the southern side of Great Road, without exiting to the street.
Audience members had mixed feelings on the need and the ultimate outcome of such a plan. One resident said he had never seen any evidence of standing water or drainage problems in Lower Village, while another bemoaned the real effects of traffic calming islands. Michael Jordan of Packard Road said that the anticipated permanent traffic calming islands “are actually traffic blocking islands and do nothing more than raise the blood pressure of drivers.”
Others felt that a pedestrian and bicycle friendly Lower Village would create a more peaceful environment overall for the Town and improvements there would be a welcome change.
Voters also approved changes to the Stow Animal Control Bylaw, particularly regarding dogs and cats, to match the new wording of a state statute. Town Counsel Jon Witten advised that communities really have no choice but to adopt the state wording, as the state law will supersede any local laws. Board of Health Chairman Marcia Rising, in response to a resident’s question, said she did not believe that existing commercial kennels would be exempt from new law changes, as if protected by a grandfathering clause. “There has not yet been a discussion about grandfathering, but if a situation arises, we will have to deal with it. They will all have to follow the new bylaw.”
In other business, purchase of a parcel of land adjacent to the Brookside cemetery was approved, as were physical improvements to the cemetery grounds that include the construction of a new roadway. Sidewalk easements were also accepted in front of Villages at Stow and the solar field on Delaney Street.