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Special Town Meeting Warrant Articles… Jan. 13 2016

The following articles appeared in the January 13 edition of The Stow Independent. The two articles explain more about the two Warrant Articles to be voted on at Stow’s Special Town Meeting on Monday, Feb. 1.

Minuteman School District Regional Agreement Amendments

By Ann Needle
When Stow gathers Feb. 1 at Hale Middle School for another Special Town Meeting, residents will vote on more than whether to approve the first major update of Minuteman High School’s regional agreement since it opened. This vote could also help decide whether the regional vocational high school can seek approval at a future TM for a major building project from its 16 member towns.

Long term, the amendments to the Lexington school’s regional agreement to be voted on were designed to make cost-sharing among member towns—and beyond— a bit fairer.
One amendment would lower the minimum number of pupils a member town’s capital costs are calculated on from 5 students to 1. With state law recently changed to allow vocational schools to assess capital costs to students from non-member towns, another amendment to the agreement also would allow Minuteman to accept, in most cases, only those out-of-district students whose tuition and other charges are at least equal to those for the average in-district student.

But one of the amendments is actually designed to allow some members to leave the Minuteman district, even though these towns have not been able to gather the unanimous vote of approval they need from other members to exit Minuteman. These towns are Boxborough, Carlisle, Dover, Lincoln, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston. (Most recently, Stow was to vote at a Special TM in November on whether to allow Wayland to exit, but stayed the vote after hearing during TM that Lexington already voted down Wayland’s request, therby nullifying Stow’s vote.)

Just as important, so long as the towns on this exit list vote on or before March 1 to leave Minuteman, they would be off the hook for their share of capital costs involved in a planned $144 million rebuilding of the school.

The Minuteman School Committee unanimously approved the amended agreement at a Dec. 21 meeting, with selectmen from member towns backing the amendments.
As with other Minuteman communities, Stow has been urged to hold a Special TM on the amendments before March 1 so as not to jeopardize timely town approvals of state funding for its proposed building project.

Crucial Timing
For the amendments to pass, all 16 towns must vote for their adoption via majorty vote at their specials TMs. The way the vote is written, if Stow or any other Minuteman town (including those hoping to exit) do not approve the amendments, they do not pass.

Even if the amendments pass, that is not the end. For this “yes” vote to be valid,  all 16 towns must, at later TMs, vote to approve the borrowing for the $144 million building project by a two-thirds majority. The towns that vote to exit also must approve the debt, though they would not be responsible for any costs.
As one Minuteman SC member pointed out, exiting towns—or any other Minuteman towns—could vote for the amendments but not hold a TM vote on the debt, which means the towns have tacitly accepted the borrowing, making the postiive amendment votes valid.

For those that do meet on the debt, should at least one Minuteman town not get the needed two-thirds majority at TM to approve the borrowing, there is another possibility—and that’s the reason behind why Minuteman towns have been asked to hold specials TMs so close to their regular spring gatherings.

Should the debt vote fail at TMs, the Minuteman SC could call for a special district-wide election, where residents would decide the question at the polls. In that case, the debt would only need a majority approval from voters across the towns.

Either way, Minuteman only has until June 30 to win members’ approval for the borrowing, or risk losing promised state funding of up to 45% for the project. In Minuteman SC discussions in December, it was agreed that asking towns to hold special TMs on the amendments was burdensome, but necessary, in order to keep all voting options open before June 30.

The Minuteman SC also expressed concern that the voting time lines come soon enough to allow some towns to take any debt vote at regular spring TMs. But Stow may need to hold yet another Special TM on the Minuteman debt anyway. If the Minuteman SC approves the project borrowing at its Feb. 23 meeting—as it might do—then district towns have 60 days to reject the debt, putting that voting deadline before Stow’s regular TM on May 2.


Complete Streets Wants Your Vote

By Nancy Arsenault
Stow comes closer to being eligible  for a share in a pot of nearly $5M in state funding for transportation improvements if voters give the thumbs up to participate in the Massachusetts  Complete Streets program at the Feb. 1 Special Town Meeting.

Stow’s Complete Streets Policy draft is being presented for public comment and review at the Board of Selectmen meetingat 7:15 pm on Tuesday, January 26 at Town Building. Adopting such a local policy, first by the Selectmen and then the Town,  are required first steps toward achieving certification, opening the route to apply for grant money. Stow Planning officials say those funds can be used toward all types of transportation initiatives involving vehicles, bicycles and pedestrian accessibility and safety.

“Complete Streets design principles aim to accommodate all road users by creating a roadway network that meets the needs of individuals utilizing a variety of transportation modes,” said Stow Assistant Planner Jesse Steadman.  “A policy unique to Stow would balance those principles, while maintaining the rural and scenic qualities that data has shown to be important to residents of Stow.”

In a presentation to Selectmen on Jan. 5, Steadman explained that Stow’s road network contains fragments of pedestrian and bike amenities, while at the same time the demand for walkways, trials and overall safety for cyclists and pedestrians sharing the road has increased. “In a 2015 survey completed for the Open Space and Recreation Plan Update, the top requested recreational facilities in Stow are sidewalks, bike trails, bike lanes and walking trails,” said Steadman.

For cyclists, the Assabet River Rail Trail has reached its full build out in Marlborough and Hudson and no longer includes Stow. It now has a link through the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge and into Maynard. Nearby, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is being constructed in Acton and Maynard with no link in Stow. There are also no specifically designated bicycle lanes visible on Stow roadways.

Over the past few years, sidewalks have been constructed in Stow along Great Road and in some other areas of town, mostly with money from the town’s Sidewalk Fund; a collection of contributions from developers building in Stow who pay into the fund in lieu of building sidewalks themselves. In Lower Village, pedestrian access has improved with the addition of traffic calming islands, but pedestrian safety remains a concern in Gleasondale Village and other parts of town.

On the positive side, Stow’s determination to make the Lower Village more pedestrian-friendly and welcoming to users overall shows state authorities that the town is serious about revamping its streets, according to Steadman. “The Complete Streets layout in Lower Village fits Stow residents’ evolving vision of a more accessible, convenient and safe Lower Village,” he said.  “Gone from these plans are the roundabouts, replaced with a more context sensitive approach that provides for a safer streetscape while respecting the rural character of Stow.”  The center lane is broken up with new pavement markings and raised islands provide refuge for turning vehicles and pedestrians. Crosswalks have been added at the safest locations and sidewalks will be installed on both sides of the street, separated from the pavement by a grassy median, according to Steadman.

While the attention to Lower Village reflects a Complete Streets vision, Steadman said the policy can incorporate future vision for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers on all roads in Stow, including those still to be constructed.   It will address design changes or additions of elements on existing roadways, and criteria for including such elements in newly constructed roadways.

Steadman said that Stow would be working in conjunction with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, an agency that has helped other towns enact Complete Streets policies. Littleton was one of the first in the area and received its designation in 2013. That same year, its policy, which was created with the assistance of MAPC, won the award as the best Complete Streets policy in the country. Later in 2013, Maynard came on board with a similar policy and in 2014, Acton was certified as a Complete Streets community.

A Complete Streets policy can include everything from attention to wildlife habitat in certain areas, to appropriate landscaping and street tree inclusions, to where the most benefit can be found for bicycle accessibility or pedestrian features. MAPC notes that when Complete Streets policies also incorporate commercial or business districts, activity there has increased.

Public comment on Jan. 26 is welcome. Copies of the policy draft are available on the Planning Board website or in their office.