By Nancy Arsenault
With one of the largest warrants in recent years, the Annual Town Meeting is scheduled for two nights of voting to get through all of the articles. Beginning Monday May 1, voters will be asked to approve an operating budget that continues Stow’s trend of minor increases in spending, without the need for a Prop 2 ½ override.
A modest increase in the Nashoba Regional School District budget and a carefully trimmed Capital Request list has been credited with keeping increases to a reasonable level, according to Town Administrator Bill Wrigley. One ballot question requires voters’ attention on Tuesday, May 9, the same day voters go to the
polls to elect Town government representatives to the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and other positions.
Community Preservation Act Funds in Demand
Several projects have come forward requesting funding from local Community Preservation Act funds. Stow was one of the first communities to sign onto this state matching program in 2001, adopting a property tax surcharge to create a locally controlled Community Preservation Fund. Monies collected may be used to fund projects relating to the acquisition and preservation of historic buildings and landscapes, the acquisition and preservation of open space and recreation land, and the creation and support of affordable housing. With its 3 percent property tax surcharge, Stow has maximized state matching grants to the local fund.
At this Town Meeting, voters will consider utilizing $3.4 million of Stow’s CPA funds for multiple projects: affordable housing initiatives, including the construction of a local Habitat for Humanity home; purchase of a conservation restriction on two farm properties; restoration of the historical wing of the Randall Library; approval of a plan for a town park; and the preservation of historical documents.
The Community Preservation Committee will hold an informational meeting on Monday, April 24 at 7:45 pm at Town Building on all of the approved requests for Community Preservation funding.
Planning Board Seeks Action for Lower Village and Bylaw Changes
The Planning Board is hoping to move forward with plans to improve traffic safety and pedestrian access in the Lower Village. Sidewalks, bicycle lanes, improved streetscapes and road repairs are planned to upgrade the area. The Board is also looking to change some local bylaws regulating Active Adult Neighborhoods and Recreational Marijuana facilities. A Citizens Petition from a resident looking to have the zoning of his property changed, also requires Town Meeting approval.
Article 31 – Capital Requests
Capital Requests are any requests for land acquisition and any expenditure of $10,000 or more and having a useful life of at least three years. Funds used toward these requests must be approved by voters. This year, the annual list tops out at $652,859, though each item listed must be voted upon individually in order for the spending to pass. The thirteen items on this list reflects those requests that passed the review of the Capital Planning Committee who determines if the requests seem valid, the costs associated are reasonable and also if the request has been anticipated and expected as part of long term expense projections.
The largest request is for a new ambulance, estimated at a cost of $285,000. Fire Chief Joe Landry said the current ambulance was purchased in 2011, with an expected lifespan of 6-8 years. While still on the road, this ambulance has been out of service several times in the past year due to extended repairs. Landry said that an active ambulance is a money maker for the Town, with a percentage of billing costs, most often paid by insurance companies, coming back to the Town coffers. In the past year, the ambulance earned $180,000 for the Town.
If a new ambulance is approved, Landry plans to keep both vehicles operating as long as possible. Landry said there were 37 instances this past year, due to multiple calls or extended repair periods, where an out-of-town ambulance was needed to answer a Stow call. No payments come back to Stow when mutual aid answers a Stow call. “The cost of keeping the current ambulance in service is minimal, maybe about $25,000 for the year,” he said, while trade-in value is only about $20,000. “A few basic ambulance calls will generate that $ 25,000 in income,” he said, with a new ambulance expected to pay for itself in less than two years.
ARTICLE 41 – Affordability Safeguard Program Extension
The Stow Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (SMAHT) is seeking $200,000 from the Community Preservation Committee toward preserving the affordability status of units facing foreclosure. This money would allow SMAHT to fund the affordability restriction on one such unit so that new ownership could continue at an affordable level. When the foreclosed home is sold to an eligible buyer, the funds are returned to the SMAHT account for reuse. “We need more in the fund because multiple homes are threatened by foreclosure at the same time, which was not expected,” said SMAHT’s Mike Kopczynski. If the affordability deed was lost through the foreclosure process, the home would be considered a market rate property for resale. . An earlier appropriation is already focused upon another property while this appropriation would allow SMAHT to address a second property in similar circumstances. SMAHT is concerned with keeping homes on the Town’s affordable inventory, as per State requirements that seek the Town to categorize 10% of its housing units as affordable. If approved, this allocation would come from funds already set aside by the CPC toward affordable housing.
ARTICLE 42 – Support for Development of Affordable Homes
Habitat for Humanity is requesting $150,000 as Town’s contribution, through funds already set aside by the Community Preservation Committee toward affordable housing, to build a Habitat for Humanity home in Stow. They will raise funds privately, as well, so if the article does not pass, they will have to raise it all privately, but that would not stop the project. Since the CPC funding is contingent on the project being approved, and a comprehensive permit is needed, if that cannot be obtained and the project is not begun, then the funds will not be used and can return to the CPC bucket it came from, in this case restricted Affordable Housing funds. This money would be applied to expenses related to the construction of a 2-unit dwelling at the corner of Pine Point and Sudbury Roads. The lot is owned by the Town, with ownership transferrable to Habitat for the project. The Finance Committee has not yet taken a position on this article and will advise voters as to their opinion, at Town Meeting.
A public site walk, primarily for Lake Boon neighborhood abutters, will be held at the parcel on Friday, April 21 at 6:00pm.
ARTICLE 44 – Restoration of the Second Floor Historic Areas of the Randall Library Building
The Historical Commission and supporters of the Randall Library are seeking $380,000 from the CPC historical preservation account, to repair and restore the second floor of the Library which dates back to the 1800s. Along with restoring the oldest part of the Library, the Library Restoration Committee said the project will also address much needed repairs to help preserve the entire library structure.
Two Open Houses are planned for residents to come hear the plans, ask questions and get an idea of how the Library will look after the finished restoration. The Open Houses will be held Thursday, April 20 6:00-9:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 29, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Randall Library.
ARTICLE 45 -Purchase of Conservation Restriction on Carver Hill
Conservation supporters are seeking $1.4 million from CPC Unreserved Funds toward the Town’s purchase of a Conservation Restriction on 77 acres of land at Carver Hill Orchards on Brookside Avenue. The Stow Conservation Trust will contribute $600,000 through private fundraising efforts, for a total purchase price of $2 million. The CPC funds will only be applied if the SCT funds are also contributed in full.
This orchard has been targeted by the Open Space Committee and through the Town’s Master Plan as a priority property to save against development. Such a restriction would provide financial security for the family ownership to encourage continued agricultural or similar use on the property now or for a future buyer. A developer’s interest would be diminished as the ability to build housing units would no longer be possible on the land. While the finance committee is cautious about such a large outlay of funds toward one project without knowing what types of conservation-related requests may come about in the future, they believe this is a vital property to the Town’s identity and such a restriction is worthy. There is no additional cost to taxpayers to fund this request as the monies have already been collected through the CPC property tax surcharge.
ARTICLE 46 – Purchase of Conservation Restriction on small farm
A Conservation Restriction, similar to that being proposed for Carver Hill Orchard, is being sought for small farm on Gleasondale Road. The 24-acre farm could be preserved as an agricultural property into perpetuity with the purchase of a $300,000 restriction. The CPC has been requested to contribute $275,000 while the Stow Conservation Trust will contribute $25,000. This restriction would remove the development potential of the land, with future uses only possible as relating to agriculture or passive conservation. The Finance Committee approves of this transfer of funds, which has no impact on taxpayers as the funds have already been collected. The Committee stated that this Restriction will ensure that a working farm keeps working.
The Stow Conservation Commission and Stow Conservation Trust are co-hosting an Open House on Sunday April 30 from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. at Carver Hill and small farm. The event will be an opportunity for residents to tour the farms and learn more about the joint effort to conserve them.
ARTICLE 47 – Creation of Community Park at 323 Great Road
Creating a park in the center of Town was the choice of voters who approved design funds for the project at 323 Great Road, after fire destroyed a private home there in 2008. A park was the chosen project after fire station plans were relocated to the Pompo school and affordable housing was deemed inappropriate for that site. Now, the Town is requesting $275,000 from Community Preservation funds already set aside for Open Space, to begin construction. The park, if approved, will include accessible walking trails, benches, open meadow and a nature play area, along with views to Minister’s Pond. The Recreation department will manage the maintenance of the facility, with costs estimated at about $5,000 annually. The Finance Committee supports this funding appropriation, which will come from money already collected through the CPC property tax surcharge.
ARTICLE 51 – Lower Village Traffic Safety Improvements
The Planning Board is hoping that voters will approve $492,000 toward the construction of roadway safety and pedestrian improvements along Great Road in Lower Village. If approved, this money will enable the Town to access a MassDOT MassWorks Infrastructure Grant of $850,000 towards the project. Additionally, the Town will allocate $400,000 of Chapter 90 MassDOT Highway Grants for a total project cost of $1.742 million. No aspect of the funding can go forward unless Town Meeting gives two-thirds approval and the related ballot question also receives two-thirds voter approval at the polls on May 9.
Stow Highway Superintendent Mike Clayton said that the area is in dire need of drainage upgrades, along with other repairs. “The drainage has not been addressed in over 50 years. The system is undersized and can no longer handle heavy rains, and the concrete culverts are collapsing,” he said. If this project is not approved, the Town would most likely still be budgeting for these repairs in the future, at a cost reaching nearly $800,000, without the assistance of any grant money toward the funding, he said.
Town Meeting 2013 already approved $125,000 in design funds for the project and this current funding request is for the next and final step of the project, according to Town Planner Jesse Steadman. “The final design reflects the best balance of improvements while maintaining Stow’s rural character,” he said. If all is approved at Town Meeting, construction could begin this summer. The Finance Committee will make a recommendation on this Article at Town Meeting as its passage will have an impact on property taxes.
ARTICLE 52 – Acceptance of Great Road Pedestrian Improvement Easement from Presti Family Limited Partnership
Pedestrian walkways, or sidewalks, are planned to line both sides of Great Road, from Bradley Lane to Pompositticut Street, as part of the Lower Village improvements. Sidewalk easements are required from the abutting property owners in order to add this feature. While the project does not yet include the final details of the sidewalk plan, the Planning Board has included their anticipated easement requests on the Warrant, as all easements require Town Meeting approval. A positive Town Meeting vote will allow negotiations with property owners to continue toward this end. In the case of the Presti property, the commercial lots where the Steppingstones School was formerly located and now a used car lot exists, a monetary figure is associated with the easement. This is the only property with such an arrangement, as the requested money will be put toward the re-creation of several parking spaces lost to the commercial businesses there, once the sidewalks are constructed.
ARTICLE 72 – Amend Zoning Bylaw: Active Adult Neighborhood
As the Town’s third Active Adult Neighborhood is being built, the Planning Board is seeking voter approval to amend the current bylaw regulating such neighborhoods. As worded, the current bylaw holds the development in bylaw violation if a unit is occupied by someone younger than age 55. This has proven to be a hardship for someone, for example, whose older spouse has passed away while the couple were homeowners in such a development. The Planning Board is recommending that regulations pertaining to age particulars be dealt with by the Homeowners Association agreements or through the wording of the Master Deeds of the development. “We would like the development or HOA to deal with these situations, rather than the Town,” said Town Planner Jesse Steadman.
ARTICLE 73 – Temporary Moratorium on Recreational Marijuana
The state has not yet established guidelines and regulations around the Recreational Marijuana industry in Massachusetts, and until they do so, the Town does not want to create local regulations. Instead, building off state regulations, once approved, will ensure a more compliant and manageable local regulatory system, town officials have said. The Planning Board is requesting a temporary 18-month moratorium on the regulating of any local Recreational Marijuana facilities until state regulations can be developed and considered.
ARTICLE 74 – Petition for Modification of Zoning of Portion of Map R-22, Parcel 2-A totaling 173,805 s.f. ±
Mark & Sharon Burrell of 44 Box Mill Road are requesting a rezoning of 3.99 acres of their property from Recreation/Conservation District to Residential District to enable them to build a retirement home there. Their current home will remain on the property but will be sold, according to Mark Burrell. The property abuts the Assabet River and Carver Hill Orchard. Jesse Steadman, Town Planner, said that these parcels, and other similar ones around Town, have been zoned as Recreation/Conservation to maintain ribbons of conservation land near rivers and streams, all part of contiguous protected zones.