By Nancy Arsenault
-July 12, 2017
The July 10 Special Town Meeting offered up some fireworks for this unusual July event.
Nearly 200 townspeople came out on that Monday night to debate affordable housing opportunities, speed limit changes and funding for fixes to the Randall Library Septic system and the Lake Boon Dam.
The proposed land purchase for a potential affordable housing site was defeated at the meeting, but will still be voted on in a general election scheduled for July 20. The remainder of the articles passed, but not without some lengthy discussion.
While many residents commented in support of affordable housing in general, they were not supportive of the Town buying two parcels at 49 Old Bolton Road, which would allow a town committee to oversee the development of affordable units there.
Two 1.5 acre lots, pulled out from a larger property known as Stow Branch Nursery, were favored by the Selectmen, as well as the Finance and Capital Planning Committees, as a good option for the Town to consider for placement of affordable units. The purchase price, matching that of a developer who has already made an offer to the owners, was set at $410,000.
Mike Kopczynski, Chair of the Stow Municipal Affordable Housing Trust said that this was the first time that the Town could determine the scope and size of affordable units, rather than a developer proposing an unfriendly 40B. The 8 units envisioned for the lots would have brought the Town closer to the state mandated 10 percent affordable inventory, but still would fall short of the 250 required. Stow currently has 179 affordable units.
While some residents felt the land costs were too high, others said the cost to ultimately subsidize the units at $152,500 was a cost that the taxpayers would have to bear for each of the eight units and should be considered.
The Article at Special Town Meeting was only asking for approval to purchase the land, but residents said a view looking at the bigger financial picture showed a much more impactful financial hit for the taxpayers.
One resident commented that by taking on the tax burden to create affordable homes for others, some citizens, especially seniors, may find they can no longer pay the taxes this project would create. “By voting for this, someone else is going to be penalized,” said Ron Gerhardt of Barton Road.
Others felt the Town and elected officials were going down the wrong path when considering affordable housing opportunities. Many offered suggestions for new approaches, such as buying lower priced homes already on the market and applying the subsidy amount to those homes and offering them for resale to lower income buyers.
Residents of the neighborhood around the Old Bolton Road property were strongly against the project, some stating that their neighborhood is already filled with traffic because of Stow Community Park. One woman verbally attacked another resident speaker saying that the project should be moved to his road. Moderator David Walrath had to gavel the crowd back to order and demand a respectable decorum or he would be ordering people to leave the room. He also reprimanded those who applauded after speakers had made their points.
Requiring 132 “yes” votes in order to pass, the Article received 94 votes in favor and 103 votes against.
An election is scheduled for July 20 at Center School, where voters may cast a vote regarding borrowing funds for the land purchase. Selectman Chair Brian Burke attempted to amend this action to instead cancel the election. He described this as a cost saving, logical move, because the article having failed the Town Meeting vote, cannot move forward, regardless of an election vote.
Town Counsel countered that because the election has already been announced, and absentee ballots cast, the election must still be held, though the results are moot.
Article 2 – Evaluation and Assessment of Lake Boon Dam
Voters approved spending up to $35,000 for an engineering study of the condition of the Lake Boon Dam, a requirement of an order issued by the state to address the deteriorating condition of the dam. Town Administrator Bill Wrigley said that this evaluation will determine the extent of repairs necessary to bring the dam back up to the standards required of the state and to ensure public safety. Wrigley said he would explore the possibility that some costs could be shared with the Town of Hudson, as the lake’s borders are also in Hudson.
Article 3 – Repairs to Randall Library Septic System
While the article stated a request of $50,000 to fully replace a failing system at the Randall Library, the article was amended to ask for $35,000 to repair parts of the system that have failed. The Stow Building Department reported that further inspections since the warrant article was printed, indicated that the system had not fully failed and could be repaired rather than replaced.
Article 4 – Opt-In For Thickly Settled Speed Restrictions
Article 5 – Amend General By-law Re: Reduction of Speed Limit in Thickly Settled Districts
Both of these related Articles passed, but not without a long discussion. Linda Cornell of Barton Road said that a speed limit of 25mph, the proposed reduction in thickly settled areas, is “not a sustainable speed. I would like to see the police enforce the speeds that are already posted.”
Some residents complained that traveling to and from their homes at such low speeds would have an impact on the efficiency of their daily lives whether it be to meet their commuter train or just complete their errands.
Others wanted to see statistics about traffic accidents or pedestrian accidents relating to speed limits in Stow. That information was not available at Town Meeting.
Some voters also asked for input from the police before making a decision, but no representatives of the police were present at the meeting. Ultimately, the articles passed after the Planning Board assured voters that input from neighbors and residents along affected roadways would be taken into consideration before any lowering of speeds was done.
Article 6. Opt-in for Creation of Safety Zones 6
Article 7 – Creation of Safety Zones
Voters approved this option for the Town to consider when posting specific speed limits. “Safety zones are another tool the Town can use to address another type of problem,” said Town Planner Jesse Steadman. “Safety zones are something new that can be created after assessing traffic situations and evaluating types of uses.”