The Planning Board, in a special Thursday night meeting, reversed course from last week’s decision regarding its seven zoning articles, voting to recommend Town Meeting take no action on the articles in hopes of limiting attendance and discussion at the Sept. 12 Town Meeting.
The board voted in favor of recommending passage of an eighth article, on the acceptance of Legacy Farms Road North, due to the fact that there are immediate safety concerns to be addressed there.
At last Tuesday’s meeting the Planning Board voted to keep all of its articles on the Town Meeting warrant despite a request from the Select Board to limit articles to those that are essential for the operation of town government, so that Town Meeting can move quickly and minimize the risk of a COVID-19 spread.
While it is now too late to remove the articles from the warrant, by recommending no action the Planning Board is encouraging the items be pushed back to 2021 Annual Town Meeting, which is scheduled to take place in May.
Town planner John Gelcich noted that residents could vote against the Planning Board’s recommendation and request a vote on any of the articles. The one article most likely to stir up discussion is the one on the Commercial Solar Photovoltaic Overlay District map.
Residents frustrated by solar arrays in neighborhoods or on forested land — such as the one targeted for the former Liberty Mutual property off Frankland Road — have been very vocal about pushing forward with a plan to contain the solar development, which is what the Planning Board is looking to do with the restrictive map.
If residents do force a vote on the map at the Sept. 12 Town Meeting, scheduled to be held outside Hopkinton High School, it would require two-thirds majority to change the zoning bylaw. Should the motion fail, Gelcich noted, it could not be brought back to Town Meeting for two years unless there are “material changes.”
Vice chair Rob Benson was one of the Planning Board members who last week pushed for the articles to remain on the warrant.
“I have reconsidered my thought process,” he said, “and I don’t think any of these seven articles we pushed forward to Town Meeting, I’m not in favor [of keeping on], basically because I’m not in favor of myself going to Town Meeting and putting myself at risk.”
Muriel Kramer said her rationale last week was if the solar map article was remaining on the warrant then the other less-controversial items should get done as well. She said she almost immediately regretted her decision.
“Honestly, there is no business before us, except for Legacy Farms North, that has any aspect of public safety involved,” she said. “And I think we have to look at it through a public safety lens first.”
Added chair Gary Trendel: “I think [the solar map article] is going to drive a lot of people to Town Meeting, I think it’s going to drive a lot of discussion at Town Meeting, it’s going to take a lot of time, and with a lot of people at the mic, with a lot of people at the meeting with a lot of thoughts on it, that is going to increase the risks that we are trying to avoid.”
Dave Paul countered that the solar issue has been an ongoing concern, and the Planning Board should address it as soon as possible, for fear that more developments get into the queue and leave additional residents frustrated.
“I think if we don’t address this now that there’s a risk that other neighbors could fall into the same category,” he said, adding: “I think if we’re going to take the approach of safety that we shouldn’t have the meeting at all. It’s judgmental right now. People are thinking, ‘Oh, this article might warrant some discussion, this one might not.’ But if you look at the budgetary articles, I’ve been to the last 10 Town Meetings and there’s been a lot of discussion about the budgets and the school budget. So I think you should be consistent and not just pick and choose which articles you want on the warrant.”
Ultimately the board voted 5-4 to recommend taking no action on all seven articles.
The Legacy Farms Road North situation came to the forefront last year, when residents there complained that school buses could not drive on the road because it was private and it was an unsafe situation for schoolchildren. The intention was for the road to eventually become public, after the development was completed, but a supportive vote at last December’s Special Town Meeting moved the timeline well ahead of the original schedule.
Legacy Farms developer Roy MacDowell, appearing at the Planning Board meeting, said his crews are still finishing the work around the road, as required before the road can be accepted.
“We finished paving the road a while back,” he said. “The landscaping, the trees, planting, etc., were put in very recently. We have an updated punch list from [town consultant] BETA, which we’ve been working on. We’ve replaced all the sidewalk signs, we’re doing some clearing, we’re doing some cleaning of drains, the clearing of the swale in the brook area where the bridge is. So there’s a litany of things we’re pecking away at. We’re going to be replacing some of the ramps for the handicap ramps — Pulte [home builder] is doing that because they damaged them. So we’re going to go right through the entire list. We hope to have that done within the next week, week-and-a-half at the latest.”
After some discussion that included BETA representative Phil Paradis — whose company needs to sign off that the work has been completed — MacDowell set a goal of wrapping up everything and having it approved a few days before Town Meeting.
“It’s our intention to have it done” by Town Meeting, MacDowell said. “It’s not that big a list that it can’t be done. Every day we have something going on out there. Some of it’s very minor, some of it’s more work, but it’s getting done. … I think this is an achievable goal. We’re going to work very hard to get there on this, with the intention to get it done for the 12th.”