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School Street residents oppose zoning change.

Byline: Michael Kane

BOYLSTON - Following a two-article special town meeting to make budget fixes next Monday, voters will be asked to settle 35 articles at town meeting. And, if the annual selectmen's warrant review is an indicator, at least two articles might generate discussion.

Article 28, a citizens' petition from the Fuller family, seeks to rezone part of Route 140 from residential to commercial to serve as an extension of the family's motor home sales company.

The article carries a recommendation of the Planning Board, but will be opposed by residents from nearby School Street, according to School Street resident Irene Symonds.

At least part of the Planning Board's recommendation is the result of no opposition at a public hearing and a petition from direct abutters in favor of the project, according to Planning Board Chairman Richard Baker. However, School Street residents were not informed of the hearing, Symonds said.

Symonds also said changing the zoning in that area could start a precedent for School Street, causing land owners there to sell land for commercial uses in what has always been a residential neighborhood.

While Baker commented that perhaps residential zoning is not the best use of the town's only commercially-viable area, he also said that, had the Planning Board thought the zoning change was a good idea, it likely would have presented that idea to the town during a comprehensive zoning review.

As written, the zoning change includes specific dimensions. That means only the use the Fullers intend could be done on the site.

His board, he noted, encourages zoning change proponents to notify and talk to all abutters, since the article still has to pass town meeting.

"It's their argument to make," Baker said, later adding: "With the wave of evidence presented at the hearing, the Planning Board made its recommendation."

In response to the charge of spot zoning, Town Counsel Stephen Madaus said, based off recent cases, courts have been less likely to find against the will of town meetings, unlike years past. However, he noted, that is an opinion and a court's finding cannot be predicted.

Both Madaus and Town Counsel Nancy Colbert Puff noted similar reasoning for not notifying abutters. Zoning changes, Madaus said, could involve huge portions of a community. A law requiring notification could require communities doing zoning reviews to notify the entire town by mail, Madaus said.

Moderator Dennis Pojani said discussing litigation would be outside the scope of the article for a town meeting discussion.

In the end, the article has been placed on the warrant legally, Madaus said. As a citizen's petition, selectmen had to place the article on the warrant. The Planning Board held a legally posted hearing advertised in the Telegram, Madaus said.

Assessors change

A selectmen-sponsored article to change the Board of Assessors from elected to appointed has been opposed by the assessors, who showed up in unity at the warrant review.

Selectman Kenneth Sydow noted that, not only do potential assessors have to run an election campaign, they then have to attend classes to become certified. He called that a deterrent, saying the selectmen's goal is to draw qualified candidates to the position.

As an example, he noted current assessor James Holyoak, who did not return nomination papers on time and is now running a write-in campaign for next week's election.

Sydow said the abatement process is "black and white" and would not be interfered with by selectmen.

However, Assessor Carl Cravedi said his board should be accountable to all the residents, not a three-member Board of Selectmen, suggesting that assessors might feel pressure not to give abatements if selectmen felt they needed more revenue.

Cravedi noted selectmen could remove a sitting assessor after three years. Unlike an election, he noted, it would a decision of three people, not the electorate.

"We have no allegiance to any politician, we serve the people," Cravedi said. "When it comes to abatements, we don't care who it is. If they are entitled to get it, they get it. If they are not entitled to get it, it doesn't matter who they know."

Selectmen say, based on history, the change makes sense. At least all three serving assessors were originally placed on the board by appointment when no one ran, Selectmen Chairman James Stanton said.

"You are all on board through the process we are suggesting," Stanton said. "You have a specific skill set, that's what wee are trying to encourage with this article."

Stanton also noted it would be not be prudent to try to affect the abatement process, because residents can appeal to the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board.

"It shouldn't make a difference, we're just formalizing a process by what got you there to begin with," Stanton said.

Other articles:

Among the other articles voters will be asked to consider is the adoption of a storm drain bylaw. The bylaw is required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and gives the Conservation Commission and the Board of Health enforcement powers for illegal dumping into a storm drain.

Voters will also be asked to formally accept the state statute that gives enforcement powers to the dog catcher and assistant dog catcher. The duties and powers will not change from what is now expected from animal control, but the town has never officially adopted the law, Stanton said.

The change to the near 50-year-old regional school agreement that was passed over at last year's town meeting is on the warrant.

The issue became a sticking point in the quest for a new Tahanto school building years ago when Berlin officials discovered a loophole in the 1993 Education Reform Act that did not include capital purchases. Specifically, the agreement will now consider the town's obligation to pay for students who leave the district for other charter schools.

The result was, Berlin would have paid less of a percentage for building a new Tahanto than it would have for its share of operating the school. As a result, Boylston felt it was paying more than its share for regional students who leave the district, most of whom come from Berlin.

The formula, however, is fluid, and Berlin officials argued a swing in 10 students could change the formula in Boylston's favor. Boylston argued that, historically, Boylston sends less students outside the district.

While the Massachusetts Department of Education sided with Berlin, the issue was likely headed to court and would have derailed the potential for state assistance for a Tahanto project.

A study commission of Boylston and Berlin officials, started by then Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lukon and continue by her replacement, Dr. Joseph Connelly, came up with a compromise agreement.

Berlin accepted the change last year, but Boylston held off when the idea was tied to the sixth grade being moved to Tahanto. That issue is still under discussion among the School Committee and part of the ongoing building process.

What: Town Meeting

When: Monday, May 4, 7 p.m.

Where: Tahanto
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 30, 2009
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