HARVARD -- At Monday night's meeting, selectmen went over three of the warrant articles slated for Saturday's Annual Town Meeting, numbers 10, 38 and 42.
Article 10, authored by the Planning Board, asks to hire a town planner. Selectman Marie Sobalvarro made a motion to NOT recommend the article "as submitted by the Planning Board."
After some discussion, the
board voted three to two in favor of the motion, with Bill Johnson and Ron Ricci voting no. Chairman Lucy Wallace, Clark and Sobalvarro said yes.
"I believe we spent oodles of time discussing this ... further discussion won't help," Sobalvarro said after making the motion.
Johnson disagreed, citing a four-item check-list he prepared with Town Administrator Tim Bragan's help, addressing key questions to be considered about the proposal.
First, feasibility. Is it possible to find a rent-to-own planner (that is, contractor for a year, with the option of employment with benefits after that) with the skills set we want?
He asked Planning Board member Elaine Lazarus, who's in the profession, to scan her Mass Planners network for an answer to this question, he said. It was yes.
Second, did the Planning Board have an interest in pursuing that option?
He polled two members on this one, Johnson said and they indicated the board might consider it, under certain circumstances.
Third, would the option pass muster with the Finance Committee? With only a sample poll to go on, the question was left hanging.
Finally, could the one-year contractor option be forwarded at Town Meeting in the context of the existing warrant article? Johnson turned to Bragan for this one, asking for a legal opinion from Town Counsel Mark Lanza, who said the answer to the question was YES.
"Sounds like friendly amendments," Sobalvarro ventured. But her motion stands, she said.
"Why are we all of a sudden taking a position on a Planning Board article?" Ricci asked.
"In the past, with issues in flux, the Board of Selectmen has addressed issues such as this just before Town Meeting," Bragan said, and the board has a pre-ATM meeting posted for eight on Saturday morning.
But Johnson wanted to go in with more details. As he continued to argue his case, Clark made a motion to move the question. It passed unanimously. The original motion, however, was a split vote.
"I'd like to stipulate that we're prepared to revisit (the article) if the proposal changes," Johnson said. All were in agreement on that, although Sobalvarro commented that she didn't care much for the last minute brokered deal idea.
Article 38 seeks a change in the town's acceptance of state liquor law provisions. Bragan was asked to consult Town Counsel Mark Lanza on this one. Specifically, how would a vote taken on this article impact the previous Town Meeting vote on the issue? The attorney said the current vote counts, period. "His answer was yes, it would supercede the prior vote," Bragan said.
Basically, voters agreed to give up "dry town" status by adopting state provisions, which according to state law must be voted in via three separate ballot questions to seal the deal. All was said and done, but with a caveat, limiting commercial sites where alcohol may be poured and consumed "on premises," such as restaurants, to establishments seating at least 100 people.
The set-up, geared primarily to the Fruuitlands Museum tearoom and tent at the time, effectively closed the door to bars or small clubs serving alcoholic beverages.
Now, apparently, there's movement afoot to scratch the 100-seat limit and to expand liquor license options for retailers or package stores, so that all alcoholic beverages may be sold, versus only beer and wine, as things stand now.
Bragan, at the board's request, came up with an FAQ list that lays out the process and results of all these proposed changes, chapter and section. The on-premises Home Rule petition, for example, allows the town to issue up to 14 "all alcohol" licenses and up to five beer and wine sale licenses. The numbers are based on population, he explained.
The town also adopted provisions allowing the selectmen to issue one-day licenses.
When Ricci proposed removing the 100-seat limit and adopting all of Section 12. The board agreed. Which does NOT mean the town will be peppered with bars, as "someone" will stand up and explain at Town Meeting, the selectmen agreed.
There was more discussion about whether to allow all alcohol sales versus beer and wine only.
The owner of the Grape Vine, Robert Hirsch, has sent a letter to the board in favor of this, but according to Tim Clark, The General Store was rather ambivalent about it. As the only other package store in town, the store would welcome the change but hasn't argued for it, he said. He also claimed the public didn't support the move, or at least that he'd seen no evidence supporting that assumption.
Arguments in favor included offering more options to customers, which would benefit both the businesses and townspeople, Wallace said.
At some point, it seemed the selectmen were debating the merits of an article they authored themselves. The upshot was that a motion was made to support Article 38, as printed, with the option of introducing "friendly amendments," and a heads-up to Lanza that changes might be coming. In addition, they agreed to prepare handouts for the public.
Article 42 is a citizen's petition to amend zoning laws in favor of municipal building. Introduced and included before the Zoning Board of Appeals denied the Building Committee's request for a variance and special permit for the Town Hall project, the article is even more apt now, given that it may offer the only avenue to get the job done.
The board discussed this article for some time, mostly in terms of editorial changes. At one point, it was implied that a petition proponent present, Stu Sklar, might want to speak on the subject. He was not asked to do so, however, nor did he suggest it himself.
As for changes to any Town Meeting article, it's open season, literally. "There's no ownership of any article" no matter who sponsors it, "Bragan said.
Quietly commenting from his seat to someone else in the audience, it was clear that Sklar would have something to say about the matter, though, if the option were offered. For example, some specifics the board seemed bent on pinning down, like allowing structures such as sheds 2,500 feet from main buildings was getting in too deep and that some of the board's concerns might be bypassed if existing town buildings were simply listed.
There was considerable back and forth about whether the article should try to cover all bases or stick with the original intent, which is to get the Town Hall building project, which Town Meeting already approved and funded, underway.
"We're losing sight of the problem we want to solve," Ricci said. "Let's be sure the schematic design for this building is okay," and talk about the big picture later, he said.
Wallace wasn't so sure. "When we changed zoning for the high school (building project) it was too narrow," she said. "We can count the town buildings in the center than need work." Still, zoning can't be too site specific. "We need to look out for the spot zoning rat hole," she said.