SHIRLEY -- Residents who brought a pair of Citizen's Petition articles to the 2017 Annual Town Meeting were gratified by the outcome, even though both articles failed.
According to petitioners interviewed after the meeting Tuesday night, the two No votes were just what they'd hoped for.
Introduced at the end of a 4 1/2 hour second session, Articles 22 and 23 were identical except for parcels of land addressed: 21 Rear and 21 Patterson Road, respectively.
At a glance, the articles, which sought permission to change the zoned use of the town-owned parcels from voter-approved public uses ("water resources protection, conservation and recreation") to "private industrial use for solar energy generation..." seem like trying to board a ship that has already sailed.
A 20-year lease to develop the two parcels as commercial solar facilities already exists, the land has been cleared and the solar arrays are in place. In short, the Solar facilities the proponents sought to stop, first through the town's permit process and then in state land court, have already been built.
Also, articles seeking change of use might seem like contradictions in terms, given that the petitioners oppose such a change and most of them are litigants in a protracted land court suit that seeks to stop it.
But the move makes more sense in light of the proponents' stated goal, to redress a wrong by doing things right the second time around.
Specifically, they allege that the Lease the former Board of Selectmen signed with Solar City, a California-based firm, wasn't done by the book and is invalid. Before inking the deal, proper procedure called for Town Meeting approval, petitioners said, same as other solar projects on town-owned land.
Town Counsel basically said it didn't matter what came before, the Lease was legal and must stand, an assertion resident John Oelfke rejected. "That's only your opinion," he said, and not the last word on the subject.
Despite another resident's stated fear that attempts to redo the lease at this point would be fruitless, the current Selectmen - two of whom were seated in a Recall election last month that ousted two members of the previous board - said that if people want them to revisit the lease, they'd try to do so.
Commenting after the meeting, Selectman Holly Haase said the next step, now that Town Meeting has said no to a change of use that, in effect, has already happened, would be to reach out to Solar City and propose a sit-down to see if issues the petitioners raised could be resolved.
For example, the parties might agree to add provisions to protect the town's drinking water, preserve wildlife habitat and other conditions that should have been placed on the lease but were not, including a pull-out plan that spells out how the site will be reconstituted after the lease expires.