PEPPERELL — The proposed rezoning of the Peter Fitzpatrick School for commercial use brought the Planning Board together once again for discussion this week. Despite its failure to pass at the last Town Meeting, the article was sent back to the Planning Board by the Board of Selectmen for reconsideration.
“As of Aug. 8, they’ve asked to put a zoning article on the Oct. 29 Special Town Meeting to rezone the Peter Fitzpatrick School to commercial,” said Planning Administrator Susan Snyder.
By statute, the Planning Board must recommend approval of the article and move it to the upcoming town meeting for a vote. Without that recommendation, the Board of Selectmen will have to wait two years from its first introduction in May 2012 before the next opportunity to place it before the town for a vote.
“It would have to be an insurmountable amount of reason why we would put this off for two years. There would have to be some really detrimental impact exposed in order for us to ignore that request for two years” said Chairman Richard McHugh.
“We don’t know if this is a property that the town needs for future public service,” he said.
The Department of Public Works has already responded to a request for input on space needs explaining that the school site would not be appropriate for a consolidated DPW facility. The board is also soliciting input from both the Fire and Police departments.
“What are the future needs of the school department? There’s a new superintendent,” said Planner Albert Patenaude.
Costs associated with building a new school versus maintaining the existing structure, suggested further engagement with the new superintendent would be prudent.
Snyder noted that Pepperell has 92 acres of commercially zoned property and 215 of industrial zoned. The aggregate commercial and industrial acreage totals just 3.9 percent of the town’s total acreage.
“It’s a spit in the bucket,” said McHugh.
In addition, there are just 220 potential residential lots available for development in the town.
“Shirley has double the commercial availability of Pepperell and we’re pushing out 4 percent for commercial development. I’m not a business man, but I don’t need to be one to say wow there’s no reason for me to settle here if this town is not even focused on that kind of commitment,” said McHugh.
“When I look at the zoning and the times that the zoning regulations have changed in the late ’80s it’s become almost a snob zoning outline that’s been created,” said Patenaude.
“It’s harder for a person that grew up in Pepperell, that worked in Pepperell as a police officer or teacher, or anyone else in Pepperell to live there,” he said.
Although the board will be notifying abutters of the Sept. 24 Public Hearing, it is encouraging all interested citizens to participate in the hearing in order to promote informed decisions should the article be placed on the Special Town Meeting warrant for a vote on Oct.a 29.
The board is planning to make their recommendation on Oct. 22.
The board responded to a questionnaire submitted to town departments and boards by the Charter Commission. The five questions were:
1. What changes would you like to see?
2. What are your recommendations on how to achieve these goals?
3. What are your concerns about the Charter Commission?
4. The Charter Commission is considering consolidating department heads to report to a town manager/town administrator position. Please be prepared to talk on this issue.
5. As recommended by the Department of Revenue, the Charter Commission is considering elected positions (setting policies) versus appointed positions (day to day operations). Where do you stand on elected positions versus appointed positions?
Board members agreed that there were no changes that they were interested in seeing with their role within the town and felt strongly that the consolidation of department heads was not a good idea. Nor did they agree with having the selectmen appoint the planning board members rather than having elected positions.
“I look at this board and we have lifetime residents of the town, we have public employees, we have private employees, and we have a varied view when we come to this table and I think that’s a good thing for any town to have as many perspectives as possible being represented,” said McHugh.
“And if we have someone being influenced by a centralized power, I don’t see the elected board having that same effect,” he said.