SHIRLEY — The bulk of the seven-item Special Town Meeting warrant that 104 residents turned out to consider Monday night was about zoning.
Specifically, proposals to re-zone a section of Lancaster Road and Route 2 as commercial/industrial in an area that is mostly industrial now and to designate targeted parcels on Great Road (Route 2A) as mixed use that are now zoned commercial or residential, respectively.
The two bids were presented as a package to be voted up or down versus separate articles that would have split them up, allowing voters to say yes to the Lancaster Road proposal, which didn’t create much of a stir and no to rezoning on Great Road, which did. As presented, however, the choice was yes or no, all or nothing.
Voters said no, 62-42.
Town Moderator Enrico Cappucci announced there would be no amendments allowed on the zoning articles, which he said were sufficiently confusing as is. The decision came as a result of pre-STM discussions with proponents — selectmen, Economic Development Committee and Planning Board — and after consulting with Town Counsel, Cappucci said.
Instead, Cappucci said there would be pro and con presentations on the proposed zoning amendments and a free-flow question and answer period whose length he wouldn’t restrict.
Selectmen Chairman David Swain spoke first, providing a practical overview from a historical standpoint, followed by more detailed explanations from Economic Development Committee Chairman Jackie Esielionis and member Bryan Dumont, who spoke in favor of the rezoning proposals and sketched the reasoning behind them.
“Several years ago, when I was first on the board, the town faced a structural deficit of about $2 million,” which selectmen and the Finance Committee have been trying to address ever since, Swain said, via cuts in personnel and services and revenue from solar farms.
Six years ago, the Economic Development Committee was established and charged with reframing the town’s off-kilter commercial/residential tax base percentage split, which ideally should be 25/75, he said. The committee has made some progress, he said, and as part of a long-range goal identified suitable areas in town for commercial or industrial development such as the two proposals on the table.
But Swain said nobody envisioned “big-box stores” or even a CVS, since the town falls far short of the traffic count necessary to support them. The Lancaster and Great Road areas promise “potential” for some commercial and/or industrial development that could bring in new tax revenue, however.
Residential development costs the town about $100 per year for each home in terms of goods and services provided while a commercial or industrial establishment only costs $25 per year, Swain said.
Esielionis said her group’s aim was to bring in $100 million in new revenue over the next 20 years.
When the motion on Article 1 went down, Swain made a motion to withdraw the next three zoning articles, all of which were tied to the first. The motion passed unanimously.
Articles Five and Six passed quickly and without discussion.
Article Five sought an easement for National Grid to sink a power line from an overhead utility pole and run it under Walker Road to access a solar facility on the other side. The vote was a formality for licensing purposes. The power company already made its case to the selectmen got a green light and the job was done some time ago, Swain said.
Article Six sought authorization for selectmen to enter into a “solar tax agreement” with SLX, a company erecting a solar array on private property owned by resident Richard Hatch. The agreement will set up a payment plan “in lieu of taxes” for the facility to operate in town.
Article Seven sought to transfer $50,000 from the town’s stabilization fund to the Board of Health Trash Collection line item to cover a budget shortfall.
Health Board Chairman Joseph Howlett said the cost of curbside trash and recycling pickup now exceeds the pay-per-bag program set up to pay for it. Simply put, residents are recycling more than they are throwing away these days, he said.
Adding to the problem, not everybody in town uses the program. Some opt to hire private haulers instead, Howlett said, even though those services cost more.
Tim Hatch, of Maple Street, asked why residents were being asked to pay a penalty for a situation that might escalate and cost even more.
“Let’s find the problem,” he said.
Swain said the health board notified selectmen of the shortfall in December and at that time, with 33 weeks of bag sales to go on, projected the current figure, which selectmen are “confident” won’t change by the end of the fiscal year.
The motion passed on a 2/3 voice vote, called by the moderator.