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Shirley Select Board covers grants, rehabbing Center Town Hall and approves annual business licenses

Shirley Town Hall Center
Shirley Town Hall Center

SHIRLEY — Montachusett Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Glenn Eaton visited the Select Board meeting Monday night to update members on the status of incoming funds from a Community Development Block Grant awarded to the town and two other neighboring towns.

The town applied for the grant in partnership with Lunenburg and Townsend. MRPC oversees the federal program and manages fund distribution on behalf of participating communities.

In particular, CDBG funds will be used to benefit nonprofit food pantries in the three towns, Eaton said. Loaves & Fishes, which serves several area communities, including Shirley; The Townsend Ecumenical Outreach; and a charitable organization providing similar assistance to families in Lunenburg. All of these groups incurred higher than normal costs this year, he said, so the funds came through at the right time.

Long familiar with Townsend Ecumenical Outreach and its long-term success in Townsend, Eaton said he recently visited Loaves & Fishes in Devens for the first time and was impressed with its efficient distribution system. He also praised Loaves & Fishes’ successful outreach efforts, in large part due to strategic advertising.

The Lunenburg organization had trouble getting the word out and less response as a result, Eaton said, but based on what the others were doing, he told them new promotions were the way to go and it worked, he said.

When he visited Loaves & Fishes, 17 volunteers were onsite, packing groceries for drive-thru pick up, Eaton said, all wearing masks and working as a team.

“They do a fantastic job!” he said.

Historic grant

Town Administrator Mike McGovern updated the board on a grant he is pursuing that may help the Center Town Hall address issues the Center Town Hall Committee raised in a presentation to the Select Board several weeks ago, including needed upgrades and essential repairs, inside and out.

To begin with, McGovern had suggested having an architectural assessment to determine “what the real needs are” and come up with a cost estimate. Hiring a professional would cost $60,000 or so, he said, but “it’s a necessary step,” and the sooner it’s done, the better, as the historic building continues to deteriorate.

Located on the town common, adjacent to the Historic Meetinghouse, the Center Town Hall is part of a picturesque tableau centered by the white-spired former church next door and is often an adjunct feature of cultural and civic events held there, from concerts to art exhibits and more.

More than a valuable part of the town’s storied past, the big old building is a potential revenue source through rentals. But rental income has dwindled due to problems the committee can’t afford to fix, from outmoded or malfunctioning alarm systems to structural issues, among other issues.

The good news is, “we found a grant,” the CTHC might qualify for, he said.

It would be provided by the Massachusetts Historic Commission, McGovern said.

The application deadline is in March.

Select Board Chair Debra Flagg said the building’s condition surprised her when she drove by recently.

“The exterior is in rough shape,” she said.

CTHC members said there are problems inside, too. An Eagle Scout project painted a downstairs room, but there’s a problem with the floor.

McGovern agreed the building needs work and that it will pay off.

“We have a perfect opportunity to continue … rentals of the church next door and to use CTH in conjunction with that,” he said.

CTHC member Alison Tocci thanked McGovern for his efforts.

“We were lost as to the best way to proceed,” she said.

Now, it looks like there’s a path, Flagg commented. “We’re off to a good start,” she said.

Licenses pass, some with caveats

In other business, the board OK’d all annual licenses on its list, including food and alcoholic beverage licenses for restaurants and clubs and “Class III” licenses for businesses that deal in junk car storage and used car sales, such as Mohawk Motors, USA Auto and Insurance Auto Auctions.

All three businesses are located on Great Road — Route 2A — and have generated public complaints, from idling trucks at odd hours, to parking problems, and car carriers speeding along town roads, despite being told to use numbered highway routes instead.

Most of those complaints were addressed via voluntary compliance and conditions attached to the licenses, such as larger, more concise signage, limits on the size of car carriers and capping at 50 the number of vehicles that can be stored on the lots.

Flagg was particularly concerned about USA Auto, which has far more than 50 cars crammed onto its lot now. It’s also a concern for the fire chief, she said.

McGovern said he’s been talking to the owners.

Describing them as newcomers to the trade, he said they started out as COVID-19 shutdowns were making it hard to follow its business plan, which involves quick turnover, he said. They buy in bulk, do quick-fix repairs, then move the vehicles out to sell at auctions, which were few and far between last year. It’s like “flipping” only for vehicles instead of houses, he explained.

But the 50-vehicle number will be the benchmark from now on, and Flagg wanted a timeline for unloading the excess vehicles. “There are a lot more than 50 now,” she said.

McGovern said it would take time, but he’s confident the owners will do their best to comply as soon as possible.

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