NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Voters at the second night of Northborough’s Annual Town Meeting approved several capital improvement items and Community Preservation Act projects, as well as some zoning bylaw changes. They rejected a symbolic vote to require photo identification at elections.
Voters approved, in a two-thirds vote, the two citizen petitions that sought to prohibit multi-family dwellings and horizontal mixed-use developments in Business East. Though these measures were not approved by the Planning Board, many residents expressed their concern with the direction the town’s current zoning laws were taking it.
Petitioner Carol Chione said that people move to Northborough "for its scenic and rural culture," but added that thanks to new developments, it is "in danger of losing its peace and charm." She cited specifically the planned development at 130 Main St., but said that the petitions were not aimed at any one developer.
"I think it’s important to vote for it and not to wait," said Scott Welland of Coolidge Circle, who worried that developers may obtain permits and become grandfathered in before the laws can be changed. "Waiting could be quite harmful to the town."
Selectmen Aaron Hutchins and Jeff Amberson, speaking for themselves and not for the Board, also backed the petitions. Hutchins congratulated Chione for her work in bringing them forward, while Amberson urged support for the measures "if for no other reason but to buy time."
Mark Donahue of Woodstone Road, however, warned about changing a few small pieces of a large set of zoning bylaws. "Trying to pull a string out of a tapestry, has a history of ruining that tapestry," he said.
Later, voters seemed to sway against the last two petitions, which sought to increase minimum yard setbacks and minimum open space requirements. Both failed to achieve a two-thirds vote for passage.
Planning Board member George Pember told the crowd that "we’ve already got the moratorium" thanks to the first two petitions, and that he didn’t think these were necessary.
Though he still stood by the Planning Board’s decision not to endorse the petitions, Planning Chair Rich Lief acknowledged that the current laws may have created unforeseen consequences. "I haven’t done anything for this town that I did not think was in the best interest for the town," he said. "We will, no matter what happens tonight, review this situation and come back with solutions for next year."
In one of the closer votes of the night, voters rejected a citizen petition that sought to require voters in town elections to show photo identification before voting.
"The sacred right of voting is one every citizen should take seriously," said petitioner John O’Mara. "There is a lot at stake in each and every election."
Relaying the advice of the Town Council, Town Moderator Fred George reminded voters that this vote would merely be symbolic.
"The bottom line is, there is not anything we can do at the municipal level to dictate the process for voters at the state and national level," he said.
Voters approved the remaining capital planning items left over from Monday night’s meeting, including repairs to the Lyman Street well costing $250,000 and the replacement of the 75 kilowatt generator in Melican Middle School with a 300 kilowatt generator, costing $400,000. Town Administrator John Coderre said that the current generator, which was first installed in 1973, only provides enough power to operate emergency lights in the school. This, he said, was insufficient for a building that is supposed to be the town’s emergency shelter.
Voters also approved the funding of a feasibility study requested by the MSBA for renovations to the Lincoln Street School. The MSBA recently accepted the school into its pipeline after a lengthy, multi-year process. Though the study will cost the town $500,000, the MSBA will reimburse about 48 percent of the cost.
"The Lincoln Street School was built in the 1960’s," said Superintendent Charles Gobron. "Some systems within the school are nearing the end of their life."
Lincoln Street School parent—and former student—Julie Peterson agreed. Saying that walking through the building gave her deja vu, as it has not changed since the 1970’s, she added, "the building definitely needs a renovation."
One resident questioned the purpose of the study, suggesting that the town might look to local contractors for much cheaper blueprints. Coderre pointed out, however, that the study must be done the way the MSBA wants it, under their own rules.
Finally, voters approved all Community Preservation Act (CPA) projects, which are funded by a 1.5 percent property tax surcharge and matching state funds. Voters approved $350,000 for the renovation and restoration of the Northborough Town Hall. They also approved $7,200 for the repair of the 1874 George Stevens pipe organ located in the Northborough Historical Society building, and $5,000 for the inventory and assessment of Colonial-era gravestones at the Howard Street Cemetery and Brigham Street Burial Ground.
Several voters suggested that local Boy Scout troops could make a project out of restoring these sites. They also volunteered themselves. John Campbell, chair of the Community Preservation Committee, said that this could reduce the cost of the undertaking.