By Beth David, Editor
Second in a two part series
Fairhaven Town Meeting members spent the whole day on Saturday, 6/12, and a couple of hours Monday night getting through 60 articles on the annual TM warrant.
In addition to the usual budget and capital spending items, TM voted on a number of bylaws changes, including a short term rentals bylaw.
See last week’s issue for the first part of our Town Meeting coverage.
One article that received significant discussion was the short term rentals bylaw, which would require people who rent their homes on a short term basis, such as summer rentals, to register with the town ($250 fee), and impose a 3% community impact fee, that would help with enforcement.
Mr. Foley said there are 56 homes registered with the state, but he believed there were many more operating illegally. The bylaw caps the homes at 64, but will increase every year or so.
“I am fully in support of it,” said Kyle Bueno, a realtor, adding that it was needed in the industry.
Robert “Hoppy” Hobson weighed in saying he faces more regulation to have a few chickens in his yard than someone renting out their home like a hotel.
Wayne Hayward, a member of the Planning Board that petitioned the article, said precinct 5 (Sconticut Neck and West Island) could be “overwhelmed with short term rentals” if the cap is not in place.
He noted that Barnstable has 7888 registered, and Dennis has 1395.
Randy Cushing spoke against the article, saying he bought his house on West Island understanding that he could rent it. He said the cap and the 3% were “overreaching.”
Mr. Foley said the town was trying to plan ahead because they have seen what happened in other communities.
“We are an affordable seaside community that is ripe for the picking, frankly,” said Mr. Foley.
TM passed the new law and the community impact fees.
A petition by G. Bourne Knowles to rezone the property back to commercial use passed, but with an amendment proposed by Henry Ferreira to ensure that the portion designated as a Conservation Restriction is actually placed in the CR, with proof required before the change takes place.
Discussion on the article revolved around the change being a return to what the property was years ago. GBK had changed the property from commercial to multi-family to allow a residential development on the property. The deal fell through.
The G. Bourne Knowles business has been operating, technically in violation of the zoning, since then.
Mr. Ferreira pointed out some omissions in correspondence and other documents to justify his amendment. He said the letter was only sent to town meeting members, and it said the details would be left up to town boards.
Mr. Ferreira said a conservation restriction is a level above.
“And he knew full well that was the case and he knew what he was writing,” said Mr. Ferreira.
Planning Board member Wayne Hayward reminded TM that they were not voting on any specific plans. Any project going onto the property would require a special permit by the Planning Board, and probably a review and restrictions from the Conservation Commission, and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals. But, any suggestion on what could go there is just a suggestion, and it could change.
Several neighbors voiced opposition to the change, saying the traffic from Lifestyles Plaza across the street was already dangerous, and a new business would just make congestion worse.
Ann Denardis pointed out that the CR is on very wet land so, in essence, the town is getting nothing. But it is losing a “huge swath of land” which is zoned mult-family. She noted that there are residences on the other side of the business.
“We need to call this for what it is,” said Ms. Denardis. “An opportunity for Mr. Knowles to sell this to the highest bidder.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is with this property,” said Mr. Hobson, adding that Mr. Knowles should be able to do what he can do. “Just tell him what he can do with it.”
The Community Preservation Committee received approval for all its requested spending, to the tune of $835,112, although it was not all without controversy.
TM easily passed $200,000 to resurface the skate park at Livesey Park; $65,000 for the Fairhaven Housing Authority for the town’s portion of a $365,000 project to replace eight roofs at Green Meadows; $80,000 to reconstruct the entrance to the Academy Building, where the Visitors Center is; $15,000 for the Old Stone Schoolhouse exterior; $70,313 for Fairhaven High School Windows, phase 4; $136,360 for the Millicent Library chimney; $60,000 for Whitfield-Manjiro Carriage House exterior.
The CPC project for the Unitarian Church, $193,439, for repairs to the exterior of the building, generated a lot of discussion.
Some TM members were concerned about spending public funds on a private, religious institution.
TM member Rich Griffiths pointed out that churches already pay no taxes and, therefore, are already helped by the town. He said they do not pay in, but now want the tax money. He said it was a “slippery slope.”
“Please don’t take my tax money and spend it on this,” said Mr. Griffiths.
“I think this is going beyond the bounds of what the community preservation was set up for,” said Antone Lopes.
Diane Lopes asked if it meant that any church in town could now ask for public funds.
Others argued that the UU church in Fairhaven, a Henry Huttleston Rogers building, is iconic, and is a draw for tourists. The building makes the center what it is, along with the other Rogers Buildings: the town hall and Millicent Library, Our Lady’s Haven.
Tree Warden Don Collasius said CPC funds are for historic structures.
“I challenge you to find one more historical,” he said. “I guess it would make a pretty nice looking ruin as well.”
“This is really a destination,” said James Anderson, noting people take pictures there for special life events, such as weddings and proms.
“It’s a wonderful building,” said Beth Luey, a member of the church, adding that the money is for the building, not a denomination, not a religion.
The funds cannot be used for anything inside the building, such as benches or icons. It can only be used for the exterior.
The article passed 123-40.
After some discussion, TM voted to proceed with the creation of a municipal light plant, which is the first step in the town creating its own fiber optic internet.
The new network would be faster and cheaper than current providers and would be supported by user fees, not taxes, according to proponents.
Gary Lavalette told TM that he had done a lot of research and found that users will have other costs, so the savings may not be as big as suggested. He said the town will have to pay to use the utility poles, which could cost millions.
Select Board member Bob Espindola said the consultant the committee used took that into account.
TM passed the article by the required 2/3 vote.
Eliana DaCunha, who was allowed to speak although not a TM member, was successful in persuading TM to vote for a checkout bag charge of 10 cents. Several members objected because the money would go to the stores.
But proponents argued that the charge works to deter people from using plastic bags. The point is to get shoppers to use reusable bags.
It passed by a slim margin, 79-69.
The Historical Commission was rebuffed in its attempt to get $25,000 for decorative street lights around town hall.
HC chairperson Wayne Oliveira said the new lights would be more in keeping with the historical nature of the center and town hall, and would also light the area better.
But several members said it was not the year and noted that the police department was denied a dispatcher and conservation was denied an administrative assistant.
Town Meeting also rejected an article that would have changed the tree warden position from elected to appointed. Mr. Collasius, the current tree warden, said the problem with the position goes beyond how the person gets the job.
Public works superintendent Vinnie Furtado agreed and said it should be a full time department.
In a close vote, 71-86, the measure failed.
TM did vote to create a new enterprise fund for mooring fees. The town will institute a $25 fee for each mooring. The money will go into the new fund and will be used to promote “small boat use and access to the coastal waters of the Town.”
The new fee will not replace the waterways fee, it will be in addition to it.
Robert “Hoppy” Hobson said he did not agree with the new fee, and said commercial marinas charge a lot for their moorings and should pay more to the town than individuals.
The article passed 129-26.
An article to shuffle a couple of street lights also passed. Mr. Hobson petitioned the article for a property owner who is a summer resident, and wants a street light in front of his house. Because it is not allowed to have street lights on consecutive poles, one has to move and another added, for $800 each.
“If you don’t want to pay for it, I’ll pay for it myself,” said Mr. Hobson.
A female voice from the land of Zoom said, “So, I was just gonna say Hoppy will pay for it.”
Both parts of the article passed.
TM also passed an article for $30,000 as a local match for a grant from the Mass. Historical Commission to update 125 of the Historic Assets Surveys in town (of about 293 records) on the Mass. Cultural Resources Information System (MACRIS).
TM members also approved the FEMA flood maps, although not without discussion and consternation on the part of those in the new flood zone designation.
Planning and Economic Development Director Paul Foley explained that if the town did not adopt the maps by 7/6/21, home owners in the affected areas will lose their right to enroll in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Other bylaws changes included adopting a Waterways Regulation Bylaw; amendments to the town’s stormwater management bylaw.
In other articles, TM approved the general fund capital plan totaling $1,458,059 and includes borrowing for a new fire truck; road work; enterprise fund spending, including water, sewer, and cable TV enteprise funds; $15,000 for the propagation of shellfish.
Articles that were passed over, or not taken up, included #33, which would have (A) authorized money to purchase 172 Bridge Street for a public safety facility, and (B) allowed the transfer of the pier and boat aramp at the west end of Bridge Street (at Seaport Inn); a bylaw amendment that would shorten the time trash barrels can be out on the curb; a request to accept Robert Street as a public street; 49 to create an ethics committee, 50 to set term limits for elected board members, 51 to amend the right to farm bylaw, and 52/53 to amend the recall bylaw were all passed over due to wording issues.
And the second to last article of the night, #59 (#60 was taken out of order), had some wording issues.
“Always at the end of the night,” quipped Mr. Sylvia.
The wording issues were fixed and the article, amending the stormwater bylaw, passed, 114-1.
TM went back to article 45 to transfer $285,200 (which includes the $200 moderator increase) from surplus revenue, which passed with no opposition.
Click here to download the entire 6/24/21 issue: 06-24-21 EarlyAmerican
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