By Dustin Luca
---- — It will be a busy three nights at this year’s Annual Town Meeting, with several major issues before voters and plans by one newly formed group in town to spread its message of curbing spending as loudly as possible.
Three Andover residents responsible for organizing the website TownOfAndover.com are expecting to ensure their voices are heard on key articles on this year’s warrant. The website aims to increase transparency in town government through a resident-driven grassroots effort and is not considered an official town website.
Town Meeting starts Monday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the Andover High School field house, 80 Shawsheen Road. Three nights are scheduled, with the second night broken up by a Special Town Meeting. More than 60 articles are seeking votes.
Starting at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, the Special Town Meeting will address two articles involving the use of a town-maintained trust fund for elderly programming and the Cormier Family Youth Center. A $645,000 appropriation is slated for each.
That is one of several issues members of TownOfAndover.com are seeking to challenge at the meeting.
As the group contends, using half of the $1.29 million Wood Trust on the youth center violates the Board of Selectmen’s “solemn promise” that only $2 million of taxpayer money would be used on the project, Bob Pokress, one of the site’s founders, said.
“We’re talking $650,000 of taxpayer money. That’s our money, sitting in the town trust, to do something with,” Greg Rigby, a site founder and past Finance Committee member, said. “The question is, what was the deal — $2 million? Or $2 million plus whatever money we can get from the taxpayer?”
The group also objects to the project’s relationship with a $2.5 million article to improve paved areas around Doherty Middle School, a capital project that has been lined up with youth center construction for cost savings. Officials have said that the only money associated with the youth center project is the cost to pave 19 parking spaces near the youth center. Those costs are coming from the youth center project’s budget.
Budget: Balance efforts come down to wire
As is tradition, Town Meeting’s fourth article is the town’s annual operating budget. This year’s budget is proposed at $144.6 million, a 4.15 percent increase over last year.
In the days leading up to Town Meeting, school administrators and the School Committee have been working to refine their portion of the budget. The official breakdown of the budget puts the school portion at $68.6 million, but the school budget included pages later shows a gap of nearly $1 million at $69.6 million.
Since then, additional money has been discovered and other funding sources have opened up, bringing the deficit down to $293,532 as of Tuesday’s Townsman deadline.
That number was expected to be resolved at a tri-board meeting between the School Committee, Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee on Wednesday, Paula Colby-Clements of the school board said.
However, complications with the dollar amount attached to an unrelated Town Meeting article for West Middle School may take priority Wednesday, Colby-Clements said. Bids to replace the school’s heating system have come in higher than the article was written for, she said.
ID2: Zoning would enhance highway interchanges
Articles 50-52 seek to create a new Industrial 2 zoning district and place it on portions of Dascomb and River roads near the Route 93 interchanges.
A similar proposal last year, put forward as a private warrant article by a resident representing a Campanelli Drive property owner was withdrawn with the goal of letting the town take on the effort.
The district, which would be overlaid on top of the existing zoning in the two target areas, seeks to help foster the creation of more services for the businesses in that sector of town, Planning Director Paul Materazzo said.
Materazzo said there is now a lack of restaurants, grocery stores and other service-type businesses necessary to keep companies in town and help them to attract quality employees.
“Who among us doesn’t stop to do dry-cleaning, shopping (to and from work)?” Materazzo said. “These people don’t have that opportunity.”
There are limits built into the zoning. Among them, development would be restricted to 25,000 square feet in size, which would prevent big-box stores from moving into Andover, Materazzo said.
“We’re not looking to build the Rockingham Mall,” Materazzo said. “I hope it’s a vibrant, mixed-use business park the residents can be proud of.”
Town Meeting, in a nutshell
Ballardvale Fire Station Restoration: $500,000 sought to renovate the station on Clark Road and Andover Street. Brought through a private resident’s petition efforts, the request conflicts with town efforts to relocate the station elsewhere in town, likely in the vicinity of South Main Street.
School Site Improvements: $3.2 million for site improvements around Doherty Middle School in conjunction with construction of the proposed Cormier Family Youth Center behind the school. Officials have said the alignment of the projects allows for about $700,000 in cost savings, since both projects will require destruction of paved areas behind the school, bringing the project’s real cost down to $2.5 million.
Elderly Housing Overlay District: Zoning modification on River Road to allow for the creation of a new Senior Residential Community Overlay District aimed at making an elderly housing development the preferred option for the Franciscan Center and its associated 113 acres around the western edge of Andover.
Rezoning the `Golden Triangle:’ Zoning modification around Lewis Street to allow for the creation of a new Andover Transit Oriented Development District in the triangle formed by North Main, Pearson and Railroad streets. The change would encourage mixed use development in the area around the neighboring MBTA commuter rail line. If approved, the vote would play into the relocation of the Town Yard.
Tennis Court Renovations: $400,000 to repair seven tennis courts in disrepair at Andover High School.
Chandler Road Land Buy: Purchase 11.5 acres of privately owned, contaminated land at 141 Chandler Road for $775,000 to allow for it to be cleaned up.
School Space Needs Study: $225,000 for a school space needs study to analyze class sizes that are quickly reaching their maximum. Shawsheen School, which is expected to go offline and transfer its student population to other schools, would also be studied.
Reichhold Parcel Land Buy: $450,000 to purchase land at 77 Lowell Junction Road for conservation and recreational use, and to apply for a grant to cover the remainder of the $1.3 million price.
ANNUAL TOWN MEETING When: May 6, 7 and 8, starting at 7 p.m. Where: Andover High School field house, 80 Shawsheen Road Specifics: Plan to attend early. All attendees must check into the meeting in the Andover High School lobby each night. Only voters who registered by the April 16 deadline will be allowed to vote. Non-voters will be seated in a special section. Visit andoverma.gov for more.