Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

May 9, 2013

Town Yard zoning, Ballardvale pitch fall at Town Meeting

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — It’s back to the drawing board for Town Yard planning, but onward for so many other town efforts.

Only the first 38 articles had been voted at this year’s annual Town Meeting by Tuesday night. Among them, voters rejected a plan to renovate Ballardvale Fire Station. And though a majority supported it, not enough of a majority voted in favor of rezoning the Town Yard for mixed-use development.

Roughly 400 voters approved the town’s $144.9 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year on night one. Voting that night made it through a youth center land transfer, Ballardvale Fire Station renovation proposal and purchases of new Department of Public Works and fire rescue vehicles before calling it a night at 10:30 p.m.

Night two featured a Special Town Meeting around an hour after continuing the previous night’s session. That meeting voted to break up a $1.4 million trust for senior programming and the construction of a youth center (see related story). With north of 500 voters attending, voting ended just shy of 10:30 p.m.

A third night of voting was scheduled Wednesday night to tackle articles 39 and onward, which was held after Townsman deadline.

Honored at this year’s Annual Town Meeting were Tina Girdwood, recipient of this year’s Virginia Cole Community Service Award, and Dick Collins, honored by the School Committee for his 54 years of service to the Andover Public Schools.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANDOVER

To open the meeting on Monday, Moderator Sheila Doherty took a moment to recognize the town’s 367th birthday.

“The early colonists that were arriving were offered three years immunity from taxes to come here to live, and they were also awarded immunity to different services, with exception to military service,” Doherty said, in recalling the town’s creation on May 6, 1646 as an in-land plantation. “There were no formal town meetings until 10 years later, as the first one was reported in 1656 in the home of John Osgood, in what is now north Andover.”

TOWN YARD ZONING plan FALLS FLAT

A proposal aiming to rezone roughly 24 acres of land around the Town Yard on Lewis Street for mixed use development failed in a vote of 295 for and 191 against — getting majority approval but falling short by 29 votes of the two-thirds approval it needed to pass. The second article on the “Andover Transit Oriented Development District” article was withdrawn after the first article failed.

Discussion of the “Andover Transit Oriented Development District” article continually shifted toward the impact it would have on efforts to rebuild or relocate the Town Yard, which officials have historically indicated are linked.

During discussion, Doherty frequently stepped in and stopped comments, telling residents to focus on the zoning article, not the overall project.

“There is noise coming out of my mouth, right? This is a zoning article, not a town yard article,” she said. “I understand the ramifications of it. We all in this room understand the ramifications ... I will call out of order anyone who is moving in any other direction.”

Alden Road resident Joe Ponti referred to the article as a “house of cards” when stating his opposition to the proposal.

“Everything is based off of an assumption on an assumption,” he said. “If you vote it, you put a chain of events in motion that, I think, is going to be irreparable. They’ll come after you Town Meeting after Town Meeting. ‘We rezoned it, let’s vote for $20 million.’”

RESIDENTS CHALLENGE operating BUDGET

As residents heard presentations on article 4, the town’s operating budget for next fiscal year, they challenged the town’s retirement benefits planning, department consolidation and one resident’s attempts to lower what the town will pay out in health insurance costs starting in July.

Much of the discussion was stirred by residents Bob Pokress and Bob Landry, who founded the website TownOfAndover.com with resident and past-Finance Committee member Greg Rigby around a month ago.

Early on, Pokress asked officials if they were aware how much of the town’s $14 million in public safety personnel services— salaries and benefits for the police and fire departments — were paying out to retirement benefits.

Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said he didn’t know how much the town was appropriating for it within that $14 million portion of the $144.9 million budget. However, other officials defended the town’s handling of post-retirement costs.

The town’s total budget passed through 11 separate votes, the final vote approved $34 million to fixed cost expenses, with $13 million of that allocated to debt service, $14 million to a health insurance fund and the remainder to several other line items.

Landry moved to reduce that $14 million health insurance fund appropriation down to $12.9 million, as he presented methods the town could use to save money on its health insurance costs.

The amendment, unpopular among town officials, failed in a 153 to 239 vote. Residents then voted to support the final portion of the budget.

CLOSE VOTES FOR DOHERTY WORK, AMBULANCE

The final vote of the night was in article 25, aimed at raising $245,000 for a new fire rescue ambulance. The article passed by a mere six votes, 109-103.

However, an even narrower vote approved a $2.5 million proposal to renovate paved areas around Doherty Middle School. With two thirds of the vote needed, the article got 231 yays and 110 nays, with 227 votes needed to pass.

RESIDENTS REJECT PROPOSALS

Voters also rejected two articles: one to spend $500,000 on renovating the Ballardvale Fire Station proposed by ex-Town Manager Richard Bowen, and another to increase the town’s cost-of-living adjustment for retirees from $12,000 a year to $14,000 a year.

The Ballardvale Fire Station article failed 162 to 203 votes.

NIGHT ONE RESULTS :A1: Election results. NO VOTE A2: Election not required by ballot. PASSED A3: Salaries of elected officials. PASSED A4: Budget. PASSED after 11 votes A5: Capital projects. PASSED A6: Budget transfers. PASSED A7: Supplemental budget appropriations. PASSED A8: Stabilization fund. PASSED A9: Free cash. WITHDRAWN A10: Unexpended appropriation WITHDRAWN A11: Housekeeping articles. PASSED after two votes A12: Granting easements. PASSED A13: Unpaid bills. PASSED A14: Chapter 90 authorizations. PASSED A15: Revolving accounts. PASSED A16: Youth Center land transfer. PASSED A17: Ballardvale Fire Station renovation. FAILED A18: Doherty Middle School site work: PASSED A19: Support for civic events. PASSED A20: Elderly and disabled transportation program. PASSED A21: Jerry Silverman fireworks. PASSED A22: Deyermond Sports Complex monument (Amended from $25,000 to $20,000). PASSED A23: Retiree COLA increase. FAILED A24: DPW vehicles. PASSED A25: Fire rescue ambulance: PASSED NIGHT TWO RESULTS :A26: Senior Residential Community Overlay, regulations. PASSED A27: Senior Residential Community Overlay, zoning map.PASSED A28: Town building and facility maintenance. PASSED A29: Greater Lawrence Tech HVAC renovation. PASSED A30: Andover Transit Oriented Development District, regulations. FAILED A31: Andover Transit Oriented Development District, zoning map. WITHDRAWN A32: High school tennis courts. PASSED A33: Chandler Road land acquisition.PASSED A34: Town playground replacements. WITHDRAWN A35: School facility space needs study. PASSED A36: School building maintenance. PASSED A37: Computer and laptop replacement program. PASSED A38: West Middle School heating system. PASSED SPECIAL TOWN MEETING RESULTS :A1: Elder Services stabilization fund. PASSED A2: Youth Center appropriation. PASSED