Town Hall Notebook

After last Thursday’s deadline to submit final articles for placement on Manchester’s November Special Town Meeting Warrant, it’s clear voters will be asked to choose between two competing ideas for housing development.  One article is a joint, non-binding referendum from the Board Of Selectmen (BOS), the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust (MAHT) and the Manchester Housing Authority (MHA) seeking to document support of the MAHT/MHA’s plan for development of four existing sites—The Plains, Newport Park, Loading Place Road, and the current Pleasant Street DPW site.  Crafted with consultants over two years, the plan is to renovate 84 current units while adding 90 more across the sites to make all the properties financially viable.  The referendum is designed to assure potential developers that this project won’t be resisted later when it gets real and goes for approval before town boards, like the Conservation Commission, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

But last week, two articles submitted by the Citizens Initiative for Manchester Affordable Housing (CIMAH) take aim at the town’s referendum.  First up is an exclusionary article that would prohibit more than 50 new dwelling building permits or sewer hook ups per year.  The group’s second article seeks to reanimate a version of a failed article from last spring’s town meeting that would require a paved secondary access road for any 50+ unit housing development with an access road greater than 500 feet. 

Both CIMAH articles threaten to kneecap the town’s plan, since the MAHT/MHA plan will add 90 units to the town’s housing rolls, and Newport Park and The Plains will each feature a 500-ft access after development, depending on how the  roads are measured.

The Manchester 375th Celebration Committee met this week, and is wrapping up its business for this last tricky, “Plus One” year of celebrating.  Last year was the actual 375th Anniversary of the 1645 incorporation of the Town of Manchester, and the committee had worked long and hard on events scheduled to spool out over 2020.  The kick off in January 2020 was the epic holiday tree bonfire at the Manchester Athletic Club’s upper parking lot.  In February, it was a swanky cocktail reception (with a light food feed) at the Essex County Country Club.  Then it all stalled in March, as the world changed, and the pandemic set in.  This year, the committee got back to business, still navigating changing waters of public safety (example: last month’s outdoor family movie night at Masconomo Park).  Well, the celebration is nearing its end.  There is the “Hybrid Tea At Sharksmouth” Wednesday, September 22, put on by the Manchester Historical Museum for the town’s birthday.  Then, there’s the “finale” 375th Anniversary Parade on Saturday, September 25, with a Community Cookout after, put on at the Amaral Bailey American Legion Hall with help from the Manchester Masons.  Then, the committee will pivot to the business of wrapping up, namely, how to gift its coffers for future town use.

Next week, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 14 the Manchester Board Of Selectmen will be holding the second public forum to consider the pros and cons of migrating Manchester local police and fire dispatch services to a state-run, regional public safety operation.  The state is offering Manchester the service free for the first 10 years to join the five other towns (Essex, Wenham, Middleton, Topsfield and Amesbury) in the consortium.  Regionalized dispatch models tend to benefit smaller towns, giving them personnel, they wouldn’t be able to hire themselves.  Currently, North Andover and Ipswich are considering joining the NSR911 center.  But others, like Georgetown, that are sized similarly to Manchester have decided to go it alone and are happy with the decision.  The issue has prompted animated debate among locals.  Opponents emphasize the value of local “small town” familiarity that comes when local personnel services local communities.  Proponents say a regionalized approach shares expenses, allows access to the latest technology and costs less.  The forum will be conducted via Zoom.

Also next week, the Manchester Harbor Advisory Board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 15 to wrap up the summer season.  They’ll be diving into the update on the Tuck’s Point construction project.  Then there will be an update on the season’s revenue from town docks and boats, and the committee will dive into an early draft of the Harbor Capital Projects, discuss harbor staffing requirements, and discuss bow and stern floats for shallow water vessels.

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