The outdoor 2021 Manchester Annual Town Meeting (ATM) went off Monday without a hitch, although before the two-hour meeting ended the temperature dropped significantly, with dark clouds descending, and the 268 registered voters (of 4,359 total in town) seemed happy to keep the agenda moving along at a sharp clip.
Eli Boling, chairman of the Board of Selectmen opened with an acknowledgement of the deep impact of the now-waning COVID pandemic. “Pretty much everyone in town,” he said, knows someone who has been affected by the virus. “We do believe our next town meeting will be indoors,” he said.
Wanting to stay away from articles that might prompt long debates, Moderator Alan Wilson recommended that boards kick bigger articles to the Fall. Five so-called “citizens articles” brought by private parties by petition and designed to spark discussion, however, were on the docket. All were non-binding.
The Town Warrant this year seemed to have a technicality theme. The opening series in the 17-article warrant were operational technicalities that come every year. Voters passed them easily. Article 11 from the BOS to transfer and covey property to move Chebacco Road as part of a plan by the Town of Hamilton had to be passed because it technically didn’t go through the correct process (“We all dropped the ball,” said Wilson. “It won’t happen again.”)
As for the non-binding citizens articles, those present voted easily to support the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust’s plan to expand community affordable housing on four existing town properties (Loading Place Road, The Plains, Newport Park and the Pleasant Street DPW site), and simultaneously, to not support a proposed development under Massachusetts’ “40B” law by Strategic Land Ventures to build a 136-unit apartment building on Upper School Street.
Just two articles were voted down. Both were citizens articles. Article 14, presented by Tom Kehoe, asked voters to amend the town’s bylaws to require large developments to provide two access roads. The BOS, ZBA and public safety said technically it was the Planning Board’s responsibility to manage land regulations, so they recommended a “no” vote. Besides, according to town counsel, Mr. Kehoe’s article would likely not pass muster by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Voters rejected Article 14, 140 to 110.
Another citizen’s article (15) from Sheila Pidgeon Hill that she acknowledged was, “advisory,” was designed to be a public statement against Manchester’s proposed move to a regionalized public safety dispatch center in Middleton. Boling responded, saying regional dispatch will be the topic of town forums and will detail both sides of the debate, and voters should engage that way and not by town meeting. Voters agreed, voting down Article 15, 162 to 82.