A small group opposed to affordable housing in Manchester have submitted three Petitions for Warrant Articles to be considered at the Special Town Meeting to be held on Monday, November 13. Although they may not intend it, this group is really providing aid and support to Strategic Land Ventures and its proposal to build a massive apartment complex on Shingle Hill.
Here are some of the reasons why we should vote against each of those warrant articles.
Warrant Article No. 12 -- Petition for a Ballot vote on Zoning
The proponents of this proposed bylaw amendment used the words “increase residents voice” to describe its purpose. Others claim that it would increase “inclusivity”. Those descriptions are very misleading. This proposed bylaw is more appropriately called the “Second Bite at the Apple Bylaw.” The real purpose of the amendment is to place an additional roadblock in the path of developing new affordable housing in Manchester. It would only apply to zoning amendments that are approved at Town Meeting. It would not apply to zoning amendments that are rejected at Town Meeting. Thus, the only voices that would be “increased” or “included” are those voices opposed to zoning amendments. Voices that favor zoning amendments would be reduced or excluded. This proposed amendment is anti-democratic and anti-majority rule. It would allow the tail to wag the dog and discourage participation in Town Meeting.
No other city or town in Massachusetts requires zoning bylaw amendments to be passed at both Town Meeting and again at a separate Town Ballot.
Each of the residents of Manchester already has the same equal voice in all zoning changes that require approval at Town Meeting: the right to attend Town Meeting and vote “for” or “against” any proposed zoning changes. The proposed bylaw would apply to any zoning amendment change approved at Town Meeting regardless of whether it passed unanimously, by a vote of 499 to 1, by a one-vote margin of 251 to 249, or anything in between. The waste and absurdity of such a broad and unlimited ballot requirement are self-evident.
Rather than encouraging participation at Town Meeting, the proposed bylaw would actually discourage participation. Town Meeting gives us a structured forum where residents have the opportunity to voice their opinions, hear the opinions of others, debate the pros and cons of zoning amendments, and vote for or against them. Such a forum with those opportunities simply does not exist in the Town Ballot format. Residents who oppose zoning amendments would have no reason to go to Town Meeting because they know that whatever the outcome, they will be able to vote against the zoning amendment at a separate Town Ballot.
The proponents of the bylaw falsely assert that the proposed bylaw amendment presents “no added cost to Town.” There is no such thing as a “no cost” Town Ballot. There will always be the costs of drafting the form of ballot, having the form and wording of the ballot reviewed and approved by town legal counsel, printing the ballots, and then tallying and reviewing the tabulation of votes, among other expenses.
Please vote “NO” on Warrant Article No. 12.
Warrant Article No. 13 -- Petition to Rededicate Powderhouse Hill, and
Warrant Article No. 14 -- Petition to Preserve Town Forest
As the proponents of these two related articles admit, the real purpose of these articles is to block plans for the expansion of elderly and handicapped affordable housing at Newport Park, which may require the use of small parts of town-owned Parcel 42-0-4. These articles also impact Parcels 42-0-10, 41-0-96 and 41-0-59.
Article 13 would direct the Select Board to subject these four parcels to Article 97 of Amendment of the Massachusetts State Constitution, which provides that land made subject to Article 97 cannot be used for other purposes or disposed of without a two-thirds roll call vote of the Legislature. Note that the status of land subjected to Article 97 cannot be changed by Town Meeting or a Town Ballot. Only a supermajority vote of the Legislature can change it.
Alternatively, Article 14 would direct the Select Board to convey the four parcels to a charitable corporation or trust by a deed of perpetual conservation prohibiting (i) all buildings, structures, roads or signs, (ii) removal or destruction of trees or vegetation, and (iii) actions detrimental to water and soil conservation. Each article would make it impossible for the Town to make much needed improvements and expansions to Newport Park.
Articles 13 and 14 would have us make a permanent and irreversible decision now that will tie the hands of MBTS “in perpetuity,” meaning forever, regardless of how circumstances and town needs may change.
The famous nuclear physicist Niels Bohr, an indisputably very wise man, once said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially when the future is concerned.” These two warrant articles would require us to make an irrevocable, unchangeable prediction about the future: that in the future there will never be any change in circumstances that would make the use of town-owned property more important and more necessary for the welfare of the town and its residents than for conservation.
Parcels 42-0-4, 42-0-10, 41-0-96 and 41-0-59 are already within the Powderhouse Hill Reservation. To change that status for any other use already requires (1) approval by vote at Town Meeting and (2) a second, separate approval by ballot after Town Meeting. We should not be affected by such a degree of hubris as to think that circumstances will never change in the future. Therefore, we should be content to leave things as they currently are and trust the residents of Manchester and their elected officials to make the right choices as future circumstances may require.
Please vote “NO” on Warrant Article Nos. 13 and 14.
In summary, each of these three warrant articles supports an anti-growth, NIMBY, no-new-affordable-housing agenda. These articles scream “MBTS IS AGAINST AFFORDABLE HOUSING!” Geoffrey Engler and SLV School Street LLC, the proponents of the 40B development at Shingle Hill, are watching and listening closely. If these articles are adopted, Engler and SLV will run to the Massachusetts Housing Appeals Committee and claim these articles are evidence of Manchester’s lack of any good faith intent to allow the development of affordable housing in Manchester.
Residents of Manchester: don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Instead, shoot straight and vote “NO” on Warrant Articles 12, 13, and 14 at the Special Town Meeting.
Rob Beatty is a retired attorney and resident of Manchester.