Nathan Media Center
Fuller Meadow School
March 5, 2012
Call to Order – Chairman Cresta called the meeting to order at 7:40. Also present were Mr. Houten, Ms. Jones, Ms. Lindberg, Mr. Prentakis, Town Administrator Mr. Singer and Assistant Town Administrator Mr. Ferrara.
Minutes – Mr. Houten made a motion to accept the minutes of the February 12th meeting. Ms. Jones seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Approval of Warrants –Payroll Warrant #1335 was presented totaling $357,980. Two thirds of that is the School Department Payroll of $ 259,456.
Payables Warrant #1335 totals $397,523. A large part of this is $139,975 for Health Insurance
Mr. Prentakis made a motion to approve the warrants. Ms. Houten seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Town Administrator’s Report
Chairman Cresta paid tribute to longtime resident Jean LeBlanc, who passed away last week. Mr. LeBlanc gave fifty years of service to the Town having served on many Boards including the Board of Selectmen. He was honored at the 2011 Annual Town Meeting and continued to be an active voice in the community. Mr. Cresta asked for a moment of silence.
The appointment to the Housing Authority which was on the agenda has been postponed because one of the candidates could not be present. Mr. Cresta asked when the appointee would have to file papers to run for the permanent seat. Mr. Prentakis said the date was April 1. Mr. Cresta wants to be sure that the appointee knows that they will only have about ten days to get their signatures.
Correspondence has been received from Attorney Nancy McCann notifying the Town that the DoubleTree Hotel will be filing for a Change of Manager for their Liquor License. The current manager will have to stay in place and be in charge of the license until the change is approved. The matter will be heard at the March 19th meeting. The next proposed liquor manager is not the General Manager. It will be the Manager of Operations. Mr. Cresta has some concerns about the frequent turnover in this position.
The Commissioner of the Department of Capitol Asset Management (DCAM) has notified the Town in accordance with MGL Section 7 Ch. 37 of its intent to lease 1.2 acre of property, currently owned by MIT, to the Essex County House of Corrections, for parking. The Regional Emergency Communications Center (RECC) has taken parking from the jail. Ground was broken last week for a new intake center which will take even more footprint that was formerly used as parking. Mr. Singer reminded the Board that he had suggested that the State acquire an acre of land that is adjacent to the jail from a private property owner in Middleton. However, the State had no interest. The proposed arrangement with MIT will be a twenty year lease. The State is
required to notify the Selectmen and has asked that they waive the 120 day waiting period. Mr. Cresta asked if Mr. Singer had been in touch with the State about the idea of using the other property. Mr. Singer indicated that he had corresponded with the State in May and June of this year but had not received a response. Mr. Cresta suggested that the Board not act on the request until an answer is received.
Mr. Houten asked if the proposed female holding area be at the jail would constitute more beds, which was not supposed to happen. Mr. Singer said that the long time Master Plan has involved the RECC being on this site along with Interim lockup space and a safer intake area. Over the years no funds were available for all of those purposes. When the RECC was built on a separate site, room became available for re-doing the intake area and some ability to having some temporary cells which could house female prisoner now housed in Middleton. Mr. Houten noted that the promise of no expansion was made twenty years ago. This could be the first step to something more substantial.
Mr. Singer added that DCAM is overseeing reconstruction of the Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility on Gregory St. DYS was very open with the Town. This changed when the construction phase started and DCAM took over. Mr. Cresta says the request for the waiver of the 120 waiting period, is an opportunity to get DCAM’s attention. He feels the Board should not sign it until DCAM is willing to work with the Board. Mr. Prentakis noted that the Town now gets a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) from MIT. He would like to see the lease. Mr. Singer added that when DCAM approached MIT to purchase the land, the Town found out about it through MIT. He agrees the parking is needed but the planning has been done in a vacuum.
The Fire Chief in his capacity as Middleton’s Emergency Management Director has provided an initial report of damages from the February Blizzard to MEMA and FEMA. The eligible costs for public safety response and for snow removal and clean-up are $86,700. It is not known as yet if the threshold has been met county wide to trigger a declaration by FEMA. If it has, the Town could receive 75 % of the cost back. The Town is still within its snow budget but with more snow on the way, it may be necessary to do the necessary declaration to spend funds beyond the budget. Mr. Cresta asked when the Town will know whether the necessary threshold has been met. Mr. Singer said it could be three to four weeks until all the information is
The Police Chief will be appearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals to seek site plan approval for some modifications to the site plan for the Police Station renovations. The original site plan called for a carved wood sign above the entrance. Someone has offered to donate a different type of sign which will require enough modifications to the plan to require ZBA approval.
The Middleton Stream Team has asked for some assistance in its efforts to obtain control of 60 to 70 acres of land along the Ipswich River that was originally acquired by Essex County in the 60’s and 70’s as conservation land. When the County was dissolved DCAM became owner of the land. A bill filed last year but it didn’t go anywhere. The Stream Team has asked to re-file the bill and Mr. Singer suggests having a higher profile discussion with Middleton’s legislative delegation. He would like to have information such as when the land was acquired and what funds were used, in order to show that the county acquired the land for open space. DCAM doesn’t have the resources to manage it as open space. Mr.
Singer feels that the Town would be better served by having the land managed locally by the Conservation Commission or by Essex County Greenbelt. The Conservation Commission and the Town’s Legislative Delegation have been invited the April 9th Selectmen’s meeting, to see if a bill can be re-filed in a manner that is more friendly to DCAM It may be that some consideration would be necessary for DCAM to give up the land. The bill would be even stronger if it were endorsed by Town Meeting. Mr. Singer has left a placeholder in the warrant for this action.
Mr. Singer reminded the Board that the Capitol Budget Meeting will be held this coming Saturday at 8:00 AM
Appointment to fill Vacancies on Ipswich River Watershed Advisory Board and the Boxford State Forest Advisory Board, Candidate Mr. Paul Crofts - Mr. Cresta noted that the packet contains Mr. Croft’s letter of interest and resume. He asked Mr. Croft to introduce himself. Mr. Croft said that he is interested in serving the Town and has interest and some experience in this field. He teaches at the Essex Aggie. He has been there for two years and teaches environmental science. He teaches courses in water technology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), aquaculture and engineering. His background is in archeology. He has studied ancient wetlands in Britain and worked on the oldest habitation site in Britain. He is a member of the Middleton Historical Society and of the
Massachusetts and American Societies of Archeology.
Mr. Prentakis made a motion to appoint Mr. Paul Crofts to the Ipswich River Watershed Advisory Board and the Boxford State Forest Advisory Board for a term ending June 30, 2016. Mr. Houten seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Mr. Singer pointed out that the Town will need to have a base plan for the discussion about the former County land at the April 9th meeting. He hopes Mr. Croft will be able to help with that task.
Receive and Refer Petition of Mr. Robert Aldenberg and more than Ten Registered Voters to Amend Zoning Bylaw’s Sections Relating to Permitted Signs in all Business and Industrial Districts, presented by Attorney Arthur J. Carakatsane, President of the Middleton Board of Trade – Mr. Cresta noted that it is the time that the Annual Town Meeting Warrant is open for items to be placed on it by initiative petition. A petition has been received to amend the current sign by-law. This issue has been discussed at the Board of Selectmen’s meetings and an effort has been made to step up enforcement. The packets contain the proposed revisions, highlighted in the existing by-law, and the signatory document with the signatures of the required ten registered voters.
Attorney Arthur Carakatsane, president of the Middleton Board of Trade is here, along with two other business owners, with a presentation. He referred to the previous meetings with the Board of Selectmen. The current by-law is not working. The messages are not changing as required and the signs are staying up all the time. There are also esthetic issues. The by-law is cumbersome and vague. Sometimes you have to live with something for a while to see what the problems are. He noted that even the sign in front of Town Hall that is used for announcements is in violation of the by-law. This is an important issue for local businesses. Businesses are critical to the tax base. Town activities are supported by the businesses with frequent requests
for assistance. These signs are critical to their business.
National chains advertise in large venues but local businesses are reliant on these signs. He added that Route 62 and 114 are commercial districts and even Towns like Lexington allow sandwich board signs in these districts.
There is enforcement built into the by law but it is not necessarily being used. A-frames are difficult to enforce. One issue is that they can only be up 60 days from when they were first installed but it is difficult for the business owner to remember when that time period is up. The Library is an example of a permanent sign with a changing temporary message. Where does that fall? The Town is encouraging movement to permanent signs. However these require Board approval and that can be time consuming and expensive. Mr. Carakatsane feels that a more reasonable approach offers the best chance of compliance.
With that as a framework, the petitioners are proposing the following:
1) Time of use be changed from put out in the morning and taken in in the evening to hours of operation
2) Content – Messages should be required to change quarterly using a calendar quarter. They should be allowed to advertise goods events and services rather than just specials Many businesses do not have specials.
3) The permitting fee should be a single fee good for the calendar year and payable with the other permits and licenses. It could be somewhat higher ($50) but good for the entire year.
4) The current by-law restricts businesses to one sign per 50’ of frontage and no more than 2 signs per lot. This is a problem for sideways facing plazas with multiple businesses and for lots with extensive frontage. The proposed change is to insert permission by administrative waiver by the Building Commissioner for buildings not facing the street and for unreasonable hardship. There is similar language in other sections of the by-law
Ms. Jones worried about the signs per lot for the small plazas. Now the signs are on top of each other, definitely exceeding the by-law. She asked what is an unreasonable hardship? Mr. Carakatsane says that language is used elsewhere in by-law and there is litigation surrounding this issue. Ms. Jones gave as an example the Boston Kitchen Plaza that is only 50’ wide. They now have a more expansive pylon sign. Mr. Cresta pointed out that when one business put up an A- frames, others thought they had to follow in order compete. He is not as much concerned about the administrative waiver as that messages never change. They become stale and he thinks that is what would happen if the signs stayed up for a quarter. The
original reason for the by-law allowing A-frames was that the economy was bad and businesses were struggling to compete with businesses in other towns. The signs have become an unattractive nuisance. The balance is to find a way for this to continue to be effective for businesses while not being unattractive. If it is just to announce the business is there, that is different. He thought the whole point was to promote specials. Quarterly signs are just another way of saying the business is here.
The owner of Mason & Madison pointed out that quarterly makes it easier to police for the Building Commissioner. Mr. Cresta responded that the problem is that businesses were not getting permits. He added that it was the Board of Trade that got the word out. She answered that are trying to keep the few violators aware of what needs to be done, so the ones who do it correctly aren’t lumped in with those who don’t. The job of the Board of Trade is to get businesses involved. They can run an informational campaign.
The owner of Tessora Jewelers responded to Mr. Cresta’s concerns about the sign’s messages becoming stale. She said that the single message on her sign has brought 90% of the business that comes through the door even though they spend a lot of money on advertising. Mr. Cresta asked why putting a sign on the plaza’s pylon was not enough? She answered that there is no room to advertise what the store actually does. The sign says “Cash for Gold” but it brings in people who will use the other aspects of their business such as creating custom jewelry. Mr. Prentakis expressed concern that every store on the plaza might put up an A-frame. She has found that collaboration with the other business owners really worked. They don’t want
infighting. Allowing the Administrative Variance will enable the businesses to come to an amicable solution among themselves.
Mr. Singer pointed out that the abundance of signs can become a problem, like texting and driving. Multiple signs are hard to read. He asked Mr. Warren Kelly for his input since he owns a plaza. Mr. Kelly said that a lot of education has happened since the last round of complaints. No one understood the permitting process. The signs on his property have gone from six to two. No business wants to look at ten A-frames, so they worked together. His pylon is only 4’ by 12”. He sees a big change on Rte.114 just since the issue came up.
Ms. Lindberg asked if the By-Law Study Committee was also working on this. Mr. Houten, who serves on that Committee, said that the Committee had not been able to hear the issue because they had some meetings where they did not get a quorum. Ms. Lindberg said she would like to hear from that Committee and from the Building Commissioner. Mr. Cresta said that the 10 signatures places the item on the Town Meeting Warrant and there will be input there from the Building Commissioner and anyone else who wishes to speak. If it is to work, it has to be something that all can agree is workable and enforceable. Whatever is approved at Town Meeting, he would like to see it strictly enforced right away. The existing one was never enforced and most of the work was done by the Board of
Mr. Carakatsane said that the petitioners will be going to the Planning Board for a full hearing and that members of the By-Law Study Committee, as well as the Building Commissioner will be there. He feels the big issues are the time frame (quarterly vs. 60 days) and the number of signs per lot. He says tying the timeframe to the calendar is for ease of use. Brian agrees but feels 90 days too long.
Ms. Lindberg pointed out that there is no discretion to change any of the language in a citizen’s petition. Mr. Carakatsane believes there is some discretion under the statute. Mr. Singer said that the Board’s vote tonight will be to refer to Planning Board. He feels that the Planning Board does have authority to work with the petitioners. Ms. Lindberg disagreed. Mr. Singer maintained that it was the Planning Board’s responsibility to make sure the regulation works. Petitioners have right to get it on the warrant as is, but modifications can be made as long as they agree. The purpose of the public hearing is to come to consensus. Mr. Cresta asked if the warrant could be kept open to Citizen’s petitions so that modifications could be made. Because of the Public Hearing process, the warrant has to be closed to Citizen’s Petitions, but would still be open for input from the Planning board. Mr. Cresta asked if a friendly amendment could be made from the floor. Mr. Singer said
that the amendment could not be substantive.
Mr. Prentakis suggested that if everyone agreed to the changes, could the citizens withdraw their petition and it would then become the Planning Board’s petition. Ms. Jones wondered if the 20 signatories could be brought together to agree to the changes. Brian hopes to get to Town Meeting with some unanimity. Everyone know something needs to change.
Mr. Kelley asked Ms. Lindberg if she had specific problems with the changes She replied that she thinks that 90 days is too long. She also finds the undue hardship criterion too vague. She worries there will be a lot of complaints from businesses feeling they were treated unfairly
Mr. Houten made a motion to refer the Citizen’s Petition to Amend Zoning Bylaw’s Sections Relating to Permitted Signs in all Business and Industrial Districts, to the Planning Board. Mr. Prentakis seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Notice of Intent to Convert a Portion of Land (Map 29, Lot 188C) Currently Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 61A to Commercial Use by Richardson Farms Inc. 156 South Main Street by Mr. David Daniels, President – Mr. Cresta said that notice under Ch. 61A to convert land from agricultural to commercial use has been received. Mr. Houten has represented Richardson Farms in the past so he recused himself. It is Mr. Singer’s intention to invite the owner of the land to the March 19th Selectmen’s meeting. There is no need to take action on this matter tonight. It is an opportunity for discussion.
Ms. Lindberg pointed out that the Town is being given right of first refusal to purchase this land under Ch. 61, but the property has not been sub-divided. Mr. Singer said that he hasn’t seen a situation like that before. There is probably is a way to do this if the Town wanted to do it. Mr. Cresta asked if it was even possible to convert a portion of your property to a different use. Mr. Singer said that some sort of Approval Not Required (ANR) would be needed. Ms. Lindberg said that the petitioners had come before the Planning Board. It would not be a problem if they just wanted to lease land. But Ch. 61A triggers the notice and the option of first refusal. Mr. Singer said that the main issue is still whether the Town is interested in
purchasing the land. Ms. Lindberg said she was pretty sure the Town would not be interested but still questioned whether it could be sub-divided. Mr. Prentakis added that if it was sub-divided the resulting lot would be non-buildable so how could the Building Commissioner issue a Building Permit. Mr. Singer is not sure how the Ch. 61A conversion language addresses that.
Mr. Prentakis said that the only reason to buy it would be to use this economic opportunity for the Town instead of for the property owner. He added that for tax purposes the leased portion of the lot would be valued at full valuation. That acreage would be removed from Ch. 61A and the valuation would be based on the lease payments. All the equipment would be taxable as personal property. Mr. Singer pointed out that the improvements are taxable, but they are not” lienable”, making it difficult to collect. The Town could be stuck with a property that can’t be used for anything else, but that it can’t collect taxes on. There should be a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement in place from the beginning. Legislation was proposed which would
limit the amount that a Town could collect from a Solar Farm to 5% of the price of the electricity being sold. Though this did not become law, the State’s interest in supporting green energy could revive it. The Town’s Light Department has expressed little interest in purchasing this power. They have contracts with renewable energy projects in Maine that are much cheaper. The power will be generated and leave the town of Middleton, with the only economic benefit being the taxes. If the Town is told it will get $40,000, that will be on the Town’s receivables and the Town will have to chase it. Mr. Cresta asked if the PILOT would be in lieu of personal property tax. Mr. Singer said it could be a combination. He added that the Zoning Board of Appeals can only grant site plan approval and a special permit if there is an economic benefit to Town.
Ms. Lindberg said that the Planning Board made their approval dependent on a Memorandum of Understanding with MELD. Mr. Singer said that MELD has to allow the interconnection, but must be sure that the load on the infrastructure will not cause problems to Middleton customers. Some capacity must be preserved for future growth in Middleton.
Mr. Cresta asked what would happen if after two years, they decided the Solar Farm was not profitable. Would they now be able to use the site for another commercial use? Would the Town again have the Right of First Refusal? Mr. Prentakis suggested these questions should be researched before having the discussion with the owner. Mr. Singer said that he would have the Town Assessor, Mr. Swanson check with the Department of Revenue. He would also like the question of whether the land should be sub-divided answered. Mr. Cresta noted that the Town has 120 days so there is time to get opinions. It will be on the agenda for a future meeting but not for March 19th.
Close Annual Town Meeting Warrant to Citizen Petitions
Mr. Prentakis made a motion to close the Annual Town Meeting Warrant to Citizen’s Petitions. Mr. Houten seconded the motion and all were in favor.
Mr. Singer pointed out that although the Warrant is closed to Citizen’s Petitions, it is open for the Board’s business until they sign the Warrant.
Mr. Prentakis noted that the packet contained a letter from the West Boylston Board of Selectmen asking for support for a bill regarding PILOT programs for Towns hosting State Corrections facilities. He asked that the Board give them their support. Mr. Cresta agrees, but feels the bill will never come up because the State doesn’t have the money to fund the PILOTs it is committed to. Mr. Singer noted that Middleton has an excellent relationship with the Sheriff Cousins.
Adjournment Mr. Houten made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Mr. Prentakis seconded the motion and all were in favor. The meeting was adjourned at 9:43.
Mary Jane Morrin
Mary Jane Morrin, Recording Secretary
Christine Lindberg, Clerk