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Town Meeting ’10 Session 1

Out-of-town readers: Yeah, it’s Town Meeting time again. That means you get more Arlington information than any reasonable non-resident would want.  I’ll see if this gets me in a writing groove and it turns me on some more non-Arlington writing, too.

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I scribble notes. I’m sure that, at times, I mishear or misunderstand the speaker, but my notes represent what I hear at the time. I then publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.

I do not try to reproduce my entire notepad for this online version. Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Most of the time I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

Town Meeting was called to order at 8:05PM.  The Menotomy Minutemen (in Revolutionary War garb) led the meeting in the Star-Spangled Banner.

Town Moderator John Leone announced that his plan was to have a single invocation at Town Meeting, not every night.  Town Meeting Member Richard Phelps gave the invocation.

Moderator Leone gave some remarks.  He noted the importance of brevity.  He has copies of Town Meeting Time available for sale.  There is an information session on the “stretch code” tomorrow at 7pm.  There are 6 vacancies in town meeting, in precincts 5, 6, 11, and 12 that are all available for appointment.

Selectman Greeley and Sue Sheffler gave an introduction of our guests from our sister city in Japan and gave an overview of the schedule of events.

The new and re-elected town meeting members were sworn in together.  In the past, the new members were sworn in separately, and received a round of applause from their new colleagues.  Even though it’s a small thing, I always thought it was emotionally powerful.  As a new member, you feel welcome and special.  It loses a little of the “specialness” when the swearing is done in one group.  I hope that Leone returns to the two-group process in the future.

We approved the rules of the meeting. We permit specific non-town meeting members who are members of committees, town employees, the press, etc. to sit in the “enclosure” aka the main meeting floor.  Most  non-members must sit in the gallery above the floor.  We did a couple other minor items including noting that the meeting had been properly announced to the town and that we would reconvene on Wednesday.

Article 2 – State of the Town Address. Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Diane Mahon gave the state of the town.  She kept it brief, less than five minutes.  She thanked retiring Town Clerk Corinne Rainville for her service. She touched on personal financial hardship and the town’s financial hardship. She encouraged further work on regional flood planning.  She encouraged a “collaborative” approach on controlling health care costs.  She talked about the town’s strengths.

Article 3 – Announcements and resolutions and reports were heard.  Dick Smith proposed a resolution endorsing “Stand Against Racism” that was endorsed.  The Board of Selectmen’s report, the Redevelopment Board’s report, and the Finance Committee’s report were accepted.  FinComm Chair Al Tosti spoke for a couple minutes about the budget processes and challenges.

Article 4 – John FitzMaurice was appointed Measurer of Wood and Bark.

Article 5 – James O’Conor of Precinct 19 and Bill Logan of Precinct 2 were nominated for Assistant Town Moderator.  The election will be on Wednesday.

Article 6 – Variance Application Review. Voted no action on Redevelopment Board recommendation.

Article 7 – Bracket Signs. Planning Director Carol Kowalski explained that the proposed bylaw change would make it permissible for businesses in certain districts (East Arlington, the center, the Heights) to have signs that stick out perpendicularly from their buildings.  It would make it easier for pedestrians to see the stores, especially on side streets.  There were several questions about sign dimensions, possible town liability, grandfathering, and how they would look.  One questioner suggested this change would be anti-business – that was a boggler.  The change was approved 162-21.

Article 8 – Research and Development. This article is the first of several that would get Arlington designated as a “green community” and be eligible for state grants.  This article would explicitly permit research and development of “green” industry in certain zones.  After a question about fire protection, it passed 178-5.

We took a 13 minute break.  The short break was great!  I hope we continue to be that disciplined.

Article 9 – Land-based Solar Panels. State law already permits solar panels to be on roofs.  This would permit them to be on the ground in industrial areas.  The change was approved unanimously.

Article 10 – Fencing Used as Screening. I’ll start by saying this was a botched presentation.  The presentation of the article included written, verbal, and pictured descriptions of “property owners and abutters.”  The obvious implication was that this was changing the regulation of fences between neighbors.   However, this was actually a change for something called a space buffer: “6.16  Screening and space buffers shall be required in any industrial (I) or business (B) district which abuts certain buildable residential lots.” The ensuing debate was largely spent sorting through this confusion in some cases, and was never understood by many people in the meeting. Roland Chaput gave the presentation. The proposed change would make it so the wall portion of those buffers could be more than a “solid” wall – it could be wood, iron, coated chain link, etc. if the abutters and the building inspector agreed to it.  Really, that’s a very narrow change when properly explained.  I’m scrapping all my notes on the debate because they’re just confusing. Change approved, 142-10.

Article 11 – Illumination for Signs.  Andrew West gave the presentation.  The proposed change would make explicit that signs must be “interior lit” like a plastic sign with bulbs concealed inside it or directly lit, like a spotlight shining on the sign on the wall.  Signs cannot be a “visible light source” like neon or LED.  In the discussion it was explained that neon “open” signs inside the building are still permitted.  Several speakers complained that if the intent was to regulate the lighting brightness, we should do so directly, and not try to tackle it through this indirect means. I had some sympathy for this argument, but my experience has been that trying to make technical regulations like that are also difficult.  The noise ordinance debates of the past are examples.  How and where you measure things and in what conditions makes it very difficult to write well. It was said that marquee signs (like at theaters) would still be OK.  This change was apparently driven by a LED sign at a gas station that the building inspector thought was legal, but the planning director did not, and this would clarify the rule.  Leo Doherty was concerned that the Chamber of Commerce hadn’t had the opportunity to weigh in, and moved to postpone debate for a week, which failed on voice vote.  The change was approved 116-32.

Article 12 – Zoning Board of Adjustment Bylaws. Bruce Fitzsimmons gave the basics.  The current board has 3 members, and a ruling requires all three to agree.  The change would increase the board to 5 members, and a ruling would require 4 to agree. Clarissa Rowe explained that the Board of Selectmen wanted the change on the advice of the people they had interviewed for the position during recent vacancies.  There were several questions about quorum and vote requirements.  The change was approved 147-4.

Someone who’s name I didn’t catch gave notice of reconsideration on article 12.  Brian Rehrig gave notice on articles 9-12.

The meeting was adjourned at 11pm.


Comment from Michael Ruderman
Time: April 27, 2010, 8:19 am

To non-Arlingtonians: Dan’s Town Meeting notes are the best coverage by far of local politics, and must-read material for several hundred of us each morning. Dan, it’s great to have your presence and your words back.

Comment from M Balch
Time: April 27, 2010, 9:30 am

Does acceptance of the Finance Committee’s budget mean it was approved? Will there be any further discussion on the massive cuts the schools will face?

Comment from Stu Galley
Time: April 27, 2010, 10:22 am

Hi Dan,
Thanks for your comments.
What is the difference between “non-town meeting members” and ” Other non-members” in the paragraph just before Article 2?
Stu Galley
Former TMM pct 14

Comment from Joe Tully
Time: April 27, 2010, 10:45 am

Just checking in as I like to do after Dan posts his notes. I assume Dan doesn’t mind if I chime in. (1) M, the acceptance of the report is just a formality to receive the document. The actual budget items still have to get voted separately (and no doubt will receive substantial attention). (2) Stu, only TM members and certain others (i.e. state reps, SC members, town dept heads, media and people with official business before the meeting can sit on the floor – spectators have to sit in the balcony)

Comment from dunster
Time: April 27, 2010, 12:24 pm

@Michael: Thank you very much

@MBalch: The report being accepted is simply that – the report has been received. The report contains the individual recommendations of the Finance Committee, and those will be voted on during the meeting. The school budget in particular I’m sure will be discussed.

@Stu: Sorry, that was a horrendously written sentence. I just edited it: “We permit specific non-town meeting members who are members of committees, town employees, the press, etc. to sit in the “enclosure” aka the main meeting floor. Most non-members must sit in the gallery above the floor.”

@Joe: Comments are most welcome, thanks.

Comment from Jeanne Leary
Time: April 27, 2010, 8:26 pm

Welcome Back Dan. You were really missed last year!

Congratulations again on your landslide victory for TMM in your new precinct. We are very happy you joined us in the Northwest corner of Town!

Thanks for all you do to make this Town better!


Comment from Leo Doherty
Time: April 27, 2010, 10:21 pm

Welcome back Dan!!

Comment from Yoav Shapira
Time: April 28, 2010, 7:48 am

What does the “Measurer of Wood and Bark” do?

Comment from Michael Ruderman
Time: April 28, 2010, 8:53 am

@Yoav: Just what the name of the office says, should his services be requested to resolve a commercial dispute involving delivery of firewood by the cord. The office dates back to colonial times, when town meetings appointed (or “selected”, hence the title Select Man) numerous people to perform municipal obligations, such as Overseers of the Poor, Fence Viewer, Hog Reeve.

So, it’s a tradition, and a memorial. From from the Report of the 2001 meeting: “Town Meeting elects only one official, the Measurer of Wood and Bark, an honorary post long held by the late historic preservation leader Patricia C. FitzMaurice. Her husband, John C. FitzMaurice, was elected to succeed her.”

Comment from Susan Brau
Time: April 29, 2010, 12:32 pm

Thank you for continuing the town meeting posts, Dan!

Pingback from Dan Dunn’s Podium » Town Meeting ‘10 Session 9
Time: May 25, 2010, 2:35 am

[…] 159-2. This move had been mentioned by the moderator, and very few people were interested in debating illumination […]