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Town Meeting ’12, Session 2

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I type 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 notes 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.

Arlington Town Meeting, 2nd Session was called to order by Moderator John Leone.

The meeting sang the National Anthem led on the piano by Town Meeting Member Jane Howard.

A few new town meeting members were sworn in, and were applauded. The Town Moderator explained the new language for the oath being used this year. He said that the Town Meeting Procedures committee had suggested the language. They were seeking to make the tone and tenor of town meeting more respectful and collegial. There was disagreement from Charlie Gallagher; he thought the oath needed to be published in advance and adopted by all town meeting members, not without warning and taken only by some members.

We agreed to come back Monday for our next session.

Kevin Greeley gave a few quick notes. He said he had back surgery, and that was why he was walking with the cane. He said that some people asked about a joke he made last session, and that Marie Krepelka is not really the Mayor of Arlington but is the “mayor” of Arlington – she’s one of the people who gets stuff done for the Selectmen and the town. He asked the meeting to think and pray for Bill Shea who is unwell.

  • Assistant Moderator Jim O’Conor gave a few quick words of thanks for his election.
  • Al Tosti said that two boxes of copies of the FinCom report were taken last session. If you got extras, please bring them back. If you need a copy, please download it from the town website.
  • Ted Peluso noted that he proposed the new oath of office.
  • Stuart Cleinman thanked Josh Lobel for the Town Meeting Member identification pins. Mr. Lobel noted that the red stars on the pin signify 25+ years of service. He was applauded.

No reports were given (though Article 3 came up later in the night).

Article 9 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Memorial Park

Mike Cayer of ARB introduced the article. He noted that the town is running out of burial space. This zoning change would permit certain open spaces to be used as a “columbarium,” a sort of cemetery; that would be permitted only with the approval of several committees. He showed a map that showed all the open space in town. He also showed a map that showed the sub-set of spaces that this article would apply to. He talked about the many commissions and committees that worked on this proposal and supported it, including the Conservation Commission, Historic Commission, and Cemetery Commission. He talked about the relation of this space with the other cemeteries. Paul Schlichtman spoke against it. He said there was insufficient notice of the proposal. He said this was an attempt to circumvent the process and backdoor the change. I totally understand and respect that Paul Schlichtman doesn’t want this burial use at Cooke Hollow or other places. I think that is a point where reasonable people can disagree, and an excellent and appropriate debate for Town Meeting to have. I have disagreements with two of his arguments. First, and most strongly, I wish he hadn’t accused the proponents of having nefarious intentions. Words like “backdoor” and “anti-democratic” are challenging the motives of the proponents. I find that very inappropriate. The members of those committees and commissions who worked on this are volunteers who are acting in what they think is the best interest of the town. For Paul to assault their intentions damages the culture of volunteerism that keeps Arlington great. My second disagreement is with his attack on the process and the notification. I believe that he is trying to create controversy where there is none; the meetings and this proposal have been public and noticed.  Town Meeting would be better served if we all stuck to the real issues, not fictional ones. Clarissa Rowe spoke, and said she did invite Paul to a meeting. She said we have a problem we need to address. She talked about how this is a creative solution to that problem. She talked about the demands of the many religions that are accommodated in the town cemetery. There were a couple questions about the wall that would be used and how it would work. A speaker said the change applied to too many parks.  We hit the meeting’s low point so far, when a speaker complained that this change would lead to  “a dog peeing on Uncle Joe.” Elsie Fiore talked about the history of Cooke’s Hollow, reading from the Town Report of 1972. She thinks that the proposed plan is contrary to the original intent of the park. She is opposed. Question about funds – yes there are funds already to make this happen. Martha Scott said the she disagreed with Mr. Schlichtman that there is not a great conspiracy. She has faith in our elected officials and volunteers. I think Martha was well spoken in defense of volunteerism. There was concern that this was insufficient, a bandaid, and other parks would be used for this purpose. It was noted that there are no “pre-need sales” of lots in Arlington; they only sell a lot if you have already died. There are less than 500 spaces left in Mt. Pleasant cemetery. That information lead to the best line of the night. Alan Jones polled the meeting and asked members to raise their hands if they wanted to be buried in Arlington.  Several raised their hands. “There will be room for you,” he said. “If you hurry!”

Break for 10 minutes.

A speaker asked us to come back to the question of cemetery space, not meeting notice requirements. Mt. Gilboa came up and how it might be affected. Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate, approved by voice vote. The motion failed with 75 in favor, 95 against. In the end, I think this failed because it applies to too much land. I suspect if it was just Cooke’s Hollow (somehow), it would have a better chance than the version that failed tonight.

Article 3 was taken off the table.

Charlie Foskett entered the Capital Planning report. He asked that we take that budget up the same night as special town meeting because they are linked.

Article tabled.

Article 8 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Accessory Apartments

The article was taken from the table.  Bruce Fitzsimmons explained the article.  It would permit accessory apartments in areas R0 and R1. He described the process of crafting the amendment, the surveys done, and the public hearings that were made. He talked about the restrictions on where this is possible – the house must be owner occupied, must have enough parking, must obtain a special permit, etc.  John Worden proposed several amendments. He thinks the proposal is too loose, and permits manipulation by a developer. In particular, he would make the permit expire more aggressively. Patricia Worden proposed another amendment to require that the rent be capped at an affordable rate. She was opposed to the article. Her speech was insulting to many town residents.  Unfortunately, that has become her trademark.  Anyone who disagrees with Mrs. Worden is labeled and maligned.  I wish that she saw that reasonable people can have different opinions about housing and zoning.  There were questions about the legality of the amendments – is it permitted to require relationship by marriage, or restrict eligibility to the disabled? The answer wasn’t certain. Joe Curro pointed out to me from his copy of the bylaws – our bylaws do not permit us to discriminate on these bases for housing.  See Article 9, Section 2 (D).   Several speakers characterized this as spot zoning, opening big loopholes, and the same as changing to R2. Other speakers were in favor of the change because of the flexibility it offers the towns’ residents.  Speakers were opposed to it because they fear that it would change the nature of neighborhoods.

We adjourned just after 11 without taking a vote on the article.

 

Comments

Comment from Mark Kaepplein
Time: April 26, 2012, 2:52 am

One speaker whose name I missed stated that Arlington has nearly every type of housing option except for a trailer park – which could be located at the Symmes site. While that may be an under-represented affordable housing option, I oppose it because a trailer park will then attract tornadoes to Arlington. BTW, Arlington also lacks houseboats, with no navigable waterways, probably since the bankruptcy of the Middlesex Canal.

Comment from Eric Helmuth
Time: April 26, 2012, 8:06 am

The tenor of Mr Schlictman’s rhetoric notwithstanding, I believe the proponents of Article 9 would have done themselves a favor had they directly and clearly explained precisely why they believe this approach was necessary or desirable — the broader and more open ended zoning change instead of a change directed only at Cook’es Hollow (whether similar zoning or a direct transfer to the Cemetary Commission). Some of the answers came out piecemeal and in opaque manner, but I am afraid the proponents failed to fully recognize and cogently respond to the political argument being woven against them, and that may have lost them some support. Eric

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: April 26, 2012, 9:24 am

Dan:
You may not like the adjectives I hung around this proposal, but they clearly apply. This article violates the traditions of open and transparent government, in a representative town meeting, that have served us well.

Article 9 would have used the zoning bylaw to give two commissions (Cemetery and Conservation) the authority to repurpose town lands without any further vote from Town Meeting. The only requirement would have been to go before the Redevelopment Board for a special permit, and they would have been able to inter cremains at Mount Gilboa, Windows on the Mystic, Cooke’s Hollow, and a pair of smaller sites.

Who knew this was happening? Who knew that this vote would have given away the right of Town Meeting to make this decision? What well-informed resident of the Town of Arlington would have been able to read the town warrant and determine what was proposed for town conservation land?

Town Meeting has a vital role in making determinations about the use of town-owned land. We transfer jurisdiction of town-owned land based on the purpose we desire for the use of our town-owned land. This has always been done with explicit warrant articles that describe the parcel and the nature of this change. Article 9 would have transformed conservation land into cemetery space without any of the public discourse that has been the hallmark of our form of government.

I am not saying nefarious, but it is clearly not an explicit or transparent means to achieve an end. It is a back door, that gives unelected boards and commissions too much power over town owned land. I appreciate their hard work, but they work in the context of a representative town meeting form of government, and their work must have appropriate oversight and accountability to the elected representatives in our town legislature.

And, yes, I am a bit outraged by this. We voted this down last year, for much the same reason. If the boards and commissions had truly listened to the arguments in town meeting last year, they would have used a different approach to achieve their desired goal. To say this doesn’t disrespect the spirit of volunteerism; it does indicate that these boards and commissions should have known that they overreached on this article last year, and and they were tone-deaf to their mission and the limits of their authority when they attempted the same approach this year. And yes, it is anti-democratic and opaque to turn the vital question of using Mount Gilboa, Windows on the Mystic, and Cooke’s Hollow as a cemetery into a complicated little zoning article that fails to fully describe the implication of the possible vote.

The proposal before us was simply, “Should we allow the Conservation Commission, the Cemetery Commission, and the Redevelopment Board to expand the use of Mount Gilboa, Windows on the Mystic, and Cooke’s Hollow as a cemetery, without further approval by Town Meeting?” If that was clearly reflected in the warrant, nobody could have had an argument with the process, and regardless of the good intent of the volunteers on these boards, it fails the standards of accountability, transparency, and open government that we value in our town government.

Comment from Bill
Time: April 27, 2012, 12:20 am

Let me just add, as the speaker responsible for your “low point,” that someone needed to point out the absurdity of proponents’ claims that the repurposed Cooke’s Hollow would still be a park, where just like before, people could walk their dogs, just not offleash. I believe my full statement began with the prediction that of course dogs would be banned from the repurposed park, because if they weren’t, we’d get the unfortunate situation with poor Unce Joe’s remains. I wasn’t warning that cremains would be desecrated, as you imply. I was warning that the park would no longer be available to dog walkers, despite proponents’ assurances to the contrary. In other words, Cooke’s Hollow would no longer be a park–it would be a cemetery.

As a reasonable person discussing the issue, though, I wish you’d focused on my main argument against the article, which is that it was just a temporary solution to the problem. Based on the numbers given by proponents, Cooke’s Hollow would hold either 50 to 150 or 300 cremains (the number grew over the course of the debate). The speaker from the Cemetery Commission said there were 800 requests for space in the cemetery over the last 3 years. It doesn’t take an actuary to calculate that Cooke’s Hollow would be filled before my 3-year term in Town Meeting is up.

So we give up the park and we still haven’t solved the problem. Sure, we can start interring cremains in the other parks we’ve just signed away, but even giving up those parks doesn’t solve the problem for more than a decade or two. Rather than losing some of Arlington’s last remaining open spaces, why don’t we focus on finding a solution that will serve us longer and not brick over more of the town?

Pingback from martial arts arlington ma. – Cremains at Cooke’s Hollow? Not so fast – martial arts arlington ma.
Time: April 27, 2012, 2:11 am

[…] reporting and commentary, see Dan Dunn’s blog >> For opinion, see Wes Beal’s blog […]

Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: April 27, 2012, 12:11 pm

I was generally fairly disappointed in the quality of the debate for the night. I felt that too many speakers made their main points in the first 2-3 minutes, and then rambled on for 4-5 minutes more of repeating the same points or going off on ridiculous tangents.

Could we also have microphones at some of the tables in front, so every time someone has a question for Juliana Rice, we don’t have to wait for her to walk to the podium, just so that she can say “Juliana Rice, town counsel. I don’t know”? This is not a criticism of Ms. Rice at all, just the absurd waste of time that we see the same sequence of events happen again and again.

While some of the discussion around Cooke’s Hollow was awkward, I felt a key point that was brushed off was that if the park has cremated remains, that does change the social norms for what would be acceptable at the park. I wouldn’t take small children for a picnic in Mt. Auburn cemetery, as I would be afraid their actions and noise would be disrespectful to people who might be visiting grave sites. I think the same issue would apply to Cooke’s Hollow – despite the Cemetery Commission’s insistence that there would be no ceremonies at Cooke’s Hollow – how could they possibly guarantee that?

Regarding accessory apartments, while I appreciate the intent of the amendments that were offered, I think that both seem very cumbersome, difficult to enforce, and rather impractical. I think the authors would also freely admit they are meant to be “poison pill” amendments that are designed to make the overall warrant less attractive.

That said, the overall warrant article seems like permission to apply spot zoning in R0/1 districts and using the elderly as a sympathetic case for this change. In my opinion, we have R0 and R1 districts for a reason, and if we need to revisit the allocation of R0 and R1 districts in the town as part of a master plan for the town – let’s do that. But, in absence of that, I don’t see why we should allow a multi-unit home in a district that isn’t zoned for that.