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Town Meeting ’16 – Session 2 (And Special TM Session 1)

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 try to publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.  Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Sometimes I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

8:02 call to order.

The moderator announced that the electronic voting operator wasn’t present. We have no electronic voting until he comes! The moderator said that we will run under the “old” meeting rules – use a voice vote most of the time, and if 5 people rise to doubt the ruling on the voice vote there will be a standing vote, etc.

Eric Helmuth played the National Anthem on the piano. I think he did a great job! Fast and energetic.

The Moderator swore in the one new member. He was applauded.

The Special Town Meeting was called to order.

We voted to return for the Special on Monday May 9th if it is not completed tonight.

The Special Town Meeting was called because we thought we might need very fast resolution on some school building projects.  That has turned out to not be the case.  Still, it was the right move at the time – it kept our options open while we considered the school building needs.

Announcements and Resolutions

  • Steve Decourcey announced the High School Girl Tennis team is selling baked goods.
  • John Maher noted that he has been here for more than half the 79 Town Meetings under the current system. He invited application to the Symmes Foundation for medical uses of the community.
  • Jacoby?. Early voting will be available in Massachusetts. Educate your neighbors!
  • (I missed the name!) from Arlington Cultural Council spoke about arts in the town. Arlington Center for the Arts, ACA. Commision on Arts and Culture ACAC. Arlinton Culturual Council ACC.  ACC gave 17 grants for $22,000 to support the arts in town.


  • Andrew Bunnell of the ARB: Letter on the chairs explaining the last-minute change in recommendation on Articles 8-10.
  • John Leonard: – Dissolve the CPA Study Committee. Question on the Building Maintenance Committee. Maintenance Study Committee dissolved – again.

Article 1 of Special Town Meeting – FY2016 budgets. No action

Article 2 Transfer Special Ed
$200k approved on voice vote.

Article 3 Capital School Capacity
Al Tosti explained that the School Enrollment Task Force has a hearing tomorrow night to hear from the architect. On Monday the Task Force will meet again and make recommendations. FinComm will meet and consider the recommendations and get a report to Town Meeting. He moved postponement to May 11 or earlier at the call of the moderator. Postponed on voice vote.

Article 4 Stratton
No action.

Article 5 Arlington High School Feasibility Study
Al Tosti: this is a first step for a new High School. Superintendent Kathy Bodie described the history of our application with the MSBA and outlined some of the problems with the current facility. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine walked through the MSBA process, where we are in it, and what Town Meeting’s role is. Gordon Jamieson asked about the LABB collaborative and the role of the Permanent Town Building committee. The appropriation was unanimously approved, contingent on the success of the Proposition 2.5 debt exclusion vote set for June 14th.

Article 6 Minuteman Building
Al Tosti reported that the Selectmen’s Minuteman Task Force had voted on Tuesday morning 8-1 to support the building. Later Tuesday FinComm voted 10-8 to support the building. He said that it was a tough question with a difficult discussion. He asked that this be postponed to May 9th. Postponed.  I support the Minuteman building project.  I haven’t fully written out my thoughts, but the framework of my argument can be read here.

Adjourned Special Town Meeting.

Article 11 – Regular Town meeting – Garage Entrance Locations
Adam Auster put in a substitute motion, but moved to postpone until after Article 10.  Postponed.

Article 12 and 13 were already approved on the consent vote, so we moved on:

Article 14 – Increasing Space Between Buildings
John Belskis proposed a substitute motion. He wants to make a change in the side yard setbacks. He wants to keep larger buildings from being built and encroaching on neighbors. Gordon Jamieson is opposed – it’s too restrictive, particularly for those parts of towns with housing on small lots. ARB Chair Andrew Bunnel said the ARB had no opinion. Gregory Christiana – there isn’t enough information about what is affected. Another speaker was opposed. Mark Lombard was opposed, and showed pictures of his renovation. Tom Caccavaro introduced Don Westwater. He is opposed. There was an outbreak of rude mocking from the upper gallery. The moderator asked the meeting to act with civility. There was confusion about the content of the substitute motion. The moderator himself was confused. Mr. Belskis re-explained the motion. Andy O’Brien is concerned that these changes could lower property values. Kevin Greeley introduced Steve McKenna. McKenna was unhappy with some of the negative comments about the ARB on Monday. He thinks the zoning bylaws are too complex, and we need to start from the beginning. He wants to rewrite from the beginning. Mustafa Varoglu moved to terminate debate. Terminated on voice vote. Substitution failed on voice vote. No action approved on voice vote.

Article 15 – Large Additions
John Worden moved a substitute motion. He thinks there is an epidemic of “teardowns and mansionization.” He wants to protect neighborhoods. He would like to make it much harder to do a teardown. He said that much of the opposition information being distributed wasn’t true. Elizabeth Pyle supports the substitute motion. She thinks teardowns should be treated the same as additions. She pointed out that a teardown is easier than an addition, and that isn’t sound. I think that her argument was a compelling one. However, the substitute includes additional restrictions on additions and teardowns that I think were excessive.  Worden wants to restrict development much more than I do, and this language that he proposed went farther than I’m comfortable with.  I would support a “clean” change that treats teardowns the same as additions.  But I didn’t support the multiple changes in the substitute motion.

7 minute break

The moderator brought the Special Town Meeting back into session and certified that there was a quorum. I think this was an “oops” that needed to be corrected.

Patricia Worden spoke against tear downs. Steve Robilak noted the increasing complexity of the zoning regulations. Andrew Bunnell said the ARB doesn’t have a formal opinion on this article. He is opposed to the change. Annie LaCourt asked questions about the permits and the hearing processes – 120 days on the outside, and often close to that. She doesn’t think we have enough data about the current actions and the effect of these changes. She is opposed. Christopher Moore asked about ARB timing. He asked if there is a methodology for evaluating the effects of sun and shadows. Bob Jefferson is opposed. He thinks the ARB should be the ones to work on this. He introduced Mr. Niberg who said that houses should be evaluated on their finished state, not the unfinished pictures put up Mr. Worden. He thinks this change would impact small lots and homeowners particularly. Gordon Jamieson is opposed to the substitute motion. Carl Wagner is in favor of the substitute motion because it shouldn’t be easier to tear down. Guillermo Bahamon likes his neighbors, and would like this to be decided by the ARB. Bill Kaplan spoke in favor of his neighbors building larger houses. He pointed out that all of that new building will defray future tax increases. Joe Tully doesn’t think that this article should be lumped in with other articles. He wants to close the loophole. He commented on the effect of new building under Proposition 2.5. There was confusion about the effect of new building under Prop 2.5, but Bill Kaplan got it right.  Any new building – renovations, additions, teardown/rebuilds, building on vacant lots, anything new – is taxed and the revenue is in addition to the limits of Proposition 2.5.  That’s why towns with high growth rates don’t need overrides.  Their new buildings increase their revenue in excess of Prop 2.5 limits.  Kaplan was right: when your neighbors expand their houses, then the pressure on your tax bill is reduced.  Mark McCabe moved to terminate debate. Standing vote. 162-42, debate was terminated. The standing vote and the delay it caused was a good reminder of why we love electronic voting! 92-114 the substitute motion failed.  No action approved.

Article 16 Revision of Height Calculations
Elizabeth Pyle made a substitute motion. The substitute motion is different from the original proposal. She said her proposal is fair to all property owners. She thinks that the previous language could be taken advantage of, and the new language is more consistent. Steve McKenna was opposed. Gary Tibbets opposed to the change. He thinks the ARB is the right group to generate these changes to keep them clear and consistent. Bill Kaplan had mixed feelings. Gordon Jamieson asked if it was in scope – the moderator ruled that it was. Jamieson is opposed.  Allan Reedy moved to terminate debate.  Pyle’s vote went down by majority vote.  No action was approved.

Meeting adjourned.


Comment from Bob Sprague
Time: April 28, 2016, 8:54 am

The Arlington Cultural Council board member who spoke was Merli Guerra.

Comment from Chuck Miller
Time: April 28, 2016, 1:12 pm

Dan, thanks so much for doing this. The fact that you are so heavily involved in town governance AND you take the time to document your experience at the Town Meeting is very helpful and much appreciated.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: April 28, 2016, 6:49 pm

The person who spoke about early voting under Announcements & Resolutions was Michael Jacoby Brown.