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Town Meeting ’17 – 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.

At 7:59 Moderator John Leone started calling the meeting to order. The meeting started at 8:00.

The Menotomy Minutemen marched in and lead the meeting in the National Anthem.

A rabbi from Temple Isaiah in Lexington gave the benediction.

The moderator walked through the ground rules about submitting amendments, speaking time limits, and the electronic voting, aka “the clicker.” He announced that the budgets would be discussed on May 3. He did a test question about Mount Rushmore for people to test their vote.

The moderator announced that meeting documents are now online in an article-by-article format. This is a step towards reducing paper in meetings and I think it’s great!

The moderator administered the oath of office for newly elected and returning town meeting members. They were greeted with a round of applause afterwards.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Joe Curro made the traditional motion about permitting town officials and employees to sit “on the floor” with town meeting members. Non-members are seated in the viewing gallery on the 2nd floor.

Town Clerk certified that the meeting was properly convened and called by the Town Constable.

We voted to return on Wednesday for the rest of the business.

Article 2 – State of the Town.

Joe Curro gave the state of the town.

There were no announcements.

Article 3 – Reports

  • Chairman Joe Curro submitted the report of the Board of Selectman. He introduced the department heads. The moderator also introduced other elected officials.
  • Finance Committee Chairman Al Tosti gave the report of his committee and introduced the members of the Finance Committee.
  • Chairman of the Arlington Redevelopment Board Andrew Bunnel gave the report of the ARB.
  • Charlie Foskett gave the report of the Capital Planning Committee.
  • Clarissa Rowe gave the report of the Community Preservation Committee.

At Tosti moved that the motions contained in the reports be the main motions for each article. For new town meeting members the importance of this vote is not obvious, but it is a big deal. This vote sets the starting point of each article’s debate, and that is very powerful in the long run.  If we didn’t make this motion, at the start of every article, the Moderator would have to call on someone to start the debate process by making a motion under that article, then find a second for the motion, etc. Instead, through this vote, we automatically start each article with a motion already made and ready for debate. That becomes key later on – the first motion sets the debate, and other amendments and substitute motions alter the debate.

Article 3 was tabled.

The moderator said that the consent agenda will be voted on Wednesday since some of the reports just came out.

Article 4 – Measurer of Wood and Bark. Elsie Fiorie was re-appointed without opposition.

Article 5 – Assistant Town Moderator. Eric Helmuth nominated Jim O’Conor and he was elected without opposition.

Article 6 – Mixed Use

ARB Chairman Andrew Bunnel gave the introduction. Last year town meeting approved mixed use. The feedback is that our law is too restrictive on interior usage. This change wouldn’t affect the outside or building envelope. This only changes mixed use zones, does not affect residential zones. It was approved 207-7-2.

Article 7 Artisinal Fabrication

Bunnel said that the ARB has found the current law to be too restrictive. We want to encourage businesses that use larger square footage, like shared workspaces, breweries, things like that. This change will encourage growth of our industrial-zoned areas. Approved 216-2.

Article 8 Resdiential Zoning Changes

Chairman Andrew Bunnel asked for extra time, 15 minutes. Some people voted no on the extra time. I just don’t get that vote. We’re making a significant alteration to our zoning bylaws. The bylaws are complex, the problems are complex, and the potential impact of these changes is quite large. The extra 8 minutes of education and discussion are worth it. Bunnel reminded the meeting of the debate on this issue we had at town meeting last year. Since that time, the Residential Zoning Study Committee had dozens of meetings, lasting 900 hours. The committee had a wide diversity of opinions. Driveways was consensus place to start. Looked at other towns, did walking tours in town, worked with many groups in town. Elisabeth Pyle and Steve McKenna walked through the details of the proposal. It would limit driveway slope to 15%. Steeper driveways are unsafe because of visibility. This change will also discourage garage-under-house design. That design removes front yards and creates badly-massed buildings that look 3.5 stories tall. The article would give builders/owners the choice of having only one parking space, not two, in the area behind the setback. Diagrams of proposed parking configurations were showed. They explained how cars can also be parked on the side of a building. The change requires a vegetative buffer for the side parking configuration. Ted Sharpe moved an amendment that would remove the changes to the parking rules. Chris Loreti is the author of the amendment, and he spoke in favor of the amendment. He does not think cars should be parked in front of houses because of the streetscape. Carl Wagner spoke in favor of Loreti’s amendment. McCaben moved to terminate debate, failed 105-100-3. Paul Schlichtman thinks that we are requiring too much parking and eating green space, and is opposed to the amendment. Zarina Memon supports the amendment. She wants to know why the motion has two changes in it, not one. Elizabeth Pyle explained that the problem is the under-house design, and that both changes are needed to fix that problem. Memon thinks that Town Meeting should do one thing at a time. What the speaker didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand, is that the solution to a problem sometimes takes more than one change. Jalkut said that many households don’t want or need cars, and we shouldn’t require people to use space on parking

Break. 10 minutes.

Mr. Hanlon is in favor of the main motion and opposed to the amendment. There is a package of solutions over several articles tonight. The package is a compromise. Town Meeting shouldn’t pick and choose which parts of the compromise to take. He wants this process to keep going, and the process will halt if we disrupt the compromise. Ed Trembley thinks the long view supports having more parking spaces, not fewer. Brian Rehrig had a question about the phrase “for residential purposes.” A new town meeting member wanted to make an amendment, and was informed to make it in writing. Ed Starr moved to terminate debate, approved 190-21-1. Amendment failed 37-172-1. 200-13-2 main motion approved.

Article 9 no action.

Article 10 no action.

Article 11-14 – Construction Bylaws

We discussed them together, but take individual votes on the articles. Selectmen Chair Joe Curro expressed the support of the Board of Selectmen for all of the articles. They would increase notification requirements and other changes. Christian Klein proposed an amendment to Article 11 to add developer contact information to the notice. Bill Berkowitz asked if this changes were notification only, or more substantive. The moderator realized there was a prepared presentation by the proponents. Adam Auster asked for 10 minutes for the presentation for the 4 articles. He described the experience of site visits, and what the committee learned from site visits. Bill Copithorne gave a description of the notification requirements. Winnel Evans talked about Article 14. Bill Berkowitz thinks the changes don’t go far enough and wants more changes in the future. There was a discussion about the enforcement and fines on the noise violation. Annie LaCourt had several questions about how onerous these changes would be for the developer. She thinks these rules are overkill. I often agree with Annie, but I disagree with her in this case. The reason we’re proposing this set of change is that the more informal path she proposes did not work on the construction problems we had last year. I’m persuaded that we need a more formal set of rules to manage situations like we have had recently. Pete Howard asked why there wasn’t action taken against the developer at the Irving site. The answer was that the developer didn’t break the rules. Paul Schlichtman moved to terminate debate on all articles, approved 171-29-2. Klein’s amendment passed 195-9-2. Article 11 as amended was approved 205-3. Article 12 and 13 are taken together. 205-4 approved. Article 14 apporved 199-9.

Article 15
Postpone to April 26.

Article 16 – no action

Article 17 – Plastic Bags

Selectman Joe Curro reviewed the selectmen’s comment recommending the plastic bag ban. Christian Klein offered an amendment about the bag thickness that was accepted. Paul Schlichtman offered an amendment to exempt book sales. Juli Brazile opposed the amendment. Charlie Foskett is opposed to the ban – he thinks the bags are useful and not problematic. Jim Ballin asked for 10 minutes to make a presentation. There was a 10-minute presentation about the proposed change.  If the proponents had just let it go to a vote, they’d be home in bed tonight with an approved bylaw. I think doing the presentation was a tactical error.

We adjourned for the evening just after 11.

Comments

Comment from Daniel Jalkut
Time: April 25, 2017, 12:31 pm

Thanks as ever for the recap.

You make an interesting observation about the possibly tactical error, but I thought the Article 17 presentation suffered a bit from being oddly timed: it seemed obvious that the presentation was prepared ahead of time and the AV was ready to present the slides. Doesn’t the moderator usually grant the main proponents of an article the opportunity to make a case for their proposal, before calling on other speakers? It seemed awkward for the most prepared speakers on the subject to be subjecte to waiting through several other speakers, some making off-the-cuff remarks, before they had a chance to make their pitch.

Another thing I noticed was that the meeting was sort of declared over (I guess we voted on it? It didn’t really feel like it) before a member came up to evidently try to make a motion for reconsideration on one of the articles. I couldn’t really hear over the roar of conversation that had already enused. It seems like the closure of the meeting should be more carefully demarcated.

Comment from Flynn Monks
Time: April 25, 2017, 1:00 pm

I agree, puzzled as to why the proponent of the article wasn’t called on first to present. I mean, I assumed the Selectman’s role for Article 17 was to introduce it, but it seemed as if the moderator thought that was supposed to be the actual presentation? It was confusing.

Comment from Dan Dunn
Time: April 25, 2017, 2:41 pm

On the presentations: In general, the moderator calls on the body that made the main motion – BoS, ARB, FinComm, etc. Then that body figures out who needs to make a presentation. But sometimes the moderator makes his own decision based on conversations he’s had. As a past chairman of the BoS, my experience was that every motion was different – some have no advocacy, some of have tons, etc. Some presenters reach out to the moderator, some reach out to the board. Sometimes it’s the other way around, where the board asks for help doing a presentation. I’m going to guess this one just didn’t have a full conversation about who was presenting what.

As for the adjournment – yes, there was a vote, but it was perfunctory. The practice of getting notices of reconsideration AFTER adjournment is definitely confusing. I used to try to capture all of the reconsiderations in my notes but it’s a pain. If I need to know a particular reconsideration I just ask the moderator.

Comment from Neal Connor
Time: April 25, 2017, 3:12 pm

Dan, I agree about the presentation, but I think an even greater error was the proponent’s repeated referral to an FAQ document that’s hasn’t been printed yet, and that we won’t see until Wednesday. It seems like despite the buzz and lead time, ducks were not in a row for a Monday vote, so why not ask to carry forward and have all the information in Members’ hands? No matter how much one thinks one’s article is a home run, it’s a bit disrespectful to to tell the body they can have answers to questions, but not until after they’ve passed the article.

Comment from Mike Book Rack
Time: April 25, 2017, 4:26 pm

Given that I’m hoping for a re-write of 17, I was happy people got to think on it a bit.

Comment from Greg Dennis
Time: April 25, 2017, 4:46 pm

As one of the presenters, I also don’t know why we weren’t called on first to present. I suppose we could have made a spur-of-the-moment tactical readjustment to not give the presentation that we had prepared for months, but I’m sure you can sympathize with the difficulty of making that kind of decision at the last second. I don’t know if I’ve seen a case where the main proponents said “pass.” Maybe we should have been the first. Well, we gave the presentation and hopefully it helped.

The presentation touched on nearly every argument in the FAQ, but the FAQ is a good supplement nonetheless. We were told to prepare to speak on Wednesday or the following Monday night, so we asked the FAQ to be placed on the seats for Wednesday, when it would be most relevant. That said, it was still available on the warrant website [1] and emailed to many TMMs individually. Not being a motion or amendment, it was disallowed from the TMM materials list.

If there are other further questions that weren’t answered by the presentation or the FAQ, feel free to reach out to me individually (gdennis@alum.mit.edu).

[1] https://arlington.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=4105&MeetingID=467