WINCHESTER - Residents should expect a special Town Meeting in December, on either Monday, Dec. 6 or Monday, Dec. 13, to vote on the Waterfield lot project (adjacent to the Winchester Center Commuter Rail Station). While the Select Board did not pick an official date yet, they definitely leaned toward Dec. 13.
The need for this special Town Meeting arises from two things: the Waterfield Advisory Task Force taking longer than anticipated to finished their recommendations (thereby pushing back the time the town and Civico have to negotiate) and the need for an entire night of Town Meeting to debate the Land Development Agreement.
Back in the spring, the town and Civico came to an agreement for the developer to construct a mixed-use housing project with 60 units where all 60 would count toward the town’s Subsidized Housing Index (and keep the town in “safe harbor” and away from unwanted 40B projects). While it passed at Town Meeting by the required two-thirds majority, a special election overturned that vote.
Following that, the Select Board put together a five-person advisory task force to help them when it comes time to renegotiate with Civico. The task force was expected to wrap up by the end of September, but last week the Select Board authorized a two-week extension.
The overall timeline will now extend, according to Select Board Chair Susan Verdicchio, to allow for time to negotiate and inform residents. She said to expect the board to hold a public information session or an informal public hearing.
Before the board debated the need for a special Town Meeting, they heard from residents concerned about he process. Carol Savage expressed concerns about the integrity of both the past process and the process going forward. She felt the ballot question put to residents back in June was a bit confusing.
She also thought the group who initiated the special election (those opposed to the Town Meeting vote) muddied the waters by misrepresenting where the Finance Committee stood on the original Land Development Agreement when they passed along information to voters prior to election day (FinCom recommended favorable action at Town Meeting by a slim margin, 7-5).
Savage asked once the town finishes the negotiation for the board (any board, i.e. Select Board, FinCom, Planning Board) to present both the majority opinion and minority opinion (if there is one) as it relates to the Land Development Agreement.
“I appreciate all points of view to Town Meeting,” she stressed, “especially those by members of the Finance Committee.”
Pamela Cort thanked the Select Board for its time and effort, but asked them to remind the task force of their scope. She said the ballot question was very narrow, it only overturned the vote of Town Meeting on the Land Development Agreement. It didn’t, she pushed, allow the town to re-draft the RFP or change the scope of the project.
“This is simply to renegotiate the Land Development Agreement and move forward,” Cort said about where the task force’s focus should be, adding how they need to respect the voices of the town, Master Plan and other boards.
Finally, Heidi Deleo, a downtown business owner, expressed her disappointment the task force never contacted her nor any other downtown business owner during the process. She felt they would be most impacted by the project.
Verdicchio acknowledged the board has been discussing the Waterfield lot development for a long time and now needs to stretch the schedule to allow for Finance Committee review, a joint meeting between her board and FinCom and a public information session with residents and Town Meeting members.
Therefore, the board brought in Town Clerk MaryEllen Lannon to provide some options for a special Town Meeting. Lannon offered two dates: Dec. 6 and Dec. 13, both on Monday (the usual Town Meeting night). If the board chooses Dec. 6, she said she would have to mail the warrant by Nov. 17. If they push it back a week, she can mail the warrant a week later.
The town clerk also noted how if the board chose to hold a special Town Meeting on Dec. 6, it would run up against the end of fall Town Meeting (when the town clerk finishes up the meeting minutes and other post-Town Meeting actions). However, her schedule lightens up deeper into December.
Even though she seemed to push for a Dec. 13 special Town Meeting, she said, “we can do a Town Meeting whenever it’s needed.”
As for the cost, Lannon expected it to run approximately $12,400. That includes mailing out the warrant (only expected to be one page, according to Town Counsel Mina Makarious, and similar to the motion put forward at spring Town Meeting), hiring tech support for a remote session and other general IT support.
The town clerk asked the board to let her know the date by no later than night two of fall Town Meeting (Thursday, Nov. 4).
The board suggested the Dec. 13 date made sense, but held off on an official vote. They also encouraged Town Meeting members to gather as a precinct and hold meetings to discuss the article and share information when it becomes available. Select Board member Michael Bettencourt also noted Civico might be willing to hold a public information session, as well.