Town Crier

TEWKSBURY — After a defeat at annual Town Meeting by two votes, the Zoning Bylaw Re­view Committee reconvened last week to as­sess the viability of bring­ing the updated zon­ing bylaw article back to the voters for consideration.

At issue is the need for the zoning bylaws of Tewksbury to be revised and modernized to re­flect state regulations, remove obsolete wording, and create a more navigatable document for residents, developers, and town staff to use to guide future development in the community.

Debate at annual Town Meeting centered on several amendments that residents brought forward, addressing billboards, building height, and multi-family zoning in the office/research districts.

The defeat of the article still allows for a re­turn to annual Town Meeting in the spring of 2022, accor­ding to an official opinion shared by Town Counsel Kevin Feeley, so long as the Planning Board recommends adoption of the amendment or rewrite.

Committee chair Todd Johnson discussed the future of the committee and polled members to determine their interest in continuing. The committee worked on the revisions for the last five years, incorporating over 100 amendments and re­moving outdated verbiage.

A reorganization of the document was also undertaken, making sure that one section of the code did not contradict another.

“A change to one section can have ripple effects for other sections,” said member Erin Wortman.

Unprecedented outreach was undertaken by the town, including listening sessions and videos produced to explain some of the more complex sections of the code in preparation for Town Meeting.

Committee member Ste­phen Johnson, the current chair of the Planning Board, wondered why, for this article, a return to Town Meeting was appropriate.

“If you have faith that Town Meeting is a good form of government, then why not leave (the decision of Town Meeting to defeat the article)?”

Johnson, along with the other members of the committee, voted in favor of adoption, as the updated bylaws would improve pro­cesses on many fronts.

“I didn’t love everything in it,” said Johnson, but he stated that, on whole, the revised document was an improvement.

However, new member, building commissioner Mark Bertonassi said, “For most people, (Town Meet­ing) is the first time they see this information. Was it communicated to the residents what the benefit is?”

Johnson added, “the complexity and breadth of this article is a lot to absorb” and put up for consideration a process akin to a first and second reading of articles in the legislature before a final vote.

Wortman, a municipal planner in another community, wondered if taking the article section by section would have made it easier to understand.

“We decided as a committee to offer this as a whole package,” said Wort­man, but he acknowledged it is a lot for the lay person to become invested in.

Member Richard Cuoco, who initially questioned continuing the process, said, “At a minimum, the bylaw has to be fixed. It’s broken.”

The committee voted to continue its work.

After the decision to move forward, the committee took up the discussion of the Fee In Lieu of provision in the bylaw. Assistant Town Manager Steve Sad­wick presented a summary of the current policy which mandates 15 percent af­fordable units in multi-family developments.

The committee agreed to maintain the fee in lieu of policy as it stands in the current draft of the zoning bylaw for open space residential development, but discussed calculating the cost of the fee in advance to present to the granting authority before any wai­vers would be decided.

A timeline of dates for meetings and topics was discussed, with a public hearing set for Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 at town hall. Residents wishing to participate in the discussion are welcomed to attend at 6 p.m. and the committee requests that “in order for the committee to evaluate concerns of the proposed zoning bylaw, it would be beneficial to have specific references to the proposed zoning bylaw which present issues. Specific references will add to a more meaningful dialogue in this effort to correct the problems that exist in the current zoning bylaw.”

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