WILMINGTON — Tension ran high at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday night at 7 p.m. in the main room of the Town Hall, where residents young and old came for very different causes. Agenda items for the night ranged between acknowledging a youth cheerleading team and discussing a proposal for a new senior center.
The Wilmington Pop Warner “D” Team, which features girls in grades 3-6, were recognized by the board for their national championship win with certificates of exceptional performance in Pop Warner. All of the cheerleaders came to the front of the room to receive their awards.
“Before you we have 29 of the finest athletes Wilmington has seen,” Chairman Greg Bendel said. “We’re really proud.”
Their coach also spoke to the dedication of these 29 girls competing at a high school level and the parents and guardians supporting them.
The board next saw a presentation by Andrew Chaban, the Chief Executive Officer of Princeton Properties, regarding a proposal for 108 affordable homes on Jefferson Road. Details for the proposal moving forward were shared with a suggestion for the board to make a motion for a joint petition between Princeton Properties and the Board of Selectmen to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The proposed affordable housing complex would be made of two 4-story buildings and 36 attached parking spaces. There would be 50 percent one-bedroom homes, 40 percent two-bedroom homes, and 10 percent three-bedroom homes. 80 percent of these rental properties would be at market rate, with 20 percent reaching the affordable housing requirements. This means that all of the units would count towards the town’s total affordable housing unit numbers.
Chaban emphasized that the project is contingent on the town receiving a MassWorks Infrastructure grant to pay for the cost of moving the sewer forward. This is a grant that would fund things that contribute to the long-term sustainability and strength of the state.
“I see this as a positive opportunity to bring sewer to that part of the community,” Bendal shared on the subject.
Another reason the board seemed to be in support of the initiative is the looming 2020 census where Wilmington may fall below the 10 percent affordable housing requirement.
“We’re certainly in a situation where we’re in dire need of affordable units immediately, and if we don’t get them, we’ll fall below the 10 percent threshold and be subject for even larger units which we would have no control over going forward,” Bendel continued.
Chaban maintained that Princeton Properties would take measures to offer a net positive to the town and not a burden.
As the board made a motion to vote, a resident in the audience made a point of order to recognize that the board was voting before hearing public comment. After Jonathan Silverstein, town counsel, clarified that this vote would be legal, back and forth ended and the project passed in a 4-1 vote.
While hearing public comment later on the topic, the chairman pointed out that public comment is meant to be contained entirely in its scheduled section of the meeting; that experts who would review the project going forward would know what all of the town’s requirements were; and that there were other important agenda items to get to.
More resident concerns brought up later in the evening doubted the project’s success going forward according to conservation laws and meeting affordable housing requirements. Suzanne Sullivan explained that the current site plan delineation is the same as a previous project in the area that was rejected by the Conservation Commission, ruling that construction needs to be 200 feet from the high water line.
“You’ll be lucky to get 70 units there with the conservation requirements,” she said. “You could potentially be wasting everyone’s time.”
Ethan Sawyer added that even adding 108 units could be falling short of the 10 percent affordable housing requirement — and it would be better to include all of the units necessary to hit the 10 percent mark.
The meeting continued with a summary from Substance Abuse Program Coordinator Samatha Reif. Her data referenced a total of 236 referrals to her from the police department in cases of identified mental health or substance abuse concerns. Her highlights included an individual who’s accompanied patients to the hospital for mental health concerns to account for a gap in mental health issue communication to hospital staff; a talk on Jan. 23 at St. Thomas church about marijuana and vaping for anyone ages 12 and up; and a 6th grade initiative for a 3-part assembly series on underage drinking, vaping, and drug use.
Next, the Town Manager brought up a proposal for the annual Town Meeting for the feasibility study and schematic design for a new Town Hall school admin building.
“Many staff aren’t able to be located at the current school department location,” Jeff Hull shared. “This building is not conducive to public meetings. We want to free up this space for another purpose.”
The allocation for this undertaking would be $955,000.
Residents later questioned the board’s priorities, wondering if this would interfere with prioritizing a new Wildwood Street School and a new senior center. However, members of the board assured residents that they’re aware of the necessity for the Wildwood and the senior center, but they see the current Town Hall as a space that might be used in either of those long-term projects.
MJ Byrnes mentioned that this proposal was not brought before the School Committee and would want to see more collaboration. This was not voted upon that night.
The board did vote unanimously in favor of the Sons of Italy using the town common parking lot for a car show in July, and to table the recommendations of the Inhabitant By-Law Committee to Jan. 27.
Finally, the board returned to its discussion about a proposal for a new senior center to be placed on the Town Meeting warrant. The Town Manager suggested that the approval for the project be presented in two phases: the feasibility study and schematic design; and the construction cost. This is the same way that the new high school was voted upon, he reminded the audience.
In the feasibility study and schematic design, the town would hire an Otis project manager to represent the town and work with the architect of the project. The value added is for professionals to identify a site; to lay out the space of the desired building based on its needs and determine the construction cost; and to finish that in time for the final cost to be voted upon at the 2021 Town Meeting.
The proposed article for this year’s town meeting would allocate $650,000 for the first phase of the new senior center, and next year’s would allocate for the total construction cost.
The board talked about being open to the most fiscally responsible way of paying for the feasibility study and schematic design — after Hull clarified that he had not indicated a preference for borrowing with debt exclusion. Their main concern with the original ask of allocating $8.75 million from free cash up front is that there wasn’t a clear construction plan — nor was there a site identified — with an explanation of how that money would be used and what needs it would meet. This proposal passed with a 4-1 vote.
Public comments regarding the senior center contained some perceived criticism of the work of Mrs. Allen and the team of seniors who presented at last month’s meeting. Residents also identified concern that the feasibility study and schematic design might not be completed in time for the 2021 Town Meeting — and that overall, approving the new senior center in two phases might slow down the process.
Several board members spoke to clarify that while it’s being split up into two phases, the plan would be following the same exact requirements if they were proposing an article for the original estimated construction funds upfront. And, should phase one not be finished in time, the board would support a special Town Meeting to vote upon the finalized construction.
Before adjourning, the board recognized a renovation update at the senior center; Paula Barry’s retirement; a Wilmington police officer returning from deployment safely; and the economic development survey now available online or in print at the Town Hall and the library.
The next Board of Selectmen meeting on Jan. 27 will feature a budget presentation and continued discussion about expanding the hours of the senior center, among other agenda items.