Sutton Massachusetts

Oct 19 2009 Sutton Massachusetts Town Meeting

The October Sutton Town Meeting for 2009 was held at the Early Learning Center on Boston Road, Sutton, and began at 7:30pm. Only 77 people (out of over 8,000 residents) were there. I first accidentially went to the school next door, and there were more people in that parking lot - apparently for basketball tryouts - than there were at the town meeting! I think many people in town had no idea a town meeting was going on. The sign by the Town Hall didn't have any notice, the sign at Route 146 didn't have a notice, and even the sign right at the Early Learning Center didn't say there was a meeting there that night! I am going to try to push (as I have in the past) for the town to do a better job of letting residents know when Town Meetings are being held.

Here is the official warrant for this meeting: October 2009 Warrant

Article 1
Moving money around to balance the budget. We apparently lost $163,769 in state aid and had to cut a variety of programs as a result. Both the town and school departments took hits. It was only briefly explained, there were no questions, and it went through unanimously.

Article 2
The town wanted to require "hawkers and peddlers" (door to door salesmen) to apply for a license before they started harassing Sutton residents. I can vouch that the Verizon people have been out in force, sometimes there would be a different one knocking every day for a week straight. There was a fair amount of discussion about this - would it apply to Girl Scouts and such? Would it apply to churches and politicians? The fee is set by the state ($50) and the town could determine who it would apply to. Apparently the "who it applies to" would be determined at future meetings. The article was passed.

Article 3
Whittier farms wants to get an "agricultural preservation restriction" - in essence they are paid by the government in return for legally promising to never let the land get built on, even if it's sold to someone else. Massachusetts pays them a large chunk of money and Sutton has to kick in 10% of the cost. Sutton's share is about $300,000 for the 314 acres of farmland. Sutton has figured out a way to get the money "free" - by setting up a cell tower and having those funds (paid by the cell companies to us) cover this payment out. The problem is that the cell tower discussion was in Article 4, so it couldn't be discussed here. They wanted us to vote on spending $300,000 before we could discuss how we would get that $300,000. I.e. if we voted against the cell tower after approving this $300,000 payment to Whittier Farms, we would now be obligated to pay them without having the income. We found this order to be very odd but were stuck with it.

Here is where Google Maps shows Whittier farms. I'm not sure where the boundaries of the 314 acres are.

Apparently the land is assessed as farmland now and will continue to be, so our tax income will remain the same. Rep Jennifer Callahan stood up (without introducing herself, something others were required to do) and talked for a very long time about how the world needs more farmland, how Massachusetts treasures its farmland, and how this money is "slated" in Massachusetts to go to *someone* to maintain their farm. It might as well get used by Sutton rather than by another town. She also said the funding might not be there in future years, so if we didn't take it now, we might lose our chance. We did pass this article. I found the lack of discussion about this large expenditure a bit concerning - especially since Article 1 was all about us struggling to cut money from our budget because we were low on funds.

Article 4
As mentioned, Article 4 is how we are going to pay for the $300,000 we're giving to the Whittier family. We are going to spend more money - $24,000 - to buy 5 acres of land from the Whittiers. We'll then lease that out to cell companies to build a tower. The income we get from that cell tower will cover the money we're giving to the Whittiers. It was mentioned that there's a huge dead spot in that area of Sutton and this tower would ensure that all of Central Turnpike now has coverage. I can definitely attest to the cell issues in that area of town, so that tower does need to be built. Still, we're spending more money on farmland, when we're cutting bare essential services because of our budget crunch. If the cell tower really gives us "a free $300,000" think of the other ways that money could be spent - for example, not doing those drastic cuts from Article 1. In any case, this passed.

Article 5
Amending the zoning bylaw about multiple use, no discussion, passed.

Article 6
Amending the zoning bylaw removing extra descriptions about "tents" and "tunnels" which weren't necessary, no discussion, passed.

Article 7
Amending the zoning bylaw to include upgrades to signs and replacing signs as also needing a permit. No discussion, passed.

Article 8
Amending the zoning bylaw to require reviews if altertions occur on a lot even if there's no building on it. No discussion, passed.

Article 9
Turning Quabbin Path into a "real road". They said the plan was filed on 9/11/09 in the printout - but then said a different date in the discussion. Also, there wasn't any map provided or even a description to say where this mysterious Quabbin Path was. I had to get home to be able to GoogleMap it, and find it. It is south of Purgatory Chasm, a small loop road off of Barnett Road with a few houses on it. No discussion (besides the pointing out of the bad date), passed.

Article 10
Interestingly, even though we were voting on a $300,000 expenditure tonight, and our budget was seriously in trouble, the most discussion we had by far was about this article - which is solely about driveways. Here is the situation. If you have a normal house lot, with a normal frontage, you can have a driveway of pretty much any material you want as long as it is sturdy and sound. However, there is a special kind of lot called a "retreat lot". This is created when you take one house lot and split it in two pieces - one with a normal frontage on the road, and the other with a narrow frontage on the road. This drawing might help explain it:

So assume this all was once one big house lot. Then the owners sold the blue square to another person. The blue lot is sized as a "normal" house lot with lots of frontage on the road. The remaining green lot is called a "retreat" lot. It is allowed to have less than normal frontage. In exchange for this, with the knowledge that there's going to be a long driveway to get "back" to the house, the bylaws require that driveway to be *bituminous* and nothing else.

What this article was about is if an existing big lot was being split into two pieces. Say the original house is in the far back and already has a long, legal driveway in something *other* than bituminous. So say gravel. The way the bylaws are currently written, the owner of that house would have to pave over their entire driveway into bituminous, even though the driveway was fine with the bylaws before the split happened.

There was a lot of discussion about this. Some people had no idea that any driveways in town - retreat or otherwise - were being forced to be bituminous. The police said that any road that existed, in any shape, they would find a way to get up if there was a problem. There was discussion about big firetrucks - weighing 50,000 pounds or more - having issues traversing long non-paved driveways. Someone talked about a firetruck trying to go down an iffy driveway, getting stuck and having to turn around. The resident wanting this change seemed horrified at the idea that a rescue vehicle would just give up and turn around. The finance and warrant committee had voted to DISAPPROVE this article because they felt it was dangerous to allow a wide variety of driveway surfaces for long driveways. The planning board voted to APPROVE this article, since it is approved on a case by case basis for each house. Overall, because of this case by case basis, and also because some people felt home owners should be able to choose their own driveway surface (as long as it is judged safe) the article was passed, not unanimously.

Article 11
This also related to the driveways but since article 10 passed, this one was set to "no action".

Article 12
This article also had some discussion. It was about turning a chunk of land on northbound 146 - near the new Atlas Box facility - from rural to business zoning. The sponsor, Giulio Fusaro, wants to build medical / professional offices on the land and maybe an ambulance bay as well. One amendment was added - the Cronins who were included in the original zoning wanted to make sure their home was NOT included in this switch. The amendment to not include them was passed. This left the main motion covering three house lots along 146 plus a big chunk of land "behind" that area, between Old Mill Road and Armsby Road.

I am really bad at drawing - and also the map they handed out at the meeting does not exactly match the satellite map Google Maps shows you. This is a rough approximation of the land in question. The Cronins are the corner lot (just below the green at the lower left of the marked area), at the corner of Armsby and 146.

A woman from out of Sutton asked to be able to speak, and the moderator had to ask the entire assemblage to vote "aye" to allow this woman to speak to us. She explained that her father owned one of those house lots along 146 in the article. He was in the nursing home and needed money. If the land remained the way it was now - as "not business" - she would have a LOT of trouble trying to sell it. She said that nobody wants to live right on 146 any more (except apparently the Cronins, their next door neighbors, but she forgot to mention that). She really wanted us to turn the land into business so she'd have a better chance of selling to land to pay her father's medical bills.

Another couple who lives right in this area spoke up with concern. The big chunk of this land in question is undeveloped and they worried about exactly what was going to be done to it, how it would affect the neighborhood and wells and so on. They asked to have the vote put off until more was known about the usage plans, but this did not pass. It was explained that changing the land to business zoning was only the first step. When Fusaro wanted to start doing anything *with* the land, he would have to submit his plans to the various committees and that would all be a public process which could be commented on and discussed then.

The article did pass, with a few against.

Article 13
The town wanted to have a Board of Selectmen member serve on the School Superintendent screening committee. No discussion, it passed.

That was it, we finished up and headed home. I do have a full audio recording of the evening, which I will post later. Feel free to ask if you have any questions!

2009 Sutton MA Town Meetings - main page

Sutton Massachusetts Town Meetings - main page

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