Voters Approve 18 of 19 Articles at Town Meeting

Saul Finestone, 91, WWII vet, reads the convocation to kick off the special town meeting. (Photo by Sarah Leete Tsitso)

LONGMEADOW, MA – All but one of the warrant articles were approved by the 125 voters who attended the special town meeting held Tuesday night at Longmeadow High School.

The lone article that failed – Article 16 – asked the town to amend the zoning bylaws, creating the opportunity to build on existing lots that do not meet the current dimensional requirements but are similar in size to other nearby, developed lots.

Resident Barry O’Connor said he was “vehemently opposed” to the article, stating that this amendment would “change the rules of the game.” He cited the recent construction of two new homes on non-conforming lots on Lincoln Road, which do not fit with the character of the neighborhood.

He said that if this amendment passed, the town would see more houses “shoehorned” into small lots where they detract from the character and negatively impact home values within a neighborhood.

Dave Russell, a South Barrington Road resident, disagreed, stating that the bylaw would require a 5,000-square foot lot, and require the home to be “consistent with the architectural style, scale, setbacks and character of the immediate neighborhood.” Russell said he owns a lot that is not buildable under the current bylaw, and believes the change should be made to provide a larger number of smaller, more affordable homes for first-time buyers as well as senior citizens looking to downsize.

Russell suggested that these lots, if buildable, would provide much-needed revenue for the town, as the taxes on homes would be significantly greater than the tax on empty lots.

“That’s the kind of development that makes sense,” said Russell.

Mark Hauser, of Mill Road, voiced his opposition to the bylaw, noting that the reason he moved to Longmeadow was because of the amount of green space, and the large lot sizes.

“I don’t want to have neighbors right on top of me,” he said. “That’s why I moved out of Springfield.”

Jonathan David, a resident on Lorenz Street, said when he purchased his house many years ago, it included two lots. However, over the years, those two lots were combined into one within town records, and his lawn is now worth about $75,000. He supported the bylaw amendment, noting it was “well-written and well-thought out,” offering a higher level of local control and opportunities for increased revenue.

This article required a two-thirds majority vote, but failed to meet that threshold with 63 voting in favor of the amendment and 59 against. Without the two-thirds majority, the article failed to pass.

Articles five, seven and eight asked voters to appropriate funds for new equipment, and all were approved without comment from voters. Article five allows for the replacement of the Department of Public Works dump truck/plow destroyed in an accident in March that took of the life of DPW worker Warren Cowles. Article seven provides a $130,000 subsidy from the town’s general fund to replace an ambulance. This money will be repaid through the Ambulance Fund by fiscal year 2020 through ambulance receipts. Article eight provides $35,000 for the purchase of a new police cruiser.

While the Finance Committee originally voted not to recommend articles five, seven and eight, its members reconsidered each vote based on additional information they received before town meeting, and in the end opted to support all three articles.

Articles 14 and 15, which both called for a ban on recreational marijuana sales in town, passed by majority votes with no comments from those in attendance at the meeting. However, the votes were not unanimous, with several people voting against the ban.

A number of voters also expressed concern about issues related to article 10, which designated income received by the town from the lease of space for a cell tower adjacent to the Blinn Tennis Courts to be used specifically for maintenance of town properties and facilities.

Town Manager Stephen Crane stated that he, in conjunction with the Select Board, had sought proposals from companies interested in constructing a cell tower at this location. While a company has been selected, it will now have to move through the permitting process with the Planning Board and other town entities before a project could commence. He noted that article 10 was not meant to determine where and if a cell tower would be built, but rather how rental income from the tower would be allocated.

Crane noted that the reason the town is asking to appropriate the income in this manner is to address ongoing issues and complaints regarding the condition of parks, fields and other public areas.

“These areas have been historically under-resourced, so the recommendation is to create a designated funding stream to supplement the regular budget and improve our efforts to maintain our green space,” said Crane.

While a majority of voters supported the measure, and the article passed, some noted concerns about the size and location of the cell tower, as well as potential radiation. Crane said the site was selected to improve consistently poor cell service in the center of town. Two other cell towers are already located in Longmeadow – one at the water tower site on Academy Drive and one on Pondside Road near the Department of Public Works.

– Article by Sarah Leete Tsitso