Minutes: 2019-03-12


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

7pm • Acton Memorial Library Meeting Room

Facilitator:    Sue Jick
Notetaker:    Terra Friedrichs
Timer:    Debra Sime

Attending: Jim Snyder-Grant, Sue Jick, Debra Simes, Miles Fidelman, Karen Herther, Jane Moosbruker, Carolyn Kiely, Carolyn Platt, Debby Andell, Andrew Wiseman, Danny Factor, Terra Friedrichs, Ginger HarrisA

7:00 |  Meeting logistics & Intros/Go-round                       

7:05 |  Reminder on officer change ideas (if JSG elected)

Reminder of proposed officer changes if Jim is elected to the Board of Selectmen. At February meeting, suggested that in that event, Jim would resign as co-president, Sue would step down as co-treasurer, Sue is willing to serve as co-president, and Heather Haines is willing to serve as co-treasurer. If anyone else is interested in serving in either of those officer roles, please let Debra and Jim know. Will deal with this at the April meeting, after the election. If elected, Jim will continue to serve as clerk and show up as much as possible. Everyone stays in their position until the April meeting. 

7:08 |  Shall GA Sponsor April 27 MCAN conference?
MCAN asked if GA wants to be a sponsor for the MCAN annual conference in Worcester (a local environmental action forum). Perquisites include tabling space and two tickets to the event; cost is $70. There is concern about having no policy for how to make decisions about such opportunities. A suggestion is that two people who want to attend underwrite the cost. Two people stepped up, so $70 comes from those two people. Directors have no concerns.

7:13 |  Important item for near future: committee autonomy (what allowed to do without board review); Jim sent reminder of interim protocol

The co-prezes note that GA is a relatively new organization and has yet to figure out what sort of autonomy GA Committees ought to have. This is just a reminder that our interim agreement, until we establish a comprehensive policy on this. That interim protocol is to check with the co-prezes if there’s any question about whether something (primarily, decisions that involve anything beyond information seeking, and public-facing communications) should be run by the GA Directors. Notably, last year, there was feedback that the Land Use Committee was handing stuff out that, even though labeled as such, was confusing to the public, who don’t tend to make the discrimination between a Green Acton committee action and a Green Acton action. Just a reminder that this is an issue and we will be addressing it more formally.

7:15 |  Town Meeting Warrant Articles

Sue recommends that, in this review of Warrant Articles we may want to begin with those on which we think there may be a lot of clarity or even agreement. Let’s start on a positive note: plastic bags. [Please note that the following summary of GA positions appears in the order of the articles on the Warrant, rather than the order in which they were undertaken, for ease of scanning.]

           • #5: Kelley’s Corner funding

There is no consensus on recommending or not recommending this article.

Agreed that GA should make a noncommittal statement encouraging people to educate themselves, to be posted on the website.

             • #15: 257 Central Street lot purchase                               

There is no consensus on this article.

The group decided to pass on taking a position. Discussed pros and cons, including the role of open space in a high-density village, concerns about voting for a purchase while an active sale is in process, and the way it wouldn’t solve the Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market location issues.  

             •  #21: sewer enterprise fund

There is no consensus on this article.

The discussion was about the part of this budget that would include spending $225,000 for a feasibility study of what sewering of West Acton might look like and what it would involve.

             • #25: Ag Comm & #26: RTF bylaw                                         

There is no consensus on this article.

Article 25 proposes establishment of an Agricultural Commission in Acton; Article 26 would establish (via reiteration of the state statute) a Right-to-Farm (RTF) bylaw. The state statute defines what farming is and what farmers are allowed to do, and then municipalities can adopt local Right-to-Farm bylaws. Functionally, it primarily creates a platform from which to educate the public about agriculture, endorse the value of farming, and help interpret what the state statute means. Many towns have both an Ag Comm and an RTF bylaw; some have one or the other. An Ag Comm can purchase property at the behest of town government. Proposal for an Ag Comm is for a 5-member board, with members designated by the Board of Selectmen, as is typical for town boards and committees/ commissions. Concerns included animal rights issues, and corporate rights issues. Supportive comments included noting how supporting agriculture is part of our mission.

             • #28: public way permit bylaw change

[Late-breaking news: after additional information came to light after the meeting, the directors changed the recommendation to taking no position. See next minutes for details]

GA consensus is to oppose this article.

This article proposes to change the bylaw about how public way permits are approved or disapproved. Existing one says that there can be no breaking right of way w/o BoS permission; the proposed bylaw change would add “or its designee” so that it would be handled by the BoS or some entity the BoS delegates to do this. Our sense is that this was seen as an efficiency measure that seems fine on the face of it. But it includes approvals for utilities opening the roads, including for gas leak repair or new natural gas infrastructure. The hearings with the BoS provided a chance for the public to weigh in on natural gas issues, including new infrastructure. It would seem that this change would likely result in a staff person handling approvals/disapprovals, and this would eliminate the chance for the public to weigh in.

             • #29: reduction Planning Board membership                                           

GA consensus is to oppose this article.

The current Planning Board charter sets membership at seven regular members and two associates. The PB has struggled to keep membership census at seven, and even to have quorum at meetings. This is an attempt to help the PB have quorum for meetings. We agree to oppose: we’d like to see he planning board do more planning, which will need, and presumably attract, additional people.

             • #30 & #31: accessory apartments (inc. detached)

GA consensus is to support the concept of small accessory dwelling units, but takes no position on which of the two is preferable.

Detached accessory units allow people to stay in place and have privacy. Special permits allow tighter regulation and vetting by local commission to get neighbor input. #30 (Town-generated article) would permit new, detached accessory dwelling unit (ADU) of no more than 500 sf with no special permit. #31 (the citizen petition article) requires a special permit. Other points raised: smaller homes are “greener” and more social, and put less strain on infrastructure and town finances. Agee that small accessory apartments are a good thing, but GA should say nothing about which article is preferable.

             • #32: Plastic bag ban

GA consensus is to support this article for enviro and health reasons.

Carolyn shared her the Ban the Bag Acton brochure and gave a brief summary of the article and the case for it. Group supports.

             • #33 building moratorium 

There is no consensus on this article.

             • #34: development rate limit

There is no consensus on this article.

             • #35: land clearing limits   

GA consensus is to support this article.

GA supports this for the open space protection, carbon sequestration, and environmental services that trees and other vegetation on undeveloped land provide.

             • #36: new single-family house size limit                                             

This non-binding article would tell the BoS that residents want the Town to propose a zoning bylaw that would set limits on the size of new residential buildings to a sf maximum, and bring that to Town Meeting 2020. The goals are to avoid construction of very large homes (aka “McMansions”).

Points raised: we aren’t ready to present or support this; these are important issues that should be discussed in Town, among citizens and board members and staff; a single large house will tend to use less energy than a number of standalone homes that total the same volume.

The group has no agreement. We should craft a positive statement that GA supports the idea that these issues are worth of discussion over the next year (and beyond), encourages residents and Town staff to engage on these issues and planning, and perhaps return next year.

   • #37: omit turning lanes

There is no consensus on this article.

             • #38: KMart parcel

There is no consensus on this article.     

Points raised: It would be great to have control over this parcel. The purchase and site costs would be very high. Site is unlikely to be developed without a zoning change.      

             • #40 & #41 (now changed to #39 & #40): stormwater bylaws

GA consensus is to support both these articles.

Legal and regulatory management of stormwater is fragmented across local and state laws and regulations. Paul Campbell (Town engineer) has proposed a comprehensive overhaul of this regulatory regime, which attends to how the different parts of this complex system interact. This article proposes a new bylaw that sets out a comprehensive plan, including changes that will be good for the environment, including designing for a 25-year storm rather than a 10-year storm, being more specific about how runoff and recharge are calculated, and requiring treatment for water quality before discharge offsite.

There was a concern that this move would benefit developers, but local water experts have said that they believe that the change would increase protections, and that the elimination of the ambiguity would  be best for the environment and would minimize runoff, and require design for 25-year instead of 10-year floods.
The group supports these articles.

8:45 |  Checkout (at Facilitator’s discretion): what went well at the meeting,
(oops – ran out of time)          

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