Town Meeting - May 1st, 2024

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Night three of Arlington Town Meeting. Materials were available from


(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says that we'll start with Article 45, and then resume with Article 16. May 6th will be budget night, and May 8th will be the Special Town Meeting. Mr. Christiana says the Select Board voted not to make a recommendation on Article 5, so that will be up to Town Meeting. Once Article 1 is finished, Mr. Christiana will entertain motions to adjourn the special town meeting and go back to the annual one, if town meeting members feel they need more time to go through the various reports.

Mr. Christiana says he'll use the same procedure for Article 5 as we've used for resolutions in the past. There will be one speaker in support and one opposed, plus speakers of any substantial amendments or substitute motions. Speakers will be selected by the Moderator, and Mr. Christiana encourages people to contact him if they're interested in doing so.

(Mark Rosenthal, Precinct 14) Mr. Rosenthal asks how the opposition speaker will be selected.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says the speaker will be selected at his discretion.

We have our test vote: will the Bruins win the Stanley Cup? The vote is 93--64--35.


(Nancy Bloom, Precinct 18) Ms. Bloom says that St. John's Episcopal church is holding a barn dance on Sunday May 3rd.

Article 3 - Reports of Committees

Town meeting receives the Redevelopment Board's supplemental report, the School Committee Budget Report, and the report of the Hybrid Town Meeting Study Committee.

(Alex Bagnall, Hybrid Town Meeting Study Committee) Mr. Bagnall says the study committee reviewed hybrid meeting policies from other towns. They're making recommendations on technologies that may be useful, and the budget required. Members of the committee attended a hybrid town meeting in Lexington. Belmont, Brookline, and Burlington are also looking at ways to do hybrid town meetings.

(Rebecca Gruber, Hybrid Town Meeting Study Committee) Ms. Gruber says they've designed four different surveys; one was sent to current town meeting members, and about half of them have responded. The committee doesn't have a time-frame for when hybrid town meetings might become possible. They meet on the fourth Monday of each month.

Article 45 - Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School and out of District Vocational Placements

(Al Tosti, Finance Committee) Mr. Tosti says that Arlington has been a member of the Minuteman Community since the school was created 50 years ago. The issue with the Minuteman is cost. He says the school made promises to the Finance Committee, namely that the cost of the athletic field not be charged back to member towns. Mr. Tosti says the new superintendent carried through on that commitment and the Finance Committee recommends favorable action on Article 45.

(Kevin Mahoney, Interim Superintendent) Mr. Mahoney says the school has found a new permanent superintendent, Heidi Driscoll, who will take over on July 1st.

Mr. Mahoney summarizes the Minuteman Budget. They have $31.5M budgeted for operational and capital expenses, which is a 3.96% increase over FY24. Operating expenses are up 3%. $1.6M is budgeted for capital expenses, to seed the school's capital stabilization fund. Debt service is budgeted at $5.7M, which is a 1.35% increase over FY24. Arlington's FY25 assessment is $8.6M, which is a 4.15% reduction from FY24.

Out of school district enrollment has been decreasing. The main budget drivers are collective bargaining, renewing positions that were originally funded during COVID, adding a foreign language teacher and an athletic trainer, transportation, the capital stabilization fund, and OPEB ("other post-employment benefits").

216 of Minuteman's 649 students are from Arlington.

The decrease in out-of-district enrollment means there will generally be higher assessments to in-district communities. Mr. Mahoney says that Minuteman is the highest-cost vocational school in Massachusetts, and that's mostly driven by salaries, transportation costs, and special education.

(Eugene Benson, Precinct 10) Mr. Benson says that Arlington often compares itself to similar communities, so he tried to compare the Minuteman with Shasheen Valley Technical School. Minuteman's tuition is $39.8k/year while Shasheen's is $23.7k/year. He says this translates to a $3M dollar difference in per-pupil tuition costs. He asks if the Minuteman is at capacity.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says they're operating at slightly above capacity.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if the school is considering cost reductions.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says that costs have increased due to higher enrollment. He doesn't believe that Shasheen is carrying any significant debt service.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he would appreciate a more detailed budget breakdown in the future. He asks if Minuteman is pursuing state aid.

(?, Business Manager) Minuteman's business manager says the school received $2.9M in state aid.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks about transportation aid.

(?, Business Manager) Yes, Minuteman received $800k in transportation aid.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says that Shasheen got $1M in transportation aid and $8M in state aid. He wanted to share information about this disparity.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti says that the Minuteman School represents a wealthier district, and state aid is based on wealth. He says that Shasheen also has a much larger enrollment.

(Michael Ruderman, Precinct 9) Mr. Ruderman asks if any out-of-district students were accepted in the last application period.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says they accepted 175 in-district applicants, but 7--8 of them declined. They're also following up with some late applicants.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman considers this a promise fulfilled. We now have a school building that's worth the education taking place inside, and it's being filled with in-district students. Mr. Ruderman asks where the students are headed next.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says that 60--65% of graduating seniors will go on to college, 30% will go directly into the trades, and about 5% will go into the military.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman says there are a great variety of programs at the Minuteman, and there's a success story in that.

(Steven Moore, Precinct 18) Mr. Moore asks if the capital budget increased because of the new school building.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says some of the increase is related to the building. Some of the capital budget is going towards construction of a new athletic field, but those costs will be repaid via field rentals. Towns will only be assessed for operating expenses associated with the field.

(Steven Moore) Mr. Moore has a question about superintendent turnover. He asks when the last permanent superintendent was hired and left.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney doesn't have an answer to that. He was hired as interim superintendent last May, and his contract ends at the end of June.

(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 9) Mr. Kaepplein asks about the cost of the last superintendent's golden parachute.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says the settlement was for $216k.

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks about the school's energy costs.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says they're trying to maximize the use of solar.

(Andrew Fischer, Precinct 6) Mr. Fischer asks if there was a lawsuit over the school not admitting some students.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says there is currently pending legislation over how schools review applications. He says the current selection process involves grades, letters of recommendation, and an interview. The demand for vocational education exceeds the number of seats available.

(Andrew Fischer) Mr. Fischer asks about the criteria for not accepting an applicant.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says they want to see a student's willingness to pursue vocational education. Student conduct is also a consideration.

(Elizabeth Dray, Precinct 10) Ms. Dray asks if the Minuteman is considering an expansion into the east building.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney answers in the affirmative.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray asks if the daycare will be relocated.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says the daycare is no longer there.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray asks about the capital cost to renovate the building.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says it's too early to tell. It's a 16,000 square foot building, and renovations would probably cost around $1000/square foot. He expects the renovations will be phased, and says the school is exploring options for grants.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray asks if they'll be able to expand without increasing the cost to member towns.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says that's the goal.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray asks why Arlington's enrollment is down.

(Kevin Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney thinks the new Arlington High School provides an attractive option for students.

(Daniel Jalkut, Precinct 6) Mr. Jalkut moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.

Article 45 passes, 210--2--2.

(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15, Point of order) Mr. Wagner says the auditorium's sound quality is not adequate. He hopes that someone will be able to make improvements.

Article 16 - Pet Sale Restrictions/Retail Pet Sales

Article 16 proposes to ban the sale of live pets in Arlington, with some exceptions.

(Asia Kepka, Precinct 1) Ms. Kepka introduces Laura Kiesel, an Arlington resident who will present Article 16 to Town Meeting.

(Laura Kiesel) Ms. Kiesel says that Article 16 is a prohibition on the sale of live pets. It won't apply to animal shelters, private breeders, or animal rescues. She says that fourteen communities have enacted similar bans. Ms. Kiesel says this article is about puppy mills and poaching animals. About 2.6M puppies come from puppy mills each year while 1M dogs are euthanized. She says the ban would affect mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. There are pet mills for every type of pet sold. These animals are kept in crowded filthy cages, and not all of them are protected by animal welfare laws. Some animals are endangered. One million fish are sold each year, and this contributes to coral reef degradation. Former pets are often let loose, and they become invasive species that crowd out native animals. Ms. Kiesel says that goldfish are released into waterways and crowd out native fish. She says the article has widespread support from local groups and animal rescues.

(Mustafa Varoglu, Precinct 10) Mr. Varoglu has an amendment that would remove birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, so that only the sale of mammals would be prohibited. Mr. Varoglu says that Arlington doesn't have any pet shops, so this warrant article isn't addressing an actual problem. He agrees that animal cruelty is a terrible thing, but thinks this article goes too far and attacks the problem from the wrong end. Mr. Varoglu says that some animals are hard to get outside of pet shops. He's had experience with both breeders and pet shops. Overall, the pet shops were more willing to share knowledge, and he had a better relationship with them.

Mr. Varoglu introduces Arlington resident George Buckley, who'd like to address town meeting on this article.

(George Buckley) Mr. Buckley asks town meeting to vote favorably on Mr. Varoglu's amendment, or to vote down the article. He says that fish should never have been included. Tetras are sustainably harvested in the Amazon, sold, and this benefits the people who live there. Many tropical fish are bred in captivity. Mr. Buckley thinks that sustainable harvesting should be allowed. He says he understands the desire to do something good, but you have to be careful not to do something bad.

(Michael Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham notes that the article would not prohibit bait shops.

(Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10) Mr. Newton moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate fails on a voice vote.

(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman introduces Kerry Thiel, an Arlington resident who wishes to speak on this Article.

(Kerry Thiel) Mr. Thiel says he's spent the last 25 years working on animal welfare, and there are many people who bend over backwards to help animals. He says that animals are dying in shelters, but some smart policies have been crafted, like this one. Mr. Thiel asks people to be for the animals tonight. He says this won't prohibit breeding, or the private sale of fish. He notes that the Select Board suggested the prohibition on fish.

(Beth Ann Friedman, Precinct 15) Ms. Friedman says the animal cruelty aspects are compelling, and she reiterates the ecological impact of releasing non-native species into the wild. She thinks we can do more to safeguard native species. Mr. Friedman says this article is limited to retail pet stores, and people can still purchase animals from breeders and rescue organizations. She says this won't prevent anyone from acquiring pets, and she's in support.

(Carl Wagner, Precinct 15) Mr. Wagner thinks the proponents have a good purpose, but government doesn't succeed by telling 40 thousand people that they can't have pets. He asks if government should also prevent people from eating meat.

(Ben Rudick, Precinct 5) Mr. Rudick moves the question.

Motion to end debate passes by voice vote.

Varoglu amendment fails, 79--130--0.

Article 16 passes, 173--42--2.

Article 17 - Right to Pet Companionship

Article 17 would generally require landlords to allow their tenants to have pets.

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey moves to lay article 17 on the table, so the proponent can continue to work on a substitute motion.

Motion approved by voice vote.

Article 18 - Historic Building Demolition Delay

Article 18 had a recommended vote of no action, but was removed from the consent agenda. No one has offered a substitute motion, so the recommendation is still no action.

Motion of no action approved by voice vote.

Article 20 - Home Rule Legislation/Town Clerk

Article 20 would authorize the Select Board to file home rule legislation, that would change the Town Clerk from an elected to an appointed position.

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board chair) Mr. DeCourcey says the Select Board voted unanimously in favor of Article 20. This question was approved by ballot referendum in the last election, and now needs to go to the legislature for approval. He says the language in the home rule petition is similar to what we used when converting the Treasurer from an elected to an appointed position.

(John Worden, Precinct 8) Mr. Worden has an amendment that would require the appointed clerk to be an Arlington resident. Mr. Worden says the Clerk is the face of the town to many people. People come to the clerk's office for birth certificates, death certificates, and to register to vote. He says that almost everyone has to go there at one time or another. Mr. Worden recalls an instance when a former town clerk opened town hall on a Saturday in order to issue a marriage license to a couple whose wedding was scheduled for that afternoon.

(Annie LaCourt, Precinct 13) Ms. LaCourt asks if it's clear that Mr. Worden's amendment would only apply to the appointed clerk, and not the appointed treasurer.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says that based on context and history, it's clear that the amendment would only apply to the clerk.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says there are two reasons to have an appointed clerk. First, it's an operational position, and not a policy making position. Second, is that it would allow us to search for that professional outside of the town. It may be true that someone who lives outside of town might not be willing to open town hall on a weekend, but the day-to-day professional conduct is more important. Ms. LaCourt notes that, despite being an elected position, the Clerk holds no public meetings, and residents really can't tell what they're doing in the period between elections. She says we need a professional doing that work, and we shouldn't hamper the town's hiring ability.

(Zachary Grunko, Precinct 13) Mr. Grunko moves the question.

Motion to end debate passes, 146--65.

Worden amendment fails, 52--162--2.

Article 20 passes, 173--38--3.

Article 21 - Home Rule Legislation/To Amend the Senior Citizen Property Tax Exemption

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says the select board voted 5--0 to recommend no action on Article 21. He says the article was inserted at the request of the Town Manager, because we weren't sure where the funding for the senior exemption would come from. Mr. DeCourcey says we're now confident that it can be funded from the overlay reserve.

Motion of no action passes by voice vote.

Article 22 - Home Rule Legislation/Lowering the Voting Age to 16 in Local Elections

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey moves to postpone Article 22 until Monday evening, so the proponent -- who is a high school student -- can be here to present it.

There's discussion on the postponement date. The town budget is scheduled for Monday, and that usually takes a while. Instead, we'll postpone until Wednesday, and take up Article 22 after the Special Town Meeting.

Motion to postpone passes by voice vote.

Article 23 - Endorsement of CDBG Application

Article 23 asks Town Meeting to endorse this year's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) applications.

(Claire Ricker, Planning Director) Ms. Ricker says that we expect to receive $1M in CDBG funding this year. The proposal is to spend $100k on housing, $151k on public services, $450k on public facilities, $50k for studies, $200k for staff and administration, and $50k to offset salaries.

(Judith Garber, Precinct 4) Ms. Garber says that Arlington EATS applied for a grant, but received no funding. She asks why.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says that Arlington EATS has other pathways to funding. There were more applications than we were able to fund.

(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 9) Mr. Kaepplein asks if CDBG funds have to be repaid.

(Claire Ricker) Ms. Ricker says they're grants, and not subject to repayment.

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks about the $200k request to have the Foot of the Rocks turned into a public gathering space.

(Greg Christian, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana notes that $0 was funded for that request.

(Linda Hanson, Precinct 9) Ms. Hanson also had a question about Arlington EATS. That organization provides food, and the need for their services is growing. They serve over 500 people every week. Arlington EATS feels more like a core service, and she thinks there should be town buy-in. She notes that the Foot of the Rocks was recommended for Community Preservation Act funding.

(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman moves the question.

Motion to end debate passes by voice vote.

Article 23 passes, 211--3--1.

Article 24 - Revolving Funds

Article 24 is a vote on whether to reauthorize the town's revolving funds.

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says this is an annual vote to reauthorize the town's revolving funds.

(Alex McGee, Finance Manager) Mr. McGee says that revolving funds are generally self-sustaining. We're adding two new funds this year: one for Cutter Gallery rentals and another for Community Center rentals. Each of the funds has a spending cap, which can't be exceeded in a given year.

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti asks why the ambulance funds expenses were greater than its receipts.

(Alex McGee) Mr. McGee says that we made a change in how the ambulance fund was accounted for, a year and a half ago. We take basic life services and Armstrong Ambulance takes advanced life services.

Article 24 passes, 211--0--1.

Article 25 - Building Definitions

Article 25 proposes to change the zoning bylaw definitions of "building, attached" and "building detached".

(Steve Revilak, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Revilak says that Article 25 intends to clarify the Zoning Bylaw by refining the definitions of "Attached" vs "Detached: Buildings. It was proposed by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The current definitions of Attached and Detached buildings in the Zoning Bylaw are not internally consistent, so some buildings do not clearly fall into either category. The revised definitions were written in consultation with the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Inspectional Services Department and are consistent with the manner in which ISD has been interpreting the Zoning Bylaw.

The proposed definition of "Building, Attached" would read "A building having any portion of one or more walls or roofs in common with another adjoining building, or buildings, or otherwise connected by a roof to another building or buildings." This defines attached buildings as sharing roofs or walls.

The proposed definition of Building, Detached would read: A building that does not meet the definition of Building, Attached.

Mr. Revilak says the ARB voted 5--0 in favor of Article 25.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana notes that Mr. Worden removed Article 25 from the consent agenda. He asks if Mr. Worden would like to say something about the article.

(John Worden, Precinct 8) Mr. Worden believes that anything related to zoning shouldn't be on the consent agenda. Instead each article should be explained to town meeting. Mr. Worden thinks this article is reasonable, now that he's heard the explanation.

(Ben Rudick, Precinct 5) Mr. Rudick moves the question.

Motion to end debate passes by voice vote.

Article 25 passes, 208--2--2.

Mr. Revilak asks for Article 27 to be taken before Article 26, because there's a logical dependency between the two. Town Meeting agrees.

Article 27 - Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Administrative Correction

(Steve Revilak, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Revilak says this article proposes to change the existing list of conditions in section 5.9.2.B(1) from bullet points to letters, to make it easier to refer to individual provisions of the Zoning Bylaw. This article would also delete a subsection from the bylaw that is obsolete as it references dates that have passed. This article does not make any changes to the conditions or rules under which Accessory Dwelling Units are allowed. This amendment was proposed by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

This article would also delete of a subsection that is obsolete as the effective dates have passed. The dates reference the addition of the Accessory Dwelling Units to the Bylaw, which were passed at Town Meeting in Spring of 2021. The 6 month period referenced in item (iii) has passed as well.

Mr. Revilak says the Redevelopment Board voted 5--0 in favor of Article 27.

Article 27 passes, 212--1--1.

Article 26 - Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Administrative Clarification

(Eugene Benson, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Benson says that Article 27 proposes to update a reference in Section 5.4.3, by adding a citation to Section 5.9.2.B.1.e. He says it's just adding a reference to an exception elsewhere in the bylaw.

Article 26 passes, 211--2--1.

Article 28 - Delete Inland Wetland Overlay District

(Eugene Benson, Redevelopment Board) Mr. Benson says this article proposes to delete the Inland Wetland Overlay District from the Zoning bylaw. There's a small change to the ARB's main motion, which is contained in the supplemental report that was filed earlier this evening. Mr. Benson says the zoning bylaw's inland wetland district pre-dates the state's wetland protections act. The wetland protections act and the town's wetland bylaws are administered by the Conservation Commission, and he says they're the most appropriate body to adjudicate wetlands issues. He says this article was proposed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and endorsed by the Conservation Commission and the town's environmental planner.

Mr. Benson says he was a lawyer who worked on environmental issues, and he looked closely to make sure that the removal of this section would not reduce wetland protections. He says this will remove any ambiguity around which body has jurisdiction. He thinks that Arlington's Conservation Commission is one of the best in the state, and he's found no examples of where this section of the bylaw has been used.

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7) Mr. Loreti rises in opposition to this article, and he doesn't think what Mr. Benson said was factually correct. Mr. Loreti says the inland wetland district has existed in the bylaw since 1975. The bylaw was recodified a few years ago, and this section was left in rather than removed. Mr. Loreti thinks that leaving it in will provide greater protection to the town's permitting decisions. He says that none of the ARB's permitting decisions have been challenged in the last 20 years, but the Conservation Commissions decisions are challenged more frequently. Mr. Loreti says that lots of things come before the ARB and ZBA, who always defer to the Conservation Commission. He thinks this provision brings the conservation commission into the process earlier. He says there's been a lot of staff turnover lately, which has resulted in a loss of institutional knowledge.

(Aram Hollman, Precinct 6) Mr. Hollman says he's concerned with what's being proposed. He says the inland wetland district applies to an area 200' from the wetlands, and asks if there's any flexibility to eliminate that requirement.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the town bylaw also covers a 200' distance.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman says the town bylaw says "may maintain a strip", and he thinks that gives the conservation commission the discretion to eliminate the requirement. He doesn't see this element of discretion in the zoning bylaw.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he's not aware of any cases where this section was used by the ZBA or ARB.

(Aram Hollman) Mr. Hollman says he's not fully convinced that there will be no loss of protection. He thinks the Conservation Commission has the discretion to enforce wetland protections, but not a mandate to do so.

(JP Lewicke, Precinct 2) Mr. Lewicke moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 152--57--3.

Article 28 fails, 135--78--0 (two-thirds vote required).

Meeting adjourned.