Nine hours and eighteen minutes. That’s how long it took for Westford voters to make their decisions on some of the biggest lingering municipal issues the town has seen over the past few months, or even years in some instances.
The 2016 Annual Town Meeting is now a part of history, with voters approving 24 of the 27 warrant articles brought before them in a sweltering day-long cavalcade of democracy at the Abbot School Gymnasium that just refused to end until it was good and done.
As the afternoon began to turn into the early evening, a motion to adjourn near the 5:30 p.m. expected cut-off point failed, as well as another attempt to continue the meeting until Monday later on.
That early motion to adjourn occurred late in the debate over the proposed amendment to the agricultural preservation restriction (better known as an APR) on what is best known as the Drew Gardens parcel.
Officially known as 66-68 Boston Road, the property was purchased last year by Groton entrepreneur Ebi Masalehdan, who hoped to create a farm-to-table restaurant on the southern third of the nine-acre lot, restoring orchards and building a greenhouse on the northern part of the lot.
However, for this to happen, Town Meeting voters would need to provide an exception to the three-part restriction on the property that explicitly only allows agricultural uses on the lot granted in the late 1990s at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars for the town.
Residents voiced a variety of concerns ranging from the size of the building, which would be approximately three times larger than the current abandoned farmstand on the property, to whether this would be a waste of the money originally spent to preserve the property, also known as one half of “The Gateway to Westford.”
However, supporters also cited a need to address the property, which has lain dormant and in disrepair since 2014. If developed, the property also would have generated approximately $29,000 more per year in property taxes for the town as well as an estimated $7,000 in meals taxes.
After just under two hours of debate, and a hand count vote where some in attendance claimed that voters re-entered during the voting process despite Town Moderator Ellen Harde’s instructions to the contrary, the motion failed by a margin of 106-101.
That would be the only item defeated during the Town Meeting outside of the third attempt for Chaitanya Hiremath’s World Flag petition, which failed in a non-unanimous voice vote. However, it wasn’t the only topic that drew a significant amount of debate.
Voters also eventually approved what was termed as a compromise to last year’s controversial debate regarding the installation of sidewalks on Main Street during the upcoming street repair and water main replacement.
Residents near Kirsi Circle hoped for sidewalks and crosswalks from their just their part of Main Street near Tadmuck Road to the Tedeschi’s Plaza instead of the entire street, which drew opposition from other residents who noted steep grading near Leland Road as well as potential impacts to a historic cow path.
A request to add $210,000 to the $1,895,000 project failed by a margin of 150-145, but another amendment passed that would allow Paul Starratt pursue the sidewalks if they could be obtained within the just under $1.9 million appropriation. That vote succeeded by a 146-128 margin.
Voters also approved $270,000 from Community Preservation funds related to the Roudenbush Community Center’s upcoming rehabilitation after an hour of tense debate and they also prohibited any potential asphalt plants in town, excluding the still pending proposed asphalt plant just off Groton Road.
That prohibition came as a part of two zoning bylaw changes, although even that became heated as Doug Burns of Black Bear Lane described the effort as “snob zoning,” referencing Westford’s efforts to stop Walmart decades earlier in what eventually degenerated into a shouting match with other members of the audience.
Overall, only 11 of the 24 items that did pass did so unanimously, with the others outside of the World Flag and Drew Gardens APR amendment passing some opposition, excluding the dismissal of leasing a new Recreation Department office somewhere in town and an unneeded budget transfer placeholder article.
For additional coverage of the meeting from WestfordCAT News, click here.