Not a Good Day for Citizen’s Petitions at Westford’s Annual Town Meeting

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Annual Town Meeting ended on March 23 with some unexpected outcomes.

Article 16

Several of the controversial issues that were so consuming prior to annual Town Meeting, were dismissed, including article 16, filed by residents Tom Barry and Chris Nussbum. The two residents asked voters to amend an Agricultural Preservation Restriction on a 9-acre Boston Road parcel, to allow the construction of a restaurant there by developer Ebi Masalehdan.

Ebi Masalehdan with his attorney, Michael O’Neill of Boston. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

In the late 1990s, the town paid the land owner $525K for the development rights, the right of first refusal and the guarantee of its perpetual preservation as agricultural land. Masalehdan purchased the land for $600K in 2016 with the intent of building a restaurant. A group of residents who were opposed to developing the land encouraged voters to deny the petition leading up to the meeting. Similar measures had failed at the 2017 and 2018 annual Town Meetings. But before debate began, resident Bob Carter stepped up to the microphone and moved to dismiss the article. Former selectman, Don Siriani was right behind him to second it.

Article 19

In all there were 25 articles acted upon, including six citizen’s petitions. One petition filed by resident John McLaughlin failed 238 to 228 in changing Chapter 58.3 of the town’s bylaws. McLaughlin, who lives on Village View Road wanted selectmen to withdraw the permission to drink alcohol in the parking area of the VFW ball field, which had been granted to the Over 30 Softball League in 2014. McLaughlin said the ball players are loud and disturb the quiet peacefulness of the night. McLaughlin’s neighbor, Ken Wilmer took on the role of neighborhood spokesman. He noted that the law regarding alcohol consumption in Massachusetts is not clear cut.

“What is the law in Massachusetts? Can you drink in Massachusetts? Can you drink in public in Massachusetts…the answer is it all depends on where you are…,” Wilmer said. “Westford treats drinking on public and private properties the same way. If you have permission…you can drink on that property.”

Article 20

Resident Juliette Mount’s petition would have imposed a penalty on anyone violating a bylaw or regulation. The petition was so unenforceable that Town Counsel John Giorgio warned against it.

“Madam Moderator…this proposed bylaw is inconsistent with state law…so if you went ahead and approved this bylaw today…in all likelihood, the Attorney General is going to deny this…,”Giorgio said.

Renaming of Stony Brook School

The last two articles on the warrant involved the proposed renaming of the Stony Brook School to the Everett V. Olsen Jr. Middle School at Stony Brook. The Naming Committee sought to bestow the honor upon Olsen right away. But others, including the School Committee, wanted to wait until his retirement. A motion to dismiss the article prevailed putting an end to all debate.

“Motion to dismiss, yes, 118. Motion to dismiss, no, 115. So the motion to dismiss passes by a majority vote,” said Town Moderator Susan McNeill Spuhler.

Gordon B. Seavey Appreciation Award

When Town Meeting broke for lunch earlier in the day, Permanent Town Building Committee Chairman Tom Mahanna and former Permanent Town Building Committee member Tom Ellis  were awarded the Gordon B. Seavey Appreciation Award for their dedication to the School Department.

Gordon B. Seavey award recipient, Tom Mahanna, walks to the microphone. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

 

“This year we are awarding it to two gentlemen who I’ve been involved with for a number of years, who have provided unending service to our school system in terms of capital planning, facilities oversight and planning, meeting with school staff and our administration to design and oversee facilities along with both the permanent school building committee when it was in operation,” Olsen said.

Tom Ellis, shakes hands with Superintendent Bill Olsen after being named the awardee of the Gordon B. Seavey Appreciation Award. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

Seavey was a resident of Westford and the editor of the Belmont Citizen. He established the award to honor someone each year who has made an extraordinary contribution toward education in town. He died in 1996 at the age of 91.

State of Town

At annual Town Meeting, Town Manager Jodi Ross’s balanced municipal budget for fiscal 2020 of $117,945,274 was approved by voters.The amount represents a 2.86 percent increase over last fiscal year’s budget. The fiscal year begins July 1.

“We are presenting to you a balanced budget…we’ve had basically a balanced budget for the last five years and we would like to keep it that way,” Ross said.

Ross also gave an overview of the growth taking place in town as part of her “State of the Town” address.

“Residential development, that’s a big deal for our town right now. As a matter of fact there’s about 640 units under development,” Ross said.

UPDATE – Three photos with captions were added to the story on March 29.