The Halifax Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, March 17 began with the three selectmen and Town Administrator Charlie Seelig seated 6 feet apart at a very long table.
The first item on the agenda was a discussion of the revised draft from late February of potential changes to the multi-family housing zoning by-laws. Seelig said that Building Inspector and Zoning Enforcement Agent Rob Piccirilli had approached him with specific concerns regarding various definitions. Halifax’s land use counsel Amy Kwesell was also in attendance to advise on the proposed revisions to the by-laws.
Piccirilli stressed that he felt that there should be a definition of both a townhouse and an apartment in the by-laws. Seelig said that a townhouse would fall under the multi-family category as it is simply another form of a multi-family dwelling.
There was some debate as to whether it would be beneficial to include a specific definition of an apartment in the by-laws. Currently an apartment is classified as a subset of a dwelling unit. Piccirilli said that many other towns clearly define what constitutes an apartment in their by-laws. Seelig said, “An apartment in my head is someone is renting it; if you own it, it’s a condo.”
The conversation moved on to in-law apartments as well. Piccirilli asked, “Our problem with in-law apartments, and I think they are a fantastic thing, but to try and monitor these… when does a single-family dwelling become a two-family dwelling?” Selectman Tom Millias responded with, “immediately.” “In-law is a subject that is ripe for revision, I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with that,” Seelig said. Selectman Gordon Andrews asked, “Can we just note in the multi-family by-law, no accessory apartments allowed?” Seelig said, “I think there’s a worry that somehow, someday, somebody is going to try and glom an additional accessory unit onto one of the condos in the two, or three, or four, and the idea is no, you can’t do that and it needs to be explicitly in the by-law.” Millias agreed saying, “People get creative… we have to get specific.”
There was also a discussion on the differences between two-family homes and multi-family homes. A two-family and duplex are classified as one and the same whereas a multi-family home would have three or more units. Chapter 167, Section 3 provides updates to both the definitions and use requirements for a single two-family dwelling and multi-family dwellings.
Piccirilli shared his concerns over the development of Chapter 40B. Chapter 40B is Massachusetts’ affordable housing law which allows developers to build under a simpler permit process as well as less stringent zoning rules as long as a certain percentage of their units are devoted to low and moderate income families. “I’m not here to say what I want or what anyone else wants; I’m here to do what’s best for the town and the question that’s going to come up at town meeting, that I can foresee, is what kind of breathing room do we have within this to prevent the 40B from coming here?,” Piccirilli asked. Seelig immediately responded with “we don’t.” Kwesell was also quick to respond saying simply, “none.”
Piccirilli was told that cleaning up the by-laws for multi-family dwellings was the first step in incentivizing developers to not go to a Chapter 40B. Kwesell said that the plan was to allow developers to build market-rate units and sell them as market-rate units under the revised by-laws while still providing as much protection as possible to abutters.
Seelig and the selectmen also discussed the ongoing and continually developing situation regarding COVID-19. Seelig addressed the logistics for working from home saying, “If we’re going to both allow or be required… a department head has to make the request of the Board of Selectmen for an individual to work from home.” Seelig also said that the town Board of Health had some money available to pay for laptops for select employees who do not have the required equipment. Town employees working from home are required to provide a synopsis to their department head of how they spent their time each day. Seelig explained, “we need to provide some assurance to the public, to the Board, to the department head that work is actually being done.” “If there are details that need to be filled in, we have time to do that. As with many other things, we’re doing this a little bit on the fly, we’ll smooth out the rough edges as we move along,” Seelig said. The Board of Selectmen voted to approve the framework of the work from home policy.
The possibility of holding public meetings remotely was also briefly discussed.
Since the meeting on March 17, Halifax has actually moved to holding meetings via the platform Zoom with login information available on the town website.
Andrews informed the other selectmen that while 25 percent of students at Halifax Elementary qualify for free or reduced lunch, there was a delay in setting that service up for those still needing it with school closed. He said the delay was due to contract issues within the school system.
The issue has since been resolved. Andrews said that those that are not currently part of the free or reduced lunch program but are currently in need will be helped. He advised that they reach out to the food service director at Silver Lake whose contact information can be found on the town website.