A special town meeting was held Monday, December 16 at Dennett Elementary School in Plympton. Each speaker was allowed three minutes during the first round of discussion on an article and up to two minutes during the second round. Town moderator Barry DeCristofano said, “we come here as friends and neighbors; we will leave here as neighbors and hopefully still friends.”
Planning Board Chair Ann Sobolewski spoke to Article 1 which strikes section 6.10 of the Plympton Zoning Bylaws that regulates solar facilities and replaces it with a significantly revised article. Sobolewski asked that section 126.96.36.199.2, which prohibited the use of herbicides, be changed to allow them as they had since learned that prohibiting them could negatively impact the site if agricultural. Sobolewski asked that the warrant be approved as otherwise printed in the warrant.
Sobolewski explained to her fellow residents that the current by-law regarding solar facilities was adopted wholesale directly from a model provided by the state that was meant to encourage large scale ground mounted solar facilities. She further explained that this article is an attempt to change the bylaw to make it more beneficial to the town.
Sobolewski addressed her fellow residents saying, “I can tell you the only thing the Planning Board has done since I have been chair as of this past May is look at enormous large scale solar energy facilities being installed in Plympton one after the other after the other; they don’t stop. There is lots of deforestation associated with them and the way the bylaw is currently written there is literally very little we can do.”
A properly published public hearing on the matter was held back on Nov. 12 to discuss the bylaw changes. Regarding the public participation, Sobolewski noted that “in general the comments were favorable.” At the conclusion of the hearing the Planning Board Recommended Article 1 with four in favor and one abstention. The abstention felt that the changes were not necessarily strong enough.
Co-chair of the Open Space Committee Linda Leddy, who also served on an active subcommittee regarding the bylaw change, asked to speak to the article. Leddy asked to acknowledge Amy Cronin who also served on the subcommittee but was unable to attend the town meeting. Planning Board member John Schmid also served on the subcommittee and was in attendance. Leddy echoed Sobolewski’s sentiment saying that the model bylaw they adopted had very few parameters associated with it. Leddy said that the number one concern as expressed through the Open Space surveys is keeping the character of Plympton rural. Another major concern was that the town continue to support the local farmers. Leddy explained, “What we’re really trying to draft in this is to find the middle road between the basic bylaw we have right now and one that would be more extreme and shut many things down.” Leddy said that limiting forest cutting to no more than ten percent of the acreage on the property was one of the ways that the subcommittee hoped to ensure that the rural character was maintained.
Article 1, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, was passed with a show of nearly all hands in the crowded room. There were only a handful of residents voting against.
Article 2 would enable the Board of Selectmen to appoint Matthew Clancy as the new Plympton police chief. Chair of the Board of Selectmen Christine Joy moved the article as written in the warrant. Joy spoke on behalf of the article saying, “Matthew Clancy is uniquely qualified to serve as our chief of police and it is in the town’s best interest to secure his services.” Before returning to Plympton as the interim police chief, Clancy served as the Plympton police chief from December 2002 to April 2010. The article easily passed.
Article 3 would allow the Board of Selectmen to establish designated safety zones for roads that are not a state highway. The article would give the Board the ability to reduce speed limits in such zones without Massachusetts Department of Transportation approval. Selectman Mark Russo spoke to the article telling residents the article would provide an “easy, inexpensive fix for some safety problems rather than expensive construction.” Russo also assured those in attendance that the Board would not take action without significant input from abutters and other concerned residents. Nearly all in attendance voted to approve the article as stated in the warrant.
Article 4, which had the support of both the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee, would transfer available funds in the amount of $12,501 from the general stabilization fund to pay for an eight passenger, wheelchair accessible van to be used by the Council on Aging (COA). Selectman John Traynor explained that the current van used by the COA is not wheelchair accessible. Traynor further explained that the town received a Massachusetts Department of Transportation grant in the amount of $62,800 but that the town was required to match 20 percent of the grant.
A resident asked what would be done with the current van and if an additional driver was to be added. Traynor said that currently the COA utilizes a non-wheelchair accessible van as well as a sedan that formerly belonged to the police department. Traynor said that they will most likely be getting rid of one of the vehicles though it may be the sedan. Traynor also said that currently the COA has one paid driver and one volunteer. He said he is hopeful to have more volunteers in the future. COA director Joy Marble addressed the crowd saying, “It is very much needed, not just for seniors but for handicapped residents.” The article passed with what appeared to be unanimous support.
Article 5 proposed increasing the fines for dog related offenses to match the standard rates required by the state. Animal control officer Brian Kling explained to residents that the fines imposed by municipalities cannot be lower than those in the statute. There were a few questions by the public regarding the bylaws affecting the control of animals though none specifically about the increase in fines. Sobolewski elected to address the crowd reminding them that they were mandated to increase the fines. The article passed.
Article 6, that was not recommended by the Board of Selectmen or the Finance Committee, was to transfer funds from an available overlay surplus fund in the amount of $270,000 in order to reduce the fiscal 2020 interim tax rate. The Board of Assessors made a motion to pass over the article rather than voting upon it. The motion was approved.
Article 7 generated the most controversy albeit still minimal. The article would transfer $20,000 from available overlay surplus funds for the purpose of purchasing and installing an update for the Assessors’ CAMA system software. Neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Finance Committee recommended the article. Chair of the Board of Assessors Ethan Stiles explained that fiscal year 2022 is a revaluation year where the assessors must update all the assessments in the town. According to Stiles the Board of Assessors last updated their software in 2014. Stiles referred to the conversion as a “nightmare” and explained that the Board doesn’t want to wait until the spring to bring their request to town meeting as they want to avoid having to convert the software during a revaluation year. Planning Board member John Schmid asked several questions of town accountant Barbara Gomez before saying, “I support this.” Finance Committee Chair Nathaniel Sides said, “Speaking on behalf of the Finance Committee, the reason the Finance Committee does not feel that this is an appropriate article to entertain at tonight’s town meeting is exactly the fact that we have not had the opportunity to do our due diligence the way we normally would do when an article like this is presented… so that is the primary reason we voted against recommending this article at special town meeting. We are not necessarily saying that this item isn’t worthy of funding at a future town meeting, but we feel very strongly that this is the type of article that should be entertained at an annual town meeting and not rushed at a special town meeting.” Joy agreed saying that it is not that the Board of Selectmen doesn’t support the request but rather that they don’t feel it is appropriate for a special town meeting. The article failed to pass but the vote was the closest of the night.