Stretch Code, Wireless Zoning Dominate Town Meeting Discussions
Westwood's annual Town Meeting was continued to Tuesday, May 8, due to lack of a quorum towards the end of the evening Monday.
Unlike Town Meeting in 2011, this year's event had little trouble making the quorum of 175 attendees, with the majority of the Westwood High School auditorium filling up by the time things kicked off at 7:30 p.m.
But a significant number of attendees departed after votes were made on the two dominant issues of the evening - adoption of a Stretch Energy Code and the town's wireless zoning - and by 11 p.m., a lack of a quorum prompted officials to adjourn for the evening, continuing Town Meeting to take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The adjournment, however, came after two lengthy discussions regarding those two issues, both of which were recommended for indefinite postponement by the Westwood Finance Commission.
But voters opposed that recommendation and subsequently voted in favor of the Stretch Code's adoption, and voted against an additional wireless district.
Stretch Code Approved
Last year, Westwood spent approximately $1,514,000 on energy, according to Westwood Environmental Action Committee Chair Peter Kane Monday night.
"We now have a clear picture of where we're spending money on energy, and how it's being spent," Kane said.
One of the things that could significantly save the town money moving forward, he added, would be the adoption of a Stretch Energy Code, something Kane and WEAC have been working towards for the last several years.
FinCom, though, recommended indefinite postponement of the article, citing a number of concerns, such as the possibility of the Stretch Code’s requirements deterring commercial development in town.
But the majority of attendees Monday night voted against indefinite postponement in a standing vote of 147-93, and the majority of attendees then voted in favor of adopting the code.
The Stretch Code was originally proposed for Town Meeting in 2011, but WEAC dropped it after concerns were raised regarding its benefits.
The matter resurfaced for this year's warrant, and gained significant support from attendees Monday night.
"I think this article represents one of the most important opportunities our town has," Selectmen Clerk Nancy Hyde said.
WEAC Member Tom Philbin weighed in as well, saying that approximately $345,000 was spent on energy-efficient improvements at the high school and Thurston Middle School, a move that he said will save the town about $800,000 over the next 10 years, and similar improvements could be made elsewhere moving forward.
FinCom Chair Mary Masi-Phelps weighed in on why the Commission recommended indefinite postponement.
"In the case of the Stretch Code, it's not something where there was any opportunity to change any part of it," Phelps said. "The requirements of the Stretch Code are subject to change in the future."
Moreover, Phelps added that the state's current base energy code is working towards a similar energy-efficient goal, and the town would eventually meet the needs of the Stretch Code anyway.
"We're looking at this as something where we're getting more efficient buildings," she said. "The stretch code gets you there sooner, but we are getting towards more efficient buildings.
One resident, John Lucas, expressed concern over the health impacts of more tightly-built buildings, and questioned if it was a good idea to adopt the Stretch Code
"I think it's too fast a change," he said. "It's about getting there sooner, it's the speed of doing it."
The Stretch Code is the final requirement Westwood needs to meet to be considered a Green Community, and is expected to go into effect in July 2013.
Wireless District Denied
The other contentious issue of the evening revolved around the Planning Board's proposal of amending the town's wireless zoning bylaw to allow for two separate wireless districts instead of one.
While supportive of the article as a whole, members of the FinCom recommended indefinite postponement, citing such concerns as the use of Buckmaster Pond and the Westwood Cemetery as locations for potential wireless facilities in the future.
Attendees Monday night opposed the FinCom recommendation in a standing vote of 102-62, but a two-thirds standing vote then opposed the article altogether.
Under the proposed amendments, WCOD1 would allow for the installation of major or minor wireless communication facilities that are free standing or extend more than 10 feet in height above a building or structure. Such areas in Westwood that fall under this district would include the Sheehan Elementary athletic fields, a portion of Buckmaster Pond, Westwood Lodge and the New Westwood Cemetery.
WCOD2, meanwhile, would allow for only minor wireless communications facilities that are either fully contained within a building or structure, or don't extend more than 10 feet above a building or structure. _Hale Reservation_Westwood Town Hall, the new Westwood Public Library, the Colburn School and parcels owned by Westwood's religious organizations would fall under this district. The Carby Street Municipal Building was originally apart of WCOD2, but was later dropped.
The vote against the article came after much discussion from both sides of the issue.
"We are not at all proposing to place a cell tower anywhere near where a grave might be placed," Planning Board Chair Steve Rafsky said in a presentation Monday.
The use of the site was one of the main concerns of FinCom member Denise Murphy.
"There was a hearing in which a number of people came out and spoke about the Carby Street location and that was taken off the list," Muprhy said. "There's no one to speak for the cemetery, because they're dead. I think that having such a strong, visual impairment as a cell tower would disrupt the sanctity [of the area]."
Selectmen Third-Member Phil Shapiro was in favor of indefinite postponement, citing a number of reasons, such as the distinction of which sites should be considered.
"Someone who lives across from the Deerfield School should have the same protection as someone who lives across the street from the Islington Community Center, Town Hall, Hale," he said, adding that 100-foot cell towers would not be hard to find. "We don't have any 100-foot trees in Westwood. If it's at Buckmaster Pond, it's going to be very visible."
After the article was opposed, voting continued on Articles 32-35 before a motion to reconsider the vote on the wireless district was heard, at which point it was discovered that Town Meeting was no longer at its 175 attendees needed to make quorum, and instead only 139 were present.