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Changes to town government put on hold, turbine bylaw approved

FAIRHAVEN – Major changes to town government were put on hold at Town Meeting May 4 pending a study by a new committee.

Town Meeting went smoothly, lasting about seven hours with a break for lunch, with members passing a balanced $50 million budget for town operations, including schools.

Changes were approved to the wind turbine bylaw to exert more control, such as limiting the height and establishing setbacks.

Phil Washko made the pitch for forming a government study committee to review the Department of Revenue’s administrative recommendations.

Of the 34 the DOR made, five were up for a vote at Town Meeting. They included changing the executive secretary position to town administrator and abolishing the Board of Public Works and Personnel Board.

Mr. Washko convinced Town Meeting members to wait for study committee’s review. He said, “The changes will significantly affect town government,” and should be “thoroughly vetted” before being adopted.

Finance Committee Chairman John Roderiques advised against “rushing this thing through” on the town administrator and said they need to “fine tune it.”

Selectman Robert Espindola said the study committee will probably reach the same conclusion, however, on upgrading the executive secretary position to town administrator.

The proposed changes also included reducing the number of Finance Committee members from 13 to seven, but Town Meeting indefinitely postponed four of the warrant articles based on DOR recommendations.

The only one it agreed to was having the town’s finance director act as treasurer and collector.

Also on Saturday, the Planning Board’s extensive changes to the wind turbine bylaw were approved.

Town Planner William Roth said the revised bylaw would set the maximum tip height at 265 feet and limit output to 660 kilowatts. He said wind turbines are typically 80 meters but would be about 50 meters under the changed bylaw.

Mr. Roth said the bylaw would apply to municipal projects, too, which would “have to go through the same bylaw,” instead of being “by right” as they are now. He said the changes also include more regulation of noise, including a noise analysis before a turbine goes online. The bylaw also regulates shadow and flicker effects and requires avian studies.

Curt Devlin of Windwise objected to letting the Planning Board waive requirements as long as abutters don’t object. “This is a loophole you can drive a truck through,” he said. But he acknowledged, “It is true that it is a better bylaw than we have now.”

Louise Barteau called it a good start, but said even 265-foot turbines can have a “chilling effect” on property values. She suggested the Planning Board form a citizens advisory group. “We need to consider how many more we want and where we want them,” she said.

Another audience member said the restrictions could discourage developers, however, resulting in the town to lose tax revenues. He said turbines in areas like around New Boston Road would generate less revenue at 50 meters than 80.

“This is a zoning bylaw, not about how much revenue we’re going to be getting,” Mr. Roth said.

Henry Ferreira questioned making decisions based on tax revenues “and not the impacts on the people who live around them.” His comment generated applause.

Mr. Ferreira said the bylaw changes gave the town “a second bite of the apple… You might just be able to preserve your quality of life.”

The wind bylaw passed by a two thirds majority. During the discussion, Town Moderator Mark Sylvia was replaced by a newly appointed assistant moderator, Christopher Bunnell. Mr. Sylvia stepped aside because he is a commissioner with the state Department of Environmental Resources.

Earlier, Town Meeting approved a solar bylaw, also crafted by the Planning Board. Mr. Roth said it would require a minimum 10-acre lot, require setbacks and screening from abutters, and not allow clear cutting. It also had language governing decommissioning and abandoning.

Paving roads

Also generating discussion was which roads to pave. The Board of Public Works recommended Dogwood Street, a dirt road on West Island; North Street; and Cooke Street, in that order of importance depending on funds. The Finance Committee pushed for just North and Cooke and its recommendation won.

Mr. Roderiques said Cooke Street is in “dire straights.” He said, “We can’t afford to keep adding paved roads when we can’t take care of the ones we already have.”

Steven Riley, who chairs the BPW, said Dogwood was its first choice because it’s been on the list for three years. “The Finance Committee should not be picking roads,” he said. “It’s the Board of Public Works’s responsibility.”

It could be that where people live influenced some votes.

David Gonsalves said he grew up on Cooke Street and that his mother still lives there.

“Cooke Street has been bumped for many years now,” Mr. Gonsalves said. He said it has been filled with cold patch instead of being repaved and has “just languished.”

BPW member Robert Hobson said the work on Cooke would be more complicated, however, because of pipes under the road and hookups. He said the dirt from Dogwood is getting into people’s homes.

Liquor licenses

Town Meeting authorized the Board of Selectmen to petition the state General Court for special legislation authorizing a beer and wine license for Mac’s Soda Bar on Sconticut Neck Road. It was approved “notwithstanding any limitations” on the number of alcohol licenses allowed under state law.

Lisa Malcolm said Mac’s first applied for the license eight years ago.

Another restaurant alcohol license was approved as site-specific for the location of the former Pizzeria Uno’s on Huttleston Avenue. The owner’s attorney said Edgar Brambila of Fronteria Grillo wanted to open a Mexican restaurant, Fronteria Grillo, there.

Mr. Brambila said he wants to open a family friendly restaurant with the “best margaritas,” which won a positive reaction from the audience. Mr. Brambila owns a similar restaurant in Chicopee.

Water rates

As happened last year, Town Meeting rejected a pitch to double water rates gradually for the Mattapoisett River Water district. If approved, the rate would have increased from one cent per 100 gallons to two cents by July 2017.

Nasketucket Bay land

Buzzards Bay Coalition received approval for $200,000 toward a $6 million conservation restriction and land acquisition involving deNormandie Farm on Shaw Road. Brendan Annett said the land encompasses 400 acres in Fairhaven and Mattapoisett adjacent to the Nasketucket Bay conservation area. The land includes a parcel on Little Bay and parcels in other areas of Fairhaven.

Another $200,000 is being sought from Mattapoisett, which postponed its vote to its fall town meeting. Already secured is $2 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $1 million from U.S. Fish & Wildlife and $1.5 million from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. Pending is $1 million from the Bouchard oil spill with $100,000 expected from private funds and grants.

Fairhaven’s share would come from Community Preservation Act funds. Mr. Annett said the coalition has to raise the funds by December 2013.

Pushing for postponement to the fall, Mr. Roderiques said, “We understand the value this has to some people.” But he said more information was needed on things like agreements on easements. Mr. Roderiques said some CPC members told him they wanted to wait until Mattapoisett approves its share of funding.

Cora Peirce and others argued for it. “I look at this as our future,” Ms. Peirce said. That argument won and the funding was passed by Town Meeting.

Artist’s family headstones

Town Curator Albert Benac asked for $450 to repair two headstones at Riverside Park in the Lemuel Eldred family plot. He said they include stones for Eldred’s grandfather and aunt.

Mr. Benac argued that Eldred is a major artist whose grave site is part of a guided tour by the Office of Tourism.

Rich Taber said other towns maintain the graves of famous people, like Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott in Concord. “Many of the great artists of the world had their origins here on the South Coast,” he said.

Mr. Roderiques, whose argument won sway with Town Meeting, said despite the historical value, “It is a private cemetery. Those are private graves.”

Someone asked if Riverside Cemetery has funds that could be used.

Frank Budryk of the Planning Board said he would cover the cost if Town Meeting voted against it. He praised Mr. Benac for donating paintings to the town by notable Fairhaven artists.