Town Meeting members approve Memorial Stadium funding, greenway link, senior housing
Dartmouth will be seeing plenty of green in the coming years, with a renovated stadium, more hiking trails, and a set area for recreational marijuana, which were all approved by Town Meeting voters on October 16.
Voters approved all but one of the 14 items on the Fall Town Meeting agenda, many of which had a recreation focus.
By the start of the 2019 fall sports season, Dartmouth Memorial Stadium will feature a new artificial turf and LED lighting, as Town Meeting voters approved spending $1.1 million to fund the first phase of a renovation of the aging facility.
The estimated cost of the first phase is $1.7 million, and will be funded by School Choice, private fundraising, and $400,000 previously approved at the June Town Meeting.
There was some debate amid questions about the safety of artificial turf.
Turf Field Committee member David Tatelbaum said the committee spent several meetings discussing a natural versus artificial turf, consulted with experts, read research, and examined how other cities and towns moved forward with similar projects.
“It was the committee’s determination, after extensive discussions, presentations, and data, that what we presented to you is the best choice,” Tatelbaum said.
Parking concerns were also raised. Director of Budget and Finance Greg Barnes said the town is aware of the issue, and is working on a proposal for next year’s town meeting to turn a field behind the stadium into a parking lot.
High Hill Greenway Link
Town Meeting voters also approved the $400,000 purchase of land on High Hill Road to link together several pieces of conserved land using community preservation funds, which are raised through a 1.5 percent property tax surcharge and may only be used for certain purposes.
The property, a 57.8-acre piece of open space located at 53 High Hill Road, sits between the Acushnet Cedar Swamp and the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve. This property will link the two properties together with a nearly four-mile long greenway. It already includes a trail system, which is overgrown but has been partially cleared out.
Town Meeting members also approved an agenda item to let the town use a LAND Grant, which could fund $232,000 of the purchase price.
Meeting members wanted to know how residents will be able to enjoy the property. It will be owned by the Conservation Commission and protected, which means activities like hiking and biking are allowed, but more active recreation like ball fields will not be. Hunting will also be permitted.
Barnes said the town will know if it received the grant funding in November, at which point the purchase will be finalized. He estimated trails could be fully cleared out by early next year.
After extensive debate and discussion, Town Meeting members voted to approve $500,000 of community preservation funds for eight units of affordable housing for people over the age of 55 who receive services from the Department of Mental Health.
Four of the units would be congregate, and four would be individual units, all of which would be handicap accessible. The house would have a DMH staff person on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The overall cost is estimated to be $3.4 million, with remaining funds coming from state and private grants and financing. Town Meeting members balked at the cost, along with the Finance Committee who previously voted 3-2 not to recommend the project.
“There will be nothing frivolous about this,” Howard Baker Smith, the chairperson of the Community Preservation Committee said. “This is housing that can only be built in this way.”
Gretchen Baker-Smith, who said she was representing herself and not her husband, reminded members that the housing would not support a single group of eight people, but also all those who support them, and the people who will live in the house over time. She said, echoing the points of other members, that supporting it is the moral thing to do.
“Let us be clear about what our values mean,” Baker-Smith said. “And let us be clear what it means to be kind and compassionate to each other.”
Marijuana will have a place in Dartmouth, as Town Meeting Members voted by a large majority to carve out a set area for non-medical marijuana facilities. Without the bylaw, businesses would have been able to be located in any commercial zone.
The overlay district, proposed by the Planning Board, will limit the sale of non-medical marijuana to an area along Faunce Corner Road and the northernmost region of Dartmouth, including the New Bedford Business Park and other properties in the limited industrial zone. The number of facilities would be capped at three. In addition to state licensing, These businesses would be subject to a special permitting and public comment process by the Planning Board.
Town Meeting members approved the entire town capital plan, which contains big-ticket items for various town departments, funded with surplus funds and money generated by town departments. This included the Memorial Stadium project funding.
Other major highlights include $1.5 million for road repairs, which will allow the Department of Public Works to focus on side streets starting with Bliss Corner. The department intends to branch out to other neighborhoods in the coming years.
The DPW will also get new equipment to conduct tree removal work. Town government will upgrade technology, the police department will replace several vehicles, Dartmouth Community Television will build a new set and continue building repairs, and the Parks Department will see funding for a bucket truck and facilities maintenance.
Article 14, which would have allowed struggling cranberry farmers to build solar panels over their crops, was the only article not approved at Town Meeting. It was withdrawn on the floor.