Vacant building bylaw, new recreation center at Town Meeting this fall

Oct 6, 2020

Unloading property for a new North Dartmouth recreation center, a vacant home bylaw, and a Cross Road solar project are among the articles coming up at the remote Fall Town Meeting on Oct. 27.

The Select Board voted unanimously on Oct. 5 to hold another remote Town Meeting via Zoom following the success of Spring Town Meeting on June 20, which was held through the same platform.

Dartmouth was one of only a few communities in Massachusetts to hold a completely virtual Town Meeting in the spring. The October meeting will take place via Zoom at 7 p.m.

A dial-in number will be provided for Town Meeting members concerned about using a computer, Town Meeting moderator Melissa Haskell told the Select Board on Oct. 5.

At the same meeting the Select Board also approved a draft warrant of just ten articles — a few of which, including the sale or lease of a town-owned Reed Road property and the vacant home bylaw, provoked intense discussion.

Here’s a look at what’s coming up later this month.


Lease or sale of property on Reed Road

This article — one of the more controversial on the warrant — would authorize the town to lease and/or sell two lots on Reed Road with a restriction for recreation use only. 

The Finance Committee unanimously rejected the article at an Oct. 1 meeting due to concerns about the property’s value, potential Parks and Recreation uses for the land, and the timing of the lease or sale, committee chair Teresa Hamm said at the Select Board meeting. Steve Burgo of Burgo Basketball Association had previously presented plans for a new $6 million community recreation facility on the property, for which the Select Board voiced unanimous support in July.

The Select Board ultimately voted 4-1 to recommend the article, with member Stanley Mickelson the only dissenting vote.


Vacant or abandoned building bylaw

A new bylaw drafted by Town Counsel Anthony Savastano with help from Public Health Director Chris Michaud would create a registry of Dartmouth buildings that have sat vacant and/or abandoned for longer than 30 days. It would not apply to seasonal buildings.

A majority of Finance Committee members voted to reject the article due to seemingly subjective language and concerns that 30 days would not give owners enough time to find renters or buyers to occupy the property, Hamm said. 

Select Board member Stanley Mickelson noted that the abandoned Hawthorne Country Club is a fire hazard for neighbors, while vice chair Shawn McDonald stated that changes to the bylaw can be made in the future if necessary. “We’ve got to get something on the books,” he said.

Board member John Haran said he regarded the law as government overreach, ultimately voting against the measure. The board tweaked the language and changed the grace period to 60 days before voting 4-1 to recommend the modified article.


Russells Mills Conservation Project

The Community Preservation Committee will be asking for $300,000 in funding for a Russells Mills land conservation project that will preserve around 24 acres of open space in Russells Mills village across Fisher Road from Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust’s Destruction Brook Woods property.

The CPC is also seeking Town Meeting approval for the town to acquire a conservation restriction for the project as well as borrow $200,000 in anticipation of a $520,000 state Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity grant. 

The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend both articles concerning the project.


Capital plan

The biggest ticket items in the $2.6 million capital plan for Fiscal Year 2021 include over $2 million for road maintenance and improvements as well as replacing a street sweeper for the Department of Public Works’ Highway Division, which will be funded from surplus revenue.

Other items include $34,500 for an electric sign for Town Hall as well as multiple vehicle replacements for various departments, such as a new garbage truck ($135,000), a dump truck ($190,500), and a pickup truck with a plow ($62,000).

Dartmouth Public Schools will also be requesting $75,000 from surplus revenue for HVAC upgrades at multiple schools due to the pandemic.

Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes noted at the meeting that this represents the lowest capital plan presented since 2013, calling it “very prudent” in its use of funds. The Select Board voted unanimously to recommend the plan.


Charter amendment to appoint, not elect, the Town Clerk

The Select Board unanimously recommended an article proposing to change the Town Clerk to an appointed rather than an elected position. If approved at Town Meeting, the question would go on the ballot at the April town election, and if voted through the new rules would go into effect starting July 1, 2021.


Rezoning for Cross Road solar project

The last article on the warrant is a citizens petition to rezone a single residential parcel off Cross Road to allow a solar installation to be constructed. According to MacInnes, there will be a restrictive covenant on the property to prevent any use other than solar. The board voted unanimously to recommend the article.