Moving Forward After July 30 Special Town Meeting Zoning Changes are Disallowed by the AG

Looking toward the Navy hangar and recently auctioned 16-acre property,  from the far edge of the nearest the Massport taxi lane on Monday, February 11. For scale, telephone poles are visible in front of the trees along Hartwell Road  With thanks to the GSA PIO for arranging my visit  – Image (c) JMcCT, 2019 all rights reserved, – Click to view larger image

By Julie McCay Turner

The plot plan for the 16-acre Navy hangar site, south of Hartwell Road – Image (c) JMcCT, 2019, based on Bedford GIS maps – All rights reserved – Click to view larger image

Margaret J. Hurley, Assistant Attorney General Chief, Central Massachusetts Division, wrote to Town Clerk Doreen Tremblay on February 1, 2019 to notify the Town that Warrant Article 3, the initiative to rezone the Navy hangar parcel from Industrial A to Residential C, voted at a special Town Meeting on July 30, 2018,  was disallowed upon review.

All Town Meeting action involving changes to the Town’s bylaws must be reviewed and approved by the AG’s office. The February 1 letter was carefully constructed and documented using very specific legal precedent. Click this link to read the AG’s letter.

Town Manager Sarah Stanton delivered the news as part of her report to the Selectmen at the end of their February 4 meeting, adding that, “We are now in the next phase of mitigation, and working closely with the [yet-to-be-identified] bidder to ensure that there is no short- or long-term neighborhood impact.”

Hurley’s letter said in part, “Because the proposed re-zone interferes with essential governmental functions such as MassPort’s obligation to ensure the safety of the active airfield environment of Hanscom Field, and GSA’s obligation to maximize the value received for the parcel, and amounts to unlawful spot zoning, we disapprove the by-law amendments adopted under Article 3.”

There was also concern about ‘spot zoning’ in the Special Town Meeting vote. The letter concluded that “We have often considered the question whether a certain zoning by-law amendment amounts to spot zoning and it is rare for us to so conclude. However, this record presents sufficient facts and circumstances for us to determine that Article 3 lacks a legitimate planning purpose and is “arbitrary and unreasonable, or substantially unrelated to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.”

Selectman Mike Rosenberg noted the urgency of moving forward with a plan for the future, and that such a plan should be discussed in Executive Session. That meeting will be scheduled to begin immediately prior to the Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, February 11.

Residents are reminded that Executive Session is intended to preserve the confidentiality of certain discussions as stipulated in Massachusetts’ Open Meeting law.