And it is likely to be not only one of the fastest town meetings but also one of the safest in the town’s 292 years.
The Select Board Monday formally approved the session, which will be the first held indoors in two Covid-compromised years. Annual town meetings in 2020 and 2021 took place outside, and there was no special meeting last year.
Town Manager Sarah Stanton reported that former longtime Selectman Mark Siegenthaler has agreed to serve as moderator (town meeting will be asked to elect him), with former Moderator Betsey Anderson as deputy moderator. The two reversed these positions at annual town meeting in May. A permanent moderator will be on the town ballot next March; the position has been vacant since Cathy Cordes moved out of state several months ago.
Stanton said her office is working with the Facilities Department to ensure a safe and comfortable environment.
She said the warrant will be limited to seven or eight articles, most of them pro forma, and traditional presentations will be waived “to get people in and out in a timely fashion.” Presentations will be available online ahead of town meeting.
Select Board member Emily Mitchell pointed to the “many layers of protection,” such as the streamlined warrant and “trying to keep the time we are together in a space as small limited as possible.” She cited the “excellent” ventilation and filtration available, and we can be distant.”
There are more than 600 seats in the room, Mitchell said; the quorum to conduct business is 100. “We do need to make sure that 100 people show up,” Stanton said. “We can space 120-130 with six feet apart.” There will even be overflow rooms available. The town meeting will be streamed but there is no remote participation.
The most interesting article may be the one submitted by the Planning Board, which proposes amendments to the recently approved business zone on The Great Road.
Planning Director Tony Fields told the Select Board that the most significant amendment would permit up to four stories of new construction on two parcels in the so-called Shawsheen subdistrict: the Great Road Shopping Center and the Mead property at the corner of The Great Road and Shawsheen Avenue.
Those are the only two parcels eligible because the higher structures cannot be street-front buildings, Fields said.
Stanton said the Finance Committee will present an article that will result in a small reduction in the tax rate. There also will be a proposed adjustment to the budget of Shawsheen Valley Technical High School because there are seven new Bedford students in the regional high school.
Fields pointed out that the four-story option was part of the original rezoning proposal in 2018 but failed to realize the required two-thirds minimum majority. He said it is being resurrected in the context of “preliminary discussion about some redevelopment options.”
Also proposed is expanding the Planning Board’s authority to consider waiving certain dimensional criteria by special permit. “A lot of owners have vacant tenant spaces in older buildings,” Fields said. The board would like “flexibility to get better development,” but without compromising landscaping or height requirements.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763