Voters Reject Zoning Change

            Developer Matt Zuker was visibly stunned by a night-ending 34-32 vote against a zoning change that would have paved the way for his proposed 48-unit residential development along Route 6 near the Wareham town line.

            Article 13, the last of the October 19 Special Town Meeting at Sippican Elementary School, asked Marion voters to consider reclassifying 30 acres of land on Bournhurst Road and Wareham Street as Zoning District Residence E (multi-family housing).

            Enthusiastically promoted by the Select Board, the proposed zoning change would have allowed Zuker to build to a higher density than is presently allowed in that location.

            Asked what now by The Wanderer, Zuker politely declined to comment.

            To validate his goodwill, Zuker had approached the Planning Board with a signed deed restriction limiting his proposed market-housing development to 48 units. He put up $50,000 to fund an infrastructural impact study and had pledged to pay for infrastructural connections.

            Town officials feel that Zuker’s concept is in line with Marion’s Master Plan, addresses the need for moderate-income housing, would create a scenario where seniors looking to downsize could afford to age in place, and, perhaps most significantly, would add a significant number of water and sewer ratepayers, property tax revenue, and approximately $1 million in infiltration and inflow (I/I).

            To that end, Zuker was invited to present his proposed development on a projection screen, a step that led citizen (and chair of the Marine Resources Commission) Vin Malkoski to consider Moderator Brad Gordon’s efforts to confine the conversation to the zoning question and not the development itself “out the window.”

            The objection began with Joe Zora’s assertion that town officials don’t know enough about the project to allow a zoning change that could severely stress the town’s sewer infrastructure.

            Former Planning Board member Andrew Daniel brought up other projects in town, including Ken Steen’s adjacent 40B affordable housing development and Sherman Briggs’ proposal at Spring and Mill Streets, and doubled down on Zora’s assertion, asking if there are “any fears all this growth in a small amount of time will pose a serious problem for our infrastructure?”

            Daniel also asked if the analysis of the benefits of the development that the Planning Board had asked of the applicant while he was serving has been delivered. No one in attendance confirmed that it had, but in defending the project, Select Board member John Waterman said, “We believe this is more in the town’s interests.” Waterman said the project will target ages 55 and over and will feature first-floor, master bedrooms.

            Alan Harris, the president of the Sippican Lands Trust and former vice-chairman of Marion’s Open Space Acquisition Commission, disputed the village lifestyle promoted by Zuker’s project in contrast to the Briggs proposal. “Here you can walk to Kool Kone … but this is not a village,” he said, noting that 96 additional cars will affect Route 6 safety.

            Select Board Chairman Norm Hills said that those issues would be heavily scrutinized as part of the Planning Board’s vetting process and that residents should be involved in those discussion.

            Zora’s motion to table the article until the Water and Sewer Commissioners (the Select Board members) have a complete report of the development’s effect on the town’s infrastructure received no second and therefore did not proceed.

            Waterman told the meeting that the town’s comprehensive wastewater management plan is nearly complete and will answer many of the questions posed by citizens concerned about the article. He said public hearings are anticipated in January with engineering firm Weston and Samson.

            Zuker’s attorney, Patricia McArdle, stated for the record her objection to a two-thirds majority requirement to pass, but the zoning change failed to get the simple majority, losing by two votes.

            While Article 1, the transfer of $175,000 for an upgrade to three-phase power at the Town House was readily approved, Article 2 drew scrutiny before it also was approved.

            The article to transfer $35,000 from the Waterways Account to meet the matching requirement of the Seaport Economic Council’s $303,000 grant for design and bid documents for a new Harbormaster facility touched off another debate about a project design not on trial.

            After Harbormaster Isaac Perry summarized the timeline of planning beginning in 2019, the heavily criticized presentation of December 2020 and the subsequent revisions streamlining the building design, he noted that more money will be needed at the 2022 Spring Town Meeting as the grant-funding process progresses.

            Andrew Bonney was allowed to present an alternative proposal, a single-story building that would be “considerably less expensive.”

            Asked by another citizen if the Seaport Economic Council’s grant funding is predicated on the design as presented, Perry said that the current design is conceptual in nature and will go through a fine-tuning process.

            Articles 3 and 4, in which a long-awaited update to the existing regional agreement with the Old Rochester Regional School District and the authorization for ORR to establish a Stability Fund, were approved.

            Opposition to the agreement was focused on the ramifications of the rolling three-year average relative to the current downturn in Marion student enrollment and how the state-prescribed one-man, one-vote might threaten Marion’s representation on the ORR School Committee.

            Heather Burke, the chair of the ORR School Committee, explained that the three-year rolling average is meant as a smoothing mechanism.

            Before the votes, School Committee member Margaret McSweeny made an impassioned plea, noting that she was 2 years old the last time the agreement was revised. “There are a lot of what-if’s…. We need this voted on tonight and please urge you to say ‘yes.’ It is reviewed every five years,” she said.

            Malkoski asked if the smaller capital expenses earmarked for ORR’s stabilization fund will be subject to Marion’s Capital Improvement Planning Committee’s review. Town Administrator Jay McGrail confirmed that they will.

            Several hypotheticals from the floor led voters to decisively reject Article 5, a new litter bylaw that would have authorized the town to fine those who dispense of trash unlawfully. As of now, a state law prohibits people from throwing trash out of car windows, but the town has no litter law.

            Articles 6 through 9 were approved.

            Article 6 amends the Zoning Bylaws by changing the phrase “Selectmen” to “Select Board.”

            Article 7 amended the town’s Code to delete to Council on Aging board because for years now the COA has been run by the town itself.

            Gordon recused himself for Article 8, as Hills took over at the microphone. Voters rapidly approved a change to elect the town moderator to a three-year term.

            Article 9 made the tree warden an appointed position on an annual basis.

            Article 10, which would have sought to add aquifer to the existing Water Supply Protection District, was pulled from the agenda and passed over.

            Article 11, the solar bylaw, needed and got more than a two-thirds majority. According to Hills, the bylaw is intended to clarify what is allowed by-right and what requires a special permit. An array of 600 square feet or less is allowed by-right.

            Article 12 revised the fees for dog-related licenses.

            Before the meeting, McGrail thanked the town’s Water Department personnel for working tirelessly to solve the Boil Order that was lifted on Tuesday afternoon. McGrail indicated belief that the source of the contamination is the Tinkham Lane well in Fairhaven and that it reached Marion water because it came through the Mattapoisett River Valley water treatment plant.

            “It’s quite extraordinary in how many departments were involved, purchasing chlorine, talking to DEP, delivering water to the elderly,” he said.

            Before McGrail spoke, Gordon thanked the DPW and town staff. “This was a great example of how everybody came together, and thank you for that,” he said.

            Fire Chief Brian Jackvony spoke before the meeting to instruct attendees as to emergency egress.

Marion Special Town Meeting

By Mick Colageo

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