Zoning Articles Draw Feedback

            A zoning article brought the most residents to the microphone as Rochester’s Annual Town Meeting otherwise breezed through its 21-article warrant on Monday night at Rochester Memorial School.

            The meeting’s 178 attendees passed a bylaw amendment mandating that lot access shall only be allowed through or across a viable, legal road frontage and that the required rectangular shape of a lot will no longer need to be within the 40-foot setback line. But first this article stirred resistance with the stipulation that a proposed back lot in the Agricultural-Residential District must be owned by the applicant for at least five years prior to an application to develop it.

            Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson said these changes were basic housekeeping. He said Rochester’s new town counsel and building inspector have said that the town’s interpretation of these current bylaws did not reflect their wording, and that has to be corrected.

            A resident stepped to the microphone to complain this change will kill a deal he was on the verge of completing to buy a property, a plan that would have led to preservation of open space. With this change, a property owner would face restrictions that could lead that person to a larger development rather than a sale, he said. “That five-year regulation is excessive,” he said.

            Another questioner asked if the age of the house itself would make a difference and where did the five-year figure come from?

            Johnson answered that that the original bylaw being changed here was created approximately 19 years ago, and he didn’t know why the figure was used. But he quickly explained that the five years of property ownership requirement is there because the Planning Board doesn’t want a developer to buy, then quickly flip a property for resale and further development. Ultimately, this article passed by the required two-thirds majority vote.

            The meeting’s next important bylaw amendment vote was to approve new regulations for the construction and permitting of solar-array, battery-energy storage systems.

            “These systems are the newest, ‘greatest’ invention being required by the state,” Johnson explained. “And we don’t have regulations for them.”

            Johnson said the regulations will prevent these systems from being built in the town’s environmentally sensitive Groundwater Protection District and the Mattapoisett River Valley Watershed, except by special permit. “It’s critical to get this approved to protect us,” he said. Small, residential, battery-storage systems will be exempt, he noted.

            The meeting also passed two other impactful bylaw amendments. One mandates that the location of any site with any historical significance must be identified to avoid “mitigating impacts” to such sites during development of that location. When the project development requires altering the soil, a qualified observer must be present to ensure that historical resources are not disturbed. The other amendment changes when town meetings may be held: on any Monday before the third Monday of May (rather than “the second Monday in May”), starting in 2025.

            The meeting began by passing a $26,032,613 town operating budget for FY25. Before motioning that this figure be approved, Stoltenberg said, “The total FY 2025 General Government Budget (non-school) is $11,383,700, which is an increase of $326,921 or 2.16 percent. We did have our challenges this year. We were significantly over budget.”

            To close the town’s budget gaps, Stoltenberg said, the Finance Committee had to remove budget requests from additional personnel to a new police car and to ask Old Rochester Regional High School to make its own budget “adjustments.” The result, he said, is a town in solid budget condition.

            After endorsing the FY25 budget, the meeting approved the following spending from available funds: $15,000 for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) to fund the future obligations to the town’s retirees, to stabilization funds $140,000 for Public Safety, $100,000 for Road Improvements and $300,000 for Capital Improvements, $121,180 in capital funding to include $24,000 for a Fire Department utility terrain vehicle, $60,000 to overhaul two Rochester Memorial School HVAC units and $37,180 for a new financial-software package for the town’s Financial Department, $300,000 to assist with the needs of Special Education students at Rochester Memorial School and $15,000 to replace the Plumb Library roof damaged in a storm last month.

            The meeting postponed indefinitely an article to approve a $12,000,000 debt for capital improvements to the ORR High School and Junior High School buildings and campus. Last month, school district officials withdrew their request for these funds.

            Town Moderator David Arancio announced this will be the last town meeting for Stoltenberg, who is retiring from the Finance Committee at the end of this term and Town Administrator Glenn Cannon, who was scheduled to become Carver’s town administrator on May 14. Stoltenberg will serve on the search committee for a new town administrator. Finance Director and former Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar has returned to her former dual role on an interim basis.

Rochester Town Meeting

By Michael J. DeCicco

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