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Senior housing bylaw tops Special Town Meeting warrant

With barely two weeks to spare, the Select Board has approved a warrant and confirmed date and time for this fall’s upcoming Special Town Meeting. Although the fall session is meant to provide time for the thoughtful debate of non-financial issues, the agenda contains several fiscal measures in addition to a single but consequential amendment to Harvard’s zoning bylaw.

The meeting will convene outdoors on the field in front of the Bromfield School on Mass. Ave. at 12 noon, Oct. 3. No rain date has been set; if it’s cold, attendees should “bundle up,” Town Administrator Tim Bragan told the board. If the weather proves daunting, he said, the moderator will call the meeting to order and immediately adjourn to a future time and date that promises more favorable conditions.

Attendees will be asked to consider nine articles, approved by a unanimous vote of Select Board members Tuesday night. They range from adjustments to the town budget necessitated by the defeat of an override in June, to a bylaw meant to increase the number of houses suitable for older residents who wish to downsize and remain in town.

The bylaw, which appears as Article 9, “Senior Residential Development,” is the last measure on the warrant and is presently 21 pages long. The article proposes a number of changes to the town’s protective bylaw to increase “the variety of housing types, settings, and residential services to meet the needs of people as they age” in Harvard. Elements of the proposal have been described in last week’s issue of the Press and were the subject of a forum and hearing conducted by the Planning Board this month (See “Proposed bylaws aim to increase availability of senior housing” in the Sept. 11 issue of the Press.) As the Press went to production this week, both the Planning and Select boards were working to simplify the measure and reduce its length, moves that are permitted as long as they don’t expand an article’s scope (See story on page 3 in this paper.)

Another nonfinancial article likely to spark debate is a request to transfer ownership of Bromfield House from the School Committee to the Select Board. The building houses the schools’ administrative offices, which will move to a wing of the new elementary school once it is finished. The School Committee has already told the town it has no further use for the building, and in Article 2 the Select Board asks for ownership and the permission of Town Meeting to “sell, convey, transfer or otherwise dispose of” it.

Among the financial articles up for consideration, Article 6 reduces the size of the fiscal 2021 omnibus budget and eliminates a deficit caused by the defeat of a $320,000 override at Town Election in June. The new budget now shows a $100,000 surplus, as reported in the Sept. 3 edition of the Press. (See “Select Board approves revised FY21 budget.”) Article 7 asks to transfer $200,000 from the Stabilization Fund to the Reserve Fund to provide the Finance Committee with extra money to deal with unforeseen COVID-related expenses this fiscal year; leftover amounts would be returned to the town as free cash. Article 8 simply corrects data in the sewer enterprise fund, and has zero impact on the budget.

Articles 3 and 4 are capital requests for an extra $17,000 to purchase electronic gear for the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system used to manage the town’s water supply, and $517,000 for a new middle school ramp. Both capital items will be paid for with money from the Capital Stabilization and Investment Fund (CSIF), which at present has a balance of more than $4 million.

The two remaining articles offer their own forms of relief. The Community Preservation Committee, in Article 5, proposes to create a fund to assist renters in town who are having difficulty meeting their monthly payments due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their employment or other sources of income. How residents will qualify for fund money and how it will be administered is a work in progress.

That leaves Article 1, which will relieve the town of a long-standing thorn—or pole—in its side. Its passage will grant Massachusetts Electric Company and Verizon New England Inc. an easement so they can move a telephone pole in the middle of the Bromfield School driveway to another location. It’s been a pet peeve of Select Board members Kara Minar and Stu Sklar for years. “I’d like a hat tip for that one,” Minar quipped in a conversation with the Press this week.

The entire warrant is posted at the town website. Here, for quick reference, are its nine articles. Look for further details in upcoming issues of the Press.

  • Article 1: Easement National Grid
  • Article 2: Bromfield House Disposition
  • Article 3: Bromfield School Ramp
  • Article 4: SCADA System Upgrade Addition
  • Article 5: Emergency Rental Assistance Program
  • Article 6: Amend Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus Budget (Expenses and Revenues)
  • Article 7: Amend Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus Budget (Reserve Fund Transfer)
  • Article 8: Amend Fiscal Year 2021 Sewer Enterprise Fund Budget
  • Article 9: Amend Protective Bylaw by Adding Section 125-57, Senior Residential Development
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