HARVARD -- Consensus was found for the five warrant articles at the Special Town Meeting on Aug. 29. Five percent (198 voters) of the town's 3,914 registered voters were in the Cronin Auditorium for the meeting. There was no need for hand-counts, speeding the process to conclude in an hour's time.
The first two articles passed easily and with no debate. In tandem, Articles 1 and 2 permit the creation of large-scale ground-mounted solar photovoltaic "farms" in "C" retail business districts. As noted by Planning Board member Tim Schmoyer, the new overlay bylaw will allow Harvard to build upon its Green Community status.
Article 3 passed, formalizing the abandonment and discontinuation of the portion of Elm Street that passes by Harvard Town Hall. The move comes as the Harvard Town Hall renovation project is halted to figure a remedy for the inadequate setbacks situation for the building with regard to Ayer Road.
The required setback is 75 feet from the center line of the road, yet all of Town Hall rests within that dimension. Selectman Tim Clark said to "prevent any kind of confusion," selectmen recommended the discontinuance of Elm Street to erase any second potential setback issue. At various times, Elm Street has passed within mere inches of the rear, then the front of, Harvard Town Hall.
Clark said Elm Street was historically meant to be just "a road on the common." Elm Street will now stop, at least on paper, just after the last residence when
Elm Street resident William Salter asked what liability and maintenance ramifications would fall to him and his neighbors. "Abandonment is such an ugly word."
Town Counsel Mark Lanza said Elm Street had "never been officially laid out by the town." As such, Lanza said Article 3's passage would have no effect on the property owners since "no one's house abuts that portion of Elm Street" which was to be abandoned.
Town Administrator Tim Bragan assured Susie Macrae of Oak Hill Road, "The plowing will continue as it has for years."
"As the crow flies"
Selectmen sought authorization to lease, if need be, privately-owned alternative space for Town Hall while the rehab project is afoot. The vote is not mutually exclusive, in that the board could still opt to move Town Hall functions into a town-owned building in the interim.
Salter suggested a friendly amendment, freeing selectmen to choose the best location, and not necessarily commit to the "lowest cost" lease. After conferring, the selectmen were split on the point and left it to Town Meeting to decide. Chairman Lucy Wallace said there was disagreement on "how you calculate the cost."
Selectman Ron Ricci said requests for quotes were returned the day before and only one bid was received.
Cynthia Russo of Oak Hill Road asked if the article effectively "constrains" selectmen into the least-expensive approach and the forced use of town-owned property, if available, like the old library on Fairbank Street.
Lanza confirmed selectmen would be free to lease privately-owned space or use town-owned property. Lanza confirmed the article only provided "authorization to enter into a lease."
Selectman Tim Clark said his board could not agree on what the "total cost" of relocation would entail when deciding the lowest cost solution. Is it "simply dollars and cents" or do you also count potential lost revenues from other prospective tenants displaced while the town offices moves in. "We cannot create more pockets of money," said Clark.
The article was amended, allowing selectmen to stick strictly to the lowest cost solution. But Keith Turner of Littleton County Road suggested further freedoms, specifically allowing selectmen to consider available space on Devens.
"How many office spaces are there in Harvard?" asked Turner. Perhaps a Harvard landlord would not be "inclined to give a very good rate" when at the same time a Devens local may provide savings of "50 cents on the dollar when compared to Harvard."
Salter noted the freedoms gives selectmen "considerable flexibility which they didn't want but we forced it on them. I suggest they accept this amendment."
"Is Devens legally within Harvard?" asked Paul Richard of Westcott Road. If so, "does that mean the (Devens) office space had to be within the Town of Harvard?" Sixty percent of the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone was historically under the jurisdiction of Harvard town government before the land was purchased in 1917 to form the now-decommissioned Fort Devens Army base.
Richard suggested selectmen be freed to also consider "pretty nice office space" on Codman Hill Road in Boxborough. Selectman Bill Johnson explained that the earlier thought process was to keep Town Hall "as close as possible" to minimize disruption to residents.
Paul Green of Old Littleton Road asked if there had been any thought given to renting trailers and placing them on town-owned land as an interim measure. "It seems the only option being considered by the town is to rent space in a commercial office building." Asked and answered, ruled Eubank. Selectmen only need authorization to rent real estate -- the trailer route could be used.
But then the circle widened at Richard's suggestion to encompass an 8-mile radius around Town Hall "as the crow flies." Chirps of laughter were heard.
"That may be a first," smiled Town Moderator Bob Eubank.
"We all know what it means," said Lanza of the phrase. "But the final arbiter on scope issues is you, Mr. Moderator."
Eubank accepted the winged verbiage but stopped to ponder, "How far is Devens as the crow flies?" Murmurs erupted. Even if the crow drove, the DREZ and Codman Hill are well within the 8-mile fly zone.
The gig was up. "Please take out 'as the crow flies,'" pleaded a resident ornithologist. "They don't fly straight."
The crow flight pattern was replaced with "8-mile radius" of Town Hall. The matter passed easily on a hand vote.
Selectmen authorized to rent/lease old library
Article 5 won Town Meeting approval. It authorized selectmen to negotiate with the Board of Library Trustees to transfer the care, custody, management and control of the old library at 7 Fairbank St. to selectmen, and further to allow selectmen to lease the building.
Johnson explained it was a fall-back position "should the town no longer need the old library." Renting the space would help "offset the costs of maintaining the building."
The vote leaves open the door for a move of Town Hall into the old library.
But selectmen may not sell the library -- or so said the heads shaking "no" when Katherine Elkind of Slough Road posed the question.
Salter suggested voters deny the authorization for selectmen in the event selectmen were retaining the sole say on whether to lease the building to a third-party tenant. Salter pushed for "further Town Meeting oversight" before third-party tenants move in.
The talk is premature, assured Davida Bagatelle, a West BareHill Road resident and library trustee. "We haven't had dialogue yet, so we'll go from there." The vote passed easily on a show of hands.