Whatever happened to Town Hall? After a process that solicited citizen input, held public sessions on design, and received an affirmative vote at the 2012 annual Town Meeting, I drive past our rapidly deteriorating Town Hall with no progress in sight. Though I'm not schooled in the minutiae of governmental process, the recent action by the Zoning Board of Appeals, as described in the press on March 29, defies common sense, at best. As I understand it, our antique town hall, c. 1872, does not conform to current zoning bylaws first written in the 1970s.
Renovating Town Hall will mean replacing the (nonconforming) addition on the back with one that is attractive, functional and encompasses changes mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (such as an entry without stairs and accessible bathrooms). We will then have an antique town hall that meets current building codes. It still won't meet current zoning bylaws -- it will be too close to Ayer Road, for example -- but does anyone actually have a problem with that?
The Building Committee answered every possible question posed by the ZBA, and town counsel Mark Lanza made a compelling case that going back to the drawing board at this late date for redesign would meet the "financial hardship" test needed to receive a zoning exemption. (An exemption much like that received by the town library when it was beautifully restored and expanded.)
And the ZBA said no? I'm hard pressed to remember another time this board said "no," and even less clear about why it did this time. Fortunately, this Saturday at annual Town Meeting, townspeople can once again vote for a Town Hall that meets current building and safety codes, is accessible to all Harvard's citizens, and does justice to our historic town center. We'll have this chance thanks to a citizen's petition placed on the town warrant through the leadership of Stu Sklar. Hopefully this time the will of the citizens will be respected and we'll eventually have a Town Hall we can be proud of.