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Westwood residents pass all Town Meeting articles

BY DOUGLAS MCCULLOCH (@doug_mcculloch)

Westwood residents passed all of the articles up for debate at Monday’s town meeting, including a proposal that would get the area around Town Hall and the police station ready for the potential construction of a new police station.

The articles allow the town to acquire the Girl Scouts building, which sits next to town hall, and will give the Girl Scouts a new building to be built on a new parcel created on the Hanlon School property. Land that abuts the American Legion building will be swapped with the town.

A new extension of Deerfield Avenue will be built behind town hall, more parking will be added to the town hall and police station to make up for spaces that are projected to be lost during construction of the police station, and the Hanlon school will be added to a single zoning district.

The goal of the project is to ready the area for the planned construction of a new police station, which has not yet been approved. The project will allow construction of a new police station to start immediately after it is approved.

The set of articles relating to the construction project was the most contested set of articles of the night, with residents and town officials spending over a half-hour asking and answering questions about the project.

Before debate on the articles began, Selectmen Nancy Hyde gave a brief presentation detailing the project. She noted that the new projected cost of the project is $1.45 million, which is lower than anticipated.

After that, a pre-arranged amendment was introduced to remove the words “eminent domain” from the Girl Scouts article. Hyde explained that the provision was no longer necessary, as the town has a good-faith agreement with the Girl Scouts to acquire the building and did not anticipate using eminent domain powers to acquire the property.

Residents raised several concerns with the project. Some questioned the wisdom of carrying out the project now instead of waiting for the approval of the new police station, but Selectman Hyde assured residents that now is the best time to carry out the project economically.

Hyde also noted that the project will also increase safety in the town hall area, as right now people use the town hall and police station parking lots as a cut-through, which they were not designed for. Others expressed concern about traffic issues that could be created around the Hanlon and Deerfield schools.

The set of articles were all passed.

While all of the articles up to vote passed, some were more controversial than others. Most were passed with no discussion, but several other articles drew controversy. One article would allow the Board of Selectmen to grant a one-day exemption from the town’s restrictions on operating a retail establishment from the hours of midnight to 6 a.m.

The proposal was specifically designed to allow certain national retailers at University Station to open early after Thanksgiving.

Several residents noted the idea of allowing stores to open after Thanksgiving is controversial not only morally but also economically, as employees might have to work double shifts.

The article passed with some opposition.

One of four budget-related items on the agenda drew debate from residents. An article which would appropriate $925,000 from new taxes collected from the University Station development into a savings fund for future capital expenses drew a debate, with several residents noting that voters approved the University Station development under the promise that tax revenue would be used to mitigate homeowner property taxes.

The Westwood Finance Director noted that the $925,000 is only putting a one-time sum from fiscal year 2016 into the capital improvements fund. She said that in the next few years there will be new revenue coming in. The town would need to decide what to do with that money, and said the options include tax relief for the community.

Voters also approved the purchase of a parcel of land from the First Parish Church of Westwood, located at 248 Nahatan Street, and a proposal to join a state program to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety.

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