Natick started its second week of Spring Annual Town Meeting on May 2 with lots of work remaining, but first a public service announcement from Moderator Frank Foss about the previous Thursday’s unusual doings.
Foss apologized for allowing the meeting to become disorderly as efforts were made to sync up motions in print and online versions of the Finance Committee materials given to Town Meeting members on key issues related to the omnibus budget.
“As confusing as it was for you, the evening was frustrating for me,” said Foss, who acknowledged “the only person that is responsible in order for this proceeding is me, the town moderator, even though events leading up to the proceeding Thursday were arguably questionable and need improvement. I and only I am responsible for the order of the evening. So Thursday night was not orderly. To that end, that was my failure and I apologize.”
Now back to the regularly scheduled program…
(We’ve embedded the May 2 and 4 Natick Spring Annual Town Meeting recordings from Pegasus below.)
Dr. Nolin recognized
School Committee member Cathi Collins read a resolution (embedded below) honoring outgoing Natick Public Schools Supt. Dr. Anna Nolin, who heads to Newton following the end of this school year to lead that larger school district.
The resolution recognized Nolin for her “exemplary service to the Natick Public Schools and the Town of Natick.” Nolin, who spoke briefly in thanks, was joined by her family at the meeting and received a round of applause.
Nolin has spent 20 years working for NPS.
Zoning in and out
Town Meeting got a good workout during night #3 with a solid two hours of zoning bylaw presentations and motions.
All of the motions presented for Articles 24 through 29 passed easily, with some discussion sprinkled in.
Director of Community & Economic Development Amanda Loomis took the lead, with Town Administrator Jamie Errickson in a supporting role on most of the articles.
Among these were the introduction of the Center Gateway Zoning District, intended to smooth the transition between Natick Center and the stretch of Rte. 135 (East Central Street) that intersects with Grant and Union Streets, including the properties housing the former Neighborhood Wrench and Santander Bank businesses. Such zoning could provide an entrance to Natick Center from the east, and better connectivity between downtown and existing facilities such as the senior center.
Whew, we made it through the recordings & documents to file this report. Please support our work if you find it useful
This area is “primed for redevelopment. However the underlying zoning or the existing zoning actually does not lend [itself to] future redevelopment,” Loomis said.
This new zoning would allow for a mix of housing (including affordable housing that could support new state zoning rules near MBTA stations) and retail development.
Some raised concerns about increasing traffic at an already dicey intersection.
Town Meeting member Don Friswell spoke in favor of the plan, saying he’s been in his 1896 house on E. Central Street within this district since 1980 and doesn’t plan to move. Looking at the largely vacant parcel that once housed a service station, Friswell said he knew things would be changing. ” I think we have to look forward to come up with something that can be used not only here but in other parts of the town…”
Town Meeting supported this article, as it did those on replacing the existing cluster development bylaw and rescinding a moratorium on such developments, which provide an alternative to traditional subdivisions. The revised bylaw increases the minimum parcel size for cluster developments, supports more variety in unit size, and promotes open space preservation. The existing bylaw created confusion among the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, developers, and the public when it came to cluster development, Loomis said.
Concerns were raised by Town Meeting about whether Natick would get the most tax bang for its buck with this approach, and Loomis said the difference would not be significant between clusters and subdivisions, though further assessment could be done with examples.
Article 27 covered Natick’s required and desired update to its inclusionary housing bylaw to ensure that when certain new developments are undertaken, that a mix of affordable housing units factor into the mix. Natick currently has reached the state’s requirement to have at least 10% of its housing stock deemed affordable, though it is awaiting the latest state numbers and wants to ensure it stays above the threshold going forward.
Articles 28 and 29 focused on zoning (Highway Mixed-Use-I) to allow for small and large campus parcels. MathWorks, the town’s second biggest taxpayer, approached the town about amending zoning that supports its business campus initiatives and willingness to continue calling Natick its home. Town Meeting member Andy Meyer (a Planning Board member) rose in support and said that MathWorks approaching the town about this is “a sign of a successful relationship and I think it’s a sign of trust…”
Sealing the deal
Annual Fall Town Meeting in 2020 and 2021, respectively, approved creation of the Town Seal Review Committee and funding for a new design. This Annual Spring Meeting introduced the committee’s report on the seal redesign process and recommendation, and gave Town Meeting members a chance to vote on the proposed seal.
Communities are required to have a seal, which is used in embossing official documents, though also is frequently used as a logo on everything from vehicles to uniforms, as is the case in Natick. The town’s existing seal, depicting the Rev. John Eliot preaching to three Indigenous people, is considered outdated and offensive by some, though part of Natick’s history by others.
The presentation and discussion of this topic began on night #3 and carried into night #4 of Town Meeting, though the town seal review process has been ongoing for 2.5 years and included 50-plus public meetings and other feedback opportunities along the way.
Committee Chair Mia Kheyfetz summarized report findings on May 2 and responded to Town Meeting member questions about the proposed seal that depicts a bridge and river similar to the scene at the current Pleasant Street bridge near the dam. The report includes an overview of the design by Sebastian Ebarb (who attended Town Meeting) that describes how “Bridges connect communities and make them stronger.”
Concerns were raised, though, about whether the seal really said “Natick.”
“It’s impossible to comprehend its meaning at a glance, it could apply to any town, in any state, in any country,” said Town Meeting member Patti Sciarra during the May 2 meeting.
One Town Meeting member suggested going the simple route and using a basic postal cancellation mark for an official embosser seal. The cost of replacing some 25,000 instances of the seal across town was also raised (it’s been estimated to be as high as about $700K), though Town Administrator Errickson noted that replacing digital versions wouldn’t cost much, and it would be up to the town at a later point to decide on a process for phasing out the current seal and how to handle that cost. The seal could be replaced in many cases just as a matter of course as items where it is found are themselves replaced.
Town Meeting member Cody Jacobs urged fellow members to vote in favor of the new seal. “It has been a long road to get to this point and this is a very big chance that we have to finally make this really, really important change that will matter to a lot of people in town,” he said. “There are people when they go to a meeting and they see a seal that is a caricature of their heritage when they are supposed to be treated fairly in a town building, at a town function, you know, if they’re at their school and they see that, what do they think? What do they think of us, what do they think of our town?”
In the wake of concerns raised about the seal at the May 2 meeting, Committee Chair Kheyfetz returned on May 4 to power through a statement reemphasizing the Committee’s focus on the task given to it by Town Meeting in recent years. “Finally, I’d like to remind members that the question here is a choice between two options, each of which makes a clear statement: To approve an appropriate new image that came about after a public process set forth by Town Meeting, or to retain indefinitely as our town’s official seal an image which many have publicly deemed highly offensive, reinforcing stereotypes and inaccurate origin myths, outdated, cartoonish, and frankly embarrassing.”
Town Meeting member Henry Haugland said at the May 4 meeting that he wants to see the current seal go, but recommended referring the project to the Town Administrator to come up with a design more meaningful to the town, which he described as standing out as being a great place to raise a family. A handful of other members agreed or disagreed with taking such an action, and Town Administrator Errickson said he would take any such referral seriously. He also said that the town seal change process syncs up with an ongoing effort by the town to improve the consistency and quality of imagery used in communications and marketing, though it remains to be seen where an official seal and perhaps a different logo or logos might be used. In the end, Town Meeting would still need to vote on any seal change.
The motion to refer was voted down by a tally of 56-76-1, which led to the vote to approve the seal. Town Meeting approved it by a count of 83-50-2.
Toward net zero
Natick Sustainability Committee Chair Leo Ryan shared an update on the town’s net zero goals of balancing greenhouse gas emissions with removals, with buildings and transportation being the top GHG culprits.
Highlights of Ryan’s presentation included:
- 41% of the energy consumed in Natick comes from renewable sources
- Natick’s first commercial battery bank has been installed at Kennedy Middle School
- Heat pumps coming to Morse Institute Library
Town Meeting members had questions on everything from how sustainability considerations might become a bigger part of town decisions (say, closing Johnson Elementary School) and whether the town has a strategy for safely disposing of sustainable gear such as batteries and solar panels.
Back to the Omnibus budget
Before the night ended, we returned to Article 7, which was originally discussed on both nights of Town Meeting’s first week. It was discovered that there were missing explanations of who had authority to spend appropriated monies, so this oversight was corrected before Town Meeting members voted favorably on a consolidated motion.
Article 8 covered payment by the town of unpaid bills due to snafus involving a vendor used to advertise public hearings for a number of commissions and the town. Might be time to think of another way to get the word out about such events. We might just know of such a resource that people actually read…or we hope at least some of you got this far.
More: Town Meeting week #1 recap: Omnibus budget; The great print vs. online debate; Job security; Stabilizing Keefe Tech
Town Meeting week #3 recap: Dissolved; Dam, Dam & Dam articles; Capital concerns & other business
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