Hingham residents approved a $3.75 million land purchase for land off Recreation Park Drive during the second night of Hingham’s Annual Town Meeting on Wednesday, an evening that saw little controversy except for a discussion of sewer betterments.
Things started off briskly with a nearly unanimous vote to spend $3.75 million to buy 18.6 acres of land off Recreation Park Drive.
The land is to be used for a water treatment plant, and forestalls a planned 177-unit 40B development by AvalonBay that was making its way through town approvals.
“This article is simply about commercial economic development,” said Selectman Bruce Rabuffo. “It’s a means to help Hingham and encourage the commercial development of South Hingham. Its passage would yield significant economic benefits to those current business in that area, and may allow other benefits to businesses seeking to locate to Hingham.”
Rabuffo outlined that the town had already engaged in discussions with Aquarion Water Co. to bring additional water to the area, the second step in getting a wastewater treatment facility built on the site.
The land abuts Route 3 and would provide the wastewater treatment needed for any new business in the industrial complex nearby.
“We have more work to do and studies to complete, but we believe this land purchase will help with that goal of economic development,” Rabuffo said.
Richard Innis, with Hingham's Advisory Committee, further outlined his support with a statement that the article had earned unanimous support of the group.
“Our reasons are simple. For at least the past four years, and maybe longer, we have realized and discussed among ourselves the need to promote economic development in the areas of South Hingham,” he said. “Only by doing so can we realistically expect to expand the town’s commercial tax base in any meaningful way that is to provide tax relief to Hingham’s homeowners.”
Judy Kelley, who lives next to the property, also voiced her support, as the project would a preferable alternative to the residential development previously planned for the site, which she and residents have been fighting for months.
“I would prefer as a neighbor to work with our town as opposed to working with Avalon [Bay],” the company that proposed the project, she said.
Other articles were also approved easily, though a discussion of sewer betterments pitted a group of residents against others as opinions clashed on a sewer project at Ship and Cottage Streets.
The issue spills over from last year’s Town Meeting, where the town approved a $600,000 betterment project for the Ship/Cottage neighborhood, despite the objections from several neighbors who would have to pay for a project they did not want.
Though approved, some residents continued to fight against the project, leading the town to realize that its bylaws regarding sewer projects and betterments – a method of taxing a select group of residents for a project that benefits only that group – did not match up with the state’s.
Hingham officials subsequently submitted two articles to Town Meeting, one seeking to alter methods for charging betterments – based on frontage, or unit size – and another specifying which type would be used for the project at Ship and Cottage Streets.
The change opened up the entire project to critique, with several calling for the abandonment of the process, already $34,000 deep, and starting over once all the problems with the bylaw had been sorted out.
“I’m concerned we may be leaving ourselves to an ill-defined framework with potential problems and future costs,” said Elizabeth Eldridge, representing the minority Advisory Committee view. “Is this 11th hour change really for the long term or something…we created ourselves when we didn’t do our homework? …We need to think this through before we change this bylaw and not just for the convenience of one neighborhood.”
Tom Patch, a Ship Street resident who vehemently spoke against the project at last year’s Town Meeting, also stood up repeatedly asking the residents to reject the town’s amendments to the project, and asking the town to take the project down entirely.
“Common sense is when you’re made aware of fatal flaws, you stop and regroup,” Patch said. “…I’m incredulous of this insistence to go forward for the sake of one project.”
Debate went on for over an hour, but Town Meeting eventually decided to support the existing project and the town-recommended changes.
“Revoking this project is a drastic step that is neither warranted or appropriate,” summed up Mary Power with the Advisory Committee.
OTHER APPROVED ARTICLES FROM TUESDAY’S MEETING:
- Treasurer/Collector made from an elected position to an appointed one
- Town Meeting quorum reduced to 200 after a 300 quorum requirement is met for the first night.
- Transfer of land to Hingham Municipal Light Plant to build a new facility, to be funded by the Light Plant.
- Creating open space restrictions for previously purchased open space with Community Preservation funds.
- A year-long moratorium (until June 2014) on medical marijuana distribution centers.
- A feasibility study to create a grave for the people buried in a currently unmarked spot on the Town Farm, located off Beal Street.
- An easement at Whitney Wharf to help build a bridge to the bathing beach.