Town of New Salem Selectboard
June 1, 2020
Held Virtually via Zoom
Convened: 7:00 pm
Present: Randy Gordon, Wayne Hachey, Jean Derderian, Selectboard; Nancy Aldrich, Town Coordinator; Joe Cuneo, Fire Chief & Emergency Management Director; Claire McGinnis, Gabriele H. Voelker, Finance Committee; Lisa Finestone, Mollie Freilicher, Tree Committee; Jen Potee, Cam Dunbar, Board of Health; David Cramer, Planning Board; Ken Holmberg, Assessors; Nancy Slator; Jeff Reynolds, Natalie Reynolds, General Store; Kristi Bodin, counsel for the Reynolds; Ken Bright; Jeanne Clayton; Jackson Goddard; David Skillicorn; Peter Fisher; Marc Goldstein, Ben LaMora, Barletta House Project
Selectboard Reviewed & Signed the Following:
- Payroll & Vendor Warrants
- Annual Town Election Warrant
Liquor License Transfer – New Salem General Store
The Selectboard formally called this hearing to order. Kristi then introduced herself as the lawyer for Jeff and Natalie. They are buying the New Salem General Store and this hearing is to approve the transfer of the liquor license. They have filed with the ABCC. They both have a lot of experience with hospitality and with liquor licensing. Jeff in particular has had a career in the field. They will for the most part keep things the same but may also introduce new things to the store. Wayne asked if the Reynolds are residents of New Salem. Kristi confirmed they are indeed. Randy went over the formal procedures and asked if anyone had any questions. Hearing none he asked Kristi what the next step would be. She recommended the Selectboard move to its own discussion and debate. Jean asked about the change in manager provision. Kristi explained that it’s just the way the ABCC words things. Jeff would be the specific person as manager. Jean asked if the liquor license would be held by both Jeff and Natalie. Kristi explained that a new corporation called NSGS Inc. has been formed and it will hold the license but both Jeff and Natalie are the owners of that corporation and are its principle officers. Still one person has to be designated as the manager of the license. Discussion then shifted to closing the public hearing. It was agreed to proceed. It was then the consensus of the Selectboard to permit the transfer. All parties thanked the Reynolds for their interest in the town and expressed good will and comity.
A motion was made Jean to close the public hearing. Wayne seconded and the motion passed unanimously.
A motion was made by Wayne to approve the transfer of the liquor license to NSGS Inc. and approve the change of manager to Jeff Reynolds. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed unanimously.
Coronavirus Response Update
Jen started off with a general update. Things remain stable in New Salem. She expressed gratitude for residents following the Governor’s orders and urged them not to become complacent and continue to wear masks and social distance. This virus is not going away any time soon. She predicts that there will be more cases of COVID-19 in coming weeks and expressed some concern noting that large scale protests may unfortunately have a negative impact on that issue. She stressed the importance of conforming to those mask and social distancing guidelines regardless of activity. She has been on a number of phone calls with DPH. Many towns are doing okay but some aren’t and the Commonwealth has had to step in. Cam then stressed that it is so critical that we stay the course. The vast majority of the public is following this, but again stay healthy, wash your hands, and maintain the social distancing and masks. He noted that this applies even to recreation activities outside. Wayne then reminded people that we are entering into a season with mosquitoes and other pests and so we should also look to eliminate unnecessary bodies of standing water and the like. Randy then asked the Board of Health to work with the Town Clerk to try and do the best for the Annual Town Meeting to ensure a safe event and process. Cam noted he is also the Town Moderator and it is his intention to be there in person and to see it done as safely as possible. Joe then spoke on a few items. Starting with town meeting, he noted that Wendell has formed a committee for their own meeting and how to prepare safely for it. He was willing to try and do similar with New Salem. There are a lot of logistics that will need to go with that. He then reported that New Salem remains in a steady state still and has plenty of supplies for the moment. If someone has a need for such supplies they can ask and it may be possible to spare some. Joe then noted that some of these supplies could also be made available for the Annual Town Meeting. He then turned to call volumes noting that they have gone up somewhat dramatically from normal. He was also concurred in showing some concern about the public protests potentially having an impact on virus infections.
Jean then asked about the plan for the Annual Town Meeting and whether it should be moved from June 29th. Joe noted that the day of the week will be part of the planning process for the logistics. That will need to be looked at. Jean asked for clarification as to whether that June 29th date is in question. Joe stressed that it’s unclear. Not definitively not happening or happening at this moment. Wayne asked if the firetrucks were moved out of the Fire Station if that space would be large enough to allow for the meeting with social distancing. This prompted questions about the stations filtration and ventilation systems. Joe reminded that the classroom at the Fire Station can only handle 40 people and with social distancing only 6. So that doesn’t bode well for housing a town meeting in the bays. Even with an outdoor situation, 200 people would require a football sized field. Other things would include aisle control and sound systems, tents, and the like. Again logistics are important to this. Still he promised to look into it further. Randy asked about ADA compliance for outside. Joe responded that it would have to be factored. Hopefully it would be relatively secure and level ground and thus be accessible. The key issue really would be other facilities like bathrooms. One of the best ways to approach this may be to strip down the warrants and to focus on a meeting that does what the town must do at a minimum so that it can be done quickly. Weightier issues could be considered later in the year. Jean interjected to ask some questions about guidance on the matter. Joe explained that there’s a lot of guidance from the Commonwealth to go through. Jean asked if this guidance is from DPH, the Governor’s Office, or otherwise. Joe stressed that he will share the guidance as it becomes available. Randy returned to the issues that may be postponed. He felt this isn’t about really cutting as much as deciding what can wait so that this can go smoothly and safely. Jean expressed the desire to ensure that the town doesn’t do anything unlawful. Randy stressed that nobody has suggested doing anything that is not lawful. Nancy then turned discussion to the Governor’s reopening plans. She noted that the consensus among the towns is that none of them are in a hurry to reopen. There’s a lot of paperwork that has to be gone through, plans written, and new processes put in place. It was agreed to continue reviewing materials from the Commonwealth on the matter to ensure that the town continues to conform properly. Jean asked for a follow up report to allow for further discussion on this topic. It was so agreed.
Town Meeting Budget & Process
Gabe started off by explaining the process followed by the Finance Committee and the contingency plans that are being made. If the town cannot have its meeting prior to July 1st to approve the municipal budget the town will have to go on a 1/12th budget. Gabe reported that the budget is set to be level funded, mainly because we don’t know what the situation will be for the next few months. Mahar has come in with a high budget and was unable or unwilling to explain that so the Finance Committee determined in favor of sticking to level funding. No COLA’s are being given to employees so wages will remain level. Nancy asked about housekeeping articles for the Annual Town Meeting and the process. Gabe responded that some of those can be grouped. This would allow you to take all of those housekeeping articles that are passed virtually every meeting that are common like authorizing the Treasurer to borrow for the town and the like, and put them into groupings that can be voted on together. The whole point being to shorten the time at the meeting. This would help minimize people’s exposure and time invested at the meeting. She promised to seek more information on that process. Claire then went over special articles that are not routine. They include the Library’s request for funds to replace lighting and a few other electrical fixes at a cost of $9,700, Swift River has a capital request of $10,000, and a request from the Historical Commission for funds to do some repairs from capital stabilization in the amount of $16,500 to do repairs at the Old Academy Building. The rest are for debt and similar. Hopefully there will be a better number for Broadband for town meeting. Randy then asked about the Mahar budget issue. Gabe explained that Mahar is asking for a high number and the Finance Committee is recommending level funding. Randy asked if there needs to be further discussion. Gabe stressed that the Selectboard needs to have discussion on it. Wayne asked if Mahar has put forward any defense for its budget. Gabe responded they have not. Randy stressed that the Mahar number received is indeed significantly higher than the past. Jean interjected to ask about Swift River.
Gabe explained that the assessment with Swift River is actually down for New Salem only because we have fewer students. Sadly, their assessment is difficult for Wendell this year. Wayne asked about the likelihood that Mahar will have someone at town meeting. Gabe was unsure if they will or will not. With the town not knowing what its revenues will be in the coming year it’s very hard to support increases. Randy reported on his talks with Mahar. They’ve told him that they would get back to him, but really haven’t followed up with him. There never really was a response to why they were putting forward a cost that is as high as this is. Jean noted that we really don’t know what’s going to change for schools because there are so many unanswered questions and submitted that that might be the reason for the delay in response. Claire noted the assessment was a 20 percent increase to New Salem. The problem is that they really wouldn’t talk to the Finance Committee. If the school is able to come forward and support their request New Salem could always readdress the matter at a Special Town Meeting. Still, New Salem could lose out on this as there are multiple towns in the school district. Ken then asked about the Assessors budget reminding that the Assessors had to upgrade some software. He noted sourcing for the funding and asked for confirmation this will be on the meeting warrant. Gabe was confident that the budget takes that into account, but noted some confusion regarding some of that sourcing. The concept being to move funding from one account to another. Gabe noted some issues with commitment of cost to FY20 and asked for further details. Ken elaborated further on the circumstances. The bill isn’t due until July, the upgrade has been done, and the funds are available in the revaluation account. The Town Accountant was comfortable with permitting this. It was agreed that an article is drafted to permit the movement of the money. Claire noted that there could be complication if this is FY20 and not FY21. Even if the bill isn’t due until July it was for services rendered in the prior fiscal year. This could require a Special Town Meeting. Nancy interjected that it may be possible to accomplish this at the Annual Town Meeting. Her understanding is that as long as the article specifies things properly and the correct fiscal year is in it should be allowable. It was agreed to consult with proper authorities to confirm that. Discussion concluded there.
A motion was made by Wayne to support Finance Committee and level fund the budget. Randy seconded the motion and the motion passed unanimously.
Proposed Building Permit Application Sign-Offs
Randy went over the work done on this so far. This was started by the Tree Committee due to a circumstance that occurred in the recent past. Mollie reported on that history noting that it was last summer. The result is recommendations that the committee has put forward to see the Building Inspector’s permit application. This change would add a checklist for stonewalls and trees to the permit. The existing application for building and driveway do not include those items. Additionally, not only would this result in a sign off for the Tree Warden but also clarifications regarding signatures. Lisa chimed in to say that really that signature part is to ensure that there be a place for printed names as some signatures can be hard to read. Nancy interjected to note that one potential issue here is that some landowners clear their land prior to applying for a Building Permit. Wayne suggested the Planning Board might be the ones to short circuit that, but conceded it might be a challenge. Mollie noted that to her knowledge all of New Salem’s roads have protection as scenic. Wayne was unsure that breaching a stonewall would be a breach of that. Mollie stated that the law does enumerate that stonewalls are included. Nancy suggested having the Building Inspector weigh in to get his thoughts. It was agreed to wait to hear from the Building Inspector. The Tree Committee was invited to join that discussion. Wayne then turned briefly to dangerous trees noting that they’ve been provided to the Tree Warden by GPS, but he had trouble locating all of them that way and request that they be physically marked. Mollie responded that they have marked the trees. Lisa reported she’s spoken with the Warden and he is aware of that.
Barletta House Construction – Status of Project from Owner & Project Foreman
Marc started by thanking the town for inviting him and Ben. Peter then had some questions as a neighbor as to the location of the dumpster. Ben responded by outlining how the dumpster is being handled and promised to look closely at it whether it can be moved. Wayne asked questions regarding the proposal of the project noting that the project appears to have evolved since it was first proposed in August of 2019. Marc responded that he wasn’t at that meeting and was unsure what was or wasn’t said. The reality is that the application that was put in in writing is exactly what the proposal was. Going back before that wasn’t a good use of time in his opinion. Wayne felt that some of the things that have changed likely should have gone through the Zoning Board of Appeals and in his opinion it seems that was side stepped. He asked Ben specifically if the proposal has changed. Ben did not feel that it substantially changed. Marc said to his understanding the necessary permits they must procure are from the Planning Board. Wayne noted that zoning falls under the Zoning Board of Appeals and again expressed the feeling that they were sidestepped. Jen interjected to say she has worked closely with Ben on this project and stressed the cooperation in the current circumstances. She stressed that the worksite needs to have daily discussion about the importance of wearing masks and socially distancing. Board of Health does not want to see any cases of COVID-19 up there. Lisa then asked Ben about smoking on the construction site noting some events where cigarette butts haven’t been disposed of properly and asked that they be disposed of in the proper manner. Ben promised that he would speak with his crew.
Marc then took a moment to thank Jen for her help and guidance on how to get this project done while navigating the current situation. Randy asked if there was anything that Ben or Marc would like to say in regards to this project. Ben responded that he knows that the owner would have liked to be part of this meeting wasn’t able to make it. He couldn’t speak for him, but he could speak to his own positive experiences working in New Salem. Jean noted that she has spoken with the owner recently and he reiterated the goodwill in all of this. She wasn’t speaking for him, but recalled that he wants to work with the community to do whatever needs to be done to meet expectations of a peaceable and positive environment. She then thanked both Ben and Marc for their work. Cam then passed on compliments to the excavation crew. He appreciated the steps they took to grade the site for erosion control after they were forced to stop work. Ben thanked him. Lisa asked about the permit timeline, noting it didn’t seem like this was the job that was expected. Ben asked about what terms whether the footprint or the use. She responded the use. Ben responded that the building permit is accurate to what is being built. The building permit was issued prior to any construction work and the work done matches that, with perhaps a tweak for the antique nature of the house. But all such “tweaks” were reviewed with the Building Inspector to ensure ongoing compliance with the permitting process. Lisa asked about a patio area. Ben responded that would have to include the owner. Lisa noted that the original use was for it to be primarily a museum. Ben’s response was that he is the builder and can only speak to the building. But he knows that when the planning documents for this were submitted they reflected the nature of this project. Marc noted that there is a vision for the project and apologized for any misunderstandings as to what that vision was. But the project has been spelled out in everything presented. Randy submitted that there have been a lot of questions, and ultimately the Planning Board will approve or not approve the permit before them. That will be in the future and it is understood that this won’t be easy given the current pandemic circumstance. A lot of this really requires meetings in person.
Marc stated that the reality is for the project to proceed the permits from the Planning Board need to be procured. For practical reasons this cannot wait until the pandemic is over. He conceded that in person works better, but it is too unclear when such hearings will return. What he has proposed to Planning Board is to have a serious of meetings on site that can have proper social distancing and residents can ask questions, and otherwise a public hearing be proceeded with that could perhaps be virtual. Marc asked that the Planning Board proceed with opening a hearing, they can always close the hearing or postpone it. But at least, give a chance to have discussions. This cannot stay in limbo forever. Randy responded that feedback can be procured from the community without a public hearing. There is no reason it cannot be done. There has not been an attempt to do anything but have a public hearing. For communications sake, the proposal needs to be clear. There appear to be no limitations in the current presentation. He noted he supports the project, but currently the proposal appears to have loopholes. Marc stressed that he wrote the document and noted its contents as to the museum part and the events parts. Randy interjected that there is nothing about size limits or qualifications. The proposal lacks definitions as to these things. Marc responded that that is the proposal. The process is then that you go to the hearing, the Planning Board has a discussion with the applicant, and then they put forward conditions. Then the decision is on the owners to determine if they will accept those restrictions and proceed or if they do not. He understood that there may be some frustrations, but they are asking for give and take. They are happy to have meetings, but things need to proceed with Planning Board. Randy noted that the Planning Board has been responsive throughout. Lisa expressed some concerns about some of what she was hearing. Residents know the process and what has to be done here. She was excited about the museum idea, but felt that what is actually being delivered is something different. Marc responded that since he’s been involved all the permits necessary have been issued, but it does appear special permits from Planning Board still need issuance. To the extent that proper permitting is not issued that would impact whether the project still proceeds.
David expressed some concern about the project. It is unfortunate that the pandemic is frustrating things, but a project of this scope should have a special permit. There are discussions that need to occur with the community. He felt this situation is of the owners own making. Jean interjected briefly to say she was at the earlier meetings and has served formerly on the Planning Board, and that she said repeatedly that a special permit was likely necessary but the consensus at the time from Planning Board was that it wasn’t needed. When it came out that a permit was necessary that was after the public triggered it. There is a process and there doesn’t need to be any ill will. David responded that this isn’t about ill will, the issue is that the notion was that this would be a museum and art academy. It wasn’t until later that there was reference to events. Marc responded the owner welcomes feedback. The proposal includes events that would occur both inside and outside of the building with restrictions. That is understood. The conversation needs to happen and the request is that it be done in conjunction with Planning Board and the hearing process. Randy asked why meetings for feedback with the community must be in conjunction with Planning Board. He suggested that the owner simply ask the community. The town wants this to be positive. These don’t have to be Planning Board meetings. David concurred. The community is willing to hear the vision and to provide feedback. Wayne asked Marc to consider looking at the minutes from earlier presentations. Marc responded that this has to be on what has been proposed formally. He then stressed the need to have this process move forward. He then confirmed that a meeting in person with social distancing be held. David felt confident enough people would participate to provide a sense of the communities’ thoughts. Jean noted that Planning Board is an elected board and strongly advised that communication continue with them. Nancy reminded that there are no meetings allowed that may exceed 10 people. Marc conceded that and suggested a few ways around that. Randy suggested that contact information be shared to ensure that communication can occur between all parties. Wayne then asked about a potential septic issue. Jen noted that Board of Health is already addressing that question. David stressed that this is a community process. Jean recalled that historically with larger projects New Salem has always had a series of meetings. Wayne interjected to move discussion. It was so agreed.
Status of Dog By-Law – Updates
Nancy started by asking if the Selectboard wants to have any dog by-laws on the Annual Town Meeting Warrant. Jean responded that this has the potential for controversy and it may be better to put this on a Special Town Meeting. Wayne agreed submitting it won’t make it on this warrant.
Reminder Concerning Standing Water
Nancy reported this subject is just a reminder to folks not to allow standing water.
Topics for Upcoming Meeting – Host Community Agreement for Marijuana Cultivation
There has been a question about the status of the marijuana project and the Host Community Agreement. Nancy clarified that the HCA is separate from the Planning Board permit project. There is no reason why the Selectboard cannot proceed with discussions on the HCA. The HCA is a decision to be made by the Selectboard. Everything else like hours, parking, and the like fall to the Planning Board. Randy suggested scheduling them for the Selectboard’s next meeting. Wayne concurred noting that the HCA is part of the overall application process with the Cannabis Control Commission.
Nancy advised that an inspection of the Common by Linus Mearian reported that grubs are killing the roots of the grass. When chickens scratch the area where the grass has died, their scratching leaves dirt patches. It is presumed that the chickens are also scratching for and eating grubs.
Emerald Ash Borer
Jackson asked about the Emerald Ash Borer. Joe responded by reporting on what he knows. It was a big issue and concern in Belchertown last year. This could cause some serious damage to the ash tree population in the North East. He was unsure if its reached New Salem. Cam noted the best person to talk to is a forestry official in the local DCR office. They are the most likely to know. Cam and Jackson agreed to get in contact to discuss this further.
The Selectboard considered the minutes from May 4 & 18, 2020. It was decided to table them for the next meeting.
A motion to adjourn at 9:30 pm was made by Wayne. The motion was seconded by Jean and passed without objection.
Jakob K. Hamm, Selectboard Clerk