August 23, 2014

Gray stays away from fireworks ordiance, council grants new contract zone and poverty abatement - By Tracy Scheckel

A charter amendment, a couple of contract zones and the future of Stimson Hall were on tap for the Gray Town Council at its August 4 meeting. 
The annual interest on the town’s crisis fund has declined in recent years and no longer keeps pace with the rising budgets. Due to the 2014 budget increases, the council was faced with a $71,000 deficit in the account in the current fiscal year. According to the charter, the council was required to address the issue with a mitigation plan. The council charged town staff with the task of developing a plan to resolve the deficit, which it did with the charter amendment proposal. Essentially, the amendment would combine the existing crisis fund with the unassigned fund balance and require a balance of between two-twelfths and three-twelfths of the town’s net operating budget – including assessments to the school district and the county. It is expected that at its September 2 meeting, the council will consider an actual ballot question for the November election.

The council heard an initial presentation by Britton Lumber, a building supply wholesaler, for a contract zone at its Yarmouth Road property asking for additional lot coverage in order to construct an additional storage building. The business is a grandfathered non-conforming use within the Rural, Residential and Agricultural Zone. During discussion, Councilor Matt Doughty commented, “This is exactly what a contract zone should be used for, a way to help grow local business.” Overall, the council was welcoming of the proposal, and encouraged the applicant to continue with the application process.

The council also conducted a final hearing and ultimately approved a contract zone for Advance Realty 2 for its holdings on Yarmouth Road and Brown Street. The contract permits the adjustment of property lines between the two parcels, and provides the owner assurances it may utilize current zoning and maintain any future legally non-conforming rights. The request was prompted by the owner’s desire to remove a dilapidated structure on the Yarmouth Road property. The contract zone insures that the owner can build in the footprint of the building to be removed. The council approved the zone by a vote of 4 to1 with Councilor Lynn Gallagher opposed. Advance Realty 2 plans to remove the building at 7 Yarmouth Road in early fall.

Stimson Hall was another topic for council discussion as the council considers what to do with the building that is falling into disrepair. A lengthy discussion ensued as the council grappled with the need to include the public in the decision and how to pose binding ballot questions to get the public consensus. The council first considered how to ask if the public even had interest in maintaining the building, or whether the town should simply sell or demolish it. Previous estimates to repair the building were, according to Councilor Lew Mancini, in the vicinity of $450,000. Mancini ultimately suggested that the council increase that estimate to account for the continued deterioration of the building and ask the public if it would be willing to appropriate funds to repair it. It was agreed that Council Chair Matt Sturgis would work with Town Manager, Deborah Cabana to craft a two part question for the November ballot, and that the council would review it at an upcoming workshop on September 19.

A handful or residents, including the spouse of Councilor Peter Gellerson wrote to the council asking that it consider a more restrictive fireworks ordinance that is provided in state law. Gallagher and Gellerson spoke in favor or a reduction in the times when shooting fireworks is permitted and further monitoring their use when weather conditions prohibit burn permits. Councilors Sturgis, Mancini and Doughty felt that the state law is more than adequate and that enforcement of a more restrictive ordinance would be difficult. No action was taken.

The council conducted an executive session to hear a poverty tax abatement request. In open session the council approved the abatement of less than $2,000.

The council will conduct a workshop on August 19 to discuss a planner - Economic development staff position, email and correspondence and the municipal properties on Shaker Road.

The next regular council meeting is scheduled for September 2 at 7 p.m. at the Pennell Municipal Complex at 24 Main Street.

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