The commission convened on Zoom Wednesday in a hastily-arranged session, then agreed to hold a full discussion at its regularly scheduled meeting on March 2 after urging by Select Board Chair Margot Fleischman.
Commission members were unhappy that they hadn’t been advised about the Select Board’s plan to designate 139 The Great Road as uniquely situated for a fire headquarters and include it on the annual town meeting warrant. Also on the warrant will be a proposal for design of the new station.
But the commission members pointed out that in their area of authority, which includes both sides of The Great Road westerly from Hillside Avenue and Bacon Road, the commission has final say on demolition and building design.
Complicating the story is that the chair of the commission, Select Board member Bill Moonan, is an abutter to the site and his wife Carol Amick has actively opposed the plan. Moonan announced his recusal at the onset of the commission meeting, although he indicated he would return to comment in the capacity of a resident.
Fleischman reminded commission members that under state ethics law, “any action taken in an official capacity, including calling a meeting, is a form of participation.” But two members, Alan Long, who served as acting chair, and Karen Kalil-Brown, testified that they had arranged the meeting. Long acknowledged “Bill’s original email alerting us to this issue.”
The Select Board chair said that no one on town staff who could answer questions or provide details was invited to Wednesday’s meeting. She said her board will work with the commission “on a fire station that’s suitable for the historic district,” just as they did with current renovations to the police station. Meanwhile, “I request that this meeting be adjourned so staff can be present and not be subject to an ethical defect.”
“I think that someone from the town should have let us know because as I understand our charge from our articles of incorporation, the town needs to get our permission before it can demolish a structure,” Long said. Fleischman replied that the plan was to present at the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting, and that earlier notification would have been inappropriate because negotiations were taking place in executive session, as required by law.
“This is a situation where we need to have clear understanding of what our procedures are, what we are allowed to do, and what we do next,” said member Karl Winkler.
Added Sal Canciello, the architect on the commission, “I don’t want to have even the perception that this meeting wasn’t set up properly.”
Fleischman said she would make sure all the relevant town departments are notified about availability on March 2.
Kalil-Brown stated that members were not notified of a virtual public forum about the project, planned for Thursday. Fleischman pointed out that the session was announced as an informational event, open to all. “We didn’t send out invitations.”
“We’re all feeling as if we should have been consulted and we weren’t,” Long said. He asked if the Select Board had intended to advise the commission before the March 2 regular meeting. Fleischman emphasized that the Select Board can’t file any formal application with the commission because the town won’t own the property unless Town Meeting approves the article.
Canciello said that at last week’s presentation to the Finance Committee, someone said that the property doesn’t have any historic value. That was not based on any expert assessment, he said, and now the public may be under an erroneous impression.
“I feel that there’s way too much going on here that we don’t understand,” Winkler stated. Canciello agreed that “we need a discussion about process.” The HDC, he said, “should make everyone aware that there is a process here that has to be done and permission has to be made for the building to be torn down.”
“We have to make sure the community understands that process and that role so they are not surprised,” he continued. “We don’t want to look like the bad guys stopping the fire station. We all want to be reasonable, but the Historic District Commission is there for a reason.”
“The HDC needs to approve or disapprove the demolition and the plan for the new building,” Long proclaimed. He added that the commission never has “approved demolition without also approval of at least a preliminary design.” Without that tandem, he said, the district could be marred by a vacant lot.
The acting chair recognized Amick, who said she originally had planned to make a statement about the property’s historic significance. As the process of acquisition moved forward, she said, “It would have been perfectly legal and valid to make an announcement and hold public meetings rather than having all of the decisions made and a done deal.” Another abutter, Meaghann Galdos, added that the town manager told her the negotiations were in executive session by preference, not as a requirement.