Town Manager, Select Board Cite Concerns over Wording of Petitioners’ Fire Station Article

September 26, 2023
The Bedford Select Board discussed a three-pronged petitioners’ article at their meeting Monday night. Image: BedfordTV

The Nov. 6 Bedford Special Town Meeting warrant will include a three-pronged petitioners’ article designed to channel the current fire station project away from 139 The Great Road.

But the town manager and some board members already anticipate problems with the article’s intent and structure.

The petitioners’ article, orchestrated by former resident Margaret Donovan, would “authorize and direct the Select Board” to:

  • Reopen the fire station site selection process, including the current station at 55 The Great Road, adhering to the original location envelope along The Great Road between Willson Park and Loomis Street;
  • “Advertise for proposals to determine what interest there is in selling property” within that geographical window;
  • Engage the current building committee, architectural firm, and owner’s project manager “to assess any and all options and present a comprehensive plan to the 2024 Annual Town Meeting,” including details on what it would take to complete a firehouse by the end of 2025.

There is also an accompanying commentary indicating that the proposed “path to a viable alternative location” is a safety valve “in the event that the Historic District Commission determines” that the architectural features or streetscape changes “would be detrimental to the character of the historic district.” But there are no conditions attached to the actual article.

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Donovan, a former resident who has been the most vociferous opponent of the site because it is part of the Bedford Center Historic District, collected most of her signatures during the Bedford Day street fair on Saturday.

Town Manager Matthew Hanson, referencing town counsel’s confirmation, told the Select Board at its meeting on Monday that a petitioners’ article with the required number of signatures must be included on the warrant as written.

“There are a few issues with the way this is currently worded,” he said. “Most notably, Town Meeting can’t direct the Select Board to do specific activities relating to property transactions.”

He also pointed out that fire station planning is now in the design development stage, for which the town has signed a contract. To launch the proposed comprehensive plan, it would have to breach that contract plus get additional funding.

Select Board member Shawn Hanegan pointed out that the firms named in the wording are not specialists in site selection. He also asked, “Wouldn’t there have to be a new procurement process?” Hanson said, “This is essentially a completely different scope.”

Hanegan asked what would follow if the article is approved. Assistant Town Manager Amy Fidalgo said the moderator would have to define it as a “non-binding resolution.”

Select Board member Emily Mitchell noted that the first and third segments of the petitioners’ article “are things we have either already done or are currently doing.”

Board members talked about the timing of town counsel’s role. Hanson, attending his first board meeting at the close of his initial day as town manager, said in his experience counsel is asked at Town Meeting to advise on an issue. He said the details should be shared with voters “as soon as the article comes up.”

Fidalgo, in answer to Hanegan’s observation, said the town manager’s office will consult with counsel on the wording of all of the motions introducing the articles and can get a sense of legal opinions at that time.

Should town counsel determine that there are problems with the article, it can be amended by a registered Bedford voter from the floor at Town Meeting as long as the proposed amendment does not change the scope of the article. 

The board also decided to place the article almost midway through the 15-item Special Town Meeting warrant. Board member Margot Fleischman was concerned that if the article is at the end of the warrant, extended debate could force Special Town Meeting to a second session.

The board unanimously voted to recommend disapproval of the petitioners’ article.

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