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Letter: Building Committee Chairman Forwards Message Sent to Officials in Advance of Town Garage Survey

July 1, 2016 Government, Opinion No Comments

To the Editor:

Upon request for input for the town-wide survey about building a new facility for the DPW, I offered the following suggestions.

A survey could be used to get information, and it may also serve as a means of educating, leading and building consensus.

The survey needs to include clear information on all of the various alternatives. Commerce Drive is the town’s industrial zone.  It’s not unreasonable to locate a town DPW facility there.  It’s been zoned industrial for approximately 20 years, so people living in that area must or should have known what could be built there.  Should the public’s support for a much-needed municipal facility on in the industrial zone (if it exists) prevail over a neighborhood’s personal preference against it?

It would be helpful to try to gather information about what use people envision for the Commerce Drive area that is zoned for industry. We know the neighbors object even though zoning regulations clearly allow it. But we don’t know why and we don’t know how other people in town feel. The public hearing in May brought out numerous thoughtful and detailed objections to the idea of building at the current location on the river. We don’t have any such explanation about public sentiment toward building in the industrial park. We simply have more no votes than yes votes about a larger facility from a time when the public had not been engaged in a dialogue about the compromises at alternative locations and was suffering from considerable misinformation disseminated at the last minute by an elected official.

So it would be valuable to understand whether the resistance to a reasonably light industrial use in the industrial park in town is based on cost, misunderstanding, self-interest, or something substantive relating to zoning, environmental considerations, or sacrifices to the DPW operations. (As DPW director Bobby Martin said May 25, “325 Commerce was perfect.”) Most of these issues can be addressed: scaling back the project size may lead to some cost reduction (though the passage of time makes construction more expensive); we correct misinformation about a combined fire house at 51 River Road; and if people recognized the alternative location is 674 Albany Tpke with the extra costs that site carries, perhaps they would set aside personal motivations for the good of the larger community.  The type of dialogue Tom Sevigny had with folks about the Satan’s Kingdom area might be very useful. Do people know that hours of operation at DPW are similar to school hours, and that they only operate at night in storms when houses are closed up and people need them to be out plowing or working on the roads? Would placing a new town garage on the river send a negative message to any possible investors in the axe factory?  (We don’t want them to regard Canton as vision-challenged.)

The site at 275 Commerce is for sale at $200,000 offering 50 percent more area than the area proposed at 50 Old River Road. We just might discover that there is a consensus in the community at large to locate DPW in the industrial park if they fully understood the alternatives. A $200,000 cost at 275 Commerce seems modest compared to Albany Turnpike site and it’s 50 percent larger than the current DPW site proposal.  That needs to be spelled out.

The other focus for inquiry could be the different uses possible at 674 Albany, and the alternate locations on the site. When PMBC walked the area some members felt the rear part of the site could work which would allow the facility to be screened. Again, understanding people’s priorities would be the helpful. When 674 Albany is asked about, the survey needs to remind people that if that property is sold to a residential developer, Canton will suffer a tax loss year after year.  The million dollar cost is high, but might be purchased in partnership with land trust and/or others.  In addition to DPW, it could be used for recreation or farmland, or as open space (supported in part by state or federal grants).  Its high cost could be mitigated by installing renewable energy systems for long-term operating expense savings. There also is the challenge of getting the land at a price consistent with the appraised value. And open space purchased with grants ordinarily cannot be used for athletic fields. So these issues would need to be clear to people for a meaningful survey.

People are still asking about putting the facility next to the fire station on River Road.  That site needs to be described as too small to accommodate program requirements for DPW, inappropriate according to zoning, and too useful for potential fire house expansion.

Framing the issues in such a way that people recognize the options are to: (A) expend in excess of $1million to acquire a site without utilities but with other advantages, (B) build in the present location on the Farmington River contrary to the POCD of 30 years, forever curtailing river access and compromising program requirements to build in a flood plain, or (C) place the facility in the town industrial park, should lead to consensus about a location with the fewest number of compromises and the greatest potential for the community’s future.

There is some real potential for such a communication with people in town, and I look forward to the information you develop.

Thank you.

Peter Reynolds

Peter Reynolds is chairman of the town’s Permanent Municipal Building Committee.    

Editor’s Note: Find the town’s survey here.

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