Special Nov. 28 Town Meeting Includes Vote for New Public Safety Building

Cynthia Whitty
Ashland Police Chief Craig Davis explains why a new police facility is needed. (Photo/Cynthia Whitty)
Issue Date: 
November, 2018
Article Body: 

A special town meeting is set for Wednesday, Nov. 28, 7 p.m., at the Ashland High School Auditorium, 65 E. Union St. If needed, a continuation meeting will be held on Dec. 3.
The warrant is in the process of being finalized at the time of this writing. Up for vote are 26 warrant articles, which include a $3.5 million debt exclusion to pay for the design and engineering of a new joint public safety building; a proposal to take property near the Rail Transit District where nearly 400 apartments already stand; articles concerning easements related to the Riverwalk Trail Enhancement Project; and a vote to establish a stormwater enterprise fund.
Public Safety Building
“The Town of Ashland has known for decades that its public safety facilities are inadequate,” Michael Herbert said. “Now, with the help of our state delegation and local officials, we have the limited opportunity to invest in a new public safety building at a fraction of the cost of what we were anticipating, but to do that, we need your support.”
In the past year, the town was able to negotiate the donation of the land and Sen. Karen Spilka has secured the construction costs through a statewide bond.
Herbert explained the town meeting vote: “A ‘yes’ vote will unlock $26.5 million in state and private funding for construction and land acquisition. A ‘no’ vote will mean that the town will need to pay the full $30 million—probably more due to inflation—in the future for a new building. Question 4 must pass by majority vote to be successful. The increase for the average tax bill is $30, compared to $300 if we have to pay the full cost.”
“On November 28, Town Meeting will be asked to pass three articles related to the project: 1) approving the design funds, 2) acceptance of the gift of land, and 3) zoning change on that land. These articles must pass by a 2/3 majority.”
“A new public safety building will make us and our first responders safer. It will also lower operating costs and open up two key parcels downtown for redevelopment.”
See a chart that shows all of Ashland’s debt exclusions cost to the town each year, when they are paid off and what the tax impact is on the average home value: www.ashlandmass.com/DocumentCenter/View/4082/FY18-FY29-Debt-Exclusion-Chart.
Note that if the vote at town meeting is ‘yes,’ residents will be asked to vote in the state election on question 4 for the debt exclusion. See a sample ballot here: www.ashlandmass.com/DocumentCenter/View/4097/20181106_SAMPLEBALLOT
For more information on the public safety building project, visit www.ashlandpublicsafetyproject.com.
Rail Transit District Land Acquisition
The town will propose warrant articles to acquire all or part of 150 acres near the Rail Transit District, above the middle school and surrounding the Nyanza cap. This land is the largest amount of developable land left in town.
The current zoning allows for almost 600 more units of housing to be built, with very little open space, and practically no commercial development. With this new proposal, the town has four goals it would like to accomplish, according to Herbert:
100-150 units of affordable senior housing with a preference given to Ashland residents
Commercial development, which would bring commercial tax revenue into the town
Recreation use for the Upper Charles River Trail, walking trails and open space, plus a solar project
A recreational facility, such as the YMCA.
Riverwalk Enhancements
Herbert said there will be 2-3 articles concerning easements and land swaps for the Riverwalk Trail Enhancement Project.
The Riverwalk project officially kicked off on Oct. 17. The project includes enhancements to the existing trail will include a handicap accessible parking lot; a trail and observation deck off Ponderosa Road; a long span bridge across the Mill Pond inlet to Mill Pond Park; a short-span bridge linking the Ashland Fish and Game to Marathon Park, downtown Ashland and the MBTA train station; trail improvements behind the houses on Sudbury Road; a trail extension from Marathon Park; and a spur trail on Sudbury Road.
Stormwater Enterprise Fund Creation
The Stormwater Advisory Committee and the Board of Selectmen are recommending creating an Enterprise Fund to pay for ongoing stormwater management and a mandate to reduce pollution and protect our rivers, lakes and streams. The Stormwater Utility will charge a fee to property owners and commercial enterprises. Non-tax-paying organizations will also be charged. The mandate, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (NPDES MS4), referred to as MS4, became effective on July 1 and requires Ashland to begin to implement a comprehensive stormwater management plan in the coming fiscal year.
For up-to-date information and the town warrant when it is available, see the town’s website, www.ashlandmass.com.