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Charlemont mulls zoning bylaws, recall elections

Recorder/Paul Franz
Charlemont Center looking east

Recorder/Paul Franz Charlemont Center looking east Purchase photo reprints »

CHARLEMONT — “Village center” zoning bylaw changes, the town budget, and going back to an elected town clerk are all on the table at Charlemont’s annual town meeting on Tuesday. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Hawlemont Regional School gym.

The budget, as recommended by the Finance Committee, is $2.89 million — a 7 percent increase over the current year’s budget. Part of the increase comes from increased costs for education and school busing. The Hawlemont Regional School assessment, with Rowe no longer paying to lease classroom space in the building, will go up from $1.5 to $1.62 million. Mohawk’s assessment is up from $668,276 this year to $730,101. Also, the town has budgeted $30,000 for a half-year’s salary so that the town can hire a town administrator. If approved by voters, the funding would be to pay for a full-time administrator’s salary from January through June of next year.

Also, the police budget is proposed to increase by about $6,446 and the Fire Department’s budget by $19,054, largely due to rising costs for equipment replacement.

At the 2010 annual meeting, townspeople voted in favor of changing the town clerk’s position from an elected to appointed position, because no one was running for the job and Linda Wagner, town clerk for 18 years, wanted to retire. In August that year, Executive Secretary Kathy Reynolds was appointed to also serve as town clerk.

Now voters will see a warrant article asking if they support going back to an elected town clerk’s position. At an earlier special town meeting this year, voters supported putting this article on the annual town meeting warrant. If approved, the new article would repeal the 2010 special legislation that made it possible for the town to have an appointed town clerk. The new article calls for a three-year town clerk’s term. The current position would end with the election of a town clerk in the 2015 annual election. If Reynolds were to leave her position before that, the vacancy would be filled in accordance to state laws regarding an unexpired term.

Another article, placed on the warrant by citizens’ petition, asks the town to adopt a recall procedure. This bylaw would require at least 100 town voters to sign a recall petition, with the name and office of the town official, along with the grounds for seeking recall. After the voter registrations are certified, the town clerk would give the petition leader a number of petition blanks with the town clerk’s seal and signature. A copy of the petition would be kept by the town clerk, until the petitions are returned with signatures, within 20 days. At least 20 percent of the town must sign the petition before it is sent to selectmen, who would give written notice to the town official in question. If he or she does not resign the position within five days of the notification, a recall election must be held between 60 to 90 days from the date of the town clerk’s petition certification.

No one who has been recalled from an office, or who has resigned during recall proceedings, could serve in another town position for at least two years afterward.

Village district

The purpose of a new “Village Center District” is to make it easier for businesses to get started in the center and to allow village property owners to do more development “by right” and through site plan reviews, rather than through a more complex special permit process. According to the Planning Board, of the 79 lots in the village center, 48 are nonconforming, both in lot size and frontage, and 62 lots do not have the required minimum size of one acre.

By reducing the minimum lot size from 45,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet, many more properties will be able seek new or expanded uses, because they will have conforming lot sizes within the historic village center. Planners hope this change “encourages the development of a vibrant mix of commercial and residential uses in a way that respect the character of the village. It allows for greater density and more by-right uses than in the rural district,” they said.

Planning Board Chairwoman Gisela Walker stressed that this proposal does not change zoning or land requirements for the town’s rural/residential areas. If approved, properties within the village center district would be considered “conforming” if they have at least 50 feet of frontage, with 10-foot front yard, side and rear setbacks.

Karen Hogness, co-owner of A.L. Avery and Son General Store, says the town’s Economic Roundtable fully supports the proposed bylaw. “Anything that encourages more business in the area is a good thing,” she said. “It will help all of us.”

Another article submitted by the Planning Board is to create a Medical Marijuana Overlay District, which would replace the town’s temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

A third planning article is to create a new “General Earth Removal Bylaw” that would put gravel and earth-removal operations under the regulatory oversight of a new five-member, Earth Removal Committee instead of the Planning Board, which now oversees it. This new board would be made up of representatives from the Planning Board, selectmen, Board of Health, and Conservation Commission.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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