Demo delay bylaw, overlay district creation among Montague Town Meeting considerations

Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2022 2:48:13 PM
Modified: 5/5/2022 2:46:42 PM

MONTAGUE — The addition of an assistant town administrator, implementation of Smart Growth Overlay Districts and adoption of a demolition delay bylaw highlight a hefty 36-item warrant set to come before Annual Town Meeting voters on Saturday.

The meeting will convene at 8:30 a.m. in the auditorium at Turners Falls High School. Masks will not be required, but a suggestion remains in place for those who attend. The full warrant can be viewed at

The total operating budget for fiscal year 2023 is requested at roughly $11.18 million, a 3.77% increase over fiscal year 2022.

Assistant town administrator

The potential addition of an assistant town administrator has been particularly controversial during budget negotiations in anticipation of Town Meeting. Budgeted at $86,924 for FY23 as part of an $118,781 budget increase that also accounts for the potential addition of a part-time administrative assistant, the addition of an assistant town administrator would be a primary contribution to the proposed $313,510 Selectboard budget request — a 61% increase — approved by majority at a joint Finance Committee and Selectboard meeting March 23.

Town Administrator Steve Ellis previously framed the need to create the new position as a matter of both the Selectboard and himself being overextended. He said in November that there are several “executive-level tasks that crosscut across departments” and that an assistant would help shoulder the load.

“We’re really looking to address what are not sudden and episodic issues with the functional capacity of the Selectboard’s office, but really looking at longstanding gaps in functional capacity,” Ellis said during a public informational session on April 11. “We want to be able to shift to a more strategic and proactive approach to business.”

Specifically, the duties of an assistant town administrator would include community and economic development, capital and infrastructure planning, facilities planning and management, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance coordination, construction procurement, grant and contract management, business marketing and outreach, and committee support. Ellis also suggested the assistant could double as a clerical assistant in a limited capacity.

Smart Growth Overlay Districts

Another topic that has been contested during public hearings and Selectboard meetings, presented in Article 32, is the prospect of adopting Smart Growth Overlay Districts at First Street and the former Railroad Salvage site at 11 and 15 Power St. that would allow for mixed-income housing development.

Smart Growth Overlay Districts, defined by Massachusetts General Law as “dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including … affordable housing units … in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations,” would be funded by an up-front state payment of $75,000 with an additional $3,000 per unit, as long as at least 20% of the residential units developed are classified as “affordable.” The zoning change would provide developers with increased flexibility, rather than rescind existing zoning provisions.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey explained in a presentation to the Selectboard in December that the Railroad Salvage site and First Street sites “have been determined by the Planning Board to be highly suitable for residential and mixed-use development.”

“It does not pose an encumbrance to a private property owner because the underlying zoning is still in effect,” Ramsey added in April, noting that there are entire towns designated as Smart Growth Overlay Districts.

Some, however, have denounced the idea of implementing housing due to a perceived diminishing of the local business economy.

“My biggest concern is that general business in downtown Turners (Falls) is evaporating and I don’t want to see it,” Chris Couture, owner of one First Street parcel being targeted for the zoning adaptation, said in April.

Demolition delay bylaw

The proposed demolition delay bylaw, presented in Article 35, would function to “preserve and protect, through advance notice of their proposed demolition, significant buildings,” as written in the draft bylaw. The draft states this would “encourage owners of preferably preserved significant buildings to seek out persons who might be willing to purchase and to preserve, rehabilitate or restore such buildings rather than demolish them.” Recent discussion over adopting this bylaw stemmed from the Farren Care Center’s parent company, Trinity Health of New England, expressing its controversial recommendation to demolish the former long-term care facility.

While officials such as Historical Commission member Christopher Sawyer-Lauçanno, who drafted the bylaw alongside Town Planner Walter Ramsey, previously called consideration of the bylaw “long overdue,” others saw the idea as something to be wary of, not wanting Montague to be further inundated with unused buildings.

Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz previously expressed concern not only that old buildings might be unnecessarily preserved, but that a building’s private owner could “dispose of it to an unqualified owner, which (the town has) no control over,” should the delay implore them to offload the property.

“I’m not sure how I feel about it,” he summarized. “I’m not sure I feel very good about this proposal.”

Other articles

Other spending articles include proposals to provide $2.87 million for operations within the Water Pollution Control Facility and associated pumping stations; allocate Montague’s share of $11.34 million toward operations within the Gill-Montague Regional School District; and provide $415,000 to benefit town projects including improvements to the Town Hall roof, Shea Theater Arts Center, Carnegie Public Library basement and Montague Center Library.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or


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