Reminder Assistant Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW The home-based trade bylaw was approved with a thunderous chorus of yeas during the Annual Town Meeting last Monday evening.
The passage didn't come as a surprise to Planning Board Chair Tom Morrissette, however.
"We haven't heard anything, any questions, in the past 30 days," Morrissette said after the meeting. "It was put together well it's a good bylaw."
He added that the Planning Board will now be "expecting an onslaught of special permit requests" for the home-based trades in town, which are rumored to total more than 200.
"We feel this proposal is a fair compromise," Don Anderson, a member of the Planning Board, told the nearly 400 residents who attended the meeting. "This [bylaw] is vastly superior to what was proposed in October, albeit not perfect."
The petitioned bylaw change brought up during last October's Special Town Meeting would have "opened a Pandora's box," in the words of former Planning Board Chair Marilyn Richards. Since that meeting, the Planning Board worked with the East Longmeadow Small Business Association (ELSBA) and hosted a number of public hearings to create a bylaw that would benefit all town residents.
Sandro Meccia, owner of Mec's Landscaping and president of ELSBA, was so elated with the passage of the bylaw he was hugging fellow residents after the town meeting adjourned.
At the meeting, one resident asked, "How in the world are you going to police this?"
Morrissette replied the risk facing tradesmen who don't apply for a special permit should be a strong deterrent.
Dan Hellyer, the town's building inspector, said if he receives a complaint, he will investigate it and may then issue a cease and desist order. If that order is ignored, the business owner will pay a fine of $100 a day.
"Enforcement is going to be an issue," Jim Driscoll, chair of the Board of Selectmen, said.
The bylaw is also what Anderson called "a tourniquet approach" to home-based trades in town. No businesses will be grandfathered in, and no new businesses (created after Jan. 28 of this year) will earn a special permit.
Robyn MacDonald, director of Planning, Zoning and Conservation, said she's already received several phone calls from home-based trades looking to start the special permit approval process.
The zoning bylaw and the town's budget were the largest issues at this year's Annual Town Meeting.
The $47,028,441 fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget was approved by voters after several questions were asked by concerned residents. One queried about the modular classrooms at the elementary schools. Driscoll said they now all have certificates of occupancy and are ready for use.
A question was also raised by Driscoll concerning the payment of the town's veterans' officer, who asked to increase that person's salary from $5,189 to $9,380, due to a need for more hours to help the increasing number of Iraqi War veterans. This amendment was approved.
Voters also approved of $4,613,329 in capital planning projects. James Hayes, chair of the Capital Planning Committee, explained that a capital project is something that costs $20,000 or more and will have a useful life of more than three years.
FY09's biggest capital projects include repairs and replacements within the town's police and fire departments, which are requesting three new vehicles and a new engine, respectively. The Department of Public Works also needs new vehicles.
Capital planning projects at the town's five schools totaled $2,497,905, which included fire doors wired into a fire panel at Meadowbrook, Mountain View and Mapleshade. Air duct cleaning at all the school buildings, excluding Birchland Park, was questioned by a voter but Hayes said it needed to be done because it hasn't been done in years.
Voters also approved the motion to appropriate funds for the Norcross House and property, using $235,000 from Community Preservation Act funds to pay off the historic home's mortgage.
The deed for one-third of an acre on which the house and barn sit will go to the town once the mortgage is paid. The remaining one and two-thirds acres of land will have a historic restriction placed upon it, so no development can occur there. The Friends of Norcross will operate the home for the next five years to get programs started and to continue renovations on the property, Mary Swords, president of Friends of Norcross, explained.