Mattapoisett votes for fire station, ORR fields and against marijuana at Town Meeting

May 14, 2019

MATTAPOISETT — At a marathon town meeting that stretched until nearly midnight, more than 400 voters approved funding for a new fire station and voted against allowing businesses that grow and process marijuana for adult use in Mattapoisett. Voters also approved school renovation plans, spending on conservation land, upgrading street lights, and adding handicap accessibility to the press box at ORR’s football field.

Voters approved a new $9.275 million fire station, which would be funded by temporarily raising taxes through a Proposition 2-1/2 override.

The proposed two-story building would be built on County Road adjacent to the Mattapoisett Police Station. The upgraded facility, which officials say the department has needed since the 1980s, will include major safety improvements and add to firefighters’ quality of life.

The project would mean that the average homeowner in Mattapoisett would pay an extra $13.13 in taxes each year for 20 years. Funding for the fire station still needs to be approved at the ballot box on May 21.

Against the Finance Committee’s and Board of Selectmen’s wishes, voters approved the $2 million Old Rochester Regional field and auditorium renovation project for the ballot at 190 to 80.

This project still needs to be approved by Mattapoisett voters at the May 21 election, and by Marion and Rochester voters at their respective Town Meetings and elections, after Marion did not vote on it at the first night of its Town Meeting. 

The debt-excluded project involves resurfacing the track and rebuilding the grass infield with turf. Lights for the main stadium field, as well as auditorium fixes such as a digital LED light system, audio system and wiring upgrades and the addition of auditorium monitors are also included.

School Committee Chair Cary Humphrey said the renovations would cost Mattapoisett taxpayers $19.57 a year for 15 years.

Finance Committee chair Pat Donoghue explained the committee’s opposition to the proposal. According to Donoghue, the committee did not have enough information about other upcoming capital needs at ORR to be able to confidently recommend the article. The importance of this project, in comparison to other needs like the leaking roof and an aging H/VAC system, was not made clear through a capital plan.

Additionally, the committee objected to bonding the project for fifteen years when turf fields do not usually last more than 12 years at the most.

“I understand that we want to do the best for our kids but we need to do it in a prudent way,” Donoghue said.

Humphrey said that the school district had provided all the information that it could.

An ORRHS senior and Lacrosse Captain Gates Tenerowicz responded to Donoghue highlighting the wellbeing of the people who use the fields.

Tenerowicz said she witnessed a player from another team roll her ankle while walking up from the net on the field, and had a teammate slip and get an ACL tear.

“I understand the financial concerns with this project but to me, what is the cost of your child’s safety? What is the cost of my safety and my peers’ safety and the pride of my community?” said Tenerowicz, “Frankly it’s terrifying to see your friends, and your peers and even your competitors put at risk.”

In response, Donoghue said while there are valid safety concerns, she said there are many throughout the town with some that take higher priority.

“I don’t philosophically disagree with providing our students with the best that we can,” said Donoghue, “However, they are not the only people in town, they are not the only ones that I’m concerned about. It’s everybody.” 

Voters also approved a separate warrant article to fund one-third of the cost of making the press box at Old Rochester Regional’s football field handicap-accessible. Each town will be asked to contribute $20,000 to fund a ramp and lift that would allow wheelchair access to the box, which would be 20 feet above ground level. Lifts higher than 14 feet are not allowed so that a ramp would be included.

Although a majority of voters approved a proposal to allow companies to grow and process marijuana in the limited industrial zone for recreational use, the vote failed to pass the required ⅔ threshold. The citizens’ petition would not have allowed retail sales. The final vote count was 188 in favor, 125 against.

Residents voiced concerns about safety, smells, traffic impacts, and the social repercussions of voting against the petition, although a proposal for a vote by secret ballot was voted down.

Voters approved an agreement with the state to replace all 375 streetlights in Mattapoisett with ones that are more energy efficient and whose brightness can be controlled. The lights will be roughly the same color and intensity as current lights, and have hoods to minimize light pollution that could affect wildlife or stargazers.

Voters also approved spending $15,000 in Community Preservation funds to further survey and study the land that will be used for a rail trail bike path. Researchers must look into the easements that the railroad used when building the train tracks, but all the relevant papers are at the University of Connecticut.

Cushing Cemetery will soon see $19,000 worth of improvements to its fence, as voters approved spending Community Preservation Funds on the project.

Voters also approved spending $250,000 to protect the Pine Island Watershed, by 390 to 13. The rest of the $1.5 million required to purchase the land will come from funds raised by the Land Trust and a grant from the state.

According to Mattapoisett Land Trust President Mike Huguenin, the 120-acre plot north of Angelica Avenue will provide connectivity to Haskell Swamp Wildlife Management Area, thousands of acres that extend to Rochester.

It will also protect the plot from development and make the land accessible to the public for outdoor activities such as kayaking, fishing, shellfishing, and swimming.

“It was a great opportunity this year to do this. The Land Trust has been working on the deal for well over ten years,” said Huguenin, “Many folks in town are aware of the many controversies surrounding development plans on these properties over the years. This acquisition and ownership of the land will put that completely behind us.” 

Land Trust plans include a small parking lot, hiking trail extension, a walkway across the salt marsh, and a float for access to shellfishing, swimming and kayaking. The Land Trust also plans to add a kiosk commemorating Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who had a summer home nearby and include hiking trails around the site.

Mattapoisett resident, Jodi Bauer said she was not in support of the project and said the boardwalk portion of the plan would make it too easy for people to access the waterways.

She also noted there are already 14 buildable lots there.

“I am surprised the Finance Committee was in support of this article,” said Bauer, “We will be purchasing a lot of wetlands that no one can build on anyway. The boardwalk, in my opinion, sounds like a nice idea until the pond will be fished out of quahogs.”

Mattapoisett resident Beverly Baccelli, in response to Bauer, said having a publicly accessible place in nature has more advantages than building residential developments.

“We live in that neighborhood and it’s in my opinion that I would rather have lots of people accessing a pond that I kayak to and quahog with, rather than 14 more giant houses that are being built all along the waterfront that don’t need to be there in hurricane land,” said Baccelli.