Recreational marijuana, sewer upgrades, and a new fire station top tri-town wish lists in 2019

Jan 1, 2019

After ringing in the New Year, tri-town officials are looking ahead at some major projects slated for planning and development in 2019. 

In Marion, plans to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant are underway while Rochester is preparing for a potential 208-unit affordable housing development at the Rochester Crossing site.

Mattapoisett has a few major projects around the corner in the new year, including plans to build a new fire station and redevelop Industrial Drive. 

Renovation plans slated for the Old Rochester Regional High School athletic fields, track and auditorium are also on the agenda for all three towns. Once a proposal is finalized for the project, each town will need to consider the financial feasibility of the project.

Rochester Selectmen Chair Greenwood Hartley said the Planning Board is working on legislation which would define the permitting process for recreational marijuana.

Rochester was one of three towns in Massachusetts whose moratorium on marijuana businesses was rejected by Attorney General Maura Healey on Dec. 4, which prompts the need for the new bylaw. 

Residents gave a “yes” vote on recreational marijuana during the 2016 Election, and the moratorium was intended to block non-medical marijuana shops from applying for a retail license before the Rochester returned with regulations on marijuana sales and zoning.

Rochester’s moratorium expired on Jan. 1, and the town will need start accepting applications for marijuana businesses. The extension would have given Rochester until June 30 to start accepting applications. 

Rochester voted in favor of that and it’s one of the top things on the Planning Board agenda to have ready for the Town Meeting,” said Hartley. “We're going to be doing as the town citizens wish and support that.”

Hartley said that the bylaw, when it reaches Town Meeting, will outline the permitting process for recreational pot shops. 

Hartley said the town is also looking forward to a project at the proposed Rochester Crossing site, located on land abutting routes 28 and 58. The development would be a 208-unit affordable housing development, including some commercial buildings and the infrastructure needed to support it, he said.  

“I believe it’s going to be proposed as a 40R project, which is a much better way to move forward with ensuring our town has low income housing,” said Hartley. “It favors the town in many ways and provides some funding.”

With a Chapter 40R development, Rochester would adopt a Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District at Town Meeting to become eligible for payments and financial incentives designed to offset costs related to boosted municipal services to the development. 

Officials also want to move forward with making the fire chief position a full-time job. The responsibilities related to training, record keeping, and inspections have grown to the point where a part-time chief cannot keep pace, said Hartley.

According to Hartley, the town will follow the usual hiring process to find the right candidate, and the process could take three to six months. 

In Marion, Selectmen Chair Norman Hills said the wastewater treatment plant upgrades are up first on the to-do list. 

“The biggest thing is modifying lagoon #1 for the wastewater treatment plant. We have to have it done by Dec. 1 by order of the EPA,” said chair of the Board of Selectmen, Norman Hills.

The water quality issues in Buzzards Bay that result from the wastewater treatment plant caught the eye of the Buzzards Bay Coalition, which sued the Town of Marion in January 2018 for violating the Clean Water Act.

The town plans to drain the lagoon, take all of the sludge out, take it away, and line the lagoon. They will also use the lining installation as a chance to improve the water plant, doubling its capacity.

The town is currently asking for proposals, and hopes to open bids on the project by the first or second week in January.

Marion also will have three major personnel changes in the new year. Since current Town Administrator Paul Dawson announced his retirement coming in March, the town will be looking to find his replacement as well as a new Department of Public Works Director and a treasurer-collector. 

“We also have to hire a new Town Administrator and Department of Public Works Superintendent, and there will be a transition involved in both of those things.”

Hills thinks that hiring for these two positions will also speed progress on the lagoon project.

“Once we get them in and up to speed I expect to see schedule changes on the project,” he said. 

Dawson has said that the town is advertising for a new treasurer-collector has started, and applications have already been submitted.

The position became vacant after current Treasurer-Collector Gary Carreiro announced his resignation to accept the treasurer-collector position in Dartmouth following 11 years in Marion.

Mattapoisett Selectmen Chair Jordan Collyer said plans to build a new fire station will move forward in the new year, which include presenting the costs at Town Meeting in May. 

“As far as capital goes, that’s the biggest thing we have right now,” said Collyer. “Negotiations are out for a designer right now, and the plan is to get a schematic design, and all of the costs associated with that, ready for Town Meeting.” 

The request for a new facility came after a slew of safety concerns were highlighted by the department, including the lack of space for a special decontamination washer which would remove toxic chemicals and carcinogens from fire gear and clothing. 

Last year, Town Meeting voters approved money to fund the design plans for a new building. 

Collyer added that good financial management and planning has put the town on solid footing.

Financially we’re extremely strong, we’re in a really good position going into the next budget year,” he said. “We’re not flushed with dollars, but we’re not in a position where we’re looking to cut back.”

The town’s strong position has even allowed officials to start “putting aside a chunk of money,” to help cover the cost of post-employment benefits for town employees. 

“We will continue to fund that as the impact of an unfunded liability is significant to the tax payers in the long term,” Collyer explained. 

One project that all three towns will face in the new year has to do with proposed renovations to the high school’s athletic facilities and auditorium. 

T.U.R.F. (Tri-Town Unified Recreational Facilities, Inc.), a nonprofit formed by tri-town residents in 2015, is working on a proposal to renovate athletic fields and the track to repair their deteriorating condition. 

The group originally approached tri-town officials with a $5 million project, but returned to the drawing board after concerns about the price tag were expressed. 

At a Dec. 5 Old Rochester Regional School Committee meeting, members of the group suggested that a multi-phase project focusing on high-priority upgrades was the most financially feasible option. 

The district needs to finalize their proposal before it goes to the towns, which will then deliberate on the feasibility of the renovations. 

Hartley said it’s important that all three towns are in agreement on the proposal. “The important factor in all of this is that we all go into this united,” he said.