Solar setbacks, road repair funds on Rochester Town Meeting agenda

May 13, 2018

On May 21, Rochester Town Meeting voters will be asked to approve a bylaw regulating solar panel installations, to OK an extension on the town's marijuana moratorium, and to fund technology upgrades for Rochester Memorial School and tasers for the Rochester Police Department.

Town Meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Rochester Memorial School auditorium. All registered Rochester voters may attend and participate.

Solar farm zoning amendment

Members of Rochester's Planning Board are asking voters to approve a zoning bylaw amendment that would ban all solar installations from within 300 feet of a public way, unless a pre-existing topographical feature blocks the entire solar installation from any portion of the way.

Side and rear setbacks for new projects would be set at 100 feet.

The bylaw, if approved, would only apply to projects that have not yet begun a site plan review application with the Planning Board.

Marijuana moratorium extension

The town is seeking to continue a marijuana moratorium passed at last year's spring Town Meeting. If approved, the moratorium would extend to June 30, 2019.

Rochester's current moratorium is set to expire on December 31, 2018.

The sale of recreational marijuana was made legal in Massachusetts in 2016, but the town is seeking more time to draft zoning bylaws for marijuana-related establishments. The state only recently passed its own recreational marijuana regulations. Retail stores and cultivation businesses can now apply for licenses in towns that do not have a moratorium, though no applications will be approved by the state before June 1. The first recreational marijuana-based businesses in Massachusetts are expected to open around July 1.

The town's current moratorium was intended to block non-medical marijuana establishments and businesses, including growers and sellers, from applying for a retail or operational license before the state passed regulations on marijuana sales and zoning. The town already has regulations for medical marijuana establishments.

Road improvement stabilization fund

Voters will consider whether to create a "stabilization fund" through which the town would pay for road improvements.

Traditionally, Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar explained to Rochester's selectmen in April, road repairs are paid via Chapter 90 funding from the state. But, she pointed out, Chapter 90 funds are disbursed at lower amounts every year, while road repair costs continue to rise.

If approved, a majority vote at Town Meeting would be required to place money into the fund, while a two-thirds majority vote would be required to take money out of the fund for repairs.

If the stabilization fund is approved, a separate agenda item requests that $50,000 be transferred into it. The money transfer will require a majority vote at Town Meeting.

Rochester Memorial technology upgrade

Rochester Memorial School administrators are seeking $24,500 to upgrade technology at the school, including iPads and laptops.

Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent Doug White stated during a "Coffee with the Superintendent" chat at the school on February 13 that some of the school's iPads are so outdated, teachers can't download anything to them anymore.

Police tasers

The Rochester Police Department is seeking $30,845 to purchase and arm police with tasers -- an electroshock weapon that when used, disrupts the muscle control of the victim and causes temporary incapacitation.

Police Chief Paul Magee told Rochester's Board of Selectmen in April that Rochester's police force is one of the few in the state that does not use tasers. He said he would prefer that police have access to tasers in order to have the best tools to protect themselves and citizens.

Town Hall generator

The town is seeking $12,000 to purchase a new generator for the Town Hall.

Currently, the Town Hall doesn't have a generator, which caused serious problems during the multiple nor'easters that hit the town earlier this year and flooded the Town Hall basement.

Police Chief Paul Magee explained that if power goes out, Town Hall also loses connection to the official town email server, which affects the police force. With no town email server, he can't access his town email during a storm to request help from the state; the state does not accept emails from personal accounts because they can't be verified.

"When we need the help the most—I can't get it," he told selectmen.

The $12,000 request will cover payment for the unit, installation, screening, a cement pad, and anything else needed.