By Kevin Rudden Staff Reporter/Columnist
May 27, 2011
Wouldn't you know it? I wrote my column for the May 13 issue about the Planning Board's proposed Zoning By-law change to allow up to 16 apartments in eight downtown buildings. But – before the meeting was held – the board decided to "pass over" the warrant article.
The reason why they decided to wait is a good one. They realized it wouldn't pass – at least not right now. The Planning Board – and other town officials, for that matter – felt there would be too many questions that could come up that there were no ready answers for.
Here are two of them: Since there already are apartments downtown, how many of them are there? In how many buildings? I'm thinking that a nice multi-colored diagram showing existing sites and where new ones could go would make a good display.
Here's another question: If people are afraid of "trouble" from tenants of new apartments, then why not develop a record of police calls and responses to the existing ones? If there's been little or no trouble, then that should take care of that concern. If there has been a lot of trouble, well... that could be a show-stopper.
I'm sure Town Meeting members have more than those three questions. Send them to the Planning Board.
Speaking of Town Meeting members, the "re-precincting" that has to take place because of the 2010 federal census means there will be 33 more elected ones – a 14 percent increase – as the town expands to an eighth precinct next year. And, all of them will have to run for their seats.
The idea of all 264 seats being up for grabs at once certainly should liven up the election scene and – instead of this year's dismal 12.5 percent voter turnout – there should be a large showing at the polls as friends, families, and neighbors try to get their candidates elected. Their turnout, in turn, should have a decided effect on the "regular" election involving town officials' seats.
In the late 1970s, I was covering city government in Warwick, Rhode Island and wondered why – with one exception – hardly anyone ever attended City Council meetings. The one exception was when the city wanted to close a district fire station in order to save money. Residents turned out en masse to protest. The district's city councilor, a very smart Portuguese-American businessman named Walter Santos, came up to me at the end of the meeting and said: "Lightning. They always come out when lightning strikes their front doors."
As the late Congressman "Tip" O'Neill was fond of saying, "All politics is local." And, nothing should be more "local" than having 264 seats up at once.