Naomi Dreeben

‘Political payback’ in Swampscott?

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Mary Ellen Fletcher was the only sitting member not reappointed to the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee by the Board of Selectmen recently. The board said it was nothing personal, but she claims it is backlash from her questioning how town funds were spent for two waterfront projects.

“I saw it coming the day after the editorial in the Lynn Item came out,” Fletcher said, referring to an October editorial after she and two other harbor and waterfront advisory committee members brought up the waterfront projects’ spending. “I knew that this was going to happen. I didn’t know it for a fact. It was my gut feeling. The rumor out there was that it made the selectmen look bad.”

Fletcher, along with two other harbor and waterfront advisory committee members, Milton Fistel and Glenn Kessler, appeared before the selectmen last October to present two instances of how the town overspent on waterfront projects, harbor dredging and a proposed breakwater that haven’t moved past the study stage.

“I can’t help but think there was retribution,” said Kessler. “I just got the feeling this was political payback.”

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Kessler spoke in favor of Fletcher at last week’s board meeting, asking the selectmen to reconsider their decision not to reappoint her, calling her a conscientious person, hard worker and a real asset. Fletcher said she received a phone call about the decision from Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, the night before the meeting.

At last week’s board meeting, Peter Spellios, a selectman, proposed two courses of action related to the harbor and waterfront advisory committee. He suggested increasing membership from seven to nine members, which was approved unanimously.

Spellios also proposed reappointing six of the incumbents, not reappointing Fletcher and adding three new members. That recommendation was also approved, but split the board 3 to 2, with Laura Spathanas, vice-chair, and Patrick Jones voting against it.

Dreeben, Spellios and Donald Hause voted in favor, citing a potential conflict of interest as Fletcher started serving on the finance committee last spring. They said there could be a potential conflict if financial matters relating to the harbor and waterfront advisory committee came before the finance committee.

“I would support not reappointing her,” said Hause. “I want to stress that’s not personal or an indictment on her capabilities whatsoever.”

The three new members are Mark Wolinsky, Ulf Westhoven and Ryan Patz. The members reappointed were Jackson Schultz, Mounzer Aylouche, Fistel, Kessler, Jacqueline Kinney and Neil Rossman.

Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell, who is on paid administrative leave and is facing criminal charges for use of of an expired license plate, was also reappointed as ex-officio. Interim Town Administrator Gino Cresta and the selectmen are actively looking for an interim harbormaster to replace Bithell.

Spathanas and Jones argued that Fletcher could recuse herself from any finance committee vote pertaining to financial matters with the harbor advisory committee. Jones said he might be more convinced if there was a history of the conflict happening.

“I’m not convinced there yet with this particular person because of the due diligence they do provide,” Jones said. “It’s someone who does put in a lot of time with things.”

Spathanas questioned why the selectmen would take away something Fletcher is passionate about, by taking her off the advisory committee. Despite those arguments, Dreeben said she was still concerned about a conflict of interest, but recognizes Fletcher’s value as a volunteer. The decision had nothing to do with the substance of the person, Spellios added.

“Mary Ellen Fletcher is knowledgeable and well-informed on issues,” Dreeben said when asked if the lack of reappointment was a political move related to the town spending questions. “We greatly value her work on the finance committee.”

Fletcher said the conflict argument didn’t make sense to her. She said if there was a finance committee vote pertaining the harbor advisory committee, it would be a no-brainer that she would recuse herself. The harbor committee also has no fiduciary responsibility, and simply acts as an advisory to the board of selectmen, she added.

“This is just politics,” Fletcher said. “This is not life or death or that serious. It’s just disappointing, that’s all. I have every intention of continuing to be a good volunteer in my community … I don’t think their judgment was in the best interest of the community. It’s just so crazy. If they thought there was any issue of conflict, why did it take them seven months to bring it up?”

Fletcher and Kessler said the incident may deter others from volunteering.

“To reappoint six of us and to not reappoint her, I thought that was both rude and disrespectful,” said Kessler. “You’re really doing a disservice not only to Ms. Fletcher but to the town … I have to say that just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Monastery brewery falls flat in Swampscott

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Pictured is the entrance to the old Marian Court College.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Plans to convert the former Marian Court College into an Orthodox Christian monastery, with a brewery on site, have been shelved.

Fr. Andrew Bushell, a Marblehead native and executive chairman of St. Paul’s Foundation, a monastic institution of the monks of Mount Athos in Greece, had a purchase agreement in place with the Sisters of Mercy, the current owners of the property at 35 Littles Point Road.

Bushell had until the end of December to close on the property, but did not follow through on what town officials said would have been a $4 million purchase.

“We decided not to move forward with the property,” Bushell said in an email on Tuesday.

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Alice Poltorick, a spokeswoman for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community, said the property didn’t close.  

“He had until the end of the month,” Poltorick said. “No extension (was) asked for or granted … The property is for sale. It’s listed with a broker.”

Gino Cresta, interim town administrator, said Bushell had initially put down a $50,000 payment, and there was another large figure due at the end of December.

“He was waiting to see if he had the support of the town before he put the other part of the significant part of the deposit down,” Cresta said. “He’s not going forward with it.”

Bushell previously said that his decision to complete the purchase of the Marian Court property, also known as White Court, hinged on being able to build a small monastic brewery and cider house on the site, inside of what is now the Mercy Center. Plans also included establishing a warehouse in Lynn or Revere, which would be used for storage and larger deliveries.

Town officials were against the brewery aspect, arguing that zoning bylaws do not allow for one in the residential district where the former college is located. The college closed in June 2015 because of financial difficulties. The only uses allowed in that district without having to obtain a special permit are a single-family dwelling, a religious use, educational use, child care facility, agricultural use or facilities for the sale and production of dairy products from June to September, according to Peter Kane, director of community development.

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Kane said in a previous interview that a brewery is not identified as an allowed use in Swampscott, and according to the town’s zoning bylaws, if a use is not specified, then it’s not allowed. Bushell argued that the brewery was allowed under the Dover Amendment exemption, the law that exempts agricultural, religious and educational corporations from certain zoning restrictions.

“A number of committees have submitted letters saying they wanted the town to buy the property,” Kane said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We’d have to go and ask Town Meeting to agree to purchase it.”

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the board would potentially discuss buying the property at their meeting tonight. She said there’s been a strong interest in town for the property being available for public use.

“I’d love to see that,” Dreeben said. “We’d just have to find a way to swing it financially. If it’s going to be for public use, then the public has to buy it.”

Cresta said there’s been other offers on the Marian Court property, but there are no other purchase agreements in place.

“I think it’s in our best interest to stay involved,” Cresta said. “But I don’t know how much say we can have in a private sale. We can make suggestions.”

The 6.2-acre White Court property is assessed at $7.8 million, including the two buildings and surrounding land, according to land records.

The former college is listed on LoopNet as a “spectacular oceanfront estate property in Swampscott” with CBRE/New England, which calls itself the worldwide leader in real estate services.  

“The property’s idyllic setting is perfect for housing, hospitality, or a continued educational or institutional use,” the listing reads. “Located in the desirable seaside community of Swampscott, 35 Littles Point Road offers investors, owners, developers and collectors a myriad of exciting restoration, adaptive reuse and development options.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

And then there was one in Swampscott

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Charing Cross Realty Trust has withdrawn its proposal to convert the shuttered Swampscott Middle School on Greenwood Avenue into 11 single-family homes, leaving only Groom Construction, the other developer, which proposed luxury apartments.

“Over the past several weeks, we have become increasingly uneasy with a number of decisions made by town officials regarding this selection process and believe that it would be in the best interest of Charing Cross to withdraw rather than to continue with a process that causes us concern,” Phil Singleton, trustee of Charing Cross, wrote in a letter to Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.

Groom Construction, the Salem-based company that originally won approval for condominiums on the site five years ago, has proposed 28 luxury apartments or condominiums and three garage outbuildings on the site. Representatives from Groom wrote in their proposal that it was their preference that the units be offered as condominiums to buyers should market conditions be favorable.

Peabody-based Charing Cross and Groom Construction responded to the Request for Proposals (RFP) released by town officials in September.

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Singleton said the decision was made because town officials were unwilling to publicize bid prices from either developer, which he said should be public information. He said he was also troubled by the town’s “ill-conceived” plan to have Peter Kane, director of community development, present the proposals to the neighborhood during an upcoming community forum, rather than the developers themselves.

“We just didn’t like the way they were doing the procedure and felt they did a couple of things that were against the rules,” Singleton said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We thought about it over the weekend and decided this morning that we wouldn’t go ahead.”

The community forum is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Swampscott High School cafeteria, where Kane will present the remaining proposal.

“Developers obviously have every right to withdraw,” Kane said. “I couldn’t necessarily say I’m surprised or not surprised. We were holding the forum to get an idea of what residents felt on the two proposals. We’ll still use this forum to get feedback on the lone proposal.”

Dreeben said after Charing Cross withdrew, there was only one other option, but still believes the community forum is necessary. She said the selectmen are scheduled to vote on a proposal for the reuse of the Greenwood Avenue school on Jan. 18.

“But yeah, that makes the decision pretty easy then,” she said. “We would need to vote … but it looks fairly clear that if there’s only one proposal, then that would be the one as long as it meets our criteria.”

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The zoning change approved at Town Meeting last May allows for construction of a single structure with 28 units on the site. Potential developers had to adhere to an affordable housing component.

Groom originally won approval for a different condominium project on the site five years ago, and is in the midst of pending litigation with the town, which has to be resolved before the town is able to proceed with the sale of the property. The lawsuit stemmed from the initial zoning change approved at Town Meeting, which allowed for a multi-family unit on the parcel. That was overturned by Massachusetts Land Court after neighbors filed suit in 2014, and zoning was reverted to single-family housing.

Singleton wrote in his letter that town officials wrote in the RFP that potential developers must adhere to a residential reuse of the property that is at a “scale appropriate to the site, consistent with neighborhood characteristics and in compliance with existing zoning.”

At previous public forums, neighbors voiced concerns that the potential size of a building allowed by the zoning change would not fit in with the neighborhood.

“While we presented our proposal as a neighborhood-friendly option, the (Town Selection) Committee’s insistence that there was no way to determine if we were neighborhood friendly because there was there was ‘no consensus’ in the neighborhood as to the scale and design of a proposed development left us believing that a significant chasm exists between what the neighbors are saying and what the town is hearing,” Singleton wrote.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Clear sailing for new Swampscott harbormaster

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — The search for an interim harbormaster has hit another roadblock.

The Board of Selectmen was set to vote on an interim harbormaster at their Jan. 4 meeting, but the matter has been pushed until their Jan. 18 agenda.

“I had one candidate that I was ready to recommend to the board of selectmen and he called me this morning, and told me he had a change of heart and that he would not be accepting the position,” said Gino Cresta, interim town administrator and department of public works director, on Thursday. “So, back to square one. I’m hoping to have somebody to recommend to the board of selectmen for the meeting on the 18th.”

Cresta said the yearly stipend for the harbormaster position is $7,500.

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Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell remains on paid administrative leave. He was arraigned in Lynn District Court in October on criminal charges for his use of an expired license plate.

Bithell last appeared in court for a pretrial hearing Dec. 12, which was continued until Jan. 23, according to the Essex County District Attorney’s office.

Cresta and Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said Bithell remains on administrative leave because waterfront towns are required by state law to officially have a harbormaster in place. Dreeben said he’ll be taken off leave when an interim harbormaster is selected.

Bithell is facing charges of attaching or concealing a registration plate, use of an uninsured trailer and use of an unregistered trailer. He was also issued a citation for misuse of an official number plate.

Dreeben said a permanent harbormaster will be appointed within the next year. For both the interim and permanent position, she said town officials are looking for someone who has boating experience, is responsible, fair, organized, has good interpersonal skills and is able to help people down at the waterfront.  

Bithell’s charges stem from an Aug. 15 complaint received by police about the misuse of a registration plate, assigned to a town-owned gray 2007 Load Rite utility trailer, according to a police report from Lynn District Court.

Photographs from June and August showed the same plate affixed to two different trailers, a Highlander brand pulled by Bithell’s truck and a ShoreLand’r trailer carrying a small power boat.

Bithell told police the ShoreLand’r trailer belonged to Assistant Harbormaster Mounzer Aylouche. He told police he used Aylouche’s trailer to move his boat in August without his knowledge, according to the police report.

Police located the town-owned trailer, along with an additional town-owned trailer, at Ryan Marine Services on Lincoln Avenue. Both were without plates. The owner of Ryan Marine said it was brought there inadvertently. Bithell was unaware it had been moved from the yard at the town of Swampscott water tower. The plate, which Bithell told police was located in the back of his truck, was returned to Town Hall, according to the police report.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott under new management

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Peabody resident Sean Fitzgerald waits his turn to be interviewed for town administrator of Swampscott in this December 2016 photo.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Sean Fitzgerald, a Peabody resident and town manager in Plaistow, N.H., will be making his way back home as he accepts the Swampscott town administrator position.

“Swampscott’s just a wonderful community,” Fitzgerald said. “I have been a town manager for eight years (and) have certainly enjoyed helping communities find their potential … Working closer to home would certainly give me an opportunity to do what I love and spend more time with my family.”

Fitzgerald, a lifelong resident of the North Shore, said he spent much of his childhood in Swampscott. His grandmother was a nurse at Hadley Elementary School for decades and his mother grew up on Bay View Drive. As the new administrator, he said he wants to help Swampscott continue to be the enchanted place that he loves.

Fitzgerald said he plans to meet with the selectmen after he begins his new job to figure out their priorities. He said there’s been a number of important goals identified in the town’s master plan, including protecting the waterfront and promoting commercial development.

Swampscott selects new administrator

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said Fitzgerald immediately accepted the town administrator position after it was offered to him following his public interview last week. She said he agreed to meet with the board after the new year for contract negotiations.

Dreeben said the start date will also be negotiated, but she’s hoping it’s within 45 to 60 days.

“I think he has a nice combination of leadership skills and interpersonal relationship skills,” Dreeben said. “He’s also had excellent experience as a town manager. He already knows what goes into doing the job. I think we liked his combination of enthusiasm, as well as experience.”

Dreeben said some of the priorities the selectmen will have for Fitzgerald will include forward movement on the development of the former Machon Elementary School and old Swampscott Middle School on Greenwood Avenue. She said he’ll be expected to help put together a stronger five-year and capital plan for the town, and develop more robust budgeting processes.

She said the selectmen also plan on working with the school officials on bringing a potential new school building to town. Dreeben said Fitzgerald’s past experience in Peabody with school building projects will be helpful.

Before becoming town manager in Plaistow in 2008, Fitzgerald served as chief of staff to former Peabody Mayor Michael Bonfanti. In his resume, he outlines that one of those projects included writing a statement of interest that led to the successful construction of the new Higgins Middle School.

“I’m excited about beginning to work with him and I’m looking forward to the new year,” said Dreeben.

Fitzgerald was hired in nearby Saugus last year, serving less than a week as town manager. He was sworn in a day before a recall election that unseated four of the five members of the Saugus Board of Selectmen. His contract was voided a week later after the four new selectmen were sworn in. Saugus reinstated Town Manager Scott Crabtree, who was fired by the previous board. Fitzgerald was reinstated in Plaistow.

Gino Cresta, department of public works director, has been serving as the interim town administrator since mid-October, when former Town Administrator Thomas Younger left for the same job in Stoneham. Town Accountant David Castellarin, who also serves as assistant town administrator, has been in charge of the budget during the interim tenure.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott narrows administrator search

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — The search for Swampscott’s next town administrator is down to three finalists.

The choices for a permanent town administrator include Ryan Ferrara, assistant town administrator in Middleton, Sean Fitzgerald, town manager in Plaistow, N.H., and Andrew Scribner-MacLean, assistant town administrator in Maynard.

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Fitzgerald, a Peabody resident, spent less than a week as town manager in Saugus last year. He was sworn in a day before a recall election that unseated four of the five members of the Saugus Board of Selectmen. His contract was voided a week later after the four new selectmen were sworn in. Saugus reinstated Town Manager Scott Crabtree, who had been fired by the previous board. Fitzgerald was reinstated in Plaistow.

Don Pinkerton, chairman of the Town Administrator Screening Committee, presented the choices to the Swampscott Board of Selectmen on Wednesday. He said 57 applications were received, with 11 candidates chosen for phone interviews. Five candidates were chosen for in-person interviews conducted by the committee. One of the final five accepted a job in another town, and another candidate declined to go forward after the interview.

“All these candidates, we felt demonstrated strong leadership,” Pinkerton said. “We think any of these would be an excellent town administrator in the town of Swampscott.”

Pinkerton said in a previous interview that the start date for a new administrator is potentially mid-February. The selectmen will be in charge of hiring one of the candidates. The person who accepts the job would have 90 days to give notice to his employer.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said in a prior interview that she would be looking for someone who could take the initiative on the town’s priority projects, is a good communicator and leader, has a strong grasp on budgetary processes and is able to work with the schools.

Gino Cresta, department of public works director, has been serving as the interim town administrator since mid-October, when former Town Administrator Thomas Younger left for the same job in Stoneham. Town Accountant David Castellarin, who also serves as assistant town administrator, has been in charge of the budget during the interim tenure.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Swampscott hikes residential taxes

By LEAH DEARBORN

SWAMPSCOTT — Residents can expect a slight increase in taxes this year.

The average single-family homeowner will see a $177 increase in their bill. Tax bills are sent out on a quarterly basis, and the increase will be spread out over the course of the whole fiscal year.  

Interim Town Administrator and Department of Public Works Director Gino Cresta said the residential tax increase is being implemented to offset imbalances in the budget for the 2018 fiscal year.

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Cresta said the changes will not take effect immediately and that he is uncertain when residents will receive their first bill reflecting the adjustments.

The proposed hike prompted criticism.

“We don’t and shouldn’t accept that this tax rate is out of sight,” said attorney William DiMento.

Naomi Dreeben, Board of Selectmen chairman, said it’s important for residents to know that the 1.96 percent increase rate is lower than the 2.5 percentage allowable.

“We’re trying to stabilize our tax rate,” said Dreeben. She also said that the board has been looking seriously at long-term management strategies to create more sustainable tax rates.

According to information on the town website, the residential tax rate dropped during the years of 2013-2015 before going back up again in 2016.

The average single-family home in town is valued at a 2017 rate of $528,670.00, with the average tax going up from $9,048.00 to $9,225.00.

A business owner pays more in taxes in Swampscott than in nearby Marblehead, with the 2017 business tax rate set at $32.20 compared to $11.01.

“It’s all about tax base,” said board member Peter Spellios, who expressed that comparisons between the two towns may present inaccuracies based on population demographics. “It’s an apples-to-oranges statement. I understand why we have the data but this doesn’t tell the full story.”

During a discussion Wednesday on taxes, the board rejected a residential exemption of up to 20 percent and a discount factor for all land classified as open space. Members also rejected a small business tax exemption.

The rejections were based on advice by the Board of Assessors. John B. Speidel, assistant assessor, stated in a letter to Dreeben that lowering small commercial taxes will only increase large and industrial taxes, which already carry a larger tax burden.    

Asked whether the residential tax rate will move in a downward trend in coming years, Dreeben said, “I hope so, but that really depends on a number of other factors.”


Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Administrator search extended in Swampscott

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Swampscott Town Hall.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Residents will have to wait about a month longer than expected for a permanent town administrator.

Initially, the Board of Selectmen gave a timeline of a mid-January start date for Swampscott’s next town administrator, after they would have selected a candidate from finalists presented to them from the screening committee on Nov. 2. An offer from the board was expected in mid-November.

But Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, said the Town Administrator Screening Committee told her they need more time.

Don Pinkerton, chairman of the five-member screening committee, said the start date for a new administrator is potentially mid-February. He said three finalists will be recommended to selectmen by the beginning of December.

The selectmen will then be in charge of hiring one of the candidates. The person chosen, if he or she accepts the job, would have 90 days notice to give their employer.

Pinkerton said there have been more than 50 applicants. He said the committee decided to do more “due diligence” and bring people in for in-person interviews. Phone interviews were conducted before that.

“We felt it was important to get it right, so we decided to push it back and the selectmen agreed with that,” Pinkerton said. “We’ve got some excellent candidates, some really qualified people, so we just want to make sure we get the right one.”

Pinkerton and Dreeben said that the person selected would potentially be serving the town for a long time, so they felt it was important not to rush the process and be thorough.

Pinkerton said the committee is looking for someone who has a good vision for the town, good leadership skills, and a fair amount of experience with the ability to bring people together.

Dreeben added that the ideal candidate is someone who could take the initiative on the town’s priority projects and will have a lot of energy in terms of follow-through and implementation. She said the person has to be a good communicator and leader. A strong grasp on budgetary processes is also necessary and the candidate has to be able to work with the schools.

Gino Cresta, department of public works director, has been serving as the interim town administrator since mid-October, when former Town Administrator Thomas Younger left for the same job in Stoneham. Town Accountant David Castellarin, who also serves as assistant town administrator, has been in charge of the budget during the interim tenure.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Money talks in Swampscott

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Swampscott Town Hall.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Trash, pollution and flooding highlight a special Town Meeting, set for next month.

Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at Swampscott High School, which includes eight articles for members to vote on.

Voters will be asked to approve an additional $408,587 for trash and recyclable collections. The additional funds are needed in the aftermath of the town’s former trash hauler, Hiltz Waste Disposal, abruptly ending trash collection service on Aug. 31.

This led to officials quickly hiring Republic Services a day after Hiltz cut services. But Hiltz had been budgeted at a lower amount for trash and recycling collection, said Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. Hiltz has since declared bankruptcy.

“We just need to make up that difference and we need Town Meeting approval for that,” she said.

Town Meeting members will also be asked to vote to allocate $2 million for the purpose of funding design and construction costs to eliminate non-stormwater pollutants from entering the town’s drainage system.

Interim Town Administrator Gino Cresta said the funds are needed to clean up the sewage discharging into the ocean at King’s Beach from Stacey Brook at the Lynn-Swampscott line. There are two separate outfalls with Lynn and Swampscott discharging right next to each other onto the beach. Sewage is getting into the drainage pipe and then goes into the ocean.

The funds are to keep the town in compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree that requires Swampscott to eliminate non-stormwater pollutants from entering the town’s drainage system. Last June, the town submitted a plan to the EPA to complete the first phase of construction work in 2017, according to town documents.

Cresta said the town plans to go out to bid by next spring, with a purpose of getting a contractor for the clean-up.

The other major funds Town Meeting members will be asked to approve is $128,750 for the purpose of alleviating flooding at Swampscott beach entrances, Cresta said.
Dreeben added that the funds would be for the redesign of beach entrances to protect the coastal area from flooding.

The town was recently awarded a $103,000 reimbursement grant from Coastal Zone Management for the project. The grant requires a 25 percent matching contribution from the town, which would make Swampscott responsible for $25,750, but Town Meeting members have to approve the total cost of redesign, according to town documents.

Coastal Zone Management requires that design be completed by the end of next June.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Town spending facing scrutiny in Swampscott

Swampscott Town Hall (Item file photo)

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Members of the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee are questioning how town funds were spent for two waterfront projects.

In 2011, Town Meeting members approved $95,000 for a harbor dredging project, but the project halted after a study identified eelgrass in the harbor and estimated a $3 million to $4 million price tag to remove the vegetation.

“In order to dredge the harbor, the eelgrass would have had to be removed,” town resident Mary Ellen Fletcher said.

A member of the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee and Finance Committee, Fletcher outlined for the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday the dredging project’s financial history. With the goal of allowing boats to be moored without getting caught in the sand, former Town Administrator Andrew Maylor requested money from the Seaport Council for the project early in 2011 and was granted $475,000.

The state money was to account for 75 percent of the project, with Swampscott responsible for the other 25 percent. But the project never moved past the study stage with the total cost whittled down to $94,180,

Fletcher and Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee members Glenn Kessler and Milton Fistel showed the selectmen invoices Wednesday to buttress their argument that the town should have only been responsible for 25 percent, or $23,545.

The three committee members pointed a proverbial finger at outgoing Town Administrator Thomas Younger in detailing how Younger sent a letter to the Seaport Council looking into funds for a breakwater in 2014.

The three laid out a financial argument for their claim that the town ultimately paid more than it was required to pay in connection with the breakwater study.

Designed to be built from large boulders and intended to protect the harbor from southeast and southwest waves, the breakwater was recommended for design last February by the Harbor Committee.

But, like the dredging study, the breakwater plan was halted in the spring when the committee voted not to proceed with either dredging or breakwater plans until spending concerns were resolved.

Kessler said he subsequently began assembling financial documentation related to the projects. Using the documents, Kessler, Fletcher and Fistel outlined how the state approved funding $115,738 for the breakwater study, or the equivalent of an 80 percent state share of the project costs with the town responsible for the other 20 percent.

But the three said the study’s price tag was ultimately only $61,863, meaning the town’s share should have been $12,372.

The study showed that a breakwater project would cost about $7 million, but if stones could be acquired from the Boston Harbor dredging project, the cost could be driven down to around $5 million.

Fletcher said the full $95,000 approved at Town Meeting for the dredging project was used by the town to pay for part of the cost of the two studies, which totaled $156,043. She said that means the town overpaid by $59,082.

Town Accountant Dave Castellarin could not be reached on Wednesday to verify that the town spent all of the funds approved at Town Meeting.

Fletcher questioned why funds approved at Town Meeting for a dredging study would be partly used on one for a breakwater, a separate project.

“What Tom Younger needed to do was say we need to go back to Town Meeting,” she said. “Dredging doesn’t work and I need money for a breakwater … Town Meeting could have said we’re going to study a breakwater.”

Younger declined to comment on the committee members’ account Thursday, except to say, “We’re currently reviewing it.” He is slated to start his new job as town of Stoneham administrator on Oct. 17.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, confined her comments on the waterfront spending concerns to saying:

“This is a very unusual situation and I haven’t seen another one like this ever. So, it’s certainly unique and we will certainly be looking into it.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Job fair in Swampscott: town administrator, harbormaster

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Department of Public Works Director Gino Cresta will be filling in during the search for a permanent town administrator.  

Cresta was named the interim town administrator at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday. He has worked for the town for more than 13 years.

“I’m both humbled and honored that I was chosen,” Cresta said. “I took it as one of the highest compliments that I was even under consideration.”

Town Administrator Thomas Younger accepted the same position in Stoneham last month. His last day in Swampscott falls in mid-October, with Cresta stepping up after his departure.

Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, said Town Accountant David Castellarin, who also serves as assistant town administrator, will exercise leadership on the budget during the interim tenure.

Selectman Peter Spellios said Cresta has dabbled in many of the ongoing initiatives and projects in town, which includes the appropriate disposal of vacant town buildings, as part of his position as DPW director. He said Cresta has defined his role as something well beyond what a DPW director is in many communities.

“In Gino, specifically, we have someone who has demonstrated a work ethic and a commitment to this town that is tremendous,” he said.

Cresta said he looks forward to continuing the process going forward with the ongoing town projects and working with the selectmen. He will continue his work on projects such as the implementation of artificial turf at Blocksidge Field and the Humphrey Street redesign.

The board also unanimously approved the drafted job description and posting for the town administrator position. The job will be posted within the week and applications will be due three weeks from then. Appointments to the screening committee, which will be selecting the finalists for the position, will be finalized by the end of the month. By Nov. 2, the screening committee is expected to inform the selectmen of their top candidates. Two weeks later, the board will vote on a town administrator, with a start date expected in mid-January.

Discussion and a possible vote on an interim harbormaster was also listed on the agenda for the board meeting, but was not mentioned. Dreeben said in a phone interview earlier on Tuesday that a candidate has not been decided on.

Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell has been placed on leave and Younger has told selectmen that he will not recommend Bithell’s reappointment.

Bithell’s attorney, Neil Rossman, said previously that his client is scheduled to appear at a Sept. 19 clerk magistrate’s hearing to determine if criminal charges should be filed for use of an expired license plate. He said the complaint is regarding a boat trailer.  

Assistant Harbormaster Mounzer Aylouche has already turned down the interim position, citing time constraints.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Residents have final say in Greenwood plan

The Greenwood Avenue site. File Photo

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Residents had a chance to weigh in on plans to turn the shuttered Greenwood Avenue Middle School into affordable housing, before developers are formally solicited.

On Thursday, Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, and Peter Spellios, a board member, presented the drafted Request for Proposals (RFP) for the purchase and development of the middle school.

Residents had a brief period of time after the presentation to weigh in, with some of the comments centered around the town’s pending litigation with Groom Construction, the Salem-based company that originally won approval for condominiums on the site.

The litigation, which is disclosed in the RFP, needs to be resolved before the town is able to proceed with the sale of the property, Spellios said.

With the pending litigation on the property, Freddy Phillips, a Greenwood Avenue resident, questioned how someone besides Groom is going to get involved as a developer. Another resident questioned what the status of the litigation was and how much it has cost the town to fight the case.

Although Spellios said he hopes that Groom does bid, he added later that he has no preference with whether Groom or another third party responds, as long as it gives the town the tools to reach a settlement.

Dreeben said the case has not been especially active in the past year. Spellios said the next step is full discovery and motions on the plea case. Both said they didn’t know how much the litigation has cost.

Drew Epstein, a Rockland Street resident, called the litigation “the elephant in the room.” He said he didn’t see any advantage for Groom to try to negotiate a settlement, saying the judge would come in and the company is either going to win or lose.

Following the middle school’s closure in 2007, voters subsequently approved a zoning change that would allow for multi-family construction on the property. Then, voters approved a plan to turn the building into condominiums. Neighbors filed suit in 2014, opposing the revision. A Massachusetts Land Court judge revoked the multi-family zoning, and zoning reverted back to single-family housing.

In May, Town Meeting approved a zoning change to allow for a planned development district at the site. The designation allows for construction of up to 28 affordable housing apartments.

If there is no legal settlement and Groom wins, Spellios said Groom could proceed with the 28 units the zoning allows for or can decide to build a much larger 40B affordable housing project. The state’s 40B housing program allows developers to override local zoning bylaws to increase the stock of affordable housing in municipalities where less than 10 percent of the homes are defined as affordable. Less than 4 percent of Swampscott’s housing is considered affordable.

Epstein said that he would like to see developers proposing a project with less than 28 units get a higher score than someone else.

Jim Olivetti, vice-chairman of the Open Space & Recreation Committee, wanted to see some sort of open space with any project. He said behind the existing building down to Fuller Avenue is a tree slope, which he would like to see preserved. He said there is piece of green space on the corner of Greenwood that he would like to see as a small park.

Resident comments from the public discussion could potentially be included in the final draft of the RFP, which will be presented and potentially approved by the selectmen at their Sept. 7 meeting. If approved, the document will go to Town Counsel and Peter Kane, director of community development, and released for developers to respond shortly after.

All respondents must adhere to the zoning change, which requires that at least 15 percent of the units constructed be affordable. A second option allows a builder to contribute to an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which would be used to pay for affordable housing elsewhere in town.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Any ideas for Greenwood Ave., Swampscott?

The Greenwood Avenue site. File Photo

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Town officials are looking for the public’s help with the plan to transform the shuttered Greenwood Avenue Middle School into affordable housing.

In May, Town Meeting approved a change in the zoning law to allow a planned development district at the site. The designation allow for construction of up to 28 affordable housing units. The change was approved by the state’s Attorney General on Aug. 9.

On Thursday, Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, and Peter Spellios, a board member, will lead a public discussion on the drafted request for proposals (RFP) for the purchase and development of the former middle school. The meeting will be at 7 p.m at the Swampscott Library to discuss the current draft and hear suggestions for improvements that may be included in the final RFP, which will be used to solicit potential developers.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from the residents and their reaction to the RFP,” said Thomas Younger, town administrator. “Once the meeting is concluded, we will make a decision if there are any other changes that needed to be made within the RFP.”

The final draft of the RFP will be presented and potentially approved by selectmen at their Sept. 7 meeting. If approved, the document will go to Town Counsel and Peter Kane, director of community development, and released for developers to respond to shortly after.

Dreeben said the public discussion will expand upon a meeting between her, Spellios and neighbors held in June after the zoning change was approved at Town Meeting. She said the neighbors wanted to be part of the RFP process and did have some input in the draft. Some of the guidelines were incorporated based on their comments, she added. The primary design objective of the town outlined in the RFP is to ensure that “any new development is appropriate in size, scope and appearance to the neighborhood.

“We just want to point out what we’ve done in response to the concerns and take in any other feedback people want to provide to us,” Dreeben said.

The former middle school was closed in 2007. Voters later approved a zoning change that would allow multi-family construction on the parcel. Five years ago, voters also adopted plans to transform the building into condominiums.

But a group of abutters filed suit in 2014, opposing the revision in a neighborhood of single-family homes. A Massachusetts Land Court revoked the multi-family zoning, ruling that reuse of the school did not serve a public purpose. Zoning reverted to single-family housing.

Groom Construction, the Salem-based company that originally won approval for condominiums on the site, is eligible to bid once the RFP is issued. Officials said the hope is that Groom submits a bid as a compromise to the pending litigation.

If the firm submits a bid and the lawsuit is settled, officials have said there would be no risk of a much larger Chapter 40B affordable housing project and the developer would pay for the estimated $1 million demolition of the building.

The state’s controversial Chapter 40B housing program allows developers to override local zoning bylaws to increase the stock of affordable housing in municipalities where less than 10 percent of the homes are defined as affordable. Less than 4 percent of Swampscott’s housing is considered affordable, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

The pending litigation is disclosed within the RFP.

“Within the RFP, it does indicate that there is legal action pending on the property,” Younger said. “So we have to disclose that. Anyone who meets the requirements of the RFP can respond.”

The zoning change also requires that at least 15 percent of the units constructed be affordable. A second option would allow a builder to contribute to an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which would be used to pay for affordable housing elsewhere in town.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Stoneham manages to land Swampscott administrator

Swampscott Town Administrator Thomas Younger has accepted the same position in Stoneham. Courtesy Photo

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Administrator Thomas Younger appears to be headed to Stoneham after all.

Younger said he has accepted the administrator job in Stoneham, pending contract negotiations, after Stoneham officials contacted him Monday night with an offer. A start date has not been set. But one will be agreed upon after Younger and the Stoneham Board of Selectmen negotiate a contract. He will remain a Swampscott resident.

“I’m excited with the opportunity,” Younger said. “I have enjoyed my time in Swampscott. … This is a challenge and an opportunity I’m looking forward to in Stoneham.”

Younger said he was drawn to Stoneham partly because he spent a good deal of his professional career in the area, including a stint as town manager in nearby North Reading

He said Stoneham has an interesting mix of residential and commercial property and is looking forward to working closer on local projects with state agencies.

Some challenges Younger said he expects to face in Stoneham include addressing town growth, financial issues and improving communication with the public through technology.

Younger said he is proud of the goals set and accomplished during his time in Swampscott.  He said he is confident progress in Swampscott will continue with a new administrator and the team that’s currently in place.

Younger’s departure has a surprise element because Stoneham selectmen announced on Monday that their original choice for the town administrator position, Jeffrey Towne, rescinded his acceptance of the job he was offered last month. Towne notified the selectmen on Friday that he was backing out for personal reasons, according to a board statement.

Towne resigned from his position as Natick’s deputy town administrator and finance director, effective last Friday, according to Richard Tranfaglia, Natick’s human resources director.

The Stoneham board voted 4 to 1 on Monday to authorize their attorneys to contact Younger, the runner up for the job, and offer him the vacant town administrator position, according to Thomas Boussy, a selectman.

“As far as Thomas Younger was concerned, the board liked him very much during the interviews, but it was just that Jeff Towne interviewed extremely well that night,” he said.

The third finalist for the position was Sean Fitzgerald, town manager for Plaistow, New Hampshire. Robert Markel, the interim town administrator will stay on at least through Labor Day, Boussy said. Stoneham has been without a town administrator since June when the board failed to renew David Ragucci’s contract. Markel had been in place since then.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Swampscott board of selectmen, said the board will have a transition period, as Younger is required to give 90 days notice, which includes the roughly six weeks he will remain as Swampscott administrator.

The board will bring in an interim town administrator while a search committee is assembled to find a replacement.

Younger’s contract would have been up for renewal this year and the board would have been required to make a renewal decision by Jan. 1. His term was set to end next July, after the fiscal year is up, Dreeben said.

Dreeben said she would have liked to see Younger stay in Swampscott.

“I understand this is an excellent opportunity for Tom,” she said. “He has helped Swampscott make significant progress in Town Hall operations and staffing. I have had a great working relationship with him and appreciate all he has done for our town.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Younger stays in Swampscott

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Thomas Younger

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

STONEHAM — Swampscott won’t need to advertise for a town administrator.

Thomas Younger placed second for the same job in Stoneham. The Board of Selectmen unanimously chose Jeffrey Towne, Natick’s deputy town administrator and finance director, on Thursday night. The third finalist was Sean Fitzgerald, town manager for Plaistow, N.H. None of the candidates were at the meeting when the board made their choice.

While the five-member panel said they were impressed with Younger’s experience and communication skills, they selected Towne because he convinced them that he was more invested in Stoneham. They also liked Towne’s “sincere” answers during the interview and were taken by his financial background.

“I think he hit it out of the park,” said Stoneham Selectman George Seibold about Towne. “He didn’t hesitate on one answer.”

Stoneham has been without a permanent town administrator since June when the board failed to renew David Ragucci’s contract. Robert Markel has served as interim town administrator.

Younger was hired as town administrator in Swampscott in 2012.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Swampscott Board of Selectmen, said she looks forward to continue working with Younger.

“I’m glad that he’ll be staying with us and we’ll be able to look forward to more productive work on behalf of the town,” she said. “We have a good working relationship and I’m glad that’s going to work out for Swampscott.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Stoneham looking to get Younger

Swampscott Town Administrator Thomas Younger

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Swampscott may soon be without its town administrator.

Thomas Younger is one of three finalists for the same job in Stoneham.

Patricia Walsh, chairwoman of the Stoneham Town Administrator Screening Committee, revealed the news at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting.

The other two remaining candidates for the position are Sean Fitzgerald, town manager for Plaistow, N.H., and Jeffrey Towne, deputy town administrator and director of finance in Natick.

Six candidates were interviewed, said Thomas Boussy, a Stoneham selectmen and member of the screening committee.

“All three of them will take us where we want to go,” Boussy said. “There are three different management styles.”

The Stoneham selectmen have yet to set a date for interviews for the final candidates. But Boussy told his colleagues that it must be done soon. He said any finalist chosen would give four weeks notice, so the new administrator won’t take the job until September. Stoneham has been without a permanent town administrator after the board did not renew David Ragucci’s contract, according to reports. He left on June 30 and Robert Markel, interim town administrator, has been in place since then, Walsh said.

Younger was hired as town administrator for Swampscott in 2012.

“Tom (Younger) has told me that he’s very happy here in Swampscott,” said Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Swampscott board of selectmen. “This opportunity came up in Stoneham and he’s exploring it.”

Younger would not confirm or deny his status.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Scouting a new use in Swampscott

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Mark Shilo, Cubmaster for Pack 55, climbs up the side of an abandoned Girl Scout hut in Jackson Park to have a look at the condition of the roof. He is proposing renovating the hut for scout use.

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Boys are one step closer to using the shuttered Girl Scout hut in Jackson Park for scouting activities.

Cubmaster Mark Shilo said Pack 55 Cub Scouts and Troop 53 Boy Scouts are planning to reuse the vacant dwelling for den meetings, cookouts, camping skills and an outdoor classroom. The 75-year-old building has been empty since 2007.

Last week, the Board of Selectmen approved the scouts’ use of the hut if the building inspector says it safe, said Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the board.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Laura Spathanas, vice-chairwoman of the board.

Shilo said it lacks running water, electricity and bathroom facilities. He doesn’t envision electricity in the future, but plans to use lanterns and sustainable renewable power. Before the front door was boarded up, he said the cub scouts used it for about five years for similar purposes. No one could recall the last time it was used by the Girl Scouts. He said the rustic building is suited for boy scout activities.

“We’d just like to be able to use it again,” Shilo said.

If the building passes inspection, Shilo said the scouts would clean and perhaps paint it, he added.

Gino Cresta, Department of Public Works director, said the hut is a shell of a building, with four stone walls and a gravel floor. He hasn’t been inside since 2007, but said the interior would mirror the outside.

Cresta said the hut wouldn’t need much work, and if it passes inspection, should be available for use within “a couple of weeks.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Cresta said.

One issue the scouts may face is parking. There’s none around the hut. Some options are parking on Foster Road or at Swampscott High School, Cresta said.

“It will be a useful, good thing for the community,” Shilo said. “This would be a good way to open up some more space here that would be pretty much for us. We wouldn’t need to fight other groups for it.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

State douses Swampscott fire-pit plan

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
One of the fire pits at Phillips Beach that will have to be removed.

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — If beach barbecues are green-lighted by the Conservation Commission, they won’t be limited to fire pits.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) regulations say the structures are banned on the beach, according to Swampscott Fire Chief Kevin Breen.

The pits had already been installed at Phillips Beach and will be removed, said Gino Cresta, Department of Public Works director.

Instead, the fires would be open, dug into the sand, with a maximum of four at a time at Phillips Beach and two at Fisherman’s Beach. Updated regulations, approved by the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, say that the fires must be located 50 feet from beach grass, vegetation, fences or buildings, 100 feet from any lifeguard stand or another designated area determined by the fire department.

“I think proceeding with fires just dug into the sand at any location brings up new challenges that have to be met by all parties,” Breen said.

The fires were approved by the board last month, but the town has been asked to seek approval from the commission at its July 14 meeting.

The panel could seek further action from the town on the fires, which could cause further delay, according to Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.

“For all intensive purposes, there would be no fires allowed on the beach this summer,” she said.

The cooking fires are a loophole in the MassDEP regulations, which limit burning from Jan. 15 to May 1. Outdoor cooking is allowed year-round and is not subject to open burning limits, according to state law.

Residents who want to enjoy a cooking fire will need a permit from the fire department. Previously, only a $50 deposit was required. Once permission is granted, a placard will be given to mark their fire. If they leave a clean area after their event, the deposit will be returned. With the new rules, a $20 non-refundable fee will be required in addition to the deposit to account for less containment of the fires and a higher possibility that the DPW will need to have an active clean-up of the area, Breen said.

The fire must be attended to at all times by an adult who lives in town. Only six permits can be issued per day, matching the number of open fires allowed.

New rules also dictate that the fires cannot be covered with sand, but must be extinguished by water. Only clean wood will be allowed.

Breen said proper thought and personal responsibility should be taken by residents who want to obtain permits for the fires. If people take personal responsibility to take as much debris and fire residue off the beach after extinguishment, than the program will be a success. If they leave the beaches a mess by leaving behind large, unburned pieces of charcoal, then it will not be a success.

He suggested having the fires halfway between the half and low tide mark, which gives people three hours before the tide reaches the fire to wash away the residue. But if that fire is put too close, the water could catch the fire before it’s extinguished, which would result in pieces of wood floating in the ocean and would be “upsetting to some people.”

“We have to balance the cleanliness of the beach with the desire of the community to have fires,” Breen said.

He also anticipates significant resistance to the potential fires. Residents have voiced concerns over the health-related issues the fires could cause and some felt the blazes could not be properly regulated. Breen said people have been having illegal fires, with most of those occurring on Phillips Beach. Cooking fires have not been permitted on the beaches for two years, and he suspects people are restarting the blazes after being told to stop from the fire and police departments.

Selectman Peter Spellios said that the board was unprepared to deal with the issue of beach fires. He said there shouldn’t be so much discussion around one topic.

“We can’t be doing this again,” Spellios said. “It’s really disappointing.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Frustration a strong factor in Swampscott election

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Donald Hause, left, and Patrick Jones are the two newest members of the Swampscott Board of Selectmen.

Like an undercurrent tugging a swimmer out to sea, the political dynamics or voter frustrations in Swampscott’s Tuesday election left Matthew Strauss without a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

Ask anyone in town and everyone will say Strauss is a nice guy who holds Swampscott’s interests close to his heart. So why was he the odd man out in the three-man contest for two board seats?

Rain and unseasonably cold spring temperatures limited voter turnout to 16 percent of registered voters. That core likely included supporters of Strauss, Donald Hause and Pat Jones, and residents interested in town politics.

When the last vote was counted, Strauss trailed Jones by more than 100 votes. Hause received 20 percent more votes than the incumbent.

What forces were at work to craft the results? To start with, Hause and Jones weren’t competing with Strauss for one open seat on the board. They were aiming for two seats in the wake of John Callahan’s decision not to seek reelection.

With that goal in mind, the two challengers did not need to target Strauss for defeat. They simply needed to convince enough voters that two new faces on the board made sense.

They obviously didn’t have to work very hard to make the argument. Voters in Swampscott are frustrated and the objects of their disaffection are easy to define. They think property taxes are too high and they have friends and neighbors who moved to Marblehead where tax rates are more reasonable.

Every homeowner gripes about tax bills. But the anger felt by Swampscott residents ties in with frustration over the number of empty public buildings in town. The shuttered police station, the senior center building, the Greenwood Avenue middle school and the Machon School prompt residents to ask the same question every time they drive by one of those buildings, “I wonder what they’re going to do with that place?”

It’s hard not to wonder if the board’s decision Monday night to map out a future for Machon convinced voters go to the polls wondering about plans for the other empty buildings.

It is interesting to speculate on how Hause and Jones will fit into the board. The two are no strangers to town government, having served on other important boards. Jones shares a knowledge of government with Naomi Dreeben. Peter Spellios is the board’s political mover and shaker and Laura Spathanas is the person ready to help anyone and everyone.

Where does that leave frontrunner Hause? He brings business experience to the board. Will that translate into refreshing approaches to tackling taxes and town buildings? The voters, or at least the handful who went to the polls, will be watching and waiting.

Swampscott takes another look at middle school site

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Five years after voters approved a plan to transform the shuttered middle school into condominiums, officials are considering affordable housing for the Greenwood Avenue site. 

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Five years after voters approved a plan to transform the shuttered middle school into condominiums, officials are considering affordable housing for the Greenwood Avenue site.

The former Swampscott Middle School was closed in 2007 and voters later approved a zoning change that would allow for multi-family construction on the parcel. But a group of abutters filed suit in 2014 opposing the revision in a neighborhood of single-family homes. A Massachusetts Land Court judge revoked the multifamily zoning, ruling that reuse of the school did not result in a public purpose.

“The Land Court decision reverted the zoning back to the original zoning, which was single family housing at that site,” said Thomas Younger, town administrator. “Part of the decision of the Land Court was that there was no public purpose. The new zoning would allow for public purpose, which would be affordable housing.”

Now, officials are planning to seek Town Meeting approval next month for a zoning bylaw change that would create a planned development district that would allow for construction of more units on the 2-acre site.

“At this point in time, we can’t do anything else until we have the appropriate zoning,” Younger said. “All zoning changes need to go through the Planning Board process and then Town Meeting.”

Following a zoning change, Younger said a Request for Proposals would be issued.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said there will be two options for affordable housing at the school. If the zoning change is approved by voters, a developer could devote up to 25 percent of the units to those who meet income guidelines.

A second option would allow a builder to put a predetermined amount of money into an Affordable Housing Trust Fund which would be used to pay for another affordable housing project in town, she said.

Swampscott is lagging in providing affordable housing. The state’s controversial Chapter 40B housing program allows developers to override local zoning bylaws to increase the stock of affordable housing in municipalities where less than 10 percent of the homes are defined as affordable. The goal of Chapter 40B is to allow families and seniors to stay in their communities when they might otherwise be priced out of market rate housing.

Less than 4 percent of Swampscott’s housing is considered affordable, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We don’t like having empty buildings sitting around,” Dreeben said. “I don’t think the neighbors really like that either. We’re trying to find a way to give ourselves some options to move the process forward.”

Neighbors of the former school said they are tired of seeing a vacant building so close to their homes. Richard Cabral said plans to convert the property to condominiums resulted in a fight with the neighbors. He said one home would have been completely blocked from the ocean. He was also concerned with the potential for more traffic.

“I just wish they would do something with it,” he said. “It’s just falling apart. It’s attracting rodents and everything. We’ve had to do some treatments. Everybody has.”

Evan Tarmy said he favors the idea of luxury apartments, condominiums or a function hall at the site.

“I’d like to see something other than what it is and some progression,” Tarmy said. “Right now, it’s just an old decrepit building.”

The details of the Greenwood Middle School rezoning will be discussed at the Planning Board’s public hearing on Monday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Swampscott Senior Center.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott candidates forum Tuesday

SWAMPSCOTTThe Item will host a Board of Selectmen candidates forum Tuesday, April 12, 7-8 p.m., in the High School auditorium.

Candidates Donald Hause, Patrick Jones and Matthew Strauss are running for two seats on the board, each seat carries a three-year term. The town election will be April 26.

The Item is soliciting questions from readers. Submit questions through itemlive.com or by mailing them to the Item, 110 Munroe St., P.O. Box 5, Lynn, MA 01903. Questions must be received by Monday at noon. Please send questions to questions@itemlive.com. Three questions will be selected and asked by moderator Item News Editor Thor Jourgensen, with opening and closing remarks by each candidate.

School Superintendent Pamela R.H. Angelakis will introduce the candidates and School Committeeman Ted Delano will serve as forum timekeeper.

Strauss is a two-term selectman first elected in 2009. Jones served on the Planning Board from 2007 to 2012 and Hause currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Board members Laura Spathanas and Naomi Dreeben’s terms do not expire until 2017 and selectman Peter Spellios’ term expires in 2018.

Swampscott candidates forum Tuesday

SWAMPSCOTTThe Item will host a Board of Selectmen candidates forum Tuesday, April 12, 7-8 p.m., in the High School auditorium.

Candidates Donald Hause, Patrick Jones and Matthew Strauss are running for two seats on the board, each seat carries a three-year term. The town election will be April 26.

The Item is soliciting questions from readers. Submit questions through itemlive.com or by mailing them to the Item, 110 Munroe St., P.O. Box 5, Lynn, MA 01903. Questions must be received by Monday at noon. Please send questions to questions@itemlive.com. Three questions will be selected and asked by moderator Item News Editor Thor Jourgensen, with opening and closing remarks by each candidate.

School Superintendent Pamela R.H. Angelakis will introduce the candidates and School Committeeman Ted Delano will serve as forum timekeeper.

Strauss is a two-term selectman first elected in 2009. Jones served on the Planning Board from 2007 to 2012 and Hause currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Board members Laura Spathanas and Naomi Dreeben’s terms do not expire until 2017 and selectman Peter Spellios’ term expires in 2018.

Swampscott candidates forum Tuesday

SWAMPSCOTTThe Item will host a Board of Selectmen candidates forum Tuesday, April 12, 7-8 p.m., in the High School auditorium.

Candidates Donald Hause, Patrick Jones and Matthew Strauss are running for two seats on the board, each seat carries a three-year term. The town election will be April 26.

The Item is soliciting questions from readers. Submit questions through itemlive.com or by mailing them to the Item, 110 Munroe St., P.O. Box 5, Lynn, MA 01903. Questions must be received by Monday at noon. Three questions will be selected and asked by moderator Item News Editor Thor Jourgensen, with opening and closing remarks by each candidate.

School Superintendent Pamela R.H. Angelakis will introduce the candidates and School Committeeman Ted Delano will serve as forum timekeeper.

Strauss is a two-term selectman first elected in 2009. Jones served on the Planning Board from 2007 to 2012 and Hause currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Board members Laura Spathanas and Naomi Dreeben’s terms do not expire until 2017 and selectman Peter Spellios’ term expires in 2018.

Another town official bowing out in Swampscott

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — John Callahan is the latest local official who has decided against running for re-election.

Callahan, a member of the Board of Selectmen, announced at Wednesday night’s board meeting that he will not seek a second term.

“I will not be a candidate for selectmen this year,” Callahan said.

Callahan was elected, in April 2013, to a three-year term.

Town Moderator Joe Markarian, another local official, also recently announced that he would not be seeking a seventh term.

Besides Callahan, the other board member up for re-election is Matthew Strauss, who has already declared that he will be seeking another term.

“I’ve decided to take out papers to run for another term,” Strauss announced at a Feb. 3 board meeting. “[It’s been an] honor to serve residents for two terms. I would like to see things through to completion. I’ve very much enjoyed serving.”

Since that time, Strauss said his papers have been certified.

After Callahan made his announcement to bow out of the selectmen race, Strauss thanked him for his service. He reiterated those words on Thursday.

“We were elected at the same time three years ago,” Strauss said. “Anyone that serves on the board should be commended.”

Strauss said whenever a candidate runs a campaign, that person puts himself out there for everyone to criticize. He said that isn’t easy and not everyone can do it.

Strauss said he has enjoyed serving on the board, with Callahan, for the past three years.

“I wish him well,” Strauss said.

Board Chair Naomi Dreeben said Callahan has been “really interested in the quality of life in town.” She said he has focused a lot on use of open space, in particular creating a new turf field at Blocksidge Field and supporting the work of the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with him,” Dreeben said.

Callahan said that he would encourage residents, who feel like they would want an opportunity to serve on the board, to take out papers and run.

“I would like to see it be a race of four or five candidates this year,” Callahan said. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope that comes true.”

The two challengers are shaping up to be Patrick Jones and Donald Hause.

Jones, who served on the Planning Board from 2007 to 2012, has already had his papers certified. On Thursday, Hause, who currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals, said he intended to return his nomination papers by next Tuesday.

Candidates have until March 4 to obtain nomination papers. They have until March 8 to return those papers.

The Town Election will be held on Tuesday, April 26.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Three Declared for Board of Selectmen Race

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Two challengers and one incumbent have declared their intention to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

Matthew Strauss, a current member of the Board of Selectmen, announced his intention to run at a board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 3.

“I’ve decided to take out papers to run for another term,” Strauss said at the meeting. “[It’s been an] honor to serve residents for two terms. I would like to see things through to completion. I’ve very much enjoyed serving.”

No other current board members have taken out nomination papers from the Town Clerk’s office, according to Clerk Connie Hayes. Hayes said Strauss has not returned his papers yet. The other current members are Naomi Dreeben, chair, Laura Spathanas, vice-chair, John Callahan and Peter Spellios.

The two challengers who have taken out nomination papers are Patrick Jones and Donald Hause.

Jones filed his nomination papers Tuesday morning. He said he received an email saying his papers were verified at about 12:30 p.m. that same day.

Running for a seat on the board has been on the mind of Jones for awhile. He said he believes it is the “right opportunity and the right time.”

“It was on my mind for a few months,” Jones said. “Once town papers became available in early January, I started to consider the possibility and talked to a few people. I decided it was the right time.”

Jones served on the Planning Board from 2007 to 2012 and was an appointee to the Zoning By-Law Review Committee. He served as chairman of the Police Station Building Committee from 2012 to 2015. He currently serves on the AllBlue Foundation Committee, a nonprofit group established to enhance Swampscott athletic facilities and open space, according to a campaign release.

Jones has been a Town Meeting member since 2008 and has coached both girls and boys youth soccer, Little League and lacrosse, according to a campaign release.

Jones is a licensed architect, who has been practicing for 20 years, following his graduation from Pennsylvania State University. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), is a LEED Accredited Professional (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and is Massachusetts certified for educational projects, with a focus on science and technology for higher education, according to a campaign release.

Jones moved to Swampscott in 2003 and said he chose the town “because of its scenic town charm, its proximity to beaches, and the easy access to Boston.” He said the view of community and “sense of place” is the way he approaches the projects he designs and “will be a continuing focus for me as a Selectman.”

“But every worthwhile project also demands long-term functional and financial planning, combined with community engagement, to be successful,” Jones said. “I intend to use this same approach of forecasting and transparency, if elected.”

Jones said he believes “Swampscott is at a critical juncture in regard to long-term capital planning, fiscal responsibility and the future bonding costs of maintaining our infrastructure.”

“My experience with town boards and committees, combined with my professional experience, gives me a unique perspective on what it takes to help Swampscott move in a positive direction,” Jones said.

Hayes said Hause also took out nomination papers. Hause currently serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals. He is works for Boston-based company Meridian Partners, which has a focus on real estate and increasing business profitability.

Hause said he is currently on a business trip and was unavailable for further comment on his candidacy.

Candidates have until March 4 to obtain nomination papers from the Town Clerk’s office. They have until March 8 to return those papers.

Hayes said no other candidates have taken out nomination papers for the board, which would indicate their intention to run.

The Town Election will be held on Tuesday, April 26.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Swampscott board deems tree a hazard

ITEM FILE PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Department of Public Works Director Gino Cresta.

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — A maple tree situated in front of 45 Andrew Road has been deemed a hazard and will be taken down.

The decision was made at Wednesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting during a Tree Hearing Appeal to reverse the decision of Tree Warden Gene Gardner, who had recommended that the Andrew Road tree remain standing. A date for the removal has not been set.

Eleven trees were up for discussion Wednesday night, led by Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Gino Cresta, who reported that Gardner had recommended that six of those trees be taken down. The rest would remain standing, with the tree in front of Andrew Road initially being one of those.

Cresta said if a resident requests that a tree come down, a hearing is held by the DPW. On average, he said three tree hearings are held a year, with 10 to 12 trees evaluated at each hearing. The most recent tree hearing was held on Dec. 29, with 11 trees evaluated.

When receiving a request for the tree to come down, the health of the tree is considered, including whether the tree is hollow or rotted, Cresta said. He said the tree could also be taken down if it is a hazard, as was the case with the tree at 45 Andrew Road.

We’re not in the habit of taking trees down for convenience,” Cresta said.

Bill and Carolyn Jones, residents of 45 Andrew Road, said the tree in front of their home is a hazard.

“This tree in the past few years has started leaning immensely,” Bill Jones said.

He said the tree leans over the road, with the problem getting worse over time. He said he and his wife are concerned that the tree will topple with bad weather.

“It’s not going to take much to topple it over,” Jones said.

If the tree does fall, Jones said it would take out power lines. He said he’s spoken with National Grid, and “they indicated grave concerns about that too. The main concern of he and his wife is the tree in high winds. While looking at the tree in dry weather, he said a person may feel comfortable, but “we do not feel comfortable with the tree like this.”

With the tree leaning towards the street, Jones said he and his wife have to pass under it each time they enter or exit their driveway. He said the problem is not just confined to them and affects their neighbors’ houses across the street from them.

Carolyn Jones said the tree is also leaning towards a bus stop across the street from her house. She said there is a stop sign in the vicinity of the tree, and “anyone who has to stop is in danger.” She added that a neighbor has told her he’s observed large trucks driving on the opposite side of the street to avoid the tree.

Ralph Souppa, a resident of 36 Andrew Road, said his wife has been concerned about the tree for years. He said there’s a large gash in there and removing it “seems very obvious to us.”

Cresta said he drives by the tree everyday and hasn’t noticed any tree limbs coming down recently. He said the tree has been pruned, with all of the dead wood taken out of it.

“I think it should come down,” Cresta said of the tree.

Cresta said his department is consulting with an arborist, who will take six to eight weeks to evaluate the health of the remaining trees from December’s hearing. The Board of Selectmen voted to table any discussion or action taken on those trees until the report from the arborist is completed and submitted to the DPW, which Board Chair Naomi Dreeben said would be by early April.

Also discussed was coming up with a plan on how to replace trees taken down. Dreeben said she values mature trees in town and wants to make a conscious plan of how to replace those older trees. She also wanted to implement a plan for the maintenance of trees so “mature trees last longer.”

Selectman John Callahan agreed, saying it’s “no secret” that most of the mature trees in town are coming to an end of their lifespan. He said a plan would be a wise way to go.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Callahan said.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com.