SWAMPSCOTT — In a 4½-hour session Tuesday night, Town Meeting members adopted a bylaw forcing non-residential property owners of blighted or vacant buildings to maintain their property, approved a ban on single-use plastic straws, opted out of a bylaw that would keep town cats indoors and indefinitely postponed a vote on the sale of town-owned C & L Package Store.
“I looked at my cats and told them I had to come to the meeting tonight to fight to keep them from a life of imprisonment,” said a Swampscott resident about the proposed cat regulation bylaw.
But what dominated most of the debate on many of the warrant articles were questions over zoning and concerns about over-development.
“I’ve risen to this microphone several times over the years in regards to over-development,” said resident Gerry Perry after stating his concern about selling C & L Package Store.
Perry used the Machon School as an example, reminding Town Meeting members that it has sat vacant on Burpee Road for 12 years, even after the town went into a Land Development Agreement with a developer in 2016.
Board of Selectmen Chair and Town Meeting member Peter Spellios said a vote to sell the town-owned packie was not for the purpose of future redevelopment.
“Being a landlord is not a job for town government,” Spellios said. “The decision to be here tonight has nothing to do with C & L as a tenant, the town shouldn’t be owning things that are not a part of its critical services.”
Spellios was asked why the original warrant article, which proposed the sale of both the town-owned packie and VFW post, was amended to take out a vote on the VFW.
“The VFW is a critical town function,” said Spellios. “The same argument for a liquor store can’t be made.”
Town Meeting member and local attorney William DiMento said a vote to sell the liquor store should be indefinitely postponed because of “premeditated unfairness.” He said he used to represent the liquor store owners and helped them put together the last three leases.
“When my friend Mr. Spellios talked about having respect for those owners, well, I was there during that process and there was no respect,” DiMento said. “It’s just unfair to a man that has been in business there for 40 years.”
Tensions about over-development also rose during debate to adopt a new bylaw that would enforce non-residential property owners to keep up with maintenance on blighted and vacant buildings. Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said the town lost over half a million dollars in tax revenue in just two of the vacant buildings.
Two buildings used as an example were the General Glover property and the Sunoco gas station across from Clarke Elementary School. Town Meeting member and local attorney Kenneth Shutzer represents Family Doctors, LLC, an office that uses the empty gas station for extra parking.
He acknowledged a “comfort letter” and a lease between the office owner and Sunoco owner that would allow for parking.
“This article isn’t a revenue-generating article at all,” Shutzer said. “The irony is Sunoco has no interest in doing anything with the property. Do we need this bylaw now? What is the purpose of it? I ask all of you who value your liberty to vote against this.”
Spellios said the proposed bylaw was not “cherry-picked,” it was based closely off of one that the town of Hamilton recently adopted. He said, under state law, a comfort letter doesn’t change zoning laws and the town would like to help find a solution for parking.
Joseph J. Domelowicz Jr., the town manager of Hamilton and a Swampscott resident, got up to the microphone and said since the town adopted their bylaw, property managers have done more in the last six months than ever before.
“It’s a tool to bring everyone to the table to discuss better property use,” said Domelowicz.
Swampscott also voted in favor of adopting community impact fees and local sales tax on those renting out short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, and marijuana retailers, in the event they open up in town. It approved amendments to the general bylaw for dogs, which enforces regulations and keeps them off town fields and certain properties.
All of the recommended capital projects for fiscal year 2020 were approved, as well as updates to certain zoning bylaws to acknowledge climate change.