On June 9, the Zoning Commission heard input from both the public and the principals in the school building projects on the proposed location of the school bus parking area.
The original proposal put forth by the Board of Education, the Permanent Building Committee, and contractors JCJ Architecture and Langan Engineering was to construct a screened-off parking area on the current Consolidated School property. Consolidated School is scheduled to be demolished as part of the Consolidated Early Learning Academy (CELA) project, which will be an addition to the current Meeting House Hill School. The bus parking area would be moved from MHHS and placed on the Consolidated School property.
However, when the plan was brought before the Zoning Commission earlier this year, public outcry at the meeting, particularly from residents across from the proposed bus entrance/exit onto Ball Pond Road, complained bitterly about the increased traffic, noise, diesel fumes, pollution, potential bus maintenance and fueling performed on site or nearby, and lighting. Most were of the opinion that alternative sites should be looked at, such as at the town drop off site or the high school. All wanted to keep the residential look and feel of the neighborhood.
A group of 8 Ball Pond Road households went so far as to retain attorney Ray Lubus to argue their cause before the Commission.
The Commission tasked the BoE and PBC to look at alternative locations and return to present an updated plan. They did so. However at the June 9 meeting, they continued to propose the Consolidated School location, saying placing it elsewhere was not logistically or financially feasible.
Commission Chair John Moran expressed concern that the project would not be able to proceed without a special zoning permit, pointing out that once Consolidated was demolished the site would revert back to a residential zone. A bus parking lot, he said, would be a violation of the town’s residential zoning regulations.
Mr. Moran went on to say that the Zoning Commission does not consider cost in its decisions. “What’s considered in zoning regulations…is the welfare of the town, the homeowners’ values…so even though you may say it’s going to cost more to do this, we cannot take that into consideration.”
Permanent Building Committee Chair George Martignetti submitted a 5-page memo on behalf of the PBC outlining the pros and cons of the proposed location and the other sites researched and the PBC’s ultimate decision to stick with the Consolidated site.
Attorney Lubus spoke, saying that the PBC worked with his clients to devise alternatives, including placing the bus lot further back on the lot and having the buses enter at Ball Pond and exit onto Gillotti Road. He also noted that the PBC developed plans for a bus lot on the high school property, and that it was expensive, roughly $1.4 million more. He also said the PBC then worked to make adjustments to that plan, and that it was able to cut the extra expense by almost $700,000. However, he said that at the PBC meeting, the Committee held almost no discussion about the alternatives, and voted instead for the original plan with added buffers.
After further discussion, the Commission continued the issue until a special meeting Monday, June 21 to give the Commission time to review the PBC’s memo and the data regarding the various proposed alternatives.
NOTICE: At the June 21 meeting, NF Zoning continued the meeting on the bus lot until July 14.
Full meeting coverage in next week’s Town Tribune.
By Greg Slomba