Shrewsbury holds Town Meeting

Members approve Selectmen name change, climate plan, building heights amendment

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Shrewsbury town meeting members convened at Oak Middle School on Saturday for this year’s Annual Town Meeting. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

SHREWSBURY – The Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen will now be known as the Select Board after receiving a thumbs up from Town Meeting last weekend.

The town will also move forward with a climate action plan and a zoning amendment following similar votes within the meeting’s 48-article warrant on Saturday. 

Board of Selectmen to change name

With this week’s Town Meeting vote, Shrewsbury is on track to join its neighbors including Westborough, Southborough and Hudson in adopting a change of name for its highest governing body. 

As Town Manager Kevin Mizikar described it, the name change article specifically amended Shrewsbury’s general bylaws to change all references to the Board of Selectmen to “Select Board.” The article also authorized the board to petition the state legislature for a special act approving the change. 

“[The] Finance Committee unanimously thinks it’s about time this was done,” committee member Mark Adler said when reporting the committee’s vote. 

Climate action and resiliency plan

Another Town Meeting article called for the transfer of $140,000 from free cash to fund the development of a climate action and resiliency plan. 

While asking for the full $140,000, Mizikar added that the town will be seeking funding through the state Municipal Vulnerability and Preparedness Program to offset those costs.

The idea for the project was brought forward by the Board of Selectmen and several residents. 

Mizikar called it a “community-informed” plan to allow Shrewsbury’s town government to reduce its contribution to climate change by reducing or eliminating its greenhouse gas emissions. Consultants will advise and facilitate the plan.

The plan will further prepare the town to respond to and minimize the impact of climate change on local resources, infrastructure and buildings, he said.

Shrewsbury Town Manager Kevin Mizikar (right) sits during Town Meeting. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

Mizikar said the plan “will be actionable for the town and will inform and champion but not compel residents on how they and their households can reduce their own carbon emissions as they consider investments to their vehicles, homes and other matters that impact climate.” 

Once the plan is created, it will be overseen by the newly-created Assistant Director of Public Works position. 

While some residents spoke against the article, noting concerns about spending more money and giving power to a few appointed people, many Town Meeting members voiced their support, noting that Shrewsbury has received funds for environmental efforts. 

“Scientists worldwide agree overwhelmingly that climate change is real,” member Diane Jones said. “It is the result of burning fossil fuels, and it is a very serious threat to us, our children and our grandchildren.”

She noted that the Board of Selectmen set goals in October — two of which were to harden infrastructure to prepare for climate impacts and to reduce the town’s impact on climate change. She also noted SELCO’s plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2032, which the selectmen endorsed.

SELCO management, Jones said, recommended that Shrewsbury develop a climate action and resiliency plan. 

“The first part of that plan is now well underway — affordable, green, renewable electricity — but the rest of the job is up to us,” Jones said. “It’s up to us, the Town Meeting members, not SELCO.”

She noted temperatures for this past weekend which were projected to climb past 90 degrees. 

“Summer in May – that is not normal,” Jones said. “It’s a trend. When you combine high heat and humidity, people die.”

The article ultimately passed.

Building heights in limited industrial zone

Shrewsbury town meeting members deliberated a 48-article warrant on Saturday. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

Town Meeting members approved another article that will allow the Planning Board to grant special permits for buildings up to 75 feet in the limited industrial zoning district. The article also allows loading in the front of buildings in the district, which had previously been prohibited and limited loading to the rear or side.

According to Director of Planning and Economic Development Bernie Cahill, uses for this district include light manufacturing, robotics, certain types of manufacturing of medical equipment, logistics and warehouses.

The article was petitioned to be placed on the warrant by the Boston-based commercial real estate development company GFI Partners, which owns four properties in Shrewsbury including Worcester Sand and Stone. 

This zoning district is spread across town, but is primarily located around Route 20 and in the northwest corner of Shrewsbury bordering Worcester and West Boylston, where Worcester Sand and Stone is located. 

GFI Partners staff presented the article to the Planning Board earlier this month. 

In that meeting, Vice President of Development Hayley Palazola told the board that the rise of e-commerce and a focus on optimizing the supply chain was increasing the demand for warehouses with more vertical storage space. 

GFI’s attorney Mark Donahue noted during Town Meeting the article doesn’t mean that an entire building or its entire façade would necessarily be 75 feet in height.

When the article made its way to Town Meeting, though, several residents did voice their opposition, expressing concern about the height. 

“In my opinion, this would have a detrimental effect to those residents,” member Phil Blumberg said.

Blumberg, who lives near Route 20, said he’s seen a lot of development in the area.

“I don’t think there’s a need for taller buildings in that area,” he said.

Shrewsbury’s zoning map includes the town’s Limited Industrial District, shown primarily around Route 20 and in the Northwest corner of town. (Photo/via town of Shrewsbury)

To put this height into context, Cahill said the Shrewsbury Tower at 36 North Quinsigamond Avenue 100 feet to the top.

Mizikar said the article was an economic development initiative for Shrewsbury, adding that the percentage of commercial and industrial properties in Shrewsbury doesn’t rival its neighbors. 

He noted that businesses contributing local taxes “provides some offset to residential properties.” 

“As we consider economic development initiatives and try to remain attractive, we see the need to bring this forth for Town Meeting’s consideration,” Mizikar continued.

Other Town Meeting members also spoke in favor of the change. 

“We’re always looking for ways to bring revenue to the town,” said member Donna O’Connor. “In order to do that, you have to find places where the construction can take place.”

The Worcester Sand and Stone property, she said, is “one prime location” where she didn’t believe a 75-foot-building could be detrimental, noting its access to the highways.  

Route 20 has been a trucking road and is “finally seeing growth.” This is one of the last places that can bring revenue to Shrewsbury, O’Connor said.

“We have to be smart about what we pick for projects, and we have to rely on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board to protect neighborhoods,” she said.

Town Meeting voted to approve this article.

A full recording of Town Meeting, including presentations and discussion on other Town Meeting articles can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ip5ITdLPGkA.

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