More home businesses will require special permits in Athol

  • Athol voters make their wishes known on one of the articles on Monday’s fall town meeting warrant. —Greg Vine

  • Athol resident Wayne Carey waits for answers to his questions on Article 4 on Monday’s fall town meeting warrant while behind him, Town Moderator Larry McLaughlin and Town Clerk Nancy Burnham listen. Greg Vine

  • From left — Athol Town Counsel John Barrett, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, Selectboard member Stephen Raymond, board Chair Rebecca Bialecki, and board members Holly Young and William Chiasson. —Greg Vine

  • Athol Planning Board Chair David Small discusses an article during the fall town meeting on Monday, while Town Moderator Larry McLaughlin listens in. greg vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 10/22/2019 9:55:11 PM
Modified: 10/22/2019 9:55:08 PM

ATHOL – Precisely 100 voters showed up for Monday’s fall town meeting, dispensing with the seven-article warrant in less than an hour. That is not to say, however, that several articles didn’t generate a fair amount of discussion.

Article 1, for example, seemed fairly uncontroversial, calling simply for expanding the list of home occupations allowed under Article III of the town’s zoning bylaws by adding light service and general repairs of motor vehicles, with a special permit, as well as home-based internet and computer/software repair businesses.

Resident Nancy L. Burnham wanted to know where the money, paid to the town for special permits, goes.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski said most fees received by departments are considered department revenue that are turned over to the general fund. In June, the (annual) town meeting would need to appropriate any funds. “So, it would count as revenue, but it would be part of the budget, and then up to town meeting to approve the budget,” said Suhoski.

“So, how is this going to help people who are starting up a business?” asked Burnham. “Don’t they have enough worries, enough problems starting up a business in this town already? Why do they have to pay more money for starting their business?”

Suhoski further explained that Athol’s fees tend to be lower than those in many surrounding towns and that the proposed bylaw change would “actually loosen restrictions on businesses and helps small business.”

The article, which required a two-thirds vote for passage, was ultimately approved by a vote of 84 to 10.

Article 2, which accompanied the preceding article, called for adequate off-street parking for home businesses, and provided that no such businesses would be detrimental to the neighborhood. It was approved by a vote of 91-2.

Article 3, which would have required the issuance of a special permit for ground-mounted solar arrays in areas zoned Residential C, died a quiet death when no one rose to propose it. It was left to Town Moderator Lawrence McLaughlin to explain just prior to adjournment that the article was passed over in order to give the state Attorney General’s Office until Nov. 3 to make a decision on the solar array moratorium enacted at a special town meeting earlier this year.

A proposal to limit the number of unregistered motor vehicles that may be kept on private property, as explained in Article 4, generated some vocal opposition. The proposed change in the town’s general bylaws limited to one the number of unregistered vehicles allowed.

“I have three licensed drivers at my house,” said resident Wayne Carey. “So, is that one vehicle per licensed driver, as long as you have one vehicle on the road? Can you fix vehicles for your kids anymore? I’m a single parent trying to fix stuff for my kids.”

Suhoski responded by saying the proposed bylaw would limit the number of unregistered vehicles that could be kept to one, regardless of the number of licensed drivers in the home.

Resident Dan Eaton rose to oppose the measure. “This is going to create more violators if this passes,” he said. “There’s a reason why the Finance Warrant Advisory Committee advised no action. If there’s a problem with a select few violators in town, let’s use the current bylaw to go after those violators, and let’s not make more violators, potentially, of a lot of people in this room.”

The article was subsequently defeated by a majority show-of-hands.

With no discussion, Article 5, which called for limitations on the size of signs that could be posted on public property, as well as establishing a time-limit for their posting, also went down to defeat by a show of hands.

Article 6, calling for the inclusion of multifamily residences, with the issuance of a special permit, in the town’s Adaptive Overlay District for zones RB and RC, passed easily, as did Article 7, which added a new definition for mobile food vendors, or food trucks.

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