Climate Change is a Crisis
So many people struggle to accept the fact that Climate Change is our responsibility to solve. I remember when it was called Global Warming. That, someone decided, was too direct, too scary a label and it was postponing actions to solve such a huge, threatening problem. The term "Climate Change", it was hoped was less threatening. Perhaps it has helped people to stop looking away, reduced resistance to going to work on the solutions. We have made some start up progress.
Article 6 on our town warrant, a citizen's petition- Declaring a Climate Emergency, is an important step that Pepperell needs to make to trigger increased consideration by town Boards and Committees, Town staff and Pepperell citizens of the harms of climate change and the actions we need to take to stop warming our climate. Such a declaration will also gain the attention of State and Federal purse holders who will allocate funding first to those towns that have demonstrated their will to join in the fight to replace our fossil fuel living with an environmentally responsible lifestyle.
Our Climate Change Committee needs community support. In the past year they have learned a measure of the challenging size of the work to be done and this declaration increases their influence in our town governance. Conservation Commission needs this crisis declaration to help advocate for protecting open lands, a priority asset for carbon sequestration and aquifer protections. The Planning Board needs to ask how all development proposals help reduce our carbon footprint. The Select Board needs to be in constant search for policies that help the Town to prepare for and reduce our carbon footprint. The Finance Committee needs to assess the long term cost of neglecting climate change and support financial decisions that are a wise investment in Pepperell's future. And most important, our citizens need to embrace the challenge and join in a community that demonstrates it's worry and care for our future. Pepperell can join other communities leading in climate change actions and be a proud model for our municipal peers and New England citizens.
I am very happy that two Pepperell youth, brother and sister, have sponsored this citizen's petition. I have joined their family many times in their living room to learn about the feelings, thoughts and wishes of our children. It is primarily their future we are trying to protect from an existential harm. To fail to act on their behalf is unthinkable.
Thank goodness that in this growing and busy world there is still room for small town, "town meetings". where voters get to argue for the visions they wish to see to fruition in bettering life in our town. It's a beautiful thing, colored with heated debates, with group successes and and woes. And there is always next Falls or Springs Town Meetings.
Select Board discussions and votes, two for, one against, support the Lighting By Law. Voters express concern that it is difficult to enforce, creates undue hardships for some and denies the rights of individual home owners. How imperfect it is, I believe, will be open to future improvements. In my experience in Pepperell, there is far more patience than rigidity in our town staff, both the police Department and Zoning/Building Commissioner offices. Both offices have the option to respond to help resolve lighting questions. I have had the benefit of a very independent farm life style. However, I yield to the needs of the many as we have come to live so close together and adjusting lifestyles to accommodate neighbors is our kindest choice.
I urge all to support the Light By law. As science has continued to inform us, humans create pollution problems that are better solved sooner than later. Over use of lighting creates human and biosphere health problems, increases energy pollution and shuts us out of our star and planet filled night skies. Moving communities to a stronger cultural welcome of environmental protections is our best assurance of happy lives ahead for all.
Adaptive Use Overlay District Zoning By-law (AROD)
Imagine living in a residential neighborhood, in proximity to a Church in town. Sundays are busy with families attending services. There are a few special days, highlighted with a seasonal holiday church happening, yard sale, craft fair, and there are occasional weddings and funeral gatherings. Under certain circumstances, the church, by an AROD special permit, can become an expanded commercial business property. Home owners may find themselves living next to a seven day a week business, with customer and delivery activities. Ouch, that's a big change and quiet is no longer part of your home life. The Church facade is preserved, however the residential character is compromised. And neighboring home values may drop.
Our history of recent town governance is important to consider in assessing zoning changes. AROD was the Peter Fitzpatrick School Collaborative (PFC) answer to their zoning change need to accommodate more lessors and an anchor tenant and especially a community shared commercial kitchen facility, a very popular project. People with an interest in expanding Pepperell business numbers added onto the PFC zoning needs, first advocating for business opportunities in historic homes all over town with a long list of allowed uses. They raised the protests of town officers and citizens opposed to such an expansion of businesses that lay outside of the downtown corridor, and far exceeding the needs of the PFC.
Jenny Gingras, our new town planner was open and accommodating of feedback that drew back the reach of the initial AROD proposal. However, I share the opinion of others that it still overreaches on what we want our town to look and feel like. Too many buildings remain on the the list of possible use changes and the use options are also long. The Master plan asked for some use changes to create "Village" appeal and especially the addition of hospitality inns and bread and breakfasts, in keeping with our rural aspirations. More professional offices, banks, medical buildings, and retail businesses in residential neighborhoods will steer Pepperell to a community resembling the towns of Chelmsford, Littleton, Acton. or Westford, giving up. any "village" and rural character.
The question circulating in Pepperell, and many towns, is what our growth over the next decades will look like. While our Master Plan describes the wish to remain a rural community there are those that see open lands as barriers to the advantages they seek from commercial and residential development. This is an age old struggle. The towns mentioned earlier all had parties fighting for and against development. Developers won.
Climate change is the new party in the fight. Rules we have used to carry out growth debates no longer meet the needs of the future. All communities are best served by working to mitigate it's carbon output that our conventional growth has traditionally generated. AROD doesn't consider the impact on climate change.
AROD, if limited to the Peter Fitzpatrick School property is helpful. Anything more risks unwelcome growth in Pepperell.
Select Board Governance
Tomorrow night, Wednesday, May 4th at 7p.m. at town hall, the Select board meets to welcome it's newest member, Chuck Walkovich. While we have been in opposition at times, welcome Chuck to this leadership team. I celebrate the democracy that creates the path for all elected officers. to pursue their goals to serve their community.
On this night the first agenda item is to reorganize the roles of the Three Select Board members, electing the next Select Board Chairperson. Historically in Pepperell, the Chairmanship has been filled by the senior member of the Board. Having completed my second year on the Board, as Clerk, I have hoped to be elected to that post. I have taken great pride in my Select Board work and take credit for initiating the Climate Change Committee, reviving the Agricultural Commission, working with State and Federal Legislators, starting and Chairing the regional North Central Climate Change Collaborative , and most of all, listening to Pepperell citizens and bringing their concerns and wishes to the Select Board.
As politics will have it, the choice of our next Chair Person may be impacted by the current dynamics between the three Board members. I find myself, quite often, as a dissenting voice on the Select Board and attribute that to my determined stance on the importance of maintaining our conservation and farmlands. Any loss of those resources to make room for further development, I believe jeopardizes our work against climate change, future food supply, clean air, clean water and aesthetic quality of our rural lives. I believe growth is best limited to redevelopment projects and all current and new buildings should be limited by it's measured contribution to our carbon footprint.
I hope that my co-Select Board members, Mark Mathew and Chuck Walkovich will recognize that I am a good choice and elect me to the position of Chair Person. I offer the assurance that while I hold to my environmental convictions, my greatest responsibility is to uphold the principles of our Democracy and the guarantee of fair respectful and open debates and the give and take required to reach agreements.
If members of the public wish to participate in tomorrow nights reordering of the Select Board I encourage you to attend. The meeting is both in person, at Conference Room A and virtual by accessing the link on the Town of Pepperell web site.
Whatever the outcome of the Select Board vote, I am deeply thankful to be participating in our democratic process and hope you share my enthusiasm for the work of elected officers, and the democratic principals that guide them. .
Regards, Tony Beattie