As we get ready for the Town Meeting, it’s good to have a refresher on how exactly our Town government operates. Our Select Board is the executive branch of town government. The executive branch carries out and enforces laws that the Legislative branch passes.
Town Meeting is the legislative branch of town government. Voters in Open Town Meetings have a great deal of power. They decide budgets, authorize spending of town money, create or amend zoning bylaws, create or amend by-laws, and offer elected officials a sense of the town's opinions, even on non-binding matters.
Town Meeting decides three major things:
It sets the salaries for the elected officials.
It votes to appropriate money to run the town; this is our entire Town budget.
It votes on the town’s local statutes, which are called by-laws.
In our State the governor “proposes” a budget, and the State legislature parses through it and makes the decision. In North Andover, we are the legislature. When items are proposed by citizens or recommended by the town, we have the opportunity to agree or disagree or even change it if we think it’s a bad idea. We do not have to follow any recommendations of the executive branch. In fact, town meeting exists to be a check on the power of our town’s executive branch. It’s easy to be in the habit of staying the course. It’s also easy to provide new direction by voting!
The ONLY way to change the by-laws for the town, including zoning, is through Town Meeting. Additionally, zoning by-laws are complicated, and the true ramifications are lost when a bunch of legal jargon is presented to Town Meeting. Regardless of recommendations, the legislative branch (YOU, if you attend Town Meeting) has authority to change the direction at any time; citizens can even call special town meetings.
We have the authority to reject the rezoning proposed by Merrimack / Royal Crest that would allow Royal Crest to be redeveloped in most circumstances under plan approval AND allows the Planning Board alone to decide if any revisions are substantial and materially different from the approved Master Development Plan.
We have no guarantees and no rights if appeal of the Planning Board deems a change non substantial. Bringing changes back to Town Meeting would be burdensome on the Planning Board and the developer would cry hardship and delays that would cost them and the Town money. A ten year build out will undoubtedly have changes just like Tuscan Village. It's inevitable that there will be significant changes and we shouldn't give up our legislative rights to the Planning Board. The only way to ensure we have a full say over the process is to vote NO on Article 28 and let's go back to the drawing board.