Telegram.com By Michael Bailey May 2, 2017
AUBURN – Voters at the annual town meeting Tuesday night defeated a zoning amendment that would have allowed the installation of two electronic billboards near the Auburn Mall.
The only article to be defeated, Article 27 sought to amend Regional Mall Overlay District zoning bylaws in order to clear the way for the installation of two electronic billboards near the Auburn Mall.
The proposal, which would have laid the groundwork for Total Outdoor Advertising to install and operate two double-sided digital billboards overlooking the Massachusetts Turnpike, had previously received the unanimous support of the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board and the Finance Committee. But it failed to win over voters, who worried the billboards would create an eyesore, present a possible risk to drivers on the turnpike and open the door for similar billboards throughout town.
In rejecting the bylaw change, voters also effectively turned down a $1 million “voluntary donation” that Total Outdoor Advertising planned to make to the town when the billboards went up. The company had planned to pay the donation over a 20-year period, and the selectmen had tentatively earmarked the money for use on the Drury Square revitalization project.
The article was rejected in a 47-33 vote, falling short of the two-thirds approval necessary to pass the measure.
The other major item on the warrant asked voters to instate an 18-month moratorium on the establishment of retail marijuana dispensaries, which voters passed 71-3. The purpose of the moratorium is to grant town officials time to develop zoning bylaws dictating where in town such businesses could set up, and the process for permitting them.
Possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use is not affected by the moratorium.
However, the moratorium could become a moot point, depending on the outcome of a question on the May 16 town election ballot, which asks voters whether they wish to ban retail marijuana establishments in Auburn. Other towns are considering similar measures as part of their spring town elections.
The state law passed by voters in November allows for the possession, use and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes, but language in the new law also allows individual municipalities to opt out of the retail sales provision.
Voters also approved reducing the interest rate on property tax hardship deferrals from 8 percent for residents and 5 percent for senior citizens to 4 percent; reducing the eligibility age for a senior citizen tax exemption from 68 to 67, and increasing the gross receipts limit to $30,000 for a married couple and $50,000 for whole estates; reducing the residency requirement for disabled veterans seeking an exemption or abatement from five years to one year; and offering a tax exemption of 50 percent on real and personal property to National Guard personnel, both active duty and reservists, who have been deployed overseas.
The town’s fiscal 2018 budget of $63.95 million, a 3.29 percent increase over fiscal 2017, passed unanimously. This included the School Department’s $24.98 million budget, a 4.5 percent increase over fiscal 2017.
In all, it took voters a little more than three hours to dispense with the annual town meeting warrant. By the time town meeting wrapped up around 10:30 p.m., voters had approved 33 of the 35 articles on the warrant, many of them unanimously and without any discussion. Article 15, a request to establish a special education reserve fund for the schools, was postponed indefinitely.