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Concord

Town Meeting faces controversial items

Controversies involving the district’s administration, including the school bus depot, prompted a call to investigate Superintendent Diana Rigby.

John Bohn/ Globe Staff

Controversies involving the district’s administration, including the school bus depot, prompted a call to investigate Superintendent Diana Rigby.

Concord officials say there are as many as four articles on this week’s Town Meeting warrant that could generate significant debate among residents, including competing proposed uses for the former landfill, and a call to repeal the ban on the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles enacted last spring.

The other two controversial articles would put limits on cats roaming freely, and direct the School Committee to review the performance of the superintendent.

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“There will be interest in the dueling articles for the use of the landfill,’’ said Town Clerk Anita Tekle. “Those are going to be competing articles.’’

The landfill has been closed since 1994 but is suddenly in high demand. The Lincoln-based Walden Woods Project wants to purchase a conservation restriction from the town that would limit use of the land once studied by Henry David Thoreau. Meanwhile, the School Committee says the site, off Walden Street (Route 126) near its intersection with Route 2, could be used for a transportation depot that would allow the district to keep its popular school bus system in-house.

“There is clearly a lot of interest on both sides, and you can’t have both,’’ Tekle said.

The debate is expected to come up on the first night of Town Meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. Monday at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School. Article 12 asks residents to authorize the Board of Selectmen to convey to the Walden Woods Project, or a similar organization, a conservation restriction that would limit the use of the 35-acre property. In return, the nonprofit environmental group would pay the town $2.6 million. The town would still be able to use a portion of the property for solar energy and public works activities.

The Walden Woods Project has been working with the town since last year to set up a conservation restriction on the property, but members say there is more urgency now given the School Committee’s interest in it.The group considers it to be a key site in terms of conservation because of the role it played in Thoreau’s life. The 19th-century author and philosopher walked the land and studied forest succession, a precursor to modern-day ecology.

But the School Committee thinks the landfill is the best site for a new bus depot. Its old facility, at the high school on Walden Street, had to be demolished to make way for the new high school. Without a new site, the school district discussed hiring an outside company to provide bus services, an idea that has been unpopular among parents.

Article 13 asks Town Meeting to approve spending $950,000 from the school district’s capital fund to build a new transportation facility at the landfill site. School officials say a special advisory committee spent months investigating options for the replacement facility, and after looking at 20 locations settled on the landfill as the best alternative. The site is already owned by the town and close to the high school.

Another high-interest article is one that would repeal the town’s ban on the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles. Town Meeting approved the ban last spring, but opponents say they want to repeal the measure so consumers have a choice.

Town Moderator Eric Van Loon said people on both sides of the issue requested a specific time for debate so residents could make plans to attend. Debate on the repeal is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Van Loon said the final vote on the ban last year took place late in the evening, so residents wanted to make sure everyone has an opportunity to participate this time.

“We have a long tradition of scheduling high-interest articles at a specific time to maximize participation,’’ Van Loon said.

He said the landfill article wasn’t prescheduled because it was clear, based on its place on the warrant, that it would come up early during the annual session’s first night.

Van Loon said a proposed bylaw to prohibit cats from being allowed to wander on private property without the owner’s consent is expected to come up for the second year in a row.

Concord resident Lydia Lodynsky has submitted the article, which would create a bylaw designed to discourage “certain roaming behaviors related to pet cats.’’ The proposed bylaw would encourage cat owners to keep their pets indoors or within the boundaries of their property, and states that cats are not allowed to “disturb the peace of neighbors or private property, or endanger the safety of any person or pet.’’

However, the proposal also says that cats can roam elsewhere as long as the property’s owner does not complain.

She submitted a second article that would require residents to register their cats with the town, just as dogs must be licensed each year. Lodynsky submitted a similar bylaw last year, but it was rejected.

Also on the warrant is an article urging the town’s local and regional school boards to investigate Superintendent Diana Rigby for alleged poor planning, fiscal mismanagement, and a failure to communicate.

Rigby and other members of the district’s administration have come under fire in the past year over the new high school project, the relocation of the school bus facility, and low morale among teachers.

The petition is nonbinding but would direct the school boards to “make new changes in the central administration of the School Department to ensure a good faith effort toward greater transparency and fiscal responsibility.’’

Van Loon said there are 63 articles on the warrant this year, up from 48 last year. Town Meeting is expected to last three to four days, he said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.
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