, Newburyport, MA

September 12, 2013

Selectmen agree to changes in Whetstone St. plan


---- — WEST NEWBURY — A proposed plan to alter the junction of Whetstone and Main streets was revised Monday night at the request of the Public Works department.

Following a preliminary review in August of plans to upgrade the area that called for removing an existing utility pole occupying the middle of the intersection and slightly narrowing the entrance to Whetstone Street to bring it more into a 90-degree angle, this week selectmen heeded advice from DPW director Gary Bill, who argued in favor of removing the pole but maintaining the road’s current, wider configuration.

Bill noted that a wider entrance was preferable because the intersection is frequently used as a “turn-around area in the center of town” by DPW trucks and other vehicles.

Selectman Glenn Kemper countered that, given the poor traffic visibility in the area, he preferred finding ways to curtail — not encourage — the type of use Bill was describing.

Chairman Bert Knowles Jr. proposed leaving the pole in place and creating an island around it similar to ones on Maple, Church and Garden streets.

But in the end, the board listened to Bill’s advice. Representatives from developers Cottage Advisors and Land Tech Consultants said the next step is to run the plan past Verizon, the company that owns the utility pole. It’s possible there may be an issue with removing a pole that spans such a wide space, they warned selectmen on Monday.

“It is what it is,” responded Kemper.

The development team is overseeing the upgrade as part of a more comprehensive project to create 30 residential units on 24 acres off Whetstone Street formerly known as the Sullivan Farm.

As part of the proposed road update, the pavement width — which currently runs between 16 and 18 feet — would be broadened to 22 feet with a small bituminous lip on either side. A vertical curve on the street would be pushed out farther down the hillside; three large shade trees toward the beginning of the street would be retained; and a new 8-inch waterline would be installed.

The developers hope to have permitting approvals from the Planning Board within the next two months, but because the deadline with National Grid for applications for utility main work has passed for this year, the earliest the project could get under way is next spring.

In other business, selectmen agreed to more strictly enforce a town policy requiring annual employee evaluations after learning that the process is not being followed consistently in all town departments.

A recent survey indicated that several departments and committees believed they didn’t have to conduct evaluations because they voted not to do so. Noting that taxpayers had a right to expect town policy was being followed when they voted for annual salaries and raises, Kemper said, “There is no choice on this.” Selectmen agreed to “phase in” the process for the upcoming budget season.

In other employee news, the board reiterated a town policy that requires employees to sign off on payroll sheets prior to getting paid. Department heads are not allowed to sign for the employees who work under them, selectmen stressed.

Organizers got approval to hold another Turkey Trot on Pipestave Hill this Thanksgiving. The use-of-facility fee was waived. Instead, selectmen asked the nonprofit organization to make a donation to the Historical Society in memory of longtime resident and local historian, Susan Follansbee, who passed away last week.

Noting Follansbee’s dedication to the town, Kemper said, “she will truly be missed.” A memorial service for Follansbee is planned for Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Congregational Church on Main Street.

LOCO Sports got the OK to use portions of town roads for an “All Women and One Lucky Guy” half marathon on Nov. 3. The one man running in the race is selected by raffle lottery. In lieu of a usage fee, the for-profit group will make a donation to the annual All Sports Breakfast held at the American Legion Hall on Thanksgiving Day.

After receiving a copy of a certified letter sent to abutters regarding plans by the Essex County Trails Association and the Open Space Committee to hold a public hearing with the Conservation Commission to construct a boardwalk on a portion of the Riverbend Trail System, selectmen noted that ECTA first needs permission from the town to work on the property.

The board reviewed a draft of a request for proposals for an annual financial audit; approved street openings for gas installation at 2 Hilltop Circle and 8 Merrill St., and electrical conduit work on portions of Crane Neck and Robin Robin Road by Mirra Construction; and gave permission for the organizers of the Jeanne Geiger Walk Against Domestic Violence on Oct. 6 to hang a promotional banner in town.

Selectmen learned that administrative assistant Sonomi Lezon tendered a resignation letter on Sept. 5, citing a desire to remain home with her newborn daughter.

They went into executive session to discuss contract strategies, lease of real property and minutes from a closed-door session on Aug. 26.