By Tamson W. Burgess
October 28, 2008
PLYMOUTH – It took a couple of years to get the question to Town Meeting but only a few minutes for Town Meeting to answer.
Inside of the town’s storied Memorial Hall Monday evening, only three of the town’s 126 Town Meeting representatives stood in opposition to the new zoning – the Movie and Entertainment Production Overlay District or MEPOD – that clears the way for Plymouth Rock Studios to build a 240-acre movie studio complex on the land now home to Waverly Oaks Golf Club on Long Pond Road.
The question not only passed with flying colors, it did so with a new twist. Precinct 14 Rep. Michael “Buster” Main asked the meeting to amend the MEPOD to include the traffic plans, which were originally excluded from the as-of-right development provisions created by the new zoning.
Had the traffic plans been left out of the bylaw and subject to the special permit process, some feared – and some threatened – those permits would be appealed, delaying construction for years. That delay, many worried, would drive Plymouth Rock Studios, its plans and its potential promise to another more easily developed location in some other town.
After a lengthy and very “Hollywood” series of presentations from PRS, as well as the Planning Board, the School Department, local business and tourism organizations, all singing the praises and promise of the project, it was clear the meeting had already made up its mind.
Following little to no discussion, Precinct 11 Rep. Ken “I Move the Question” Howe did just that, and representatives voted to close debate on the amendment (81-34) almost before those who had anticipated a serious discussion realized that window of opportunity had closed. The amendment passed easily with an even 100 in favor, 14 opposed and two abstentions. And while the crowd, which filled about a third of the seats surrounding the action on the floor and stage of the hall, reeled at the speed of that vote, the next, even more important decision was completed in record time.
With no discussion, Howe rose again and made the motion to close debate on the amended MEPOD article, and his fellow representatives supported his notion unanimously.
Precinct 12 Rep. Bill Abbott challenged Town Moderator Steve Triffletti on the process. But when Triffletti backtracked to ask if there were any representatives who desired to be heard on the question, only three or four stood and the rest of the meeting let them know they’d already heard enough by again voting to close debate.
There was no need for a roll call vote on the main motion. The ayes were loud and strong, followed by a few random nos, clearly meeting the two-third’s support required for a zoning change. So, as the town’s charter allows, Triffletti merely asked those in opposition to stand and be identified for the record.
Precinct 5 Rep. Laurien Enos and Precinct 8 Rep. Ann Marie Flanagan rose side-by-side near the back of the hall, as all eyes moved toward to the front row and Abbott, who hesitated briefly before rising to his feet to make the count three against.
There was silence for a few seconds as the impact of what had happened sank in. Then a single, random set of hands began to clap shyly, but the crowd, as if awakened from a stun, caught the wave and the clapping grew into a roar as the public rose to its feet to offer its representatives a rousing standing ovation.
“The spirit of Town Meeting is normally to allow people to speak, “ Abbott said after the meeting adjourned for the evening. He said the decision to remove the special permit process from this project sets a dangerous precedent, particularly without any discussion.
“I voted no because I believe a special permit should be in that article,” he said. “That’s the process that every developer goes through.” He reiterated that he supported the overall project with the special permit provisions for the traffic component.
Immediately following approval of the MEPOD, representatives voted unanimously to approve a Tax Increment Financing (or TIF) agreement for the project. The agreement will grants PRS a 75 percent break in local property taxes for five years beginning in 2011, then dropping incrementally over the next 20 years.