2024 Annual Town Meeting begins April 29 and continues April 30 and May 1. File photo

Town Meeting to take on vital, controversial issues

April 21, 2024

By Betsy Levinson — Betsy@theconcordbridge.org 

Pivotal articles that will shape the look and character of the town are on deck for passage or defeat at Concord’s fast-approaching annual Town Meeting. 

The meeting, which serves as the town’s legislative body, begins with a bang of the moderator’s gavel at 7 p.m. on April 29 at Concord-Carlisle High School and continues April 30 and May 1. 

Town Meeting mechanics

Article 26 asks voters to approve a Town Meeting study committee. If approved, a nine-member task force, appointed by the moderator, will look at the effectiveness of the format, remote participation, and practices in other communities. 

Concord’s meeting continues to be open to all registered voters, eschewing the representative format. The last Town Meeting review committee was in 1995. 

Town Moderator Carmin Reiss, center. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

“In view of the changes in society and technology during the last 30 years, another comprehensive review is timely,” according to the warrant.

A final report would be submitted to 2025 Town Meeting. 

Three successive articles follow up on the theme of widening participation

  • A citizen petition under Article 27 seeks to call a special election within three weeks after Town Meeting to vote on the articles discussed at the meeting. 

This “would be a much more efficient use of citizens’ time in addition to encouraging greater participation” in contentious town decisions, the article says.  

  • Petition Article 28 seeks authorization for the Select Board to ask the state legislature to allow remote participation at Town Meeting. 

According to statistics in the warrant, physical attendance at Town Meeting, which is required to vote, averaged just 7.7% from 2011 to 2023. As of the 2020 census, Concord’s population was estimated at 18,491. 

“Over 92 percent of registered voters do not participate in Town Meeting and are not included in making important decisions about spending and policies,” the warrant says. 

File photo

Petitioners point out that mail-in ballots are readily available for elections, whereas “in stark contrast, annual and special Town Meetings are the only times in-person attendance is required to exercise our voting rights.” 

  • A third petition article seeks to make use of “clickers,” or hand-held electronic voting, at in-person Town Meetings. 

“Clickers are more private and encourage participation,” the article says. “Voting at Concord Town Meeting has become more contentious and can pit neighbors and friends against each other. Hand raising is likely suppressing voting as well as attendance.” 

Wayland and Westford utilize clickers.

The warrant. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Reshaping Concord? 

To comply with the state’s MBTA Communities Law, Concord is asking Town Meeting to amend zoning laws to encourage new overlay districts near the two MBTA stations. 

The new zones would allow multi-family development at a higher density in areas including Lowell Road/Keyes Road, Upper Lowell Road, Thoreau Street/Sudbury Road, Baker Avenue, and Elm Street. 

Article 35 seeks to amend a zoning bylaw that allows two-family housing in residence C to residence B. The Planning Board noted there is “broad support” for more housing options within all areas of town.” 

Cell towers call attention 

Two petition articles call for cell towers at the former landfill on Walden Street and at the public works parcel on Keyes Road. 

Article 38, if passed, asks the Select Board to issue a request for proposal for a multi-provider facility on town-owned property at 755 Walden. The site was identified for a tower in 2003. 

Article 39 suggests the Keyes Road site, also identified in 2003, would be “designed and positioned to minimize visual impacts on the historical viewshed from the North Bridge.” 

Under the article, the Select Board would issue an RFP within three months. The DPW yard was also identified in 2003.

Middle School moniker

Challenging the School Committee’s vote to name the new middle school “Concord Middle School,” Article 22 “urges” the Select Board and School Committee to name it for Ellen Garrison

Garrison, granddaughter of once-enslaved Caesar Robbins, was born in Concord and attended its public schools. Garrison was a teacher and activist whose motto was “educate, educate, educate,” the warrant notes, adding that she would be the first town public school alum “and the first person of color to have a public building named after them in nearly 400 years in Concord.” 

Browse the warrant below.