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Letter to Editor: Questions Yet to Be Answered on Josiah Smith Tavern Project

One local resident says the Board of Selectmen should do more to gain public input on the process.

The following is a letter to the editor submitted by Weston resident Isabella Jancourtz:

Our long journey toward a decision on the re-use of the Josiah Smith Tavern and Old Library may be drawing to a close. 

Urbanica, a South Boston architectural firm, has presented an intriguing design proposal for this under-utilized space. It includes condominiums in the Old Library, a Bed and Breakfast in the Tavern and in the Barn there would be a small restaurant plus continued use at minimal cost by the Women's Community League and the Weston Historical Society.  

Urbanica's Kamran Zahedi, a long-time Weston resident, has stepped up to the challenge and presented an almost-perfect possible solution. I say "almost perfect" because that huge mall-like sign proposed for the entrance is jarring and the Louvre-like glass box is similarly out of scale for our little New England town. 

Also problematic is the $4 million in Community Preservation Act funds which the developer is requesting that we spend to fix up buildings that will no longer belong to the town.    

I attended the Urbanica presentation at the Sept. 11 meeting of the Board of Selectmen. A large crowd was present in the town hall auditorium, but only one hour was allotted for the presentation, for comments by the selectmen and for questions and comments from the voters.

When chair Michael Harrity announced that only three minutes remained for voter questions, John Fiske rose to object.  In response to the loud applause which followed, Harrity conceded another 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, traveling microphones were not provided for the voters, nor were their questions repeated by the chair. As a result, many were not audible even at the meeting and all voters who spoke were inaudible on the Weston Media Center's broadcast of the meeting. 

I spoke with WMC director Gloria Cole about this and she said that it is the responsibility of the selectmen or the town manager to provide microphones for the voters.    

In any event, many good questions were asked and many were left unasked, because after about 20 minutes chairman Harrity announced that the meeting was moving downstairs to a much smaller room used for regular meetings of the board. 

"Moving downstairs allows us to save on heat," he said, adding that there would be many future opportunities for the voters to discuss this project. 

Most of us headed home after that. However, watching the rest of the meeting on WMC's broadcast of it, I saw the selectmen spend more time listening to their paid consultant Steve Cecil than they had spent with all the Weston voters who bothered to show up that night.

They appeared to be asking Cecil, whose marketing campaign for RFPs on the JST&OL had yielded just this one proposal, to help them explain/sell this project to the voters.     

Lack of regard for voter input is what sank the last JST&OL proposal, despite the $1 million spent on various experts.    

When at the Oct. 15 meeting of the Board of Selectmen I inquired when we would have the opportunities we were promised to have a real dialog with them and with the developer about the Urbanica proposal, I was told that it would happen soon.  Let's hope that at future meetings the selectmen will not be repeating the charade of a dialog we had on Sept. 11.   

If this project is to succeed, the voters need to be able to make the informed decision to support it. The proposal is on the table. We don't need any more presentations. What we need is to have our questions answered, to have our concerns addressed and to debate the merits of this proposal.                                      

Isabella Jancourtz

Gun Club Lane     

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