OPINION: Shaken and Stirred in Dracut


By: Philippe Thibault – 6/24

Well, that was interesting.

Dracut’s municipal election was held on May fourth with the only contested race being between three contestants, Dave Martin, Don Plummer, and Josh Taylor.

The latter won the election by a narrow margin of twenty-three votes. The rollercoaster ride the night of the election came when trying to tabulate all the votes and the Clerk’s office was releasing numbers without aggregating absentee ballots, early voting, day of ballots and those “rejected” by the polling machines. The Taylor camp saw initial leads of three hundred plus votes quickly dwindling to thirty and then to twenty-three for the final count. Remarkably the voter turnout was around twenty percent.

Extremely high for a municipal election for Dracut or for any other community in the area. I believe this election rivaled the Presidential Preliminary vote held two months earlier. Over four thousand residents exercised their civic responsibility.

And what a difference the increased participation appears to influence policy and direction.

The Board of Selectmen voting block is anticipated to remain three to two, although the voting will now be inclusionary to residents’ participation rather than the exclusionary experienced under the thumb of former chair Alison Genest. On election night I had many inquiries about what committee or board that I would apply to and be granted an appointment to.

I do have the feeling my application would be more welcomed by the new leadership. Chairman Tony Archinski and Vice Chair Heather Santiago Hutchins do not seem to be intimidated by differing opinions. Refreshing that free thought will return to Dracut.

The Proper Farm is still mired in confusion and the secrecy of executive session has not dispelled any misunderstandings or rumors. The Board of Selectmen have released the appraisal and sale price with only 6 days to Town Meeting where the citizens will be asked to authorize the expenditure of some nine hundred thousand dollars of ARPA funds amid a projected three-million-dollar budget deficit.

A recent Community Preservation Committee meeting provided a forum for additional information. The Proper Farm owner was present, but the explanations appeared to cloud and confuse those in attendance further. There are competing issues regarding the purchase: the lack of transparency for the entire process, the use of ARPA funds as opposed to Community Preservation Act funds, making a purchase during a deficit, the preservation and use of acquired property by Dracut.

Each issue should be debated onto itself, but most of the arguments have been crosspoint. Ultimately the owner wants to offer the parcel without the town putting a restriction on the land at the time of sale. That doesn’t preclude setting a restriction at a later date. Mr. Brox wants the town to decide on its use but does not want the town to decide when it is purchased. This may leave town meeting befuddled.

Housing topics within the town are still haggard and perplexing. Multiple residential projects under a comprehensive permit application, also referred to as 40B, have been proposed to provide some affordable housing. A project proposed in east Dracut known as Murphy’s Farm with three hundred, four-bedroom units has garnered a steady stream of opposition. Rightfully so as it does little to provide a diversity in housing stock.

The developer has been slow to provide any practical information to have a conversation with at Zoning Board of Appeals meetings, the granting authority. The MBTA Communities legislation has the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee busy with location residential districts that would permit a dense fifteen dwelling units per acre capacity. Two districts are being considered.

One near Tennis Plaza off Lakeview Ave near the school complex and the other on Broadway Road in what is more of a business district. Oddly, the former is being considered because it is viewed as impractical to develop so it will not be built out and the latter could be a boon for economic development. In this microcosm the schizophrenia of a multi-member committee becomes apparent. The desire to keep Dracut looking like Dracut is akin to five blind men describing an elephant.

Town meeting may be as well attended as the most recent election. A robust body politic will be a long-desired sight. With the prepared articles on the warrant, it will surely be a bumpy ride. Perhaps Dracut should grant itself a “One Day Liquor License” for this event and really make it a bash: a Harvey Warrant Banger anyone? ◊