Wrentham selectmen candidates Joseph Botaish and George Smith tackled the issue of the town's tax base in the Wrentham Citizens Alliance Debate Wednesday night. The other candidate, Gail Pratt, was unable to attend.
Botaish and Pratt are the incumbents, while Smith is the challenger. All three are vying for the two open seats on the board.
Both Smith and Botaish were asked mainly about expansion of the town’s tax base, which is a hot button issue.
The proposed rezoning of property on Madison Street abutting Route 1 and Route 495 was the main topic of debate.
Madison Street property owner Joe Lorusso has put an article on this year’s town meeting warrant that, if passed, would rezone the property from residential to commercial.
In 2010, a previous attempt to pass the article was voted down, 245-5.
Botaish said the abutters and Lorusso needed to come to sit down and hash out an agreement, as this is and has been a continuing issue in Wrentham.
He said eventually, for either residential or commercial zoning, Lorusso would develop the now vacant property.
“There are positives and negatives on both ends,” he said. “We need to look at all the options and see what would be most conducive to the community.”
Resident Joanne Driscoll, who lives on Madison Street, said the impact from the proposed Market Basket on Route 1 in Plainville will also be hard on Madison Street residents.
She said her main issue is she feels Lorusso isn't entirely specific on how he wants to develop the land once the commercial zoning is put in place.
During a meeting in March, Lorusso said the zoning would allow offices, restaurants, retail shops, warehouses and hotels to be built, but did not outline which was actually going to be put in.
Smith said a way to make this issue go more smoothly and make sure the town knows exactly what they would be voting for would be to require a contractual rezoning.
He said this would limit the options and require the developer to stick to a plan voted on by the town, instead of just a general rezoning.
“As it is right now, I would not be in favor of it,” he said. “I think the applicant still has a lot of questions that need to be answered. The site plan is so unspecific. People want these questions answered and they should be answered.”
Botaish and Smith both agreed though the project could hurt residents, the town does need added revenue at this point.
Resident John Zizza, of Green Street, asked how the town is looking to redevelop the property formerly known as Crosby Valve, located in the center of town. Botaish said the property has a large enough septic system to accommodate many businesses that could help enrich the downtown.
“We need to bring businesses back to our town,” he said. “The property has a sizable septic facility and we should reutilize that.”
Smith said the town should be focusing on small ways to generate more revenue, such as charging for earth removal, using LED traffic lights and rebuilding a recycling center in town.
“These people recognize something needs to be done,” he said.
Botaish responded by saying something like an LED light system, which would allow the town to light all streetlamps, is impractical, unless a grant can be found.
“LED lighting on our own dime is extremely expensive,” he said. “We’re looking for grants.”
Botaish said the thing he hears the most from residents is to tax the Wrentham Outlet Mall more money, but he said with that comes more ramifications. He said they would also have to tax the small businesses in town more as well, if at a lower percent than the mall.
“We are looking for ways to save money,” he said.