In a vote that will resound for decades to come, the RTM affirmed the Planning & Zoning Commission’s designation of the Baron’s South property as open space.
The 22-acre, wooded and hilly property — bordered by South Compo Road, the Post Road and Imperial Avenue — is already home to the Senior Center, on its western edge. But further development — for instance, of a hotly debated senior housing complex — will not take place.
A majority of RTM members — 20 — actually voted to overturn last month’s P&Z decision (4-1, with 1 abstention) designating the entire area as open space.
But 14 members sided with the P&Z. Overruling the P&Z required 24 votes — 2/3 of all members.
The roll was called after midnight. Debate was intense but civil throughout the long evening. Many issues were raised, ranging from the importance of open space and the inevitability of more development once construction began, to the speed and propriety of one commission deciding such a major issue for the town.
Some speakers declared that the vote should be about the “open space” decision alone — not the merits of one particular senior housing proposal. The need for senior housing, however, was noted by other speakers.
The baron’s property will now remain undeveloped — an “urban forest” just steps from downtown. Was today’s early morning vote comparable to previous decisions (for example, to purchase Longshore when a developer proposed building 180 houses there — or to allow construction of the Wright Street and Gorham Island office complexes), or a missed opportunity to build on town-owned land?
Check back in a decade or two.