It was the purest, and wettest, form of democracy in action in three North Shore towns over the weekend.
Ipswich, Marblehead and Wenham all held special town meetings on Saturday, all outdoors and under spacious tents in deference to the coronavirus. Nearly 400 residents braved the weather to attend the town meeting in Ipswich, with about 300 people turning out in Marblehead and 150 showing up in Wenham, according to town officials.
In Ipswich, voters agreed to spend $630,000 to buy land on Pineswamp Road that would be used as the site of a new combined police and fire station. But voters rejected a second proposal to appropriate $2.25 million to pay for the design of the proposed building.
Town Moderator Tom Murphy said residents expressed a preference to wait until next year to vote on paying for the full cost of the new facility, which would be about $25 million.
Town Meeting also approved the purchase a conservation restriction on 93 acres of land at Kamon Farm on Pineswamp Road at a cost to the town of up to $750,000. Greenbelt, the Essex County land trust, would pay $400,000 of the purchase price and would maintain the property.
The land is vital to protect the drinking water supply, wildlife habitat, passive recreation and agriculture in Ipswich, according to the Town Meeting warrant.
Two citizens' petitions were rejected by voters. One called for a moratorium on multi-unit developments. The other would have eliminated the rule that allows developers to pay a fee to the town instead of providing on-site affordable housing.
In Marblehead, Town Meeting voted to end the current winter overnight parking ban in favor of a plan that aligns with those adopted by several other communities in the area. Now the town will notify residents when a parking ban is necessary due to a snow emergency, Town Administrator Jason Silva said. Residents also voted to increase the fine for parking violations during a snow emergency from $25 to $100.
Marblehead Town Meeting also approved two articles that will allow for a road improvement project at the intersection of Village, Vine and Pleasant streets. Silva said construction would begin in the spring of 2022.
Residents narrowly rejected an article that would have placed several restrictions on the use of leaf blowers.
In Wenham, Town Meeting narrowly approved a citizens petition prohibiting the town's board of health from adopting rules that are stricter than those provided by the state when it comes to the reopening of schools during the pandemic. Resident Dan Pasquarello said the board of health's stricter rules prevented the schools from reopening in person last month.
"We do not want to make it harder than necessary to keep our schools open this year," Pasquarello said, according to a tape of the Town Meeting by the HWCAM public access television station.
The measure, which passed by a 66-60 vote, is non-binding, but Pasquarello said it would would provide a "sense of the town" for the superintendent and School Committee as they make decisions regarding the reopening of schools.
Wenham also passed a citizens petition to study the idea of increasing the number of members on the Board of Selectmen from three to five. Residents also approved the adoption of a local meals excise tax of .75%, and an increase in the local tax on hotel and bed-and-breakfast rooms from 5.7% to 6%.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.