Hampden votes to pursue land at center of self-storage controversy

May 13, 2022 | Sarah Heinonen

Voters pass by a table and cast their votes by secret ballot.
Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN – With a vote of 44-31, Hampden voters at the Annual Town Meeting on May 9 chose to authorize the Board of Selectmen to investigate purchasing the property at 2 Somers Rd. and 16 Somers Rd. Despite the vote in favor of the nonbinding petition, action is unlikely due to ongoing litigation.

Residents had questions and comments both for and against the issue. Resident Gary Weiner asked if the Board of Selectmen had an immediate purpose for the land, should it be purchased. Board Chair Donald Davenport replied simply, “No.” Weiner said the move sets a “bad precedent” and that the land would be little more than a “buffer” for the backyards of the neighborhood abutting the property.

Weiner said the land, zoned for commercial use, could bring in needed tax revenue if it were developed.

Resident Joe Sibilia, a member of the Save Hampden ad hoc group that opposed the self-storage projects, said there were “innovative” and “creative” uses for the land and by investigating the purchase of the property, the Board of Selectmen could determine which use was best for the town.

“I don’t think there’s any other use that’s feasible without sewer and water,” said L. Jed Berliner, chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals. A bid to install water and sewer lines in that section of town was defeated at the 2019 Annual Town Meeting.

Resident Jason Barroso, who sits on both the Board of Assessors and the Planning Board, asked the Board of Selectmen for their opinion. Davenport said it had not been discussed, while Board of Selectmen member Craig Rivest said it was “beyond the Selectmen” to comment due to the litigation filed against the town by the current property owners.

Resident Tad Brown, who had read the motion, assured residents that voting for the board to investigate the purchase did not require the town to spend any money, but Weiner commented that legal opinions on the matter would entail legal fees.

Resident Mary Ellen Glover asked if any subsequent purchase would have to be approved at a Town Meeting. “Any action would have to come back, because it is an expenditure,” Rivest confirmed.


The town passed the fiscal year 2023 (FY23) level-service budget of $14,864,226, a 1.75 percent increase over FY22. Advisory Board Co-Chair Carol Fitzgerald explained the budget incorporated a 5 percent cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) and that $60,000 had been removed from the recommended school assessment because the town had instead decided to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. A couple of residents had questions.

Resident Jim Smith asked if the ambulance contract with Action Ambulance has seen reimbursements to the town. Davenport explained that this is the first year the town will likely receive reimbursements, which are dependent on the number of calls the service receives and the subsequent charges for those calls.

Resident Gary Weiner asked why $8,700 was put in the budget to hire a Public Health Nurse, but Board of Selectmen member John Flynn explained that the line item had previously been, “inadvertently zeroed out,” and the funding was being restored to the position.

Secret Ballot

A secret ballot vote was conducted on the establishment of a municipal light plant (MLP). This was the second vote of two required votes on the topic. The first vote passed at the fall 2021 Special Town meeting.

A municipal light plant is an administrative body whose establishment is required by law before a city or town can provide a utility – in Hampden’s case, fiber optic internet. The town has been researching the option as an alternative to Spectrum’s service. “We’re hoping to offer our residents more reliable, affordable internet,” Rivest said.

The vote was taken by secret ballot as called for under M.G.L. Chapter 164, Sections 47C and 47D. “The secret vote is apparently required by Department of Public Utility regulation,” Town Administrator Robert Markel later told Reminder Publishing.

Every voter was handed a perforated card with yes and no on it. When the time came, voters filed past a staffed table and cast their vote in one box, while discarding the other side of the card in a separate box. Once counted, 79 people had voted for the MLP and 10 had voted against it.

CPA Articles

There were two Community Preservation Act (CPA) articles approved by voters. New locks on the doors at Centennial Commons, run by Hampden’s Housing Authority, will cost $28,000. Completing the turf field at Minnechaug Regional High School will cost $29,406.

Advisory Board Co-Chair Doug Boyd explained that the turf field project, which was originally approved in 2019, ran over budget and despite the efforts of the school’s booster club, fundraising was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. The town voted to approve the extra funding, but the vote is contingent upon an affirmative vote at the Wilbraham Town Meeting on March 16 for that town’s portion of the funding.

Vacancy Bylaw

Davenport had proposed a bylaw that would require the Board of Selectmen be involved in the interview and selection of people to fill various board vacancies. Currently, the Board of Selectmen is only required to be involved at the final step in the process, approving the recommendation from the remaining board members.
Davenport asked that no action be taken on the article and said there had been questions and suggested amendments to the bylaw and it would be brought back before the town at a subsequent meeting.

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