The debate over a proposed cinema in Lynnfield could become an increasingly rancorous one, with even the town selectmen currently divided on the matter.
During a two-plus hour selectmen's meeting on Monday night, dozens of town residents came out to express some very strong concerns about the specialty cinema that National Development plans to ask town meeting voters to approve in April. Ted Tye of National Development had started off the meeting with an update on the project, including on the proposed cinema. More from Tye's update can be seen here.
National Development will ask voters at the April 29th town meeting to approve a zoning change allowing an 8-screen specialty cinema that would open with Phase 2 of MarketStreet Lynnfield in late 2014 or early 2015. During his presentation, Tye presented the cinema as an important long-term strategy for MarketStreet Lynnfield - one that would be consistent with the town's character and which would have a more upscale experience than larger theaters, complete with a bar and restaurant and a premium ticketing option. He estimated that the theater would provide about $200,000 in revenues for the town, between real estate and local meals taxes.
"We don't think the theater will add to any issues that will be created here," said Tye.
Residents who came to the microphone one by one were more concerned about traffic and disturbances at the proposed movie theater - and they also repeatedly argued that a cinema proposal had already been voted down in the past. Later, it was explained that proposed zoning changes are allowed under law to come up every two years when they do not pass.
Lynnfield residents Wally McKenzie and Joe DeMaina both spoke at the meeting about their respective concerns. Last week, the two spoke with Lynnfield Patch about the cinema plan, maintaining that they want National Development to stick with its existing (non-cinema) agreement on MarketStreet.
When it came to the two current members of the Lynnfield Board of Selectmen, not even they were on the same page. The third seat has been vacant since the beginning of the year when Al Merritt resigned to focus on a health condition.
Before it was over, Selectman Bob MacKendrick reported that he does not support the project - but he also emphasized that he will support whatever voters decide at town meeting.
"It is divisive to the town," said MacKendrick. "And I don't like things that divide the town and pit neighbors against neighbors." He noted that historically, Lynnfield has been able to reach consensus on difficult town issues. "I feel from my standpoint, I'm against it," said MacKendrick to applause from the audience.
Selectman Dave Nelson indicated that he supports the proposed cinema, maintaining that the town needs the revenues it will bring. "I've always supported MarketStreet, but things change. As you progress, you see things that need to happen," said Nelson. "I think the cinema is a good idea, a good step for MarketStreet." Still, Nelson also made it clear that ultimately, this is still very much a matter for the town's voters to decide.
"Go to town meeting and vote and let's get this thing done and over with," said Nelson.
With no consensus on the current board and with two contested selectmen seats in the April 8th town election, it will be appropriate for the new board to make a recommendation on the warrant article, said MacKendrick.
Looking ahead, any and all warrant articles must be filed by March 25th, and all that one requires is 10 citizen signatures. One Fernway resident raised concern about the article "sneaking into town meeting" with no time for review by residents or officials. Town Administrator Bill Gustus replied that "we would hope to get it earlier," but also made it clear that the procedures for getting an article onto the town warrant are already very specific and longstanding.
"Once again, we're asked to basically pick sides," Fernway resident Frank Riccardi told the meeting. DeMaina expressed similar sentiments elsewhere in the meeting, saying he is "distressed by the ripping of the social fabric of the town."
After the meeting, Tye told Lynnfield Patch that hearing from the neighbors was "what this meeting is about." He said he was aware of their concerns and that he had expected to them to turn out to express them. However, he also maintained that there are numerous people in Lynnfield who do support building the cinema. "I listened, I learned a lot, I try to be very respectful of what I hear," said Tye.
For more coverage of the MarketStreet Lynnfield project, click here. More news and some video from the Selectmen's meeting will be posted within the next day as well.