After a heated confrontation Thursday at Chelsea’s Town Meeting highlighted a deep divide in town, officials are trying to figure out what’s next.

For now, the town won’t impose any sort of regulation on incoming businesses, following the failure of the proposed Site Plan Review Ordinance and a short-lived but unsuccessful attempt to have it reconsidered.

At the same time, residents voted against raising Chelsea’s property tax levy limit, which might undermine all the budget articles they debated and approved earlier in the evening. Figuring that out, town officials say, will take some time.

While the proposed ordinance had been developed and reviewed over the last year in public workshops, it didn’t draw public attention and concern until two separate public hearings, one with the Planning Board and one with the Board of Selectmen, in the weeks leading up to Town Meeting.

“We were trying to do something to control our own destiny,” Planning Board Chairwoman Andrea Smith said Friday. Chelsea has no zoning, but with work underway to develop an economic development plan, the proposed ordinance set out some parameters for new businesses interested in locating in Chelsea to follow, based on the size of the project.

All three of Chelsea’s selectmen say that coming out of that final public hearing, a compromise had been reached to with the help of Selectman Michael Pushard. Under it, only new businesses bringing facilities greater than 10,000 square feet to town would be subject to a series of regulations, including setbacks.

On Friday, Richard Danforth, chairman of the Board of Selectman, said he was surprised when the warrant article drew no questions or comments from the 110 people at Town Meeting when it came up and was then was voted down.

“No one had a question? The majority of the folks (there) were at the public hearing,” Danforth said.

Less that two hours later, tempers flared when Selectman Benjamin Smith tried to bring up the failed ordinance for reconsideration.

By that time, voters had lined up to cast secret ballots on whether to raise the tax levy limit. After dropping their slips into the ballot box, many headed home.

However, the meeting had not adjourned when Smith made his motion, which he later withdrew after infuriated residents accused the selectmen of not being transparent in their actions.

At that time, Smith said Pushard supported the compromise. Smith could not be reached for comment Friday.

Danforth said Friday that he agreed with Smith’s assessment. And he heard nothing after the final public hearing to suggest the ordinance would fail.

“If they wait for the perfect plan, it’s never going to happen,” Danforth said. “Once you have a plan, you can modify accordingly.”

But reached Friday afternoon, Pushard said he’s been against any sort of site plan review proposal, dating back to last time one was proposed nine years ago.

“They can say it was all my fault, but I didn’t go back on my word,” Pushard said. “All I did was make a recommendation to go to 10,000 square feet. Just because you want to make a change in something doesn’t mean you are for it.”

Pushard said his fellow selectmen went back on their agreement to listen to the wishes of town residents.

At the final public hearing a vote was taken, he said, and 11 people were for it and 95 were against it, and it still went on the ballot, despite a commitment from the selectmen to do what residents wanted.

That vote was not an official vote; rather, it was a straw poll of those at the meeting.

“There are certain people who want to keep (Chelsea) rural. They want to protect residents from the businesses. It should be just the other way around. The businesses have to be protected from the people.”

He said the other selectmen were rude to residents at that meeting and treated them poorly.

“The way they acted, that put the icing on the cake,” he said.

Danforth, who lost his bid to serve another term to Deborah Sanderson in Tuesday’s municipal election, said going forward, putting something like this in front of the voters ought to be a referendum vote. While the Town Meeting drew more than 100 residents, Tuesday’s election drew 633 people to vote in the selectmen’s race.

“The people who can’t get to Town Meeting can vote on it, and then we’ll see what the town wants,” he said. “All we had was a group of people there for one purpose — to defeat it. That’s their right. But we’re going forward without any regulations in town. We’ll hear about it at some point if there are no rules.”

Andrea Smith said Friday she thanked Benjamin Smith for his effort.

“I understand why he did it,” Smith said. “I wanted it to pass for sure, but fair and square. We really did get screwed by people believing there was a compromise that people agreed to.”

Had she felt a consensus had not been reached, Smith said she would have asked the selectmen to skip over the article.

“Mike could have said something. It didn’t have to go that way,” she said.

On Friday, Danforth also dismissed the notion that the selectmen were not transparent, as well as the idea that Smith’s motion was somehow out of order.

“They saw me do it at the RSU 12 districtwide meeting,” Danforth said. “We did do this out in the open.”

Danforth has said that Chelsea residents tend to turn out for selectmen’s meetings or Town Meeting on the heels of a controversy, as they did in the aftermath of the investigation and arrest of former longtime Selectwoman Carole Swan, who is serving a sentence after being convicted in 2014 of a number of federal charges, including three counts of extortion for using her position with the town to seek kickbacks from a plowing contractor.

He said based on the number of people who were registering to vote as they arrived at Town Meeting, that was the case Thursday.

Carol Belanger, who serves on Chelsea’s Budget Committee and was appointed to the Planning Board recently, said the move to have the ordinance reconsidered has eroded the trust that Chelsea officials have worked seven years to restore.

While the motion to reconsider might not have been illegal, Belanger said, it was “totally wrong.”

“The people who come out at Town Meeting, whether there are six, or 50 or 1,000, those are the ones that make the decision on the budget,” said Belanger, who worked for the town from 2004 to 2009 as town manager, tax collector and clerk.

“This is never going to happen again, because I will get up at the beginning of the meeting and say something cannot be brought back after it’s voted on unless it’s for financial reasons,” she said.

While Belanger joined the Planning Board after most of the work on the ordinance had been completed, she said it’s clear how much work and thought went into it. However, she said, Chelsea residents don’t like change.

“We went from not having an ordinance to having a (proposed) ordinance with a lot of regulations,” she said. “It wasn’t all bad. It’s a really great starting point, but for residents to support it, it has to be in baby steps. People are scared of change.”

Andrea Smith said Chelsea has other ordinances that require attention, and she intends to send a letter to the selectmen by the end of the month asking for a list of priorities to work on in the coming year.

“I don’t think this one is going to be a priority,” she said.

In the meantime, elected officials still must sort out what happens next, after voters declined to raise the tax levy limit at Town Meeting.

“I think a lot of people were confused,” Pushard said. “I was confused. I don’t even remember how I voted.”

Town Manager Scott Tilton said Friday that he’s starting to pull together the numbers needed to calculate what the tax cap is. He said he’ll have a better idea in the coming days.

Danforth has been involved in the process before.

“It’s brutal,” he said.

When the tax cap law first was passed, Danforth said he spent hours on the complicated process of establishing the number. But it’s not a one-time calculation, because it changes every year.

When Danforth was voted out of office in 2009, he said, he passed all that information to the town manager at the time.

“That was during the Carole Swan time, and a lot documents were shredded and we lost the thread of (the calculations),” he said. “Once you have it, you don’t want to lose the thread.”

When he was off the board, he asked about the tax levy limit, he said, and none of the selectmen at that time could tell him what it was.

Danforth said he’s kept his notes from when he last worked on tax levy limit calculations.

“I’ll do what I can to help before my term’s up, but not after,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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