From food trucks to parking kiosks and campaign finance reporting, Keene’s City Council examined a variety of issues this year. Some resulted in action, while others are ongoing or need further study. Here’s a look at a few of 2019’s major issues in local government, with updates on current developments:
The council kicked off the year with a nonbinding resolution in January that set goals for everyone in Keene to switch all electricity use to renewable sources by 2030, and to convert all heating and transportation by 2050. The city’s energy and climate committee has until December 2020 to present a plan to achieve those goals, but the resolution established the city’s priorities. Politicians and community leaders often refer to the resolution as evidence of Keene’s commitment to addressing climate change, particularly during discussions of solar installations in the area. City leadership has also floated the idea of converting the city’s wastewater treatment plant to solar, citing it as the county’s biggest energy consumer.
Mobile vendors were in the spotlight this spring when city staff presented a couple of ordinances to improve Keene’s food-truck scene, starting by extending the permitted hours. As of April, vendors can operate year-round from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Before the ordinance, they were limited to running 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during Daylight Saving Time or until 7 p.m. otherwise.
Councilor Randy L. Filiault, who didn’t want any time restrictions for mobile vendors, failed in two attempts to amend the ordinance, even after getting it reconsidered after initial passage. On its second go-round in front of the council, Filiault’s amendment tallied six votes in favor and six against, and Mayor Kendall W. Lane cast a rare tie-breaking vote, in opposition.
In May, the council passed a second ordinance designating three areas downtown where vendors can use public parking spaces with no time limits, though they must pay parking meters.
Central Square parking
After less than two years, the city’s only on-street parking kiosk was removed in April and replaced with traditional coin-fed meters, in response to a business owner’s complaints. Dorrie Masten owns The Pour House on the square’s west side in front of the kiosk, and she claimed the machine drove away customers.
Adjacent to the bar, Masten also owned Pedraza’s Mexican Restaurant, which closed shortly after the kiosk was replaced. She reopened in the space as The Pour House Restaurant, which recently closed, too.
Aside from putting meters back on Central Square, the vote also directed city staff to “develop a comprehensive plan for all downtown parking,” which has been in the works since and should be unveiled in the spring.
Within two weeks of each other, Councilors Margaret M. “Maggie” Rice and Bartlomiej K. “Bart” Sapeta left their posts in June, both citing moves that made them ineligible to keep their seats. Per the city’s charter, the remaining councilors elected their replacements, who served until the end of the year: Kate M. Bosley took Sapeta’s at-large seat, and Robert J. O’Connor filled the vacancy in Ward 4. In the November election, Bosley succeeded in keeping her position, but O’Connor was defeated by Catherine I. “Catt” Workman.
Councilor Terry M. Clark wanted the city to establish rules for reporting campaign finances ahead of Keene’s November election, but city staff made clear that was an unlikely timeline. After being introduced in June, the discussion bounced between staff, the finance committee and the full council, where it became clear there was no consensus as to what such a policy should include.
Since mid-summer, the matter has been on “more time,” a limbo in the council process that typically means staff are working on it and will return with a recommendation. At the finance committee’s last meeting of the year, though, Greenwald said the new incoming councilors should be “a very loud voice in the discussion” and moved to report it out as informational. That doesn’t require a vote by the full council, so the discussion is no longer on the agenda. It could be reintroduced at any time, at which point the work could continue.
After months of debate over whether to take the former Kingsbury property by tax deeding, the council voted to do it in September, only to reverse that decision two weeks later, after getting a last-minute payment plan from the owner, Brian J. Thibeault. The tax deeding process would’ve given him 30 days to pay the $695,000 owed before the city would’ve taken the property. Five days after the vote to proceed, the city received Thibeault’s offer to pay in six monthly installments.
The 22-acre former industrial site along Marlboro Street has been a concern of city officials for years, with its large tax debt, history of environmental issues and untapped potential for redevelopment due to its size and proximity to downtown. The land also houses a creaky, vacant manufacturing facility that city officials want torn down.
With the payments continuing, Mayor-elect George S. Hansel and city councilors have said they’re encouraged and look forward to future development of the property, though there’s likely a long road ahead.