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Dedham votes to keep Senior Center Site Committee

Posted by dinouye  April 9, 2013 09:48 AM

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Dedham’s Special Town Meeting, called to rescind a vote to create a Senior Center Site Committee, voted Monday to uphold it after two hours of sometimes heated debate.

Monday’s vote was 119 to 95 to keep the Senior Center Site Committee in place, a wider margin than the November vote of 108 to 103 that established the committee in the first place.

On a separate measure, a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries was approved on a voice vote.

Carmen Dello Iacono, chairman of the site committee as well as the Board of Selectmen, said the committee had just begun to get into the meat of the issue, and would complete its work by the 2014 deadline set in November.

“It’s a mixed group, but I believe that we’re starting to gel,” Dello Iacono said following the vote.

The site committee was created in response to a senior center proposal at the Endicott Estate that advocates believed could be funded entirely with private money. Monday’s article to rescind November’s vote further included language that directed selectmen to build the senior center on the Endicott Estate.

Leanne Jasset, chairwoman of the Council on Aging and advocate for a proposal to build a senior center on the Endicott Estate, said she was disappointed with the vote.

“It’s a sad day for Dedham seniors,” Jasset said after the meeting. “Everyone knows that the best place and perfect place is at the Endicott Estate. It’s unfortunate those members of the Town Meeting body didn’t see that as well.”

At Monday's meeting, town’s lawyer, Joyce Frank, said at that the instruction to build the center at the Endicott Estate would not be binding under Massachusetts law. But he said it would be politically significant in that it would express the will of the town.

Residents spoke about the issue for two hours Monday, often rehashing arguments that had been made at November’s meeting.

Precinct 4 member Ann Mercer questioned why a previous Town Meeting vote should be overturned and why the town needed to go through the expense of a Special Town Meeting.

The meeting was called at the behest of more than 200 registered voters, who petitioned for the article regarding the senior center committee.

Linda McKee, a Precinct 3 member, said the country was based on democratic rule and that calling a meeting to call a vote into question was the rights of citizens of the United States.

Tensions ran high, and Moderator Daniel Driscoll had to restore order multiple times. Driscoll once shouted down boos and hisses during a speech by Precinct 4 member Susan Fay. Fay, who lives across from the Endicott Estate, asked members to imagine that a new hockey rink was being built in a park near them, comparing this situation to the Endicott Estate senior center plan.

Dedham senior Annette Eddy, who is not a Town Meeting member, said she was upset about the vote and did not think the town would see a senior center in the next 10 years. In the meantime, she has organized a ladies senior social club at the Endicott Estate mansion. The first meeting will be on April 23.

Many encouraged Jasset, a vocal advocate for the senior center at Endicott, to run for selectmen. She said she was happy in her position as chairwoman of the Board of Health.

Amid the controversy, the Senior Center Site Committee has determined that the best size for a center in Dedham will be 16,000 square feet. The proposal at the Endicott Estate was 8,600 square feet.

Dello Iacono said a majority of the committee supported that figure. Following the meeting, Jasset said she thought that number was agreed upon to exclude the Endicott plan.

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