By Amaris Castillo
DRACUT -- The Genesis HealthCare project will move forward after Special Town Meeting Wednesday swiftly and convincingly passed an article to rezone a portion of the project's land from residential to commercial at 55 Loon Hill Road.
The article passed on an overwhelming voice vote. A minimum two-thirds majority was required to approve it because it involved rezoning.
More than 600 people attended the meeting at Dracut High School's Lester G. Richardson Center for the Performing Arts, according to Town Manager Jim Duggan. The town needed a minimum of 250 registered voters to reach a quorum to be able to take the vote.
"I'm thrilled," Duggan said after the meeting that lasted about five minutes. "I'm speechless with the support that the residents of this community have shown, with their volunteer efforts and coming out for a special vote for this. It's amazing to me. I am so proud of my town."
In an announcement earlier this month at the beginning of Town Meeting, Duggan shared that part of the site planned for the 73,000 square-foot skilled rehabilitation facility sits in a residentially zoned area.
"The building itself, a $26 million investment with over 200 jobs and over $370,000 in annual tax that will come to the community, can be put on the business portion of that parcel," he said at the time.
However, the parking lot will spill over onto the residential portion, the town manager added. Duggan previously said that the project hinged on this one vote.
Before voices in favor of the rezoning boomed inside the auditorium, Duggan looked out into the sea of residents' faces and said the turnout was "extremely impressive."
"The magnitude of this project has brought this town out in the end of June," Duggan said before going straight into a presentation in which he showed residents where on a zoning map the portion in question was located.
No one from the audience spoke on the article.
"Ready for a vote, ladies and gentlemen?" asked Town Moderator George Malliaros.
"Yes!" the crowd chorused.
The no's paled in comparison in volume to the aye's.
"Carries by two-thirds," Malliaros said. "Thank you very much."
Duggan announced in May that the project was headed to Dracut. He secured the deal after learning from someone in Lowell that a deal to bring Genesis to the city had crumbled. The health-care facility had been slated to be a marquee development for Lowell's Hamilton Canal Innovation District.
Though no one spoke before the vote, representatives of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters attended the Special Town Meeting in opposition to the Genesis HealthCare project. NERCC represents 22,000 carpenters, pile drivers, shop and millmen, and floor coverers working throughout New England, according to its website. NERCC business representative/organizer Ricardo Xavier passed out fliers just outside the school. In bold red at the top, the flier read: VOTE NO ON GENESIS HEALTHCARE! The flier went on to question whether this project is a good deal for Dracut and said the town should not rush into it and listed other questions including what it will do to traffic and whether there is a commitment for jobs for residents.
"Clearly they haven't done their homework," Duggan said in response to NERCC's concerns, citing the construction currently underway to improve the intersection of Broadway and Loon Hill roads.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.