Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the Life of a Town (Chapter 22)

Published April 9, 2001 | Informational - Historic Articles | Automatically Archived on 6/3/2001

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Chapter 22

The Old Order Changeth

Sudbury’s population may have been mushrooming during the ’50s and ’60s, but control of the town boards remained with the old-timers. Despite the rumors of improprieties and “sweetheart” deals that surfaced from time to time (but were never proved), the old guard was rarely challenged. Most town officials and committee members were long-time residents. “We’ll see to things,” newcomers were told.

But that all ended in the winter of 1959 in a wrangle over a gravel pit on Lincoln road. The pit belonged to William Hellman of Lincoln Lane, who arranged with contractor Walter Beckett and John Bain of Brookline, to remove gravel for Beckett’s building activities. Once the gravel had been removed, the area would be subdivided into house lots.

Earth removal came under the jurisdiction of the Zoning Board of Appeals, which denied Hellman a permit to continue removing gravel. Hellman and Bain took their case to selectmen Harvey Fairbank, Lawrence Tighe and Frank Trussell, who ruled that the pit had already been in operation, although sporadically and thus was an unconforming use. They granted their blessing for gravel removal to continue.

Work went apace for several months, but another party was soon to be heard from. Neighbors along Lincoln Road and Lincoln Lane, led by Priscilla Redfield Roe and Willis Fay, objected to the noise and heavy truck traffic and started to take steps to shut the operation down.

A roadblock of baby carriages made short work of the truck problem, but a more permanent solution was needed, so all those along the road who could afford it, chipped in $100 apiece to mount a legal challenge to the Board’s ruling. They also successfully sponsored an amendment to the zoning by-laws at a Special Town Meeting in late May that would put earth removal under the jurisdiction of the Board of Appeals.

At this point, cooler heads prevailed and determined that the only fair way to deal with earth removal was to establish a separate board with representatives from the Selectmen, Planning Board, Board of Appeals, and two private citizens appointed by the Moderator. This Board would have the clout to close loopholes such as non-conforming use.

Late in November, the Earth Removal Committee proposed stronger earth removal by-laws for Sudbury that would set up such a board, but not before an internal struggle took place amongst the Selectmen which saw Tighe clash with Trussell and Fairbank on the removal of “certain language.” Just what that “certain language” was, the report does not say.

At a Special Town Meeting on December 15, 1959, an earth removal law was added to the by-laws. It received immediate accolades from the Selectmen. “Over the past few years, we have proposed this amendment to take the removal of sand, gravel and loam from the Zoning Laws so the problem of non-conforming use could be eliminated,” Tighe wrote. “The Lincoln Road Gravel Removal Case brought this serious problem before the town. On April 1, 1960, all earth removal operations must come before a new board appointed under this by-law, therefore, non-conforming use is no longer a question.

The Lincoln Road residents’ case was heard by the Middlesex Superior Court on February 18, 1960. The justice dismissed the suit, but noted that Hellman, Beckett and Bain were probably in violation of one or more of the Town’s zoning by-laws. The Court did grant a writ of Mandamus to the plaintiffs which essentially told the Selectmen to do their job and shut the operation down if the proper town board determined that a violation did indeed exist.

Beckett and Bain went back to the Board of Appeals, which refused to authorize further digging, and made sporadic requests to the new Earth Removal Board over the next two years to remove 100,000 yards of gravel. All their requests were denied.

In the end, much more was at stake in the gravel case than the disposition of 100,000 cubic yards of gravel or a few house lots. “It was the end to Good Old Boy government,” said John Taft. “All three Selectmen involved in the 1959 decision were out of office within three years.

“The Hellman gravel suit ties in with the coming to power of the new people. They were tired of the cronyism that had prevailed. The case taught the newcomers who were fighting the establishment of old-timers that they could fight and win.

And so it was. Tighe managed to squeak out a narrow victory over Ed Kreitsek in 1960, but Ed Moynihan defeated Trussell in 1961, Kreitsek topped Parker Albee after Fairbank announced his retirement in 1962, and Dick Venne beat Tighe handily in 1963. The old order had given way to the new.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.