On the Issues

On the death of George Floyd and our frustrating times

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail (BFRT)

Few issues in town have as much consensus in town as the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Since 1997, there have been 23 town-wide votes on the BFRT and rail trails, and each one has supported development of the trail, often by near-unanimous or unanimous votes. It’s clear that action against the BFRT is against the will of the town. Yet, progress has stalled. Why? I served as the Conservation Commission’s designee to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Task Force in 2017 and worked to advance the project in a manner that considered the environment and abutters. Since then, I’ve watched this project languish, and as a Select Board member I will work to ensure that the BFRT is restored as a priority and moves forward, while respecting environmental regulations and abutter concerns.

Eversource

The town-wide fight against the Eversource transmission line project is in the home stretch. The state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) rendered its final decision, allowing the underground transmission line option to proceed, despite the impacts to conservation lands and environmental health. A final appeal to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court is in process, and is as high as a legal battle can go in the state. This is probably the place where Sudbury’s concerns will get the fairest response.

I spoke out against the Eversource route through conservation properties as far back as May, 2017 – see those comments here. Some additional information has come in since then, but my views haven’t changed since then. My view is that the time and money spent to date is made more valuable by finishing strong. Backing off now will only lessen the value of those investments. Finishing the argument at the SJC will make our community’s time, effort, and money invested to date more valuable and I fully support a strong appeal to the SJC.

Fairbanks Community Center’s Future

Much work has been done evaluating community needs and a consensus among the user groups has been reached. Cost is always a concern; no one likes large costs. But there is also a cost to inaction, and any alternative under consideration will have its own costs, in money and in services rendered or reduced. A long-term view is valuable, the needs of all residents should be considered, and we should avoid making decisions that are penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Fairbanks Community Center Working Group has developed enough information to convince me that replacement of the Community Center is the right thing to do, from a practical and financial standpoint.

CSX Rail Corridor Purchase

In 2008, Town Meeting unanimously voted to set aside ~$420,000 to purchase the rail corridor owned by CSX that runs between Route 20 and the Framingham town line – the corridor that would extend the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail all the way through Sudbury. The current Select Board has considered taking away money that has long been dedicated the BFRT, just before the town is slated to begin construction in 2022 (though much work remains to be done between now and then to keep on schedule). Redeploying this money elsewhere is premature and would be a mistake. Let’s honor Town Meeting and hold on to the money we’ve saved for its intended purpose until the final outcome of the BFRT is known.

Future Planning

The continued deterioration of the Fairbanks Community Center is a case study of why capital upkeep should not be delayed. Postponing investments in our infrastructure only increases costs later on, when emergencies must be fixed. A new Master Plan is nearing completion to help guide future decisions, a new Open Space and Recreation Plan will qualify the town for additional grant opportunities, a town-wide survey of potential affordable housing locations will help us plan for future obligations and complement the upcoming inclusionary zoning policy, a new Historic Property Inventory to proactively identify properties worth saving will help avoid controversies like the Stone Tavern redevelopment, an updated Hazard Mitigation Plan will help us better prepare for and respond to events like the 2018 ice storm or the “Great Flood” of 2010, and a robust, long-term capital plan is essential to obtain, not just for today’s needs, but so that future leaders aren’t caught by surprise by needed improvements. I will promote proactive planning to prevent last-minute emergency decisions based on just a few weeks’ or minutes’ worth of debate. Forward-looking transparency about future capital costs will also help residents understand and determine their level of support for these projects.

Affordable Housing

Affordable housing has been a huge issue in Sudbury, across the state, and throughout the nation. In Sudbury, I believe affordable housing needs to be viewed in two ways: the state level, and the local level. At the state level, affordable housing is at crisis levels and needs to be addressed. Here in Sudbury, we are above the the state-mandated 10% subsidized housing inventory levels, which is the right thing, morally and practically. Sudbury is one of about 20% of communities statewide that have reached that 10% level. The Planning Board has developed an inclusionary zoning policy to keep us above that level in the future, which I support. Sudbury’s population has jumped recently, with the addition of the Meadow Walk housing units and the upcoming Cold Brook Crossing/Quarry North/Melone development, and it lacks the transit accessibility and infrastructure (e.g., centralized sewer and regional water) that large-scale expansion requires. My thinking is influenced by the recent report from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership on transit-oriented development (https://mhpcenterforhousingdata.shinyapps.io/todex/), which notes “Massachusetts is simultaneously experiencing transit and housing crises;” Sudbury has reached its state-mandated goals to address the housing crisis; now it is time for other communities to catch up to Sudbury in affordable housing levels and for Sudbury to focus on the transit crisis we all deal with daily.

Sudbury lacks large-scale transit and other amenities identified as complementing large-scale housing development:

By encouraging housing, jobs, services and recreation in transit-accessible locations, regions can increase transit ridership, which in turn can serve to enhance the viability of transit systems. This also increases access to work and services, which is especially important for low-income households.

Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP) TODEX research brief:
https://www.mhp.net/news/2019/todex-research-brief

Support Commercial Growth

Commercial growth, at the right scale and in the right locations, adds to the town fabric by providing jobs, additional products and services to residents, and helping to offset the town budget’s reliance on residential taxes. A number of zoning change options and redevelopment scenarios for Route 20 were laid out in 2015 in a Route 20 Corridor Study completed on behalf o the Planning Board. It would be nice to see some its recommendations implemented. One opportunity to explore that hasn’t received much attention is Tax Increment Financing (TIF). In essence, TIFs provide developers with temporary tax reductions as an incentive to move in to redevelop areas – as small as a single building, up to hundreds of acres. The key to a TIF is to designate a specific “target” area for TIF redevelopment – so input from residents, the Planning Department, Planning Board, Chamber of Commerce, and more is key to choosing the desired locations for development. As the Town evaluates the Route 20 corridor and develops a new vision and set of standards for Route 20, TIF zones deserve consideration.

TIF provide opportunities to redevelop areas in ways which can lead to increased property values, increased tax revenue, improved infrastructure, enhanced transportation services, increased housing supply, new jobs and an overall improvement in quality of life for the inhabitants of the city or town.

-> https://www.mass.gov/service-details/smart-growth-smart-energy-toolkit-modules-district-improvement-financing-diftax