Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Selectmen Discuss RFP

The Selectmen’s meeting of July 18th was highly informative and signaled clear progress toward the issuance of an RFP for the Town DPW yard. In addition to a specific discussion of the RFP, two different agenda items touched on topics that have been raised as concerns during the public discussion about developing the DPW yard.

DPW Director Walter Heller gave the Selectmen a report on the condition of the current DPW site, along with considerations he thought important to any relocation of the facility. The current site, occupying 8.739 acres, has a replacement cost of between $3-4 million. Only 6.29 acres are being utilized and according to Heller the needs of the DPW could be more efficiently handled, perhaps on as little as 5 acres. He reported that the proposal to develop the yard comes at an important juncture in the department’s planning for the facility. In a general way, the DPW needs larger, more efficiently sited structures. More specifically, there are a number of problems. Current buildings have no natural light. The recycling buildings have roof holes that need to be taken care of. The salt shed, currently under repair, holds 500 tons of salt, or about what is used in a 24- hour storm. Heller offered that it should be large enough to hold 2000 tons. Lack of building space necessitates the need for open storage of plows and pipes. The width of the garage is too small for some of the Town’s vehicles. They must be repaired outside. The buildings are inefficiently heated. The location of the recycling dumpsters is so narrow it only permits one way traffic. The office space is very tight, requiring 2 support engineers to use office space in Town Hall. There is no employee shower and locker room, a particular problem for town employees who from time to time must descend into working sewers to make repairs. Finally, the DPW yard today cannot be locked during the overnight hours. Police cruisers gas up at midnight or later each day, and there is no system in place that would allow them access to a locked facility.

Heller also shared two key criteria to be considered in any relocation of the DPW yard. The first was central location. This is crucial to the configuration of plowing routes in the most cost effective manner. He also suggested a location on a major thoroughfare, such as Rt. 138, Granite Avenue, or the current location on Rt. 28 would be wise.

Town Administrator David Colton discussed two sites proposed as possible alternatives for the DPW yard. The MDC site in the Blue Hills is only 3 acres, significantly less than is needed. Furthermore, a vote of the legislature would be required to use the land. The state highway site on Granite Avenue is large enough, but is not town property and the Mass Highway department is happy with it for their purposes. Furthermore, its location on the edge of town creates problems as already noted.

Traffic consultant Tony Lionetti presented the Selectmen with Trip Generation data from the Land Use Manual. This information estimates daily trips made to various kinds of development – commercial retail, commercial office, residential single family, residential multi-family, etc., and represents broad averages. It does not represent incremental traffic caused by a development. The exception to this is residential development, which Mr. Lionetti noted was almost always new trips.

Lionetti also commented on the current traffic situation on Rt. 28 with respect to signalization. He called the signalization at the intersection of Reedsdale and Randolph “not good”. As someone who goes through that intersection nearly every day I can attest that it seems to be very poorly timed, especially at rush hour. The consultant felt a much better result could be obtained at that intersection. Another topic Lionetti addressed was raised at the Public Hearing on the DPW RFP. It was stated during the hearing that Milton Centre’s plan to add a traffic light at Pleasant street would be unlikely to receive state approval because of its proximity to a planned light at Reed Street and the light at the intersection of Reedsdale and Randolph. Lionetti knew of no state requirements prohibiting such an arrangement and was confident that three lights could be done and could be coordinated using modern signaling technology.

Jon Witten, the Town’s consultant on the DPW RFP issue, sketched for the Selectmen a possible scenario for next steps on an RFP. The first step involves the Selectmen, acting in their roles as Water and Sewer Commissioners, declaring the DPW yard as surplus property. This is a necessary, but reversible, action to proceed. Witten suggested two appraisal’s, one to follow the declaration, and a 2nd appraisal if Town Meeting were to approve a zoning change for the property. While the first appraisal would be based on today’s assessed value, its value after a zoning change would be different.

As for the RFP, Witten stressed that the Town had a great deal of flexibility in its creation. In particular, there is no obligation to sell to the highest bidder. Rather a list of somewhat subjective criteria could be developed around a goal of establishing a “best bidder” rather than the highest bidder and still satisfy the law on competitive process.

As protection to the Town the RFP could be drafted as a series of one liners. These could emphasize, for example, that the RFP is not a construction bid, that the right to reject any or all bids as well as to reduce or change the scope of any or all bids is retained, or provide a stipulation of the requirement of a future Town Meeting vote. In fact a list of “constraining negatives”, as Witten described it, might be easier to write.

Witten also suggested separating an RFP for the DPW yard from the effort to find a new site, fearing this might limit the responses. But it is not clear to me how this would serve the town’s interest if it prevented the developer who has already come forward from providing us with their best offer, which might be the best offer for the town. I suspect we’ll be hearing more about this.

All in all it appears that progress is being made toward a responsible action to the Milton Centre proposal, one that keeps the interests of all Milton residents in mind.

The next Selectmen’s meeting is next Monday, August 1. They have committed themselves to begin voting on this issue. Declaring the DPW site surplus property is the likely first vote, along with setting the wheels in motion on an appraisal. There has also been some discussion of forming a citizens committee to advise on the creation of an RFP. This will probably be discussed as well.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Balance, Bias, and the RFP Process

This post responds to Mr. Lantigua's comments to the prior post.

Mr. Lantigua,

Your charges of lack of balance and bias are indeed odd. This is so because in your long comment on my post about opponents’ arguments against issuing an RFP you do not show lack of balance or bias. In fact, all you do is add additional, factually incorrect claims, to the growing list offered by those who wish to kill a full consideration of the Milton LLC proposal.

How does pointing out the falsehood in opponent’s claims that an RFP constitutes a legal obligation on our part represent lack of balance? How does demonstrating the bias inherent in theatrically holding up data from the Tischler and Associates study of Barnstable, which is irrelevant to the Milton situation, represent bias on my part?

You see Mr. Lantigua, it is one thing to make claims, it is another to support those claims with a convincing argument based on facts. That is what I believe I did in the post to which you are responding. I’m not defending the developer, or giving them credit at all. My interest, as I’ve told you before, is the town of Milton. As between you and I, Mr. Lantigua, it is you who has the personal interest. Milton’s interests will be safeguarded by its citizens, town meeting, Board of Selectmen and Planning Board. It is not sensible to expect a developer not to have a profit motive, or to have submitted detailed plans at an inappropriate stage. And by the way, when Milton LLC began to buy property is irrelevant to the simple fact that their proposal is responsive to our Community Development Plan.

So let’s look at some of your claims.

You make two claims regarding the draft RFP that are false. You say the draft would have permitted the developer to build “anything he wants within existing Milton building codes”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any project built on the DPW land would require approval of a specific plan by the Town Meeting, including any limitations they or the Selectmen might add, and would be subject to review by the Planning Board. The same answer applies to your second claim, that the developer could simply add square footage to the project to increase their profit. No, he couldn’t, any more than the developer of the condos on Wharf Street could decide on his own to add a 7th floor to the complex. The RFP is not the controlling document on such restrictions.

Am I biased for pointing out these factual errors? Are you biased for making such claims?

You next claim that the net revenue from the proposed project would be much less than the gross revenue of $500,000, which you are kind enough to admit has now been guaranteed. You argue that abatements (which you mistakenly describe as a tax rate adjustment) and increased service costs will cause this result. I would first point out that you assume applications for abatement would be granted, or won on appeal. I don’t think any such thing is certain. But the more important point is that any successful abatements have no long term effect on the amount of money the town raises through property taxes. The Town is entitled to raise through the property tax each year an amount equal to the prior year’s levy, plus 2 ½%, plus new growth. Towns issue abatements all the time. Assessors set aside a certain amount of money to deal with such possibilities, called the Overlay Reserve. An approved abatement of the type you envision means a lowered assessment on a given piece of property. This lowered assessment is factored into the entire town’s cumulative assessment in future years and has no effect on the towns total taxing capability.

Do I exhibit a lack of balance by educating you on this point?

So next we have the claim of increased “town services” that this small, mixed use development will necessitate. What services exactly are you talking about? What is your basis for making this claim? Has a study been done? Has any department head in town sounded the alarm about such a need? The analysis of service costs for any development, including residential development, is a complex task and I’m afraid, Mr. Lantigua, that I do not believe you or anyone else has undertaken such a study. As for the willingness of you and others to expend your hard earned money fighting what the Town as a whole might determine is in its best interests, it’s your money.

You state that I don’t believe it is a “bad thing” to have only one developer in play. I dispute that only one developer is in play. We won’t know that until we issue an RFP. Issuing an RFP is not limiting our options. Refusing to issue an RFP is limiting our options. If no other developer is able to offer a competitive proposal, that should tell us something about the offer before us. It wouldn’t necessarily mean we accept it. It wouldn’t necessarily mean we don’t negotiate with the developer for changes. But it would mean we wouldn’t simply walk away from a proposal which provides services we need and substantial tax revenue, at the same time solving for us the problem of relocating and building a new DPW facility.

There are many hurdles to the realization of Milton LLC’s proposal, including potentially better ones. Your “best world” scenario focusing just on the $500,000 revenue is not a best world scenario. As I pointed out in my blog post, we need to increase the contribution of commercial taxes to our overall revenue stream. Not all Milton residents can afford to live on Highland Street, Mr. Lantigua. The current dependence on residential property taxes is a major burden for many. We don’t suffer from a lack of residential development. We suffer from a lack of commercial development, and the one currently before us provides a broadened tax base, services we need, and a new DPW facility.

I’m not attacking any group, Mr. Lantigua. I am, however, holding their self-serving arguments up to the light of day. To date I haven’t found much offered in rebuttal.

Having said that, your fears that my humble blog could “potentially weaken their leverage” vastly overstates its influence.