Saturday, January 07, 2006

DPW RFP - Finality!

On Monday January 9th, it appears the Board of Selectmen will be voting on the possible issuance of an RFP. This comes almost 9 months after a Milton resident offered to develop the DPW yard in response to the recommendation of the town’s Community Development Plan.

It is important to remember that should the Selectmen vote to issue the RFP—thereby officially seeking development proposals from all interested parties—the town is not in any way obligated to go forward with any concepts submitted.

At the last Selectmen’s meeting on December 19th, the subject of the RFP for the DPW Yard took up much of the long meeting. Twelve to fifteen residents--both supporters and opponents of issuing an RFP—addressed the Board during Citizen’s Speak. The Selectmen met with the Chair and a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee and painstakingly reviewed that committee’s recommendations. The Town Administrator presented his thoughts on the CAC’s recommendations and how they might be incorporated into a revised RFP. The Selectmen and consultant Jon Witten then discussed issues.

Opponents of issuing an RFP were largely abutters and their arguments often focused on concerns about the Milton Centre LLC proposal. These concerns are not really an argument against issuing the FRP, however, since its purpose is to seek ideas from all quarters, and it does not represent a decision making point on the initial conceptual idea which began this process. Some of the claims and concerns raised by abutters were as follows:

Predatory Development/Inside Job

It was suggested that the Town is the victim of a predatory developer with an inside track on final decision-making. A predator takes what it wants from a victim powerless to resist. The Town of Milton is neither a victim nor powerless. As a town we retain all the administrative, political and legal authority necessary to make our own decisions about what we want. The charge of an inside job is equally far-fetched. Are we to believe that somehow the majority of the Board of Selectmen, The Planning Board, The Warrant Committee and 2/3rds of the Town Meeting are all parties to what would constitute both an unethical and illegal activity? After all, an inside job could not be orchestrated without the Selectmen and Town Meeting members being involved. Opponents would do well to distance themselves from this conspiratorial tale.

Why the Rush? Let’s Plan!

I find it hard to fathom how taking 9 months to decide to take the first, non-binding, step to seek ideas for the DPW Yard is a rush. As for planning, the Community Development Plan deals specifically with the DPW Yard site. Now I know the CDP is not a master plan. But neither is it a housing initiative as opponents once claimed, nor an effort dealing only with commercial re-development, the latest effort to mischaracterize it. Communities all across the state have used the CDP process to plan all manner of commercial development, unrestricted in any way, and perfectly in keeping with the program’s intent. A community Master Plan is certainly more comprehensive than a CDP. It would look at virtually every parcel in the town. But the CDP did look at certain areas of Milton carefully. It did evaluate the DPW Yard and surrounding area and it did involve citizen participation in the process. A Master Plan would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to complete. Forgive me for thinking this is part of the attraction for those who oppose commercial development at the DPW site. Seeking proposals now follows the recommendations of our current planning for the area in question.

Let’s Do More Residential!

Some of the very same people who claim it is premature to issue an RFP without more planning, at the same time assert that residential development would be the best choice for the DPW site. So much for the need for planning! The RFP under consideration invites ideas for both commercial and residential development. So that decision does not need to be made now. I’m on record as supporting commercial development at this site, if possible. The reason is simple. We not only need more revenue, we need more diverse revenue sources so that we can alleviate as much as possible the future burden on the homeowner. Some pooh pooh the value of a commercial development that would produce $500,000 annually in tax revenue. They divide it by the number of households in town, or compute how many weeks of payroll it would cover. The underlying logic of this view is that only a commercial development at the DPW site that would, all by itself, solve our lack of tax diversity is worth considering, and that otherwise we should just not bother. I reject this view. It poses a false dichotomy. We must make progress toward increased commercial revenue through multiple efforts. We’re looking now at intense re-development in the Central Avenue business district. The Milton Village area offers similar opportunities. And we should undertake the long overdue updating of our master plan with a greater willingness to consider commercial development than we have in the past. So we don’t need to accomplish our task with one development. But we do need to consider the consequences of letting this opportunity slip away. The residential development of the DPW Yard will remove more or less permanently from consideration one of the few large parcels of land remaining in Milton suitable for commercial development. Such action would be astoundingly shortsighted.


One opponent offered a traffic analysis. This analysis has been posted at the opponent’s website since last summer. It concludes that traffic would increase by 33% on Randolph Avenue for the type of development proposed by Milton Centre LLC. It employs trip generation data from the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Unfortunately none of the calculations are shown, so it is not possible to determine how the conclusion was reached. Making calculations based on this data is complex, and requires a great deal of experience and training to use it properly. In any event, it is no substitute for a Traffic Impact Analysis which will have to be done in some form before anything is done at the DPW site.

Traffic is indeed potentially one of the most series issues to be dealt with. The Randolph Avenue and Reedsdale Road area does have high daily traffic counts today. I live on Reedsdale Road. I travel these roads every day –in the morning, at noon and at the end of the day. Those traffic counts are driven by the peak hour times of morning and evening rush hour during the work week. Part of any traffic analysis would be an assessment of a development’s impact on those peak hours. And part of any analysis would also include ideas for traffic mitigation and control. Potential traffic concerns are not a reason to refrain from issuing an RFP.

Lost Revenue from Abutters

Neighbors of the site have many times stated that a development of the Milton Centre LLC type will reduce the values of their homes and thereby reduce tax revenue to the town, making commercial development less of a revenue aid.

On the first point, it is simply not the case that this is a likely result. Whatever becomes of the site as a result of this process, it will certainly be more attractive than the old, quasi-industrial DPW Yard. Provided that care is taken with buffers, that the effects of light and sound are minimized, and that we properly assess and mitigate the traffic impact, there is no reason to believe that what has been offered as a certainty will in fact occur. Yes, perhaps some homes on Artwill street have been on the market for some time, with reduced asking prices, as at least one speaker noted. However, concluding that this is caused by the prospects of development at the DPW site ignores the slowdown in house price appreciation generally, rising mortage interest rates, growing housing inventories and time on the market. A friend in Milton has had her house on the market for 6 or 7 months now, and she doesn’t live anywhere near the neighborhood in question.

The second point, loss of total town revenue because of a decline in value of some homes, is simply not true. Any homeowner whose home value declines can apply and potentially receive an abatement. The abatement is funded by an Overlay Reserve fund maintained by the Assessors office. Should the abatement result in a lowered tax assessment on the property, and future lower taxes, that still does not effect the total tax revenue of the town. The town is entitled to collect the prior year’s tax levy plus 2 ½%, plus any new growth. A loss in value in some homes merely results in a reshuffling of the tax burden.

Reuse and Feasibility Study

The CAC recommended a Reuse and Feasibilty Study before issuing an RFP. Opponents obviously supported this idea. The Town Administrator, Selectmen and Consultant Jon Witten discussed this issue.

There are two important purposes for doing such a study, as described by CAC committee member Mark Boyle. The first is to assess the feasibility of potential uses for the DPW Yard against a set of components or criteria. The second is to engage citizens in the process and build support for any eventual recommendation.

In his comments on the CAC recommendations the Town Administrator recommended performing these two steps after submissions based on the RFP were received. The rationale is as follows. A Reuse and Feasibility Study performed before issuance of an RFP evaluates all potential uses and impacts for the DPW site. Partly for that reason it can be expensive (costs ranging from $75,000 to $250,000 were cited) and there is some question whether the benefits of the study justify the costs. The site in question is not appropriate for many kinds of uses. The general concensus seems to limit the options to dense housing, a commercial development of small to medium size or a mixed use project incorporating both. Given this fact, it seems more appropriate to evaluate the actual proposals we receive rather than spend money evaluating theoretical uses we don’t want or for which there may be no interested developer.

The process would work as follows. Once the proposals are received, they would first be evaluated for “feasibility”. This would be done by a committee, perhaps assembled by Consultant Witten. They would assess the proposals based on the elements suggested by the CAC in its recommendation. Those proposals deemed feasible by the evaluation committee would be forwarded to the Selectmen. The Selectmen would then do their own assessment and involve the public in meetings to discuss community character, impact, financial benefit, etc.

This approach garners much of the benefit of a Reuse and Feasibility Study without the attendant cost. Jon Witten, the experienced consultant hired by the Board of Selectmen, agreed that this was a valid approach to the process which he has seen used with a potential project of this size.

All in all, the December 19th meeting was a very important one for a community looking for alternative sources of revenue. It represented the culmination of a 9 month process of “preliminary investigation” which ought to result in the issuance of an RFP. Then we can decide as a community what we want to do.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's something that never seems to get said: Maybe the shopping center would not increase traffic at all - I know I wouldn't have to drive past to go shopping in Randolph or Stoughton. My trip would be cut in half or more. Does anyone ever calculate how much local folks' driving would actually be reduced? If they put a bus stop in the shopping center, then some folks would even be able to get there easily without a car.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Well I think you make a good point. Depending on the type of development there may not be additional traffic.

For example, the Milton Centre LLC proposal includes a supermarket, the lack of which many Milton residents have complained of for years. Today, the approximately 9000 Milton households must drive out of town in order to do their weekly shopping. These trips generate traffic throughout the town, including traffic in the area of the DPW Yard.

11:21 PM  

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