Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Opportunity Lost

The great Israeli statesman and diplomat Abba Eban once said: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Eban’s observation about those nations with whom Israel was trying to negotiate peace also characterizes recent action by the majority of the Board of Selectmen on the Central Avenue Revitilization Plan.

The $1 million state grant obtained by the town presented a wonderful opportunity to conceptualize and realize a substantial transformation of the Central Avenue district. Together with the overlay zoning which permitted the consideration of three largely residential developments, it offered the promise of a pedestrian focused, safe, and attractive area. It would create a “sense of place”, an attribute that the Urban Land Institute noted was missing in the area today.

The key component of a new Central Avenue business district was traffic calming. The current area is an ode to the post war, auto worshipping era with a cavernous mass of blacktop through which vehicles traverse at high rates of speed without the benefit of traffic controls, properly sited crosswalks or clearly defined traffic lanes. A successful revitalization requires a shift of focus from the auto to the pedestrian. The business focus will change from a predominant servicing of the quick pick-up-and-go auto customer to a significant business by pedestrians from the neighborhood, including the residents of nearly 100 units of housing planned to be built there. Both the town’s residents and the area businesses benefit substantially.

That is the vision that drove the planning begun under former Town Planner Aaron Henry and supported by former Town Administrator David Colton. The product of that effort, now known as Plan A, has three strategies for addressing the current auto-centric reality of the area.

“Bump outs” in front of the Wine store and Central liquors to reduce the amount of roadway in the square and better direct the flow of traffic through it.

Properly positioned cross walks that permit drivers to see other vehicles and pedestrians at all roads converging on the square.

Stop signs, sited according to common sense safety rules just before the crosswalks.

Plan A was opposed by Frank O’Neil, owner of the building housing the businesses on the south side of the district. The proposed location of the crosswalks and the bump out in front of Central liquors eliminates three parking spaces. Two of these spaces are made up for by a new space in front of Central Laundry and one directly across the street. The number of lost spaces in front of this building has been consistently mistated by opponents of Plan A.

Reacting to the opposition of Mr. O’Neil and his tenants, the Board of Selectmen had an alternative plan hastily drawn up. Plan B keeps the three spaces in front of Central Liquor by abandoning all three strategies crucial to the district's transformation. The Planning Board opposed it. The traffic consultant could not approve it because it included the ridiculous plan of placing a stop sign after a crosswalk. The neighbors vociferously opposed it as an abandonment of the vision for this area. And yet James Mullen and John Shields voted for it. Shields claimed the lost spaces [one space was lost] would hurt the businesses. Mullen claimed to fear loss of the state grant due to threats from O’Neil to fight the plan, a threat which could only be assured of success if it meant a lawsuit.

So the opportunity to miss an opportunity was seized, all for a single lost parking space directly in front of the businesses, despite the fact that Plan A provided more total parking spaces in the business district. It is difficult to comprehend such a lack of vision, such wrong-headedness. No business is going to suffer from one fewer space in front of their very door, when more spaces are created such a short distance away. Does Mr. O’Neil really believe the alternative for customers – driving a further distance and still dealing with parking problems—is more attractive? Have his customers lost the ability to walk ten or twenty steps after parking in one of the new parking spots?

No Selectman can be expected to possess the myriad skill sets necessary to manage a modern day community. That’s why experts are employed, people whose training enables them to actually know what they’re talking about. In this instance the board not only rejected the advice of professionals, their discussion made a mockery of the expertise of those who drew up the original plan. Who will forget Mr. Shields petulantly insisting that the town can place a stop sign anywhere they wish, or claiming with a straight face that the placement of a loading zone would require a walk of “a hundred yards”, which happens to be the length of a football field. Similarly, Mr. Mullen’s insistence that the town couldn’t use its enforcement powers to successfully prevent delivery trucks from ignoring the delivery zone sounds more like a rationale justifying no change.

The inability to appreciate or understand the importance of planning simply can’t continue. As Selectman Marion McEttrick noted, to prevent the failure of this revitalization we will likely have to correct this shortsighted blunder at a later date, on our own nickel. How many other opportunities are we missing because of a failure of vision, an unthinking adherence to the status quo? And for how long will be go on accepting it? The answer to that question is up to the voters of Milton.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The merchants are now claiming they never implied legal action. So, who did? And if there was no threat, then Mullen based his decision on a fallacy. Which means, we need to ask Mr Mullen to re-open this issue, or tell us exactly WHO threatened the legal action.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous an Eliot Street resident said...

The "implication" of a lawsuit seemed very real at the meeting. One wonders if a threat of a lawsuit to maintain Plan A would have had the same effect?
Mr. Mullen referred to it as "...the merchants said they would do anything possible to maintain the parkig spaces.." and this, he used as part of his decision making to vote for Plan B.
I hope I am worthy of someday having the privelege of parking my car in the $1 million dollar parking space.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Judy Gundersen said...

This entire fiasco reeks of lack of foresight and planning, and desregards safety needs.

The board previously passed up the opportunity to purchase the lot it rented, with Mr Mullen bemoaning that the owner then sold it for development...what did he expect, the owner already gave the Board "first dibs"!

And whining at the end of the meeting to the engineering consult that he "wished you'd told us that at the beginning" (that the eng. could not sign off on the stop-sign-after -the-intersection plan)...well I watched that meeting on cable and I heard him say it repeadedly very early on...what else does "I can't apprive it" mean??

Then the Shields pouty comment that the town (read he and Mullen)can do what it wants! Such arrogance just threw a million dollare grant,
that took looks of work to get, right out the window.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope another coffee shop goes in there, because I don't think I can drink a million dollare cup of coffee without choking from the Radio Coffee House anymore. Interesting that Mr. Sheilds lives at that place.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This furthers my resolve to get out and vote and I hope everyone reading this blog will pass this information on to their neighbors and friends. We are considering a move to another town based on the lack of services and the willingness of certain board members to put the wishes of a few before what is good for the masses. We have raised our children here and would hate to go but as long as Mr. Mullen and Mr. Shields are in office this town stands no chance of progress, at least in a positive direction.

7:42 PM  

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