Saturday, October 31, 2009

Development, Temple Shalom and Abutter Veto

“Consideration has been given to the possible advantages of encouraging industrial development of a restricted character in certain sections of the community. It is recognized that increased costs in the operation of the Town, together with the improvement of highway and transit connections to the center of Boston, may bring about pressure for the expansion of areas available for commercial or industrial development. The argument that such changes would result in a net increase in municipal revenues is not borne out by studies of the ratio of potential tax income to the increased costs that would probably be required of the community.”

From the Summary Report of Milton’s Original Master Plan of 1958

This snippet from the town's original Master Plan epitomizes the history of commercial development in Milton. Written at about the time Route 128 and the Southeast Expressway were completed (the highway improvements referenced in the quote), it dismisses commercial development as a source of revenue. By 1957 there were already 99 companies doing business on Route 128. This grew to 574 in 1964, and 1212 in 1973.

Apparently other communities did not share our view and many of them enjoy a flow of millions of dollars of revenue from various types of development along this major highway.

But that's the past, and conscious decisions made in the past severely limit our ability to exploit on a significant scale this kind of revenue. However, opportunities do present themselves and when they do we need to give them very serious consideration and support those that make sense. By support I mean active, vocal, public support. Otherwise the default position in Milton is no, aided by a long history of de facto veto power wielded by abutters who oppose development.

Temple Shalom has been fighting to preserve its congregation in Milton for many months now. They have proposed developing their property on a modest scale and using the funds gained to build a new, smaller and more efficient Temple and support their annual operating budget. There is widespread hope that this important religious institution can remain in the community.

Whether this hope can be realized depends on agreeing to some level of development on the Temple's property on Route 138. For months now the Planning Board has been reviewing a proposal that includes a CVS pharmacy (12,900 sq. ') and 20,000 sq. ' of additional retail or office space, and a new 12,000 sq' Temple on the 4 acre site. For reference, the Fruit Center is 25,000 sq' on 2 acres. They are nearing a recommendation vote on a zoning overlay for possible consideration by the Town Meeting.

At the last meeting each member of the Planning Board informed the public of their preliminary conclusions. Two of the members, Bernie Lynch and Ed Duffy, clearly communicated their intent to oppose any development. Members Emily Innes, Peter Jackson, and Alexander Whiteside expressed a level of comfort with the idea of a Temple and one other structure, but had doubts about a three structure development. They also strongly suggested that the Temple and their developer come back with creative ideas for siting to demonstrate how the proposal fits the property, with its substantial change in elevation and the presence of ledge.

Tomorrow evening at the Milton Council on Aging (6:30pm) the Temple will be responding with a presentation. It will include drawings of what some are calling the "Tucker Village" Marketplace. The site would include:

-a pharmacy

-a small food coop

-a coffee shop

-a new Temple

The buildings would be clapboard style with heights no taller than homes in the neighborhood, designed by the architect who designed the Abby Park restaurant.

The plan includes 35% green space, with a playground, gathering place and woods.

It's possible the Planning Board will be voting on the overlay after reviewing this proposal. What everyone needs to realize is the nature of the choice facing the Board and all of us. It is not between this proposal and the status quo. Failing to win approval for a financially viable solution, the Temple will be forced to sell the property, closing this religous institution after 65 years. The choice is between development and a lot that lies vacant or is purchased by someone for development. A 40b development would be high on the list.

Planning Board Member Alex Whiteside reiterated the need for a substantial community benefit from a project like this. Stark reality poses the choice I just pointed out above. I see these benefits as follows:

-the continued presence of an important, long time religous institution

-the continuation of a highly regarded pre-school (the Campbell school)

-valuable retail services for the west side of our town that currently is without any

-a small but not insignificant source of annual tax revenue to the town ($160,000).

Now picture the lot vacant, or with a high density 40b development.

If you believe as I do that we cannot allow opportunities like this to die before they are ever considered by the town meeting and possibly the town as a whole, then contact the Planning Board members and let them know how you feel. Better yet, let's go to the meeting tomorrow night, view the Temple's presentation and tell the Planning Board members what we think.