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.


Anonymous Kay said...

once again, excellent analysis and synthesis of the important information. Thanks!

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please publish this in the local Milton paper...VERY IMPORTANT INFO..well done....

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the financial pressures milton is under and I know the hard effort undertaken for the override but this development is not in a vaccum. It is situated in the heart of tucker neighborhood's dense residential zone. There are impacts to these neighbors that must be understood and reconned with. I understand the positive virtues of the temple staying but the threats of 40b are unwarranted and insulting to the neighborhood that has supported temple shalom in the past. Put those threats aside and consider with empathy the impacts on the neighbors. If breaking the public's trust in upholding a residential zone is aggregious and the traffic impacts have not been properly quantified, much less mitigated, then I still believe that the property can be sold in a responsible manner to another religious organization to maintain a spiritual tenant in our neighborhood. It just won't be the top bidder.
John Fichtman
91 cheever st

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I support the temple and their plans and living in the 'dense area' of East Milton Square, where the same concerns of the land abutters who thought it too big and busy and decreased their homes values...well we can see that was a myth...
Milton needs to get into the 21 st century like other towns and promote positive commercial enterprises..particulary where there is already large properties that already exist in the midst of neighborhoods..
It will be a plus to have this on the other side of not be afraid of change!

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

East milton square was developed a long time ago. Time certainly heals wounds. But a wounded neighborhood heals itself by changing its appeal and driving out the current residents and attracting new ones. The new proposal from last week has a lot being squeezed onto this property. There is a legitimate concern that the 15 or so abutters that front face onto this lot do not have appropriate buffers. Other neighbors are legitimately concerned about the traffic that will use residential side streets in the immediate vacinity to get to this destination. If you reduce or restrict access to one street there are still 3 others that will sequentially become the preferred route. There are many issues that the planning board has not addressed in the past year of meetings. Fear of change itself is not the issue. We can only ask for everyone's patience until all the impacts can be fully examined so that the neighborhood can have confidence that the process works and that they are not being taken advantage of. The current proposal is not even a week old yet.
John Fichtman
91 cheever st

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Tammy Murphy said...

I believe that if someone feels strongly enough to leave a comment, he or she should be man or woman enought to sign their name to it.

Tammy Murphy
Concord Avenue

2:43 AM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

The possiblity of a 40B development is neither a threat, nor is it unwarranted to bring it up. It exists as a not unlikely consequence of not finding a solution that permits Temple Shalom from remaining on the site.

Mr. Fichtman's theoretical scenario is applied to East Milton as if it in fact happened. If a resident decides to leave a neighborhood, they are not being driven out.

The proposal currently under discussion is not a week old. It has been the most plausible one for some time, and was confirmed by LDS Consulting Group in their August report. What is a week old is the first pass at a siting plan.

The charge continues to be made that the Planning Board has failed to address "many issues" in the past year. This is simply not a sustainable claim. As with any development of this sort, traffic impacts need to be assessed and mitigated. And many concerns with respect to buffers and visual aspects of the plan get worked both in the language of any overlay and in the Planning Board's oversight of any subsequent project.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Mathews, You seem very impatient. With so many different parties interested in the outcome of this issue, and the fact that the issue will be decided by a majority of people who do not live in the immediate area of this development, I think that every effort should be made to address the neighborhood concerns and convey confidence in the process to the neighbors. That seems to be lacking for many at the moment.
John Fichtman
91 Cheever St

7:22 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Mr. Fichtman,

Disagreeing with you is not a sign of impatience.

I think "reasonable" efforts should be made to address "some" neighbors concerns. Some neighbors do no share your concerns, at least to the same degree. It is immpossible to address the concerns of those who simply decided early on to say no, because nothing can ever address their concerns.

So it is not possible for you or anyone else to represent neighborhood concerns, per se, but the concerns of some.

As for the process, it has been exemplary. Neighbors with concerns have been heard, over and over again. The fact that all their views have not carried the day at this point does not justify a lack of confidence on the part of neighbors, especially since some of them do not agree with you.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Mathews,
My concern about traffic impacts have not been properly assessed for the size of this development. An initial traffic survey was thoroughly done to assess the traffic for a development with less retail space. The traffic engineer confirmed the cut thru nature of "some" streets and the "challenges" of "some" intersections. He reaffirmed my concerns. The response by "some" members of the planning board was that such concerns are overblown and can be mitigated. I am still concerned about the traffic impact on Cheever st and am skeptical that the impacts can be mitigated with a "satisfactory" result because nobody has explained in the public process what mitigations are "reasonable" or "appropriate." I am thankfull that my concern for traffic has been heard so many times but I have no satisfaction because my concern has not been addressed. It is not an issue of "carrying the day"
John Fichtman
91 Cheever st

10:01 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

So your unaddressed concerns comes down to traffic. Not surprising.

The traffic engineer's report was not a complete study as I heard it and did not account for the difference between traffic and net traffic results. There is a significant amount of cut through traffic today by people driving out of the neighborhood to seek services. Some of that will be decreased.

Intersection traffic can be controlled. The traffic engineer did not confirm your concerns,unless your concerns are only that there will be some cut through traffic and the need to address intersection challenges.

Such challenges are par for the course for projects like this.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps a slight scale back, i.e. not having a 'drive-through'at cvs,
may help the neighbours accept being from East Milton Square and needing a place to go to I think its important to have that on the other side of town. I know many people who live in West Milton, that moan the loss of a food store or small pharmacy on their end of town. It can only improve having accessability to this.

East milton square proves that a neighborhood, which had a portion of land, with neighbors in incredibly close proximity are living harmoniously, without the 'threat' of gangs, ruffians, traffic to side side streets and decreasing home values. Can we work together to make this happen?
Perhaps modified?

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, If you wanted to drive from east milton to the proposed stores at temple shalom's property (harvest coop has been mentioned as a possibility), please describe the route you would take. Would you go along brook road to mattapan circle and then down route 138, or would you turn off of brooke road on to center, right onto thatcher, left onto warren, cross blue hill parkway onto blue hill terrace? the latter seems more convaluted But I know many poeple who dread navigating the rotary at mattapan circle and drive the latter route every time.
John Fichtman
91 cheever st

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure of your navigating from East Milton...I only know that to be a vibrant neighboorhood , you need to embrace change.
I can only reference East Milton,where neighbours bitterly argued about having a "shopping center' in the middle of their neighborhood, that didn't have one before. They argued about traffic patterns, trash, having teenagers hanging around'etc. I understand not having a drive-thru, but a modified neighborhood area, where residents can avail does not sound outrageous.
It worked in my neighborhood and it can work in yours as well.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not anti-commercial and I am not pro-commercial-just-not-in-my-neighborhood. I believe that this would be ok IF the fifteen or so houses surrounding the property are not negatively impacted And the volume of traffic thru our side streets to get to this destination can be kept on the main roads.
The 15 or so homes that abut the property, front face onto the property. Some of these homes look down onto the property and I believe they will be impacted by the noise of cars on the site. Some of these homes are below the grading of the different levels proposed to fit the topography, and will be affected by the lights of cars driving on the site if not the lighting for the parking lot. Also keep in mind that cvs does not keep bankers hours. 72% of their 7000 stores are open for "extended hours" or 24 hours. I believe the only way to mitigate these impacts properly for the abutters, and additionally to provide a benefit to the neighborhood for the unprecidented change from residential zoning to commercial, which is a rescinding of the promise of Milton to protect the quality of life for its residents, is to put the parking lot underground and provide a true green space/park like common between the buildings proposed.
The second issue I have is how to keep the traffic for this destination on the main roads. Our narrow side streets are already used as cut thrus bridging the main roads of blue hill parkway, rt 138, and truman highway. The most predominant of the cut thrus are blue hill terrace and cheever st. Short of a full traffic study, I believe that these two streets will see increased volumes of traffic because they both lead directly to the temple's property. The challenge is how do you keep the business traffic on the main roads and not on our narrow residential streets. If you can deter the traffic from blue hill terrace and cheever st with one ways in opposite directions, the traffic will sequentially cascade down the other neighborhood streets that run parrallel to these two. Signage, speed bumps, and delaying the light changes at the ends of all of the streets, in efforts to make these routes longer and less desirable will not work as long as the rotary at the end of brook road is so disfunctional for getting onto rt 138 from the brook rd and blue hill parkway side. Delay tactics will not reduce the volumes on our streets it will keep them idling in front of our houses for longer. The fire department disapproves of speed bumps. ( be continued...)

John Fichtman
91 cheever st

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(...Continued from before...)
I believe, short of a full traffic study and the expert opinion's of traffic engineers, that the only way to mitigate the traffic for our neighborhood streets given the nature of the roadways around us, is to close every side street from amore street to the rotary to be deadends. This will force everybody, including the neighborhood, to use the main roads. That means using the rotary(and hopefully improving it) to get in and out of the north end of our neighborhood and to the south, using canton avenue to bridge from blue hill parkway to rt 138, and Milton st/neponset valley parkway to bridge truman highway and rt 138. Again this would reinstill the promise of maintaining high quality residential living in milton alongside major roadways and commercial business. I expect that many of my neighbors would object to this approach as it would certainly inconvenience them in their own daily driving patterns, but you can't have it both ways and I think we need to protect the homes and families that will be impacted by this development. As for emergency vehicle access to my proposed dead end street scenario, I believe the ends could have low or no curbing with engineered features that would not hinder the passage of emergency vehicles.
I acknowledge that the developer would most likely object to these ideas but it is what I think the neighborhood deserves for having this development and its impacts thrust upon ourselves by no fault of our own. The Town Meeting members, who in all likelyhood will ultimately decide this issue, will be deciding what is best for the interests of the town, the temple, and the neighborhood. I don't want the neighborhood to be taken advantage of by many who do not live here and will not feel the negative impacts of this development.

John Fichtman
91 cheever st

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Fichtman,
Bravo for making a thoughtful suggestion for a possible traffic mitigation measure that could help to improve the quality of life on our small neighborhood streets. I have no idea whether the dead-end concept is feasible, but I think it's a fabulous and positive suggestion!

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then lets be patient and have the full traffic study done prior to deciding if commercially zoning this site makes sense and does not negatively impact the neighborhood.
PS - who are you, Anonymous?
john fichtman
91 cheever st

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What you don't even understand is that the Temple has a RESPONSIBILITY to show it's paying congregants their books. By keeping the books to themselves the congregants (and everyone else for that matter) have no idea where THEIR money is going or how it is being accounted for. You are also mistaken that there are 30members on the elected board; there may 10. Get your facts before you start writing crap.

Town Meeting Members need to be educated, not brainwashed so they can vote against this zoning.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Temple Shalom doesn't handle its books any differently than any church.

There are not 10 board members. There are close to 30, as I stated. They are all completely aware of the finances.

I think we've done a good job of educating TMMs. We will continue up until its time to vote.

11:06 PM  

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