Saturday, April 26, 2014

Milton’s Master Plan and the Planning Board Election

The town election next Tuesday features a race for the Planning Board. This is a significant race as three candidates seek to capture the seat currently held by Bernie Lynch, who is retiring after 24 years of dedicated service.

Whoever wins will be bringing a new voice to the Board.  They will be doing so just as Milton finds itself well advanced on a process to update our Master Plan, last updated over 30 years ago. And they will be joining a Board that at times has exhibited disinterest about the whole affair, together with fearfulness over whether the process of citizen input might lead in a direction they personally do not support. The exception to this of course is member Emily Innes, who has driven the process from the very outset and understands the Planning Board’s proper role in discovering what direction the residents’ would like to take.

Milton’s version of planning has been the subject of some discussion over the years.  It’s been characterized as reactive, and in recent years overly dependent on the Special Permit process. Around the beginning of the year, longtime Town Administrator John Cronin submitted two articles to the mytownmatters website.  One very useful article provided a brief historical overview of zoning in Milton. It went something like this.

In 1922 the town passed its first “Master Plan” in reaction to the planned construction by Samuel Spector of 12 storefronts in the section of Milton bordering Mattapan.  The bylaw essentially put a fence around the three existing commercial districts and zoned everything outside it residential.

The Master Plan of 1958 confirmed the original view, as did the update in the 1970’s.

For 91 years, the original vision of Milton as an overwhelmingly residential community has been maintained.

This is clearly a persuasive narrative to many, especially those who oppose any additional commercial development in town. However, the 1922 zoning bylaw resembled in no way what we would call a “Master Plan” today. The bylaw passed unanimously at a Special Town meeting was not the product of a careful, widespread visioning process in which the residents were engaged in a thoughtful discussion about the long term future of Milton.

 Samuel Spector purchased land in Milton on June 9, 1922 and informed the town of his intention to build a one story building housing 12 storefronts. Between then and July 10th, The Milton Board of Selectmen quietly put together a zoning bylaw while the Building Inspector delayed issuing a permit for Spector to begin construction.  The passage of our first zoning bylaw was the result of barely 4 weeks of effort, and successfully blocked an ill-advised commercial development.  But it does not represent a well-considered decision to essentially freeze in place the 1922 development map of Milton.

It’s hard to say how much public involvement  went into the 1958 Master Plan. But the clear attitude of the Planning Board can be gleaned in a passage from the Summary Report.

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.”

Now you may wonder as I do just what kind of study would have shown a lack of additional net revenue from commercial enterprise.  The comment suggests a predisposition against commercial expansion in the town.

Going forward Milton’s future will be guided by the Master Plan being developed now, with proper public input so that we capture what the residents' vision looks like, rather than the desires of town leadership. The fact remains that just over 4% of our assessed value is represented by non-commercial property. Only 15 communities in the state have lower shares. In 1982, the year Proposition 2 ½ went into effect, Milton’s non-residential share of assessed value was 8.6%.

The final stages of the Master Plan process and its aftermath depend heavily on the Planning Board’s active and enthusiastic support. Of the candidates running for Planning Board Bryan Furze possesses the greatest understanding of and commitment to planning as an indispensable tool.  He appreciates that a plan must be an actionable document, and that the Planning Board has a responsibility to advocate for the final product with other Town Leaders, Town Meeting and if appropriate, the town as a whole. Bryan works in real estate development, has served as a volunteer with the Urban Institute, and is currently Chair of the Granite Avenue Study Committee as well as a Town Meeting Member.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Bryan for Planning Board. I believe he will work to “put the plan back in the Planning Board”.


Anonymous Betty White said...

I am also supporting Bryan Furze for the open seat on Milton's Planning Board. I find Bryan to be intelligent and a good listener. He appreciates Milton's history and natural beauty. Bryan will be an advocate thoughtful and appropriate development. He has a strong skill set that will be a good match for the Planning Board. Betty White

9:32 PM  

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