Friday, October 17, 2003
MAGIC faces tough local issues
Area residents plan future strategies
Residents from 101 communities covered by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) will participate in a Boston College Citizen's Seminar on October 29 "to identify what we must preserve and what we must change to make Metro Boston a better place to call home." The project, as explained by Marc Draisen, MAPC Executive Director, is a "regional vision and growth strategy" intended to engage the public and "take the pulse of the region" in order to identify values and priorities that will guide that vision. The public is invited to the meeting which will be held from 8 to 11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency at One Avenue de Lafayette in Boston. A complimentary breakfast will be served at 8 a.m. To RSVP to MAPC's invitation to attend, log on to www.bc.edu/cga.
The meeting on the 29th was preceded by an area meeting at Middlesex College on October 16, sponsored by MAGIC and Senators Fargo, Resor and Havern and Representatives Atkins, Eldridge, Hall, Kaufman, Murphy, Pope, Stanley and Walrath. This meeting was attended by a wide representation interested in "stewardship, social equity, and a better world" and included representatives from Selectmen, planners, Conservation Commissions, Zoning Board of Appeals, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups.
Legislative breakfast focuses on current issues
A long-range vision plan for the area will have to take into account those matters that impact local towns. Presentations and discussions at MAGIC's annual fall legislative breakfast in Littleton last week were about such matters: 40B legislation, housing needs, preservation of open space, the decrease of state support at the local level and concomitant increase in fines, economic growth, education. transportation.
The 40B bill will be reported to the Ways and Means committee next week and be on the floor in late October, according to Representative Pat Walrath. "Its not an easy plan to pass, but something we have to do," she said, and indicated that changes in the current legislation are attuned to the dichotomy between what suburban communities can do and what cities can do. Several town representatives indicated that they could not meet the 40B requirement that the town devote 10% of its housing stock in affordable housing. Senator Pam Resor, who chairs the Route 495 housing task force, cited the cost of land as a factor in developing affordable housing. Carlisle Selectman Vivian Chaput commented that, "there's no such thing as a free lunch. We don't have money to accomplish it," and went on to say that what the area really needs is small-scale affordable housing and a permitting process that encourages small scale development. Zoning and permitting are considered intimately related to the affordable housing problem. Since the state usually makes monies available to those towns that have completed a Master Plan, as required by Executive Order 418, and have achieved the 10% affordable housing quota, this presents a real Catch 22 for towns which, like Carlisle, and particularly in this year of cutbacks and financial shortages, cannot afford the money for land or development. And even if a housing bill provides funds for communities, the governor and administration can determine what will be authorized for communities. One person said, "The legislature can authorize all of the money they wish but it is not bonded until the governor decides what to spend it on ... he can pick and choose."
Money and taxes
Taxes were also a source of general concern. One legislator said ''the perception of legislators is that the administration wants to rely on the property tax as the most stable income for the state." Larger tax bills impact those on a fixed income, which is seen "as something we have got to find a solution for now." Sudbury responded to this problem by passing an initiative petition that gives seniors a lower taxation base.
Budget cuts have impacted towns that have depended on state reimbursements. The impact is felt not only in terms of general returns to communities but also in a decrease in infrastructure support. Roads and bridges are a major problem, but Resor says there are not enough funds to meet needs. Chapter 90 funds were passed 1 1/2 years ago, but a school building freeze is in effect. Although, according to Walrath, $11 million will be available for social services, none will be used at the local level. The $6 million required to fund the drunk driving bill, according to Resor, will be taken from money budgeted for towns.
The good news is that, despite the financial crunch, legislators are plugging away on issues that are environmentally important. Senator Resor is chair of the senate natural resources committee. She reports that open space funding is a priority, as is a toxic reduction process that gets mercury out of the waste system and a phosphorous reduction requirement through trying to phase out phosphate in soaps.
Hanscom development creates an environmental impact on the area. Richard Canale, from Lexington, reported briefly on the Hanscom situation; he stressed that there has to be a regional solution. The administration has given Mass. Development oversight of Hanscom, which is increasing commercial flights. Walrath stated, "We want the air base and we don't want commercial flights" and was answered with a wry comment that "There is one agency that is trying to blur that distinction."
The Regional Growth and Strategy Project meeting on October 29 will provide a forum for residents interested in any of the above issues. It is an open meeting with the public invited, and the online address to make a reservation to attend is www.bc.edu/cga.
© 2003 The