Five petitions I am the lead petitioner on at the spring Town Meeting, which starts April 1 [#33-38 probably will not come up til late night-2 or night-3, #15 will probably come up on day 1].


There are four sections to this post:

1. a list of the articles
2. explanation about why I'm doing this, in general
3. explanation of why I'm doing each petition article
4. links to the actual language of the petition articles

1. List of the 5 Land Use Planning Petition articles:

#33 Non-Binding Resolution–Building Moratorium
#34 Non-Binding Resolution–Development Rate Limitation Bylaw
#35 Non-Binding Resolution–Land Clearing Limits
#36 Non-Binding Resolution–Limit Size of New Single Family Houses
#37 Non-Binding Resolution–Do Not Add Turning Lanes at Route 111 and Route 27
#38 Non-Binding Resolution–Register Intent to Purchase the KMart Parcels
#15 Land Acquisition-257 Central Street, Norther Subdivided Parcel

2. Explanation as to why I'm petitioning the town, in general on these topics

First let me state some general concepts which apply to all of these articles. We are in a planning emergency. We are facing a crisis in planning in Acton, in areas such as the following:

Water. We don't know when we'll not be able to pump more from our aquifers, while at the same time, we do not restrict developers from getting new water hookups, while at the same we are restricted from watering our own gardens. Since the Acton Water District sells water, and at the same time Acton Town Hall "permits" new building, there is no "check" on what impact each land use decision (or indecision) has on our future ability to be water independent. Current plans are centered around making contracts to find water in other towns to accommodate building. But is this what we want to do? In other towns, there are water planning groups that propose ways to limit unnecessary building. We don't have that. And so, volunteer water experts warn us that we're headed for a water crisis, if we do not "do something". Do we just go find more water? or do we limit building. If we limit building, how much? Where is this planning occurring? I believe it's not occurring. And it won't occur til we get our officials to require it.

Road Capacity. The Acton 2020 Master Plan calls for "walkable town centers", and yet, we do not track how much of the road capacity is being "given away" via building permits. As an example, soon after traffic engineers told us that adding the CVS/bank across from Roche Brothers, would be "on impact" to the traffic, they advised a critical need to add a new light there. There is currently no planning methodology to prevent this. Same as with water above. Until we get our local officials to require this type of planning, it won't happen.

Financial sustainability. Currently, the town lists "new tax revenues" as a "plus" on the income statement. BUT there is not a corresponding "debit" for the infrastructure required to support that growth. While a single housing project may not trigger the need for a new fire station or school, there is an impact long term, and we do not track that. There are too many incentives to reward staff to enable new growth for projects that will result in the need for new infrastructure. And there is currently, no tracking in place to understand the long term capital and operational debt of the land use decisions we're making every day.

Affordable Housing. We rely too much on Chapter 40B to create "affordable" housing, which doesn't end up being affordable for the most vulnerable people. The cost of homelessness and overcrowding is high. And we can solve our affordable housing needs very affordably. Yet, again, with the above metrics, we are not tracking our long term financial obligations in a way that we can see how our "social debt" is growing with each land use decision.

When I, personally, asked the Town Planner why this type of planning wasn't happening, he replied, "because no one has told me to do it". A fair comment. But why wouldn't a planner automatically engage in this type of planning? For one, the current staff is already overworked, promoting infrastructure projects, and processing developer applications. Do we hire more people? Or stop/slow the current workload focused on accommodating building. And put it elsewhere...

And this is where I come to the petitions.

When I got this response from the Town Planner, I went to "Citizens Concerns" to express my concern. I asked can you please tell the Town planner to do this type of planning? The answer was something like this, "Oh, we take our direction on land use planning from the Planning Board". Fair enough. So I went to the Planning Board and asked, "can you please recommend to the Board of Selectmen that they direct staff to do this type of planning?"

The Planning Board said something like, "oh, it doesn't work that way. We wait for the Board of Selectmen to tell us what to do". I said, "the BoS is waiting for you to make recommendations on what to do". The answer was something like, "oh, well, we wait til the Planning Department make recommendations on what to do."

At this point, it's important to understand that the Planning DEPARTMENT is "staff", paid employees who work for the Town Manager who works for the town, under the direction of the BoS.

So in effect, all these entities, all with some responsibility to do "planning" are all pointing fingers at each other, as to who is responsible for recommending what type of planning should occur.

In the meantime, "permits" for new building are being processed through the system. The developers love this. And staff who only want to focus on processing developer applications love this.

In the meantime, the only zoning or other changes brought forward by the Planning Department to the Planning Board have made it easier for developers. Why is that? "Because someone came in and requested the change". OK, but what about MY requested change to limit land clearing, for example. No answer.

NO REAL PLANNING.

Effectively, it's my view, after reviewing all the information, that our planning is being run by developers.

And I believe it's time to bring more individual decisions to Town Meeting, to increase Town Meeting's involvement in directing planning for key land use decisions, which impact taxes and property values.

And so my petitions... each are "non-binding" [except the park petition, see below]. Non-binding resolutions merely direct the Board of Selectmen to "do something". These non-binding resolutions can be ignored by the BoS, but they provide important "insight" into the will of the people.

3. An explanation of why I'm doing each petition

#33 Non-Binding Resolution–Building Moratorium

Acton approves 50-70 new building permits a year. This petition is to "stop" the flow of building permit applications for a while and do some real planning. While the Planning Department and Planning Board is neck deep in processing developer applications there is little time to do real planning. A temporary moratorium is allowed under law. If you want details on that, please let me know. I have municipal attorney memos and case law talking to the details. If you care about the impact of land use on your property value, in particular what a moratorium could do, given the high demand for building permits in Acton, and the impact that a constraint on that supply would do, please see a handout that I made for the Finance Committee:

33FinComHandout

I hope you vote YES! in the hopes that the Board of Selectmen will study this issue and bring forth a proposal for you to vote on!

#34 Non-Binding Resolution–Development Rate Limitation Bylaw

This petition is to see if Town Meeting wants the Board of Selectmen to propose a technique that is allowed under Mass General Law. Many towns have adopted it. They limit the number of permits by 10 or 20 per year. If someone wants to build, they get in line. See also the above reason, which applies to this petition as well. To give our planning people more time to do... planning. If you care about the impact of land use on your property value, in particular what a moratorium could do, given the high demand for building permits in Acton, and the impact that a constraint on that supply would do, please see a handout that I made for the Finance Committee:

34FinComHandout

Please note that the same people proposing this petition are also proposing a "Housing Trust" to buy up existing very affordable housing units at virtually no cost to the town. And so with both of these projects running in parallel, constraining the supply of new building permits should not impact increase pressure on very affordable housing needs. In fact, the small cost to tax payers for such a "Housing Trust" could be justified by the increase in property values from limiting new building.

I hope you vote YES! in the hopes that the Board of Selectmen will study this issue and bring forth a proposal for you to vote on!

#35 Non-Binding Resolution–Land Clearing Limits

Municipalities have the ability establish limits on land clearing, either by the amount of land or the amount of land removed. This petition is to establish the land clearing limit to a specific %. If passed, and if the Board of Selectmen acted to proceed as directed by Town Meeting, what the % would be, would have to be decided, and then proposed to Town Meeting. If you care about the impact of your neighbor's land-use on your property value, in particular what a land clearing limitation could do, given the high demand for building permits in Acton, and the impact that a constraint on that supply would do, please see a handout that I made for the Finance Committee. Finance Committee members did not take a position on this article. The members seemed to opine that we limit what people can do near wetlands and this limit on wetland access is important to protect our water, and so maybe this could be something to do to protect other environmental resources, or neighboring property values.

35FinComHandout

See also comments in the above petition regarding the impact on "affordable housing", which apply in this petition, as well.

I hope you vote YES! in the hopes that the Board of Selectmen will study this issue and bring forth a proposal for you to vote on!

#36 Non-Binding Resolution–Limit Size of New Single Family Houses

This was first put forth as an idea to conserve on environmental resources, but it turns out that the finances may also indicate this is a good idea. By limiting the size of new houses, it could reduce the number of school aged children. I put this forth in case Town Meeting would like to direct the Board of Selectmen to study the expected impacts and put forth a binding proposal for Town Meeting to vote on.

I hope you vote YES! in the hopes that the Board of Selectmen study this potential land use mechanism.

#37 Non-Binding Resolution–Do Not Add Turning Lanes at Route 111 and Route 27

The currently proposed Kelley's Corner Infrastructure design proposes adding turning lanes at Rt111 and Rt27. A developer would need these added lanes to build high density condos at the KMart site. The idea of adding more cars at higher speeds, and increasing the crosswalk distance at Kelley's Corner frightens me. I can't believe any parent would want their kid to cross at such an intersection with these added lanes. And I personally, do not want to urbanize Kelley's Corner so that it's closer to what is installed in Framingham on Rt9 or in the inner city. The proposal to have cars merge in front of Quill & Press, added to the capacity of cars in the intersection seems insane. Not only does it seems that putting a "choke point" in front of an important local business, while also removing one of the curb-cuts that they need for tractor trailers to turn in their parking lot is not worth it. My concerns went unaddressed in the Kelley's Corner Infrastructure meetings. And so I bring this non-binding resolution to Town Meeting to see what the voters think.

I hope you agree and vote YES! in the hopes that the Board of Selectmen reconsider adding the turning lanes and instead bring forth a slimmed down design, more in keeping with Acton's Master Plan.

#38 Non-Binding Resolution–Register Intent to Purchase the KMart Parcels

This petition is not "mine", in that I am not a lead petitioner. But I'm highly supportive of it for the same reasons as above. I want Town Meeting to weigh in on whether we want to wait for a 40B developer or other high density condos developer to submit an application whereby our rights to buy the property are eliminated, or if we want to take other action. To me this is about whether we wait while a pro-residential-construction Board of Selectmen continue working to push a rezoning for the KMart parcels to allow a high density condo development on those parcels. Or take over action. Instead of pushing rezoning that we already said no, too...how about doing something different? I am doing this because the Board of Selectmen continues to push rezoning to allow high density condos at the KMart parcels [see this scope of work for a consultant that the town hired to help get the rezoning passed

38ScopeofWork

I LOVE the idea of the town taking control and then working with private entities to realize a downtown that we can love. That's why Town Meeting enacted the Economic Development Investment Corporation (EDIC) for just such a project. See more info from the petitioners here:

38EDICInfo

I hope you vote YES! in the hopes that the Board of Selectmen will make inquiries as to the cost of purchasing the parcel.

#15 Land Acquisition-257 Central Street, Norther Subdivided Parcel

I am doing this because a bunch of neighbors of this parcel asked me to. Like I would support a park in your neighborhood, I support this. Below is a handy chart explaining how valuable these "pocket parks" are to neighbors. We have bought plenty of HUGE parcels for open space near a lot of big homes. I believe it's now just as important to buy land for public use in the villages where there is precious little land preserved. In terms of taxation, the 2 proposed units will bring in perhaps $24,000/year in "new tax revenues", but with the 1.8 expected kids per unit, the loss to the town will be much greater, perhaps it will pay for itself over time... That's just the new tax revenues, and the loss for the cost-of-services. Please see the link below for the cost of development.

15CostDevelopment

I hope you vote YES! in the hopes that we can buy this property and more like it via petition at Town Meeting. Far too many land purchase opportunities are lost in the process of small groups of people denying Town Meeting an opportunity to vote on them. Did you know that the 348-352 Main St parcels could have been bought for a LOT less money, if we had acted on the first parcel, which was offered to the town for $250K? But in the end, they cost $1.8 million! Why not act sooner and reduce the cost of unnecessary development, when the cost is so affordable!

The language of the petition articles:

#33 Non-Binding Resolution–Building Moratorium 33BuildingMoratorium

#34 Non-Binding Resolution–Development Rate Limitation Bylaw 34LimitDevelopment

#35 Non-Binding Resolution–Land Clearing Limits: 35LandClearing

#36 Non-Binding Resolution–Limit Size of New Single Family Houses: 36HouseSize

#37 Non-Binding Resolution–Do Not Add Turning Lanes at Route 111 and Route 27:

37NoTurningLanes

#38 Non-Binding Resolution–Register Intent to Purchase the KMart Parcels: 38KMartParcels

#15 Land Acquisition-257 Central Street, Northern Subdivided Parcel: 15LandAquisition

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Comments

Non-binding Resolutions

In my opinion, we are fortunate to have a person so dedicated to the future of Acton as Terra Friedrichs and an outlet such as Acton Forum to provide the opportunity to politely express dissenting views.

That said, I wholeheartedly support all of these initiatives. They do not direct a course of action, but only advise that there are both present and future consequences that we need to carefully consider as we make our near term decisions.

I particularly identify with the water issues. I have more than 20 years' experience in the drinking water industry and I have also lived in the western US where "water rights" are serious business (enough to fight and sue over). We are blessed with lots of water around here but it is a fragile resource subject to legal disputes (Nagog Pond), chemical contamination (WR Grace and MTBE), and just plain over use. We desperately need to get the future of our water supply both understood and under control before we build beyond what we can sustain, if we haven't done that already.

These petitions are well thought out and documented and I urge all of you to give them your unbiased attention.

WE CAN'T IGNORE CHANGE

I am not in favor of non-binding resolutions. All they do, IMO, is show what a limited percentage of the population think about something or other. And our town meetings draw very few people as a percentage of Acton.

The population of Acton is going to increase. The population of Mass., the USA, the world are all increasing. Those who are added must live somewhere. Why not Acton? We have the land. We have the infrastructure. Or is it much more important to keep people out because "they" will erode our town?

Dictate how big a home a person can build on a plot because someone thinks the correlation of house size to number of children is valid as more than a statistic?

Another effort to keep "my property" more desirable is for the town to buy the open land next to me so it will never be developed. Sounds a lot like "I have mine, the heck with you." Acton doesn't need any more open land. We can't maintain what we have! And in West Acton we have a large park - which is not used very much at all. Why is there a need for another park? Is your goal to have a public park on each street or intersection?

The future -- assuming we still a human life sustaining planet -- is growth. Our fellow humans need places in which to grow and prosper. Don't exclude our town.