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Minutes (excerpt), Board of Selectmen, Newton, December 3, 2002

[Note: These notes concern a the disposition of the Fisher Hill site under the process in effect prior to Outside Section 548. The notes show how community inputs were used to place conditions in the RFP issued by DCAM.]

Acting Economic Development Officer Rhonda Spector and members of the Fisher Hill Master Plan Committee appear to present the Committeeís recommendation for the Fisher Hill Reservoir sites.

Selectman Geller reviewed the Fisher Hill Master Plan Committeeís recommendation for the Fisher Hill Reservoir sites and the process leading up to this recommendation. He noted that this process began over a year ago when the State offered the town the opportunity to control this site, which is currently owned by the State (the above ground reservoir). That started the process to look at all the land in that part of townóboth the Town-owned and State-owned. The Town-owned land is 5 acres and the State is 11 acres. A decision was made to look at both sides of the street and identify what could be done with this property and what the community wanted to see there. The recommendations which are before the Board today are recommendations for both sides of the street. He pointed out that there was a lot of discussion leading up to this memorandum.

The process is as followsóthe State deemed the property to be surplus and offered it first to all state agencies. When none of these agencies wanted it, they then offered it to the Town, but it must be used for public purposes. The committee deemed it to be open space. The State determined what the site could be used for. The same process was used for the town-owned side. More varied uses could be used for the Town-owned side. Generally there was a sense that housing options should be considered as well as open space for the town property, with the committee leaning towards mixed use housing consistent with the neighborhood whether that is architectural character or style and density. As this process moves forward, it seems appropriate for the Selectmen to appoint two committees. One committee will address open space, and it is felt that the same process used for all open space projects should be used. This committee membership should include preservation and conservation representatives as well as people from the community. Erin Chute will be responsible for managing this committee.

On the other side of the street there will be more community representatives as well as members of HAB, EDAB as well as a representative for Open Space. Regarding the time line, a letter will be drafted after this meeting to the State. DCAMís representative Ms. Robbins has attended all of the committeeís meetings and he feels that she is comfortable with where the process stands. We are looking at this being an 8-month process, coming before 2003 Fall Town Meeting. Both committees will come back with their recommendations to the Selectmen in Spring 2003.

Selectman Geller noted that the Town will have to work with its legislators between now and then to make sure that our Home Rule Legislation will get passed, especially since a 2/3 vote is needed. Sometimes all it takes is one legislator to hold up legislation. However, these things are generally easy. He further pointed out that funding is a big issue. There is money in the CIP for some of the funds required for this project. DCAMís response to the Town is that they appreciate the fact that this area would be used for open space, but they are concerned that the Town did not provide enough money to update the park for eventual use. That is something we will have to work on. Chairman Goldberg commented that funding will be the biggest challenge given the fiscal state of the State.

Selectman Geller went on that there has been a lot of discussion with the residents regarding funding. One of the questions is if there is a financial benefit to what the Town will be doing on the town-owned property, will those funds be used to fund something on the state-owned property or will it be used for other projects in town. Also the reservoir on the town-owned side is a potential liability in the future and needs to be addressed and perhaps the money from the town-owned property will be used to address that. Ms. Chute told the Board that they are looking to continue work with Halverson consultants on the state-owned property to come up with a realistic budget. Selectman Geller stated that the goal is to come back with a 25% conceptual design so that the dollars can be put in the right place.

Selectman Kalikow asked if the consultants will assess that property for its fair market value and if the town can negotiate with the state on the price. Selectman Geller told the Board that the town can negotiate. DCAM will requisition an assessment of the property. Once that is completed, then the town can argue with the figures. However, there are not a lot of comparables. There are few communities which have done something similar recently. Selectman Allen asked what other communities have done regarding projects used as open space. Selectman Geller replied that there was a community which took surplus land for a golf course and spent hundreds of thousands vs. millions if that land went for the ìhighest and best useî.

Selectman Hoy asked what recommendation will be in the letter to the State. Selectman Geller responded the recommendation will be what is in the memorandum before the Board. He then asked him if the letter will include the town-owned property and possible funding from that property for the state-owned property. Mr. Kelliher responded that the way the letter is envisioned is that the specifications from the committee will be included in the letter to DCAM. On the financial side, Mr. Kelliher stated that they plan to model this after the Muddy River commitment and check to see if that language will satisfy DCAM. Selectman Geller added that the town has between now and when this gets through the legislature to determine the funding. The disposition can be contingent on funding. Between now and then we will have a better sense of what the budget and CIP will look like. DCAM is not necessarily looking for the town to take the property and make improvements immediately; they just want the town to make safety improvements immediately.

Selectman Hoy first commented what he has heard is the letter to the state will include the recommendation at the bottom of page one. He asked if there were any prioritizing as to preferred uses or just those five listed. Selectman Geller replied that on the state-owned property it is the recommended uses listed. It is up to the next committee to prioritize them. Selectman Hoy asked if the letter will indicate that the town-owned property could be used for mixed housing. Selectman Geller told him that the town doesnít have to address the town-owned side, only the state-owned property. Regarding the town-owned property, Selectman Geller stated that the committee will look at all the recommendations included in the memorandum. All the criteria will have to be met. For instance there could be mixed income housing as well as a playground on the site; or mixed income housing and an indoor skating rink. The committee said that mixed income housing is the only thing which met all the criteria. He pointed out there is a concern over mixed income housing in the neighborhood. However, the preference from the committee was to include it.

Selectman Hoy asked how the criteria were established. Selectman Geller replied that it was established by the committee after 8 months of discussion. The consultant developed the list of criteria. The committee then looked at the list and added some and eliminated some. Selectman Geller added that the end result may not meet all of the criteria, maybe only part of it. Selectman Hoy then asked if the committee which will move forward on the town-owned side will be the expanded committee, and Selectman Geller concurred. Selectman Hoy then asked what the deadline is for the options for both sides of the street and was told the 2003 Fall Town Meeting. Selectman Geller went on that to be reasonable and fair to the community and the neighborhood, both projects need to go in tandem. We cannot say what to do with the state side without knowing what to do with the town side, particularly if that property would offer funding opportunities. Selectman Geller then thanked everyone who participated in this process, both the committee members and the people from the neighborhood.

Chairman Goldberg asked for comments from representatives of Boards and Commissions present. Fran Price noted that the HAB strongly supports use of the townowned site for affordable housing.

Then representatives from committees and the public spoke. Alan Einhorn, representing the neighborhood association was next to speak. He told the Board he was just elected president of the soccer club, but his statements do not represent the soccer club, although a soccer field is listed as one of the options. The neighborhood association views the soccer field as an option but not a definite recommendation. He noted that the town side was rarely discussed in detail. It was felt that that property would be looked at with more of an open perspective. Affordable housing can be approached in a variety of ways, perhaps by selling individual lots and putting that money into the Housing Trust Fund.

Fred Perry, representative from Greenspace Alliance, questioned the precedent of selling open space (town-owned property) for any purpose of raising money. If open space is developed it is gone forever. The town must look carefully at raising the monies it will take to properly develop the park on the state-owned side. Agnes Rogers, housing advocate, favored mixed income housing as well as rental housing vs. selling the land to build one or two single homes. Working families would not be able to compete for the latter. She pointed out that the town is in dire straits regarding housing. She stated that open space in this area is needed, but not to the exclusion of housing. She believes a balance is needed and people need to come before things.

Judy Russo, Dean Road, pointed out this is a hill. She felt any development will bring increased traffic into the area, noting this hill was designed by Olmstead. There is already a commuter college in the neighborhood and one cannot ignore the impact of traffic on the lives of the people who live in the neighborhood. She agreed with Mr. Perryís statement that once open space is gone it cannot be replaced. She felt affordable housing is important and hopes that people are looking at existing buildings and how they could be converted for affordable housing. She also felt that perhaps Newbury might move to Pine Manor and then those buildings could be used for affordable housing.

Pam Lodish, President neighborhood association, hoped the process would be open and inclusive. The neighborhood will be holding a meeting in January to draft a position so that they can speak with one voice. She pointed out that this will have a huge impact on the neighborhood. She would like to see abutters as well as members of the association on the two committees.

Arlene Mattison, president of Greenspace Alliance, couldnít understand how the town-owned reservoir could fund the state-owned property. This is a concern for her. She is concerned over meeting housing needs by developing open space. There are deficits of open space town-wide. She noted that the town has no control over privatelyowned open space; so she doesnít feel it should develop open space it has control over. Don Weitzman felt that the town needs to step back and look at its affordable housing plan. He feels it would be a mistake to pit housing against open space and that it is wrong to look at any of this from a single issue point of view. He stated we need both and felt we could have both, but that affordable housing is an easy target. He favored looking at adaptive reuse of existing properties. To push too many units at this location or St. Aidanís gives affordable housing a bad name even to a neighborhood that may be willing to embrace affordable housing. More modest goals will make these kinds of projects more acceptable.

Peg Senturia stated that open space is one of our scarce resources. She brought up the St. Aidanís project and suggested that the Board listen to the Fisher Hill Neighborhood. She also asked the Board not to pit one neighborhood against another. Chairman Goldberg commented that the town owns the Fisher Hill site and that it doesnít own the St. Aidanís site. The Town gave money to the St. Aidanís project and got the project reduced. The Town has been very definite about affordable and mixed use housing being a priority of the Town. Whenever the town has had projects on sites it owned, i.e. Kendall Street and the Hotel, the process has been very open. She felt that the Town is lucky that the Archdiocese has agreed to have this be an open process earlier rather than later. The Board held a public hearing on St. Aidanís last summer and made known to the Archdiocese the recommendations and wishes of the public.

Chairman Goldberg also stated that those wishes are included in the records presented before the ZBA, which is currently hearing that project. Chairman Goldberg hoped that the outcome of the project will be something that the neighborhood will be happy with. In Board of Selectmen

Selectman Kalikow characterized the St. Aidanís project as something that the Town wants to maximize its affordable housing opportunities. She agrees that open space and housing are very conflicting issues. Brookline has attempted to get the best balance it can. With St. Aidanís, however it ends up, the town will have maintained open space there and also have preserved the church. She also pointed out that we have a land owner who is willing to go along with the town.

In the context of Fisher Hill she pointed out that right now both sides of the street are unusable. The Town has an opportunity to make this an asset which then allows us to achieve goals. In achieving those goals the town must be as creative as it can be. She would not want to be pitting one group against the other at this location. Selectman Geller noted there have been a lot of good comments from people here today and over the last few months. Today someone brought up traffic which is something that will have to be looked at. There is a traffic consultant ready to work on this. People also brought up the fact that there is a commuter college there and that will have to be taken into account. Regarding comments on process and other projects in town, he pointed out that this is very different in that this is town-owned property and very different from any other project which has been done in the past. The comments about housing and open space are something the Board hears every day. He is looking forward to working with the neighborhood association, housing advocates, and open space advocates on this project.

Paul Saner, EDAB member, commented on the concept of balance and the challenge to balance open space with housing. He feels that the Town is doing a terrific job of balancing. The town has done a good job on seeking out affordable housing opportunities with limited resources and he pointed to the properties on Beacon Street and the Hebrew Rehab takeover of the Stern properties. He feels that the town needs to look at opportunities where appropriate mixed income projects can happen. He doesnít know what the outcome of Fisher Hill will look like, but feels it is appropriate to look at affordable housing and passive recreation there. He invited people who think the town cannot do affordable housing on this site to talk to HAB and to attend the Housing Task Force meetings to challenge them to see if they are missing opportunities for adaptive reuse for housing.

Selectman Geller stated that they will be making recommendations on the membership of the two committees in the near future. Chairman Goldberg thanked all for attending today and for their input.

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