Candidate’s Letter: Michael Weishan for Board of Selectman

by beth on May 6, 2021

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[Editor’s note: This spring, residents will choose from two candidates running for one seat on the Board of Selectmen. To help you make that decision, I have invited each to submit a letter to readers.

As in past years, you may use comments to endorse the candidate. No mudslinging allowed here.]

Ten-Second Bio:

  • 30-year town resident
  • Owns and operates a landscape architecture firm in Southborough; former PBS host, current NPR contributor and commentator
  • Led the re-building of the Southborough Historical Society after a major flood, restoring both the museum and Society finances, and currently serves as President. Author of Lost Southborough, and the upcoming Tales of Old Southboro’
  • Currently chair of the Southborough Historical Commission, with six terms served; authored the Demolition Delay Bylaw; co-authored the Adaptive Reuse Bylaw; helped save 84 Main Street and the historic barn now going up at Chestnut Hill Farm (For more about me, please visit votemichaelweishan.com)

As an historian of our town, it’s pretty clear to me that Southborough is at a major inflection point, not unlike the arrival of the railroad in the 1830s or the building of the Mass Pike in the 1950s. Post COVID, with patterns of office work and commuting permanently altered, Southborough has the opportunity to move away from being just a bedroom community and restore our sense of place.

The Federal government is about to make the biggest investment in our towns and cities since the New Deal, and longstanding needs such as better pedestrian/bicycle access from the north to the south side of our town, the lack of a real community center with health facilities and a pool, and long neglected stretches of public land flush with invasive plants—all these might be addressed with these funds. Yet at present, we are missing the plans and preliminary studies needed to apply for these monies. As the head of a landscape architecture design/build firm, I’ve headed projects running into the millions of dollars, and this type of forward-thinking is what I do on a daily basis. Let me give you three examples of how this visionary approach might be applied to other matters here in Southborough: 

Park Central: Let’s be frank, the entire Park Central project was completely mishandled by the ZBA and now we are facing the consequences of a massive development on our doorstep that will destroy the peace and tranquility of the western part of our town. I wish to state unequivocally, that if elected selectman, I would do everything legally in my power to delay, defeat or diminish that project.

However, the real problem here has been the lack of vision in addressing affordable housing. Without sufficient units in place, profit-hungry developers will forever hold us captive, and I can guarantee you that Park Central will not be the last of these disasters if we don’t act proactively. If elected, I would propose that we immediately begin investigating parcels suitable for affordable housing development through public/private partnerships. We only have to look a few miles to the east to Lincoln to see how to do this.

Also, with work-from-home approaches expected to continue permanently, and large office complexes half-empty up and down Rt. 9 already prepped with parking and septic, conversion of one or more of these buildings to housing might be feasible.

Downtown Initiative: A vibrant downtown is a goal with widespread support, but the recent proposals put forward by the EDC, though well intentioned, are not fully formed. The addition of new small businesses like micro-breweries and mixed-use development really hinges on resolving the sewage issue.

I am concerned as well with the density of the plans presented to date, with issues such as parking and split lots left unresolved. And, let’s not neglect the Rt. 9 corridor—sewage disposal is also the controlling factor there. Could federal dollars be used to mitigate these problems? Perhaps, but not without advance planning and thought.

PILOT Payments: The present policy of requesting our large educational non-profits to make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and then accepting whatever tiny monies they volunteer is misguided. Other communities around us with similar sized institutions receive hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year than we do by using other approaches, and we owe it to the ratepayers to try every option available.

How much more money would this generate for Southborough? You can take a look here at the wonderful presentation Ms. Patti Fiore made at the 2019 Annual Town Meeting.  Additionally, there is currently a bill in front of the state legislature that would require these institutions to pay 25% of the property taxes they would otherwise be charged. If elected, I would work tirelessly to encourage our state representatives to pass that bill, and then work with the various boards and committees to make sure we had the necessary bylaw language in place to take advantage of it.

I believe the time is ripe for some fresh thinking on the Board of Selectman, and that together we can accomplish many lasting improvements for our town.

I offer myself to try to provide that leadership, and ask for your vote on May 11th.

Michael Weishan

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