What are your election issues?

Left: When you head to the ballot in 10 days, what issues will be on your mind? (Image cropped from Photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

I’ve had a couple of requests to have town election candidates respond to questions about their positions.

I’m not sure it’s fair to expect that they should all use this forum for that.

This blog isn’t the center of the universe or even the Southboroughverse, and they have already taken the time to complete position papers for readers. (Click here to see them.)

However, you have the right to share here what your priorities are in a candidate or what you think people should consider when casting their votes.

I’d like to keep this as mud free as possible. Rather than saying what you don’t like about a candidate – tell us what qualities you are looking for or issues are important to you.

(If there is a candidate you wish to endorse, that’s what the comment sections of their dedicated pages are for.)

As for asking the candidates questions, remember that Candidates Night is scheduled to take place at the library next Wednesday, May 7. So you have a chance to ask them directly! (Click here for details.)

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concerned_resident
8 years ago

Issue 1: Mitigating the Unfunded Town Employee Retirement Liabilities

If elected / re-elected, what fresh ideas/approach would you take a leadership role in to reduce in a significant manner the unfunded retirement liabilities that are coming due in the next decade or so. There are approaches adopted by other communiuties in the Commonwealth and in other States. Discuss one or two and let us know that you have a plan….. we cant drift into bankrupcy like Detroit did.

thanks!

Al Hamilton
8 years ago

Concerned:

I agree with you that this is one of the most important issues facing our community. I have highlighted this issue on my campaign web site

http://www.al4selectman.com/unfunded_liabilities

This is a good news bad news issue:

The good news is that we are beginning to recognize the issue and take steps to fund these obligations. It will probably take 20+ years to transition to a more stable model.

The bad news is that during this transition period we will continue to have to fund existing obligations to our retirees while also reserving funds for future retirement. In effect during this period we will have to “Double Up” on retirement costs.

2 things become apparent:

First, the need to “double up” is going to put heavy downward pressure on operating budgets and upward pressure on taxes

Second. The true costs of public sector labor are becoming more apparent. This is not a criticism of the many fine people who work hard for us. It is, however, an acknowledgement that public sector labor is very expensive. Often, when all the costs are taken into account it is significantly more their private sector counterparts. That is reality.

So, how can we provide the critical services that citizens provide us tax dollars for while managing this transition:

The first thing to do is to recognize that our business model is not sustainable and that changes will be necessary.

We need to investigate how we can use technology to deliver better services at a lower cost.

We are going to have to look at alternative service models.

We need to reevaluate our building infrastructure.

We need to reevaluate early retirement to determine if early retirement incentives are really in our best interest.

We need to have frank public conversations with our employees about the true costs of labor and the long term implications.

I believe we can manage our way through this transition period. I do not believe that it can be done if we simply want to continue to operate on a business as usual basis. Change is hard but necessary

concerned_resident
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Mr. Hamilton,

Well stated and well done. Your thoughtful response exemplifies EXACTLY why I and any other resident who want smart, responsive leadership should not only vote, but also support you. (Folks, I ain’t no shill here . Its what I truly believe).

Now as for other candidates responses. I can’t hear them over the sound od crickets chirping to break the silence. LOL, I guess… I would if the issue wasnt so critical to our fair town. Replus???

Karen Connell
8 years ago

Dear Concerned Resident,
Thank you for asking relative, important questions.

Anita Reeder
8 years ago

Hey Beth,

I have Candidates Night as Wednesday, May 7th…just checking to make sure I have it right on my calendar :-)

David Parry
8 years ago

ZONING BYLAW REWRITE — HOW TO TURN FAILURE INTO SUCCESS.

Here is an issue of great importance, dragged on for 8 years, and has been completely ignored— the ZONING BYLAW REWRITE. In my opinion this curremnt effort will fail because of the 2/3rds vote required by Town Meeting. . The process has to be entirely rethought, and ONLY if it is rethought, can we salvage the good ideas of the past 8 years, but in an entirely new way, by returning to our existing format. I will explain why this is necessary.

Eight years have been devoted to this effort. Membership of nearly all the boards involved has changed since it began. It is a history of an incredible waste of time and effort. There have been major missteps, and in my opinion it is going nowhere, slowly. I think the Planning Board itself is beginning to realize this, but I have not yet talked to them about it. However, I will put the problem and its resolution in writing here, because it is so important that everyone should know about it, not just the Planning Board. .
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The intellectual efforts of the Planning Board and the development community have been focused on this Zoning Bylaw Rewrite, and it has caused serious anxiety in some neighborhoods, especially those which feel vulnerable to new development pressures.

For instance, at one point there was a proposal, in the re-write, for an “overlay” district” covering most of the wider area of Southborough Village and other villages (Fayville, Cordaville). The consequences could have been single family houses along Latisquama Rd (and other streets) being converted into 5 apaartment units (with special permits). I another example, all the historic homes on Main St , between Latisquama Rd and Fay School were proposed to be rezoned from residential to business / retail. Multiple battles have been fought over the many drafts to remove these offending changes. None of this has been publicized or widely understood. These 8 years have been very difficult to live through.

The original intention of the Zoning Bylaw Update was to incorporate the major elements of the updated Town Master Plan. (now almost a decade old). However, mistake # 1 was that the Town Master Plan is full of ambitious policy goals, (some good, some questionable, some vague), and for that reason Town Meeting was never asked to review it, let alone endorse it. It is an unofficial document with no legal standing, other than to the Planning Board itself. Instead of reviewing and adopting it, Town Meeting received a broad outline presentation, which carefully avoided the controversial aspects. Several boards had serious misgivings, about the details and implications, but these boards opted to let them drop, when the decision was made to leave the Master Plan as a kind of “Work in Progress”, rather than an agreed policy document.

Mistake # 2 was the consultant the Planning Board hired to assist in updating the Zoning Bylaw. Most of the consultant’s experience was on larger towns and cities, which were ambivalent about wanting major redevelopment. The resulting record of successful implementation in those other towns was not good. It seems like the model applied to tiny Southborough were sophisticated and much larger towns, like Concord, with large planning staffs. We have one town planner, whose duties are split between several boards. Our village downtown is tiny compared with Concord or Northborough. And it will always be tiny, because our major commercial is along Rte 9. We will never become anything remotely like a Concord.

In the previous two years we have had calls of despair from the Economic Development Commission and developers, demanding approval of the Zoning ByLaw Proposal, exclaiming “How can this town expect to prosper it is has an outdated Zoning Bylaw?” They want action on the Zoning as a sign of “progress”, but others are far from that opinion. We have an essentially new Planning Board trying figure out how to proceed with a very complicated situation. .

Why has it taken so long, 8 years, and gotten only so far ? In my opinion, this happened because the consultant and a previous Town Planner led the previous Planning Board wildly astray by proposing thee major mistakes:

(1) Overly complex, sophisticated and potential damaging rules.

(2) A complete reformatting. (Changing organization, converting words to tables, and changing all numbering, etc).

Along the way, there was so much controversy, and so many review and rewrite meetings,. that the consultant essentially ran out of money, and as a result has participated very little in the past few years, except occasional advice. Therefore, we have mistake # 3:

(3) Another town committee (called the Zoning Advisory Committee, or “ZAC”) was estalblished. This membership was somewhat biased toward redevelopment, higher density, and less open space, and this committee (ZAC) took over from the Planning Board the entire role of e-writing the Zoning Bylaw. To give them credit, the work was long and laborious, taking many years. However, the problem was that it turned into a kind of “free-for-all”, making changes for any reason whatever, and with only passing reference to the Master Plan. The ZAC committee created an even more complex document based largely on individual opinions, unrelated to the Master Plan.

The result is what you would expect from such a long and tedious process —an incredibly long, detailed, complex, cross-referenced bylaw, with complicated tables and charts which hardly anyone can understand. (Some developers half-jokingly think this version my require them to hire a consultant to figure out what they can and cannot do. Well, if that is the case for a sophisticated developer, than what is a typical resident supposed to do?

But worse, hardly any changes in the proposed Zoning ByLaw can be tracked to any origin or purpose, and worst of all, it is extremely difficult for the Planning Board to carve out any small section and get it adopted piecemeal. The simple reasons for this, is the cross- referencing and new numbering, which is so extensive in the new format.

The Planning Board’s recent attempt, at Town Meeting, is a case in point. The Board attempted to carve out the easiest section for 2014 Town Meeting , but it had to be withdrawn because even that simple section (Site Plan Review) was too complicated. What this tells us is that future progress (beyond updating Site Plan Review) is virtually impossible. This is because the reformatting of the proposed zoning will make any further attempts to carve out other, small pieces impossible.

The inevitable conclusion is that is that the proposed Zoning Bylaw can NEVER be adopted section-by-section. Yet section-by-section is the ONLY way Town Meeting has ever changed zoning, which requires a 2/3rds vote. (Town Meeting has only approved changes in small, understandable chunks.).

I am a City Planner and Architect, by profession, and I believe that it is time we (“we” means the town, and particularly the Planning Board) faced up to the bitter truth ….. That we have ZERO chance of getting the proposed, reformatted Zoning Bylaw adopted. Instead, we have no alternative except to return to the existing format, which we are all familiar with. Some developers may claim that this is going backwards, and that the existing format is outdated. This is NOT the case. Remarkably this current format is common, workable and appropriate. (It was recommended by Professor Herr of MIT in the 1980’s). The proposed new format, on the other hand, is very complex; and the simple, practical truth is that it prevents us from taking out small sections and adopting them one at a time. Again, it is the cross-referencing in the new format which makes this impossible.

Some may suggest that we should ask Town Meeting to adopt the ENTIRE, proposed Zoning Bylaw as one, new, very large, “package deal”. But this will never happen, because there are literally thousands of changes, and therefore the real possibility of harmful and unintended results, and projects. The Advisory Committee will never endorse such an approach, which is very dangerous. And anyway, it is not necessary.

As a case o point, let us take the case of Northborough, who had the same consultant, and they tried that tactic 6 years ago, (adopting an entirely new zoning bylaw, en mass). They regretted it, because, no sooner had the new Northborough zoning bylaw been approved, when developers immediately filed development applications, locking in their rights to the new zoning changes for their own particular projects. There was a long delay before it became apparent, months later, what new developments were now possible, and had been approved under the multitude of changes, This created a shock-wave of anger among large groups of Northborough residents, who block-voted to annul entire sections of their new Zoning Bylaw. However, the harm was already done, because the new filings were grandfathered, and the new developments could not be stopped. Go visit Northborough, and you will see. It has become a different town.

Mind you, I should mention that Northborough residents have only themselves to blame, because they did NOT take care to review the work of the special committees (dominated by developers) who wrote the new Zoning Bylaw with the consultant. There were few copies distributed. You had to go the Northborough Town Hall to read a copy. That was among the worst examples of citizen participation in an issue of huge public importance. Southborough residents, on the contrary, have been far more vigilant in following all the changes in Zoning being proposed for Southborough. This is an example of sheer persistence, of individuals being highly skeptical of the motivations of certain committees, and as a result attending literally hundreds of meetings, questioning why changes were being made, and objecting publicly during the process. I will mention only one such person, who almost single-handedly took on this repetitive task , and then reported back to the rest of us, and then we got together as a group, spread the news, and lobbied against some outrageous proposals. He is Ray Hokinson. Another such persistent person today is Advisory Board member Sam Stivers. That fact that individuals have to attend so many meetings, to keep tabs on what is going on, should should tell you something. (Thank heavens many committee meetingss are now broadcast on TV, which makes following the actions a lot easier).

I conclude that most residents will agree that Southorough is extremely unlikely to approve an entirely new zoning bylaw, and we really have no alternative except to face up to the truth, and return to our workable, existing format. Not all the new ideas will be lost, because we can take them out of the current proposal. Also, keeping the same format will NOT need a consultant , but can probably be handled by the existing town planner. .

This new approach will allow the Planning Board to consider small changes in a familiar format. Eventually, and incrementally, it can result in an updated, understandable, familiar zoning bylaw. This can incorporate all the worthwhile ideas buried in the draft proposal. Then the un-approved, proposed,. reformatted, Zoning Bylaw can be assigned to the dustbin of history.

You may think this is bad news. I think it is good news, because what is the point of continuing on a path that is leading nowhere, and Town Meeting will never approve.? Let us face facts, get this choke of our necks, and move on productively.

Thank you for allowing me to explain this dilemma with updating our Zoning Bylaw. This is an issue of huge importance that we must get better control off.

David Parry

concerned_resident
8 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Issue 2: Impact of Proposed Zoning Bylaws on SB’s culture, etc.

Hello David,

Very informative and persuasive post. To be honest, I dreaded a bit reading your lenghty composition, but found it to be meaty, right on point, opinionated but supported by verifiable facts and overall though-provoking.

I, too, am very wary of changes that might impact the character of our small New England town. As you pointed out, once changes in ZBs are made and developers rush to file applications in accordance with the new ZBs, then a contract is formed which cannot be altered easily (grandfathered in).

I would like to see discrete examples of surrounding town by-law changes and how it actually impacted the town (pre- and post change).

I would ask following the ZB changes closely to highlight/ analysis only the TOP THREE to FIVE ZONING BYLAW CHANGES and support their position (Yea or Nay) with tangible examples of how any one of their ZB changes have benefited the other community. We dont want any unintended consequences from ZB changes. And a response of “Ooops! We didnt consider that impact” wont cut it in the future.

Publius
8 years ago

Looks like most have read the candidate’s position papers or statements, for those inclined, browsed the websites and most likely look forward to May 7th. A point to consider, it’s easy to criticize, much much harder to weigh competing interests and make decisions. Often difficult decisions. In the case of the BOS we are lucky to have a thoughtful deliberate body, who let’s not forget, are essentially volunteers committed to service to the town and most importantly it’s residents.

David Parry
8 years ago

“Concerned resident”, Thank you for reading through my comments concerning a new zoning bylaw, because I have thought long and hard, about this, for over 8 long years.

I am glad you found it (your quote) to be “meaty, right on point, opinionated but supported by verifiable facts and overall though-provoking.” Maybe your opinion will help others to read it. Yes, it is long, I know, but it has to be long, because it is complex, and it has taken us 8 long years to get this far — exactly nowhere. I decided to avoid platitudes and tell it exactly as I see it, even if this treads on some toes.

We have spent 8 long years on this task and it as led to nothing but frustration all around, from residents to developers, and it is high time we got our act together. The way we are proceeding now, is going to lead nowhere tomorrow.

My proposal is neutral in content. It is neither pro-developer, nor anti-developer. It is simply pro-progress. Developers and residents should ALL support my proposal, because it gets us somewhere, finally, instead of spinning our wheels.

I hope that others, like you, will read my issue letter carefully, and comment, so that real action is taken. Because something different has to be done, or we will still be talking about a “new” zoning bylaw for another 8 years. But we won’t have a new one, even then, unless we change tactics soon.

By the way, this is intended to be helpful to our Planning Board, who have the unenviable task of actually undertaking a new process and implementing it. I am not blaming the Planning Board for the current situation. Far from it. I am blaming the consultant who started us down the wrong road.

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