Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its third session Monday, June 2. Although running a little late, town meeting members worked their way through the remaining articles and will not need another session. A summary of actions on articles:
15. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place–approved
16. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place (alternative)–rejected
17. Grant of easement, Brookline Place–approved
18. Restrictive covenant, Brookline Place–approved
19, Release of documents, Brookline Place–approved
26. Legislation, repealing authority to sell taxi medallions–referred
27. Resolution, urging memory of Brookline veterans–approved
28. Resolution, urging snow clearance in business districts–approved
29. Resolution, supporting Brookline businesses–referred
30. Resolution, supporting legislation on obstetric fistula–approved
31. Resolution, opposing discrimination by gender identity–approved
32. Resolution, supporting legislation on fossil-fuel divestment–approved
33. Reports, town officers and committees
(1) Police department, complaint process–presented
The contentious issues were expected to be Articles 15 and 16, two versions of zoning for Brookline Place, and Article 26, legislation to repeal the state authorization to sell taxi medallions. Article 16, submitted by petition, called for less parking than official Article 15. Debates proved fairly compact. There were four more electronic votes after the seven of May 27 and 29, but only records for two of those appeared on the town’s Web site later in the week.
Brookline Place: The Planning Board and its Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to complete nearly a half century of redevelopment in the Brookline Village block bounded by Washington Street, Brookline Avenue and Pearl Street, adjacent to the Village’s Green Line stop. Except for the T stop and the former Water Department building at the eastern extreme, the commercially zoned area now called Brookline Place–which includes 6-story offices built in the 1990s–is owned by Children’s Hospital.
Management of Children’s Hospital proposed to replace low-rise buildings near the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets with business and medical offices in an 8-story tower–as reviewed over an extended period with the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Brookline Place Advisory Committee, Planning Department and other committees and agencies. Because the development should not add to the school population, substantial net tax revenue is expected. Parking has been the main controversy.
Brookline’s usual zoning requires underground parking. However, Children’s Hospital management claimed that underground parking would make the project uneconomic. Brookline boards and agencies agreed to propose zoning with above-ground parking. However, controversy continued around the amount of parking. Because the site of the development includes a rapid-transit stop, Brookline’s representatives took an unusual stance, advocating less parking than standard zoning. Children’s Hospital management also took an unusual stance, calling for more parking than the town’s representatives.
Article 15 presented a negotiated compromise. That calls for replacing a current 3-story parking garage, with 355 spaces for 105,000 square feet in the existing 6-story offices. A new 6-story garage would be built on the site of the present garage, providing 683 spaces for a new total of 287,500 square feet in the 6-story and new 8-story offices combined. It represents a substantial cutback from 820 spaces that had been under discussion earlier.
Town meeting members led by Andrew Fischer of Precinct 13 submitted an alternative proposal under Article 16. Although complex, it would allow little above-ground parking beyond the current parking garage. More spaces could be built underground. Petitioners argued that transportation via the Green Line and the three MBTA bus routes serving the site should make additional parking unnecessary.
Proponents of Article 15, supported by the Advisory Committee, said that Article 16 would not allow enough on-site parking at costs that make the project economic. Without substantially more parking than the current garage, they said, new offices could become unmarketable at premium rents and could expose the surrounding neighborhood to predatory “impacts from cars circling and taking on-street parking.” Town meeting agreed with those arguments, approving Article 15 and rejecting Article 16.
Article 17 proposed Brookline accept a grant of easement from Children’s Hospital, allowing a public path 45 feet wide between Washington Street and the Village T stop. It will pass between the new 8-story office tower and the older 6-story offices and parking garage. Article 18 proposed Brookline enter into a restrictive covenant with property owners involved in the new development, such that future uses maintain tax income. Article 19 proposed authorizing the Board of Selectmen to release documents concerning a 2007 project for Brookline Place, also involving Children’s Hospital, that was never completed. Articles 17, 18 and 19 attracted little controversy, and town meeting approved them.
Taxi medallions: Article 26, submitted by Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris, proposed asking the General Court to repeal sections of state laws allowing Brookline to sell taxi medallions: in Chapter 51 of the Acts of 2010 and in Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2012. Sale of taxi medallions had originally been requested by a special town meeting held in November, 2008. In his arguments to town meeting, Mr. Harris cited a 2013 Boston Globe article alleging that contract taxi drivers were being abused by medallion owners and singling out Edward J. Tutunjian, the owner of Boston Cab. The Globe article is replete with political sleaze and official corruption.
Mr. Harris sought to revive basic controversy over ownership of taxi medallions, calling it a “social justice issue.” He cited a 1986 New York City brief calling the medallion system there “an engraved invitation to corruption” and recalled the 1930 resignation of former New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, “after being accused of accepting bribes from the Checker Cab Company.”
The Board of Selectmen has called the recent Boston scandal, instead, “the fault of regulators” and argued, in effect, that Boston is Boston. Since 2003, they said, the Brookline “Transportation Board has suspended or revoked the license to operate for several companies and many drivers” when they did not follow regulations.
The Advisory Committee took a less partisan approach, calling Mr. Harris’s “concerns…legitimate for some forms of taxi medallion systems” but arguing that Boston’s medallions–at around $600,000–probably sell for around ten times as much as Brookline’s should–because of a monopoly for serving Logan Airport. Advisory has estimated $10 to $15 million in one-time revenue. Town meeting approved a motion to refer Article 26 to a moderator’s committee, to report in time for a fall town meeting.
Resolutions: Precinct 1 town meeting member Neil Gordon submitted Article 27, asking for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved the resolution.
Precinct 10 town meeting member Frank Caro submitted Article 28, resolving that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee both proposed to refer the matter to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, but town meeting supported Mr. Caro and approved the resolution.
Article 29, submitted by a local-business group calling itself “Brookline Local First” got quite a different response. The group sought a resolution calling for a “task force,” jointly appointed by Brookline boards and committees, to “support the growth and development of locally owned and independent businesses” and calling for declaration of a “Brookline local economy week.” The Board of Selectmen questioned a narrow focus, apparently excluding franchise holders, and moved referral to the Economic Development Advisory Board. The Advisory Committee found only about 70 businesses involved with “Brookline Local First” versus about 2,000 businesses in Brookline, recommending no action. Town meeting took up the question of referral first and approved referral by a vote of 99 to 76.
Sarah Gladstone, a student at Brookline High School, submitted Article 30, a resolution in favor of H.R. 2888 of the 113th Congress, proposing the Obstetric Fistula Prevention, Treatment, Hope and Dignity Restoration Act of 2013–which did not pass last year. The complication of labor is now rare in the United States but remains common in poor countries. Surgical treatment usually works but is often too expensive for victims, The House bill seeks assistance to international organizations. Town meeting approved the resolution.
Alex Coleman, a Human Relations Youth Resources commissioner, submitted Article 31, a resolution to express “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression.” The Advisory Committee moved to amend that, by also asking Brookline’s “legal services department”–apparently meaning the Office of Town Counsel—to review Brookline bylaws and propose changes “consistent with [the] purpose” for a fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen supported the Advisory Committee, and town meeting approved the amended resolution.
Precinct 4 town meeting member Frank Farlow and Brookline resident Byron Hinebaugh submitted Article 32, a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, proposing An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. The bill, filed by Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield, who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, seeks for the state to divest all pension fund holdings in “fossil fuel companies”–not defined in S. 1225. The Board of Selectmen recommended approval of the Article 32 resolution, after amending a “whereas” clause.
By a substantial majority, the Advisory Committee recommended no action, calling S. 1225 a “blunt instrument” and citing vagueness about the meaning of “fossil fuel companies.” General Electric, the committee report noted, operates a wind turbine business and other “clean energy” divisions but also owns GE Oil & Gas. The hour was getting late, and town meeting members may not have been troubled by such distinctions–voting to approve the resolution as amended by the selectmen.
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 3, 2014
Correction, June 6, 2014. Faulty information found on the Brookline Web site the morning after the June 2 session led to two mistakes. Article 26 on taxi medallions was not rejected but instead referred–to a moderator’s committee, to report before a fall town meeting. Four electronic votes were held. They include one on that referral, approved 96 to 91, and another on a referral under article 29, a proposed resolution in support of “Brookline local first,” approved 99 to 76. Votes of individual town meeting members were not available from town meeting records for those two matters. The other two electronic votes are recorded in town meeting computer files: on Article 15, zoning for Brookline Place, approved 185 to 18, and on Article 32, a resolution supporting divestment of state pension funds from fossil fuel companies, approved 126 to 20.
Bob Hohler, Marcella Bombardieri, Jonathan Saltzman and Thomas Farragher, For Boston cabbies, a losing battle against the numbers, Boston Globe, March 30, 2013