Monthly Archives: September 2014

Planning Board: opinions on Hancock Village 40B plans

The Planning Board convened a special meeting Monday, September 29, starting at 7:30 in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, mainly to review the proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village in south Brookline. Chestnut Hill Realty, the developers, again sent Marc Levin as chief representative. The audience numbered about 15, fewer than at hearings held by the Zoning Board of Appeals. They included Nancy Daly and Ben Franco, members of the Board of Selectmen, and several town meeting members.

The Planning Board has no direct role in a Chapter 40B application. The Zoning Board of Appeals is the only local board directly involved. Within about a month, the appeals board is expected to make a decision on the Hancock Village proposal. However, the Board of Selectmen has asked other boards to review the 40B proposal and submit comments.

Maria Morelli, the Planning Department’s consultant for the project, described evolution of plans since last year. Changes involved fewer buildings and units placed in open space near Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. but more units in the main apartment building along an extension of Asheville Rd. The total number of units proposed has been reduced by eight, to 184. Ms. Morelli did not mention plans from prior years, which were far larger.

Ms. Morelli said the project will now preserve more than two-thirds of the trees currently in the open spaces. Proposed garage structures there have been replaced with surface parking, but there are still over 360 proposed new parking spaces. The height of the main building has increased by one story: five floors of apartments over two floors of parking.

Planning Board member Mark Zarrillo asked for a project model. Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said the Zoning Board of Appeals had made that request, but Chestnut Hill Realty had refused, claiming state regulations did not require a model. The Board might well ask Werner Lohe, a Precinct 13 town meeting member who chairs the Massachusetts Housing Appeals Committee, why not.

At the request of Planning Board members, Ms. Morelli displayed three of the video simulation tours of the proposed development, one circling the main building and two passing through back yards of Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. abutters, all in so-called “winter views.” Those show deciduous trees bare of leaves.

The proposed main building is situated on a mammoth puddingstone outcrop–Roxbury conglomerate, an irregular sedimentary compaction of extremely hard, igneous cobble and sand that forms baserock of the Boston basin. In 1946, when Hancock Village was being designed, the outcrop was considered unbuildable and was left vacant.

Chestnut Hill Realty plans to blast away puddingstone to create a level floor for the garage, build above that and pile rubble from blasting around the concrete walls of the garage. The proposed main building would rise above the outcrop like a medieval fortress.

Mr. Zarrillo seemed shocked at the southwest face of the main building, revealing about 20 feet of gray concrete wall surmounted by five stories of brick-face apartments. He told Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty it was the “most irresponsible” development he had ever seen in Brookline. Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani noted that the main building would heavily shade nearby, low-rise garden apartments put up in the 1940s.

Board member Steve Heikin recalled three design teams on which he served for previous 40B projects. “They can be changed,” he said. A Marion St. project has been scaled down from an originally proposed 18 stories to 6 stories, yet to begin construction. A Centre St. project was converted to conventional development. The St. Aidan’s project emerged with far fewer units than first proposed. So far, there has been no explanation about why Brookline did not assemble a design team for the Hancock Village proposal.

Ms. Selkoe asked the board members for suggestions and comments. They all called for scaling down the main building. “It’s simply too big,” said Linda Hamlin, the board’s chair. A consensus seemed to be that it should not be more than four floors of apartments and one floor of parking. The board will review its recommendations at the next regular meeting: Thursday, October 2, at 7:30 pm.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 30, 2014


Video tours of proposed 40B project, Chestnut Hill Realty, September 15, 2014, see 3D Model Animations

Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school

On Friday, September 26, the Devotion School Building Committee reviewed options to renovate and expand the school at a meeting held in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 8 am. All but one of the 20 committee members were present, and about 15 Brookline residents attended, including members of the School Committee and Advisory Committee.

Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, chaired the meeting. Committee member Helen Charlupski, a member of the School Committee, participated by telephone. Under that circumstance, the state’s Open Meeting Law calls for roll-call votes. Anthony Guigli, designated as Brookline’s project manager, took notes and recorded votes but did not cast a vote himself.

Options: At a public hearing on September 10 at Devotion School, the committee’s architects, HMFH of Cambridge, had described three design options to an audience of about 150. The same staff from HMFH returned for the final review: George Metzger. assisted by Deborah Collins and Andrea Yoder. This time, there was more discussion of construction scheduling and of some preliminary cost estimates.

Option 1 is similar to current buildings, replacing the current north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. However, a proposed new north wing extends 148 feet eastward down Stedman St., compared with the current one. A new south wing would be wider, shrinking the outdoor area near Babcock St.

Devotion School Option 1

Option 2 removes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the current central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building–no longer to be part of the school–taking up most of the current field area.

Community views: At the September 10 hearing, it appeared that none of the three options was acceptable to much of the communities of Devotion parents and North Brookline neighborhoods. There was strong opposition to option 2 and option 3, seizing most or all of the field behind the Devotion School today and even some of the community spaces beyond them. It is not necessary to do that in order to add the amount of new space the school is said to need.

After the hearing, Ms. Dewitt and others said, parents and neighborhood residents sent in over 50 letters, many voicing similar objections. Several in the audience at Town Hall September 26 wanted to speak, but Ms. DeWitt said views had been aired, and this was a meeting for the committee to discuss the options and decide.

Committee review: At the September 26 meeting, option 3 was subdivided into a version retaining the current central wing, opened in 1915, or else, in “option 3A,” demolishing it to add “play space.” Committee member Sergio Modigliani, an architect and Planning Board member, said the option to “mothball” the current central building was an “insult to the community” and moved to “take it off the table.” He did not seem interested in preserving an historic building, but he does not live in North Brookline neighborhoods.

Town Administrator Mel Kleckner supported Mr. Modigliani, saying that it would be “too disruptive to leave a building on-site” and that the option 3 school “would not be located in the right place.” However, committee member Jim Batchelor, also an architect, who is a North Brookline resident and chair of the Preservation Commission, contended that option 3 was unsatisfactory either way. He moved to amend, taking both versions of option 3 off the table.

Committee member Sean Cronin, the assistant town administrator, said he favored option 3 but it “was not going to get more than…two votes.” Committee members seemed to get themselves into a tangle over what the motion and amendment really meant. In the end, Mr. Batchelor’s amendment was accepted by a vote of 10 to 8, and the amended motion passed by a vote of 12 to 6, eliminating option 3.

Moving a wing: Committee member Linda Leary, representing the Brookline Historical Society, spoke in favor of moving the new north wing of option 1 closer to Harvard St. and pulling it out of the rear field. She asked the architects whether that was feasible. Deborah Collins, speaking for architects HMFH, said it had been considered. Although it made grade-level clustering more difficult, she said, it was possible.

Dr. William Lupini, the school superintendent, said he preferred option 1 and would favor the change. Committee member Sadhna Brown, a Devotion parent, agreed. Ms. DeWitt cautioned that the change might involve an increase in building height but seemed to favor it.

Weighing option 1 versus option 2, each committee member spoke briefly. Dr. Joseph Connelly, interim principal for Devotion, spoke up for option 1, saying it “maximizes the play space and gives the greatest potential to cluster the grade levels.” All but one of the school and municipal employees on the committee wound up in agreement with Dr. Connelly, including Dr. Lupini and Mr. Kleckner.

Committee member Pam Roberts, a Devotion parent, preferred option 2, saying she likes “having everybody [closer] together” in a building with a smaller footprint. Committee member Sadhna Brown, also a Devotion parent, disagreed, saying the “quality of green space” is better with option 1 and that “meeting in hallways promotes interaction [among students], not [meeting] in stairwells.” Ms. DeWitt supported Ms. Brown’s views.

A recommendation: By a vote of 13 to 5, the committee endorsed option 1 as Brookline’s preferred approach. The proposal will be transmitted to the state School Building Authority by October 2, and the SBA is scheduled to review it on October 19. If approved, the architects will begin to develop plans for option 1. The committee agreed to meet next on Monday, November 17, at 8 am, place to be announced.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 26, 2014


HMFH Architects, Presentation to the committee on 3 options, September 22, 2014

HMFH Architects, Presentation to the committee on 4 options, September 26, 2014

PM&C Cost Estimating (Hingham, MA), Preliminary cost estimates for Devotion School, September 19, 2014

A.M. Fogarty & Associates (Hingham, MA), Preliminary cost estimates for Devotion School, September 19, 2014

Craig Bolon, Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community, Brookline Beacon, September 14, 2014

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 16, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B: Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the board, announced that Brookline lost in its Norfolk Superior Court case opposing a Chapter 40B housing project proposed for Hancock Village. He did not say whether the board intends to pursue appeals. All board members said they continue to oppose the project. At this meeting, they endorsed and signed a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Under Chapter 40B, developers can obtain a “comprehensive permit” to build housing, in lieu of all other town permits, if one in five housing units is subsidized to benefit low-income and moderate-income residents, following state regulations. The Zoning Board of Appeals is the only local board directly involved in such a permit. Within about a month, it is expected to make a decision on the Hancock Village proposal.

Hancock Village is situated in the southernmost corner of Brookline, toward West Roxbury. It was one of three Brookline projects organized after World War II to provide housing for war veterans, along with public housing on High St., toward Jamaica Plain, and on Egmont St., toward Allston. A 1946 contract between John Hancock Insurance Company, the developer, and Brookline specified objectives and restrictions for Hancock Village.

Now the Board of Selectmen is concerned that Chestnut Hill Realty, holder in due course, is seeking to nullify obligations under the 1946 contract in proposing to put up a five- to seven-story building with 140 apartments and nine three-story buildings with 44 apartments. Its letter to the Board of Appeals cites several objections, including invasion of protected green space, massing of the large building, sprawling parking lots and traffic.

Projects, hirings and interviews: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval to seek reimbursement for $0.019 million in road repairs, under the state’s “rapid recovery” program. Brookline is now eligible for up to about $0.1 million. Michael DiPietro, the comptroller, got approval to hire an accountant to replace an employee who has left.

The board interviewed a candidate for Economic Development Advisory and a candidate for Solid Waste Advisory. Questions during the latter interview revealed that Brookline does not know what is happening to recycling collections after they leave town premises and does not know how much solid waste is being incinerated. A new contract, under development, may divert solid waste to a landfill in Southbridge.

Tax override: Starting at 8 pm, the Board heard a report from Susan Ditkoff and Richard Benka, co-chairs of the Override Study Committee appointed last year. They mostly repeated information from a written report of August 14. As in that report, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka took an exceptionalist approach. They did not compare Brookline with the 350 other Massachusetts cities and towns.

Surprisingly, Mr. Benka devoted much of his time to the METCO and the “materials fee” programs run by Public Schools of Brookline. For more than 40 years, they have allowed minority students from Boston and children of town employees to attend Brookline schools. Together, he claimed, they cost Brookline about $7 million a year. If they were abolished, his figures suggested, there would be little need for a tax override to maintain school operations.

Mr. Benka presented no evidence to sustain his cost claims, and he may not have any. To the contrary, Public Schools of Brookline says students in these programs do not get their choices of schools but are instead assigned to schools where there are available seats. Operating in that way, the programs do not add significant costs. It came out that there are currently about 800 more available seats, mostly from observing policies on maximum class sizes. Board members were skeptical of Mr. Benka’s claims about METCO and “materials fees.” According to Betsy DeWitt, they “need a pragmatic filter.”

In discussions about a tax override for debt exclusion, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka said that the proposed project to expand Devotion School was expected to add only five classrooms. That project is currently budgeted for over $100 million. In contrast, construction underway at Lawrence School will add four classrooms for less than $5 million. It sounded as though the Override Study Committee had entertained some strange priorities for economies.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 17, 2014

Brookline Place project: three concept plans

A design advisory team for the Brookline Place development met for a second time Monday, September 15, starting at 7:30 pm, in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Six of the eight team members met with four senior members of the project team working for Children’s Hospital. They were joined by Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning, and one neighborhood resident–a small turnout in a large meeting room.

Sam Norod and Tim Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects, Mikyoung Kim of Mikyoung Kim Design and George Cole of Stantec Consulting presented three design concepts–all similar to the initial concept presented August 26. They differed in the outline of the main, 8-story office building, as it affects adjacent open areas bordered by Pearl St. and lower Washington St.

Although at the August 26 meeting Mark Zarrillo of the Planning Board, who chairs the team, had asked for “a list of amenities that were to going be provided,” negotiated with a Selectmen’s committee, no such list was produced at this meeting. The project team appeared to have focused efforts on a small plaza, interior to the development, to be located between the new office building and the current building at 1 Brookline Place.

Three concepts: The project team called its three design concepts “Boulevard,” “Rooms” and “Green.” The big differences were between “Boulevard” and “Rooms.” The “Boulevard” concept features curved walls and a serpentine path between the Green Line stop and Washington St. The “Rooms” concept features flat walls, sharp corners and a path broken into segments. The “Green” concept somewhat resembles “Rooms” with more grass than paved open space.

BrooklinePlaceConcepts20140915

Mr. Cole said the project team sought a design that “allows you to adapt it to different events”–suggesting that Children’s would allow individuals or groups to organize temporary uses of the outdoor space. Arlene Mattison, a design team member, said she saw the space as primarily a meeting space, maybe hosting art exhibits, but not a performance space. It should be “something that we don’t have in Brookline now…pleasing, welcoming.”

Critiques: Design team member Steve Lacker, an architect, expressed a strong preference for the angular “Rooms” concept. Its urban feel, he said, was “more in keeping with the surroundings.” Linda Hamlin, also an architect, who chairs the Planning Board, was not so sure. “Too much of a pinch point between those buildings,” she said. Design team member Edith Brickman, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, asked, “How does that work with snow and ice?”

Mr. Norod explained that a motive behind the curved walls of the “Boulevard” concept was to admit more light to the interior plaza and perhaps also reduce velocity and turbulence from winter winds, which will often blow northwest to southeast across the open space.

Mark Zarrillo, a landscape architect and Planning Board member, argued for open space away from streets, making it more flexible. That would seem to disfavor the “Green” concept, which places more open space on Washington St., now a pedestrian wasteland. Mr. Zarrillo said he would prefer the “Boulevard” concept with a “more formal appearance”–apparently meaning more of the flat surfaces and angles that Mr. Lacker favors.

Design team member Cynthia Gunadi, an architect, said she was “wary of calling curves warm” and said she wanted to see an approach that provided “flexibility: a farmers market, an office lunch, a kid’s birthday.” Ms. Brickman spoke up for adding and showing benches, saying that “every single bench is in use most of the time now.” Ms. Hamlin wanted the “possibility to have more delight, some playfulness. I can see a child running through it.”

Next steps: Members of the design advisory team asked the project team to discard the “Green” concept and work over the “Boulevard” concept, making it more angular, and the “Rooms” concept, somehow opening access to the interior plaza or, as Mr. Zarrillo put it, “softening” it. Mikyoung Kim, chief landscape designer for the project team, cautioned that they are “very different schemes…you can’t merge the two or you’ll have nothing.”

The next meeting was tentatively set for Thursday, October 11, 7:30 pm, at Town Hall–an evening when there is expected to be no Planning Board meeting.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 16, 2014

Ebola: health-care crisis in west Africa

Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever, with sudden onset, high fever, prostration and often severe internal and membrane bleeding. It was confused with yellow fever for many years and later with Lassa fever. Ebola was distinguished from related diseases by severity, sudden onset and high mortality–reaching 90 percent in some outbreaks. Victims die after an average of about a week. Those who survive two weeks are likely to recover.

Working in 1976 at the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium, Peter Piot, Rene Delgadillo and Guido van der Groen cultured the virus from samples brought from Zaire and obtained electron photomicrographs. The shape and size appeared different from other viruses known at the time.

Antibody tests developed in the 1970s provided the first biochemical diagnosis. Shortly afterward, molecular biology made it possible to distinguish viruses reliably, using genetic tags and sequences. Ebola and related viruses persist in wild animals–some capable of infecting people and others not–including bats, rats, monkeys and primates. These RNA viruses mutate rapidly. About 400 distinct Ebola mutations are now known.

New viral strain: The recent west African outbreaks of Ebola have been attributed to a new strain. As of mid-September, 2014, full gene sequences have been obtained for over 100 samples. Deep sequencing, up to 2,000 sequences per sample, showed that an infection is often a mosaic of multiple sub-strains. Adaptation to evade treatments has already been documented.

In Guinea, the first positively identified case from the recent outbreak occurred in December, 2013. By mid-April, 2014, about 200 cases and 120 deaths were known. The outbreak soon spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone and has rapidly grown worse. As of mid-September, about 5,000 cases and 2,500 deaths had been reported in the three countries combined. The worst prior outbreaks have been in Zaire–1976, 318 cases and 280 deaths–and in Uganda–2000, 425 cases and 224 deaths.

Data provided September 12 by the Columbia Predictions of Infectious Diseases for July and August showed a doubling time for mortality of about five weeks. If that rate were maintained, in a year the death count would grow to about 2-1/2 million. In another year, the entire human population of tropical Africa would be gone.

Very large outbreak: The number of Ebola cases reported in west Africa so far is more than ten times the number from any previous outbreak. The types of resources that halted previous outbreaks have been exhausted, so that large numbers of victims are not being isolated from the population and get no care.

Writing in the Washington Post, Lena Sun reported that so far this year the United States has contributed $100 million to efforts. The Obama administration has sent requests to Congress, she wrote, for about $650 million more. These amounts are comparable to $600 million in emergency aid requested by the World Health Organization.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 15, 2014


Stefaan R. Pattyn, Ed., Ebola virus haemorrhagic fever, Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine (Antwerp, Belgium), 1977

Peter Piot, A virologist’s tale of Africa’s first encounter with Ebola, Science 346(6202):1221-1222, September 11, 2014

Augustine Goba, et al., Genomic sequencing reveals mutations, insights into 2014 Ebola outbreak, Broad Institute (Cambridge, MA), August 28, 2014

Lisa Schnirring, Growing Guinea outbreak caused by new Ebola strain, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, April 17, 2014

Tracy Vence, Ebola outbreak strains sequenced, The Scientist, August 28, 2014

Kate Kelland and Tom Miles, As Ebola grows out of control, WHO pleads for more health workers, Reuters (UK), September 12, 2014

Karl M. Johnson, et al., Ebola haemorrhagic fever in Zaire, 1976, Bulletin of the World Health Organization 56(2):271–293. 1978

Sam I. Okware, et al., Outbreak of Ebola in Uganda, Tropical Medicine and International Health 7(12):1068–1075, 2002

Jeffrey Shaman, Ebola data for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Columbia Predictions of Infectious Diseases, Columbia University, September 12, 2014

Denise Grady, U.S. scientists see long fight against Ebola, New York Times, September 13, 2014

Lena H. Sun, U.S. to announce major increase in aid to fight Ebola, Washington Post, September 15, 2014

Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community

On Wednesday, September 10, the Devotion School Building Committee presented options to renovate and expand the school at a public hearing held in the Devotion School auditorium. There was little enthusiasm for any of the three design options that the architects showed, and there was outrage from some quarters.

Options 1-2-3: Option 1 enlarges current building outlines, replacing the north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St. taking over a quadrant of the field in back of the school and making it impossible to maintain a baseball diamond.

Option 2 demolishes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to Option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building, taking over almost the entire school field in back.

Those three options are all unsatisfactory. Options 2 and 3 make hardly any sense, costing large sums of money to get only a little new educational value, while destroying open space. Option 1 is now misconfigured, failing to make productive use of existing buildings and failing to conserve key outdoor spaces. We can do better.

DevotionSchoolWithThreeAdditions

Option 0: The survey of existing conditions indicates that the current south wing, opened in 1955, and the current north wing, opened in 1976, are reasonable candidates for renovation. All segments of the community are vehement about conserving outdoor spaces, currently outlined by those buildings.

An obvious way to expand classroom space, conserve outdoor space and get effective reuse is to renovate and extend rather than to demolish and replace buildings. That is what we are doing now at Lawrence School and what has been planned at Driscoll School.

Option 0” has zero impact on key outdoor areas, full provision for new classroom space and effective reuse of building space. It is clearly possible to add around 37,000 square feet of gross floor area, more than the current design goal for capacity expansion.

Option 0” would renovate all current buildings and (1) extend the ground, first and second floors of the north wing west over the front plaza, (2) extend the first and second floors of the north wing east over the rear walk and (3) extend the first and second floors of the south wing east over the rear blacktop area.

Addition (1) 21,000 sf
Addition (2)  4,000 sf
Addition (3) 12,000 sf
————————————
Total added 37,000 sf

There need be no intrusions into fields in back of the school or into playground and community green spaces in front of the school. The Devotion House and the fronts of the altered north and south wings of Devotion School would all be set back around 80 ft from the Harvard St. sidewalk, maintaining the streetscape.

The best alternative at this point is to take Option 1, as advertised, and adjust it during “schematic design” by renovating and extending rather than demolishing and replacing the north and south wings of the school.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 14, 2014


Option 0, Devotion School with three additions (aerial photo), September 14, 2014

Options 1-2-3, Devotion School Building Committee (drawings), September 10, 2014

Survey of existing conditions, Devotion School Preliminary Design Program, Vol. 1 (12 MB), March, 2014, see pp. 112-128

Bicycle lanes: a Harvard Street minefield

Starting in the late 1990s, Brookline engineers added a few bicycle markings on streets. Most were small and inconspicuous, and they tended to ignore emerging standards being developed elsewhere. After federal standards were published in 2009 and for the past four years, more streets have been marked for bicycle traffic, helping alert motorists to substantial numbers of bicyclists on local streets, especially during warmer months.

Federal marking standards are not complicated. Lanes reserved for bicycles are marked with a standard bicycle symbol and an arrow for travel direction. Lanes shared with motor vehicles are marked with a bicycle symbol and a double chevron. There should be at least a symbol after each street intersection. Stripes for the edges of bicycle lanes are solid where motor vehicles should not usually cross and dashed where they may. They should become dashed at least 50 feet before potential crossings and should be omitted across street intersections.

The effectiveness of bicycle markings varies. Narrow and busy streets are problematic. The town’s adherence to federal marking standards has been erratic. The two-thirds of a mile of Harvard St. between Coolidge Corner and Allston is a messy example. Brookline changed parts of the traffic configuration there at least ten times over the past twenty years, At best, current bicycle markings look and feel like afterthoughts.

Survey: A survey of Harvard St. between Coolidge Corner and Allston, during late August and early September of 2014, found 70 departures from federal bicycle marking standards–more than one for every hundred feet of bicycle lane. A bicycle rider depending on consistent markings for safety will be misled more than once in almost every block.

Where on-street parking is allowed, national organizations recommend minimum bicycle lane widths of 5 feet, offset at least 8 feet from curbs. Measured lane widths were 4.4 to 6.5 feet, and measured offsets were 7.0 to 9.3 feet. In several places, lane markings tended to herd bicyclists toward parked cars.

Between Coolidge Corner and Allston, Harvard St. is mismarked for bicycle traffic at or near almost every intersection, driveway and bus stop. Lane stripes fail to warn that motor vehicles may be moving across a bicycle lane, a common source of fatal collisions. Symbols and arrows are missing. There are abrupt shifts between reserved bicycle lanes and shared lanes: six on the northbound side and three on the southbound side.

Hazards: Potentially lethal elements for Harvard St. bicyclists come from pacing bus and truck traffic at high speeds, from crowding bicycles close to parked cars and from shifting vehicle lanes left and right. An MBTA no. 66 bus comes rushing by about every ten minutes, often intruding into a third of a bicycle lane or more. Oversize trucks are less frequent but can be even more hazardous, since their drivers are less likely to be familiar with the street. Harvard St. has the town’s highest density of bicycle crashes.

Some of the most awkward and potentially hazardous markings are at the intersection with Stedman St., from the east beside Devotion School, and Williams St., from the west beside Kehillath Israel. Those cross streets are offset about 60 feet. Some years ago, the intersection was changed, adding a left-turn lane onto Williams St. for northbound motorists. A yellow, bulb-shaped traffic guide was painted to the north of the intersection.

When installing bicycle markings about a year ago, Brookline paid less attention to safety than it should have and did not adjust the lane patterns. Instead, it painted symbols for a shared northbound lane. Now, northbound motorists who dodge right and skirt the yellow bulb near Irving’s Toy and Card Shop will crowd bicyclists toward parked cars. The weaving intersection confuses both motorists and bicyclists. Motorists often ignore the street markings and barrel across the left-turn lane and the yellow bulb.

One way to make this intersection safer would be to make Williams St. No-Left-Turn for drivers heading north on Harvard St. Then the awkward left-turn lane and yellow bulb could be removed, and ordinary bicycle lanes could be provided on both sides. So far, the Bicycle Advisory Committee has been beating drums for more bicycle lanes but has sounded less concerned about their erratic markings and their everyday hazards–including ones just described.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 13, 2014


Harvard Street bicycle lane marking problems, September, 2014

Pavement markings for bicycle lanes on a two-way street, Figure 9C-6, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2009

Guide for the development of bicycle facilities, Fourth Edition, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 2012

Brookline Green Routes Bicycle Network, map, Bicycle Advisory Committee, 2014

Transportation Board: Coolidge Corner jitney to Boston and Cambridge

The Transportation Board held a public hearing on Thursday, September 11, about jitney service between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge, starting at 7:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. Five of the six board members heard from representatives of GroupZoom, operators of the Bridj jitney service, and from members of the public.

A rocky start: The Bridj jitney service was announced in Brookline May 21, when GroupZoom founder and president Matthew George met with the Public Transportation Advisory Committee. Mr. George planned to run commuter buses between Coolidge Corner and business areas in Boston and Cambridge. Passengers would be able to reserve seats via the Web and board with electronic ticketing operated from cell phones. The first route would be to Kendall Square in Cambridge, he said, where he works.

Mr. George got a temporary permit for the Bridj service from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, and began operations the morning of June 2, picking up passengers on Centre St. At first, it may have been more of a “hit” to the neighborhood than a “hit” with the passengers. The service began with full-size, 54-passenger highway buses operated by Academy Bus, a Braintree charter company.

At a June 25 meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, told the committee that the Centre St. neighborhood was “taken by surprise” around 8 am, when three full-size buses showed up. He and other neighbors complained that they blocked the street, could not navigate narrow cross-streets and were left idling for long times, emitting fumes.

At the June 25 meeting, Mike Izzo, who had been hired as operations manager for Bridj, promised to correct problems and offered telephone and e-mail contacts for anyone experiencing future problems. He said the service was starting to use smaller vehicles.

A state license: On July 8, Mr. Izzo represented Bridj at a Department of Public Utilities hearing, applying for a state license to operate a charter bus service. The Transportation Oversight Division is a non-communicative agency with a useless Web site. Brian E. Cristy, the director, claimed there had never been a reporter at a hearing but relented and let one stay. Your State Open Meeting Law at Work, perhaps.

At the state hearing, Mr. Izzo said GroupZoom was starting to use DPV Transportation as a contractor, operating from McClellan Highway in East Boston. He said the Bridj service would use quarter-size to full-size buses, with capacities of 13 to 54 passengers, and committed to use only state-certified carriers observing federal safety and maintenance standards. GroupZoom has received its state charter-bus license, according to Mr. Izzo.

Adapting the service: At the September 11 Transportation Board hearing, Mr. Izzo said that in Brookline the Bridj service now uses only 9-passenger limousines, operated from East Boston, and no longer uses either large or small buses. GroupZoom is working on jitney permits with Boston, Cambridge and Brookline. Mr. Izzo also said Bridj vehicles no longer use Centre St.

In Brookline, Mr. Izzo said Bridj vehicles now pick up passengers and drop them off on Harvard St. at the bus stops near Beacon St. and Coolidge St. Responding to a question from board member Ali Tali, he said the route out of Brookline is south on Harvard St., east on Longwood Ave., north on St. Paul St. and east on Beacon St. Using limousines, he said, stops are short and have not interfered with MBTA buses.

Linda Jason, representing the Public Transportation Advisory Committee, recounted earlier reviews of the Bridj service and mentioned problems reported in and near Centre St. She said the committee remains concerned about extended idling in winter and summer to provide heating and cooling and would encourage Bridj to explore underutilized parking lots to pick up and drop off passengers.

Mr. Swartz said that disturbances on Centre St. had stopped. He wondered whether Bridj would resume using large buses and resume using Centre St. Mr. Izzo said he did not anticipate using large buses again in Brookline but “will continue to explore sites” for stops. Pamela Zelnick, the board member chairing the hearing, said that other jitney licenses specified the routes and the locations of stops. Mr. Izzo asked for some flexibility.

Outstanding service: Nathaniel Hinchey, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and his spouse Connor both said they are regular Bridj customers, in part because of direct access to the Seaport district. They said service was “awesome” and “fantastic” and contrasted it with slow speeds and frequent breakdowns on the Green Line.

Another Bridj regular, who works in downtown Boston, said service is on-time, vehicles are clean and comfortable, and reserved seats make trips easier. A Bridj customer who identified herself as a “working mom” said the time she saved using Bridj instead of the Green Line was “very important.” Others at the hearing echoed the compliments. Two said they do not own cars. No one had a complaint.

Mr. Izzo said Bridj is currently charging promotional fares: $3.00 each way at peak times and $1.00 off-peak. Last May, Mr. George estimated a regular fare of $6.00 to Kendall Square. Mr. Izzo said the service to Kendall Square has been saving about 30 minutes each way over MBTA travel times, close to 35 minutes that Mr. George estimated last May.

Ms. Jason asked whether a jitney permit would include conditions. Ms. Zelnick replied that conditions would be drafted and said there would be a review by the Transportation Board in October.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 12, 2014

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies

On Wednesday, September 10, the Devotion School Building Committee presented options to renovate and expand the school at a public hearing held in the Devotion School auditorium, starting at 7 pm. At least 12 of the 20 committee members were present. The audience numbered around 150 and included four of the five members of the Board of Selectmen and several School Committee members.

Town bylaws require building committees for construction, alteration or repair projects going beyond routine maintenance. The state’s School Building Authority (SBA) also requires such a committee to include specified school and municipal officials. The Board of Selectmen assembled the largest building committee ever, including representatives of Devotion School parents, preservationists and the business community.

Background: After the Devotion School project appeared for at least ten years in Brookline’s capital improvement program, active planning began in the summer of 2012, with appointment of the committee. Devotion School was last renovated between 1974 and 1976, when the current north wing along Stedman St. replaced a handsome but dilapidated building opened in 1899.

Local architect Robert Kaplan moved the north wing eastward from the 1899 site, away from Harvard St., opening up community space and providing a more respectful setting for the Edward Devotion House. The house was begun around 1680, when the then-unincorporated town was known as the Muddy River hamlet of Boston. It was built out to its current form around 1745. The town bought the property in 1891 for school uses.

When the current school opened in 1976, it was rated for 650 students, although during the 1950s the student population had reached around 900. In a conservative interpretation of “open schools,” then in vogue, Mr. Kaplan provided flexible partitions in the 1976 north wing and generous spaces for woodworking, home economics, music, art, science, assembly, library and community uses. A stately auditorium in the central building, opened in 1915, was divided into a large library below and a low-rise auditorium above.

The woodworking and home economics programs were disbanded in the 1980s, as Brookline reacted to Proposition 2-1/2 with many cutbacks in both municipal and school services. With Devotion’s student population increasing steadily since about 2005, the School Department used the north wing’s flexible partitions to create more classrooms, then added sub-partitions and cubicles.

The former community room, special program rooms, open areas and almost every other usable indoor space have now been taken for classrooms. This fall’s student count is about 815. The 2012 fall town meeting appropriated $1.75 million for a feasibility study and preliminary plans. Brookline hired HMFH Architects of Cambridge for the work. In 2013, the SBA authorized expansion of school capacity to 1,010 students.

Plan options: The main design options are explained in a document from HMFH, available for several weeks on Brookline’s municipal Web site. At the public hearing, committee chair Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, summarized the background of the project, some of the objectives and the ongoing process. Objectives, she said, are “driven by educational programs…grade clustering, access to common space.”

Guiding criteria that Ms. DeWitt showed on a projection screen include preserving the central building opened in 1915 and the historic Edward Devotion House. These and the other exhibits are supposed to be available from the municipal Web site but were not found the following morning. Ms. DeWitt described a schedule.

The committee plans to meet September 26 and designate a preference for one of three options, to be sent to the SBA by October 2. Review by the SBA is expected at a November 15 meeting. If favorable, Brookline will prepare preliminary plans, aiming for SBA approval in March of 2015. Ms. DeWitt said members of the Board of Selectmen expect to propose a tax override next January, to be submitted to voters the following May.

George Metzger from HMFH. assisted by Deborah Collins and Andrea Yoder, presented the three design options now before the committee. Option 1 retains the site layout, replacing the current north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St., compared with the current one. A new south wing would be wider, shrinking the outdoor area near Babcock St.

Option 2 removes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the current central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building–no longer to be part of the school–taking up most of the current field area. With any option, current underground parking would increase from about 45 to about 65 spaces.

Ken Liss, for the Brookline Historical Society, and Sara Patton, for the National Park Service, described the historical significance of the Devotion School site. Mr. Liss said it had become the community’s unofficial “town green.” He named other historical buildings demolished from the 1940s through the 1960s, saying that the town now “values its past by building for the future.”

Sara Patton, lead park ranger at the Kennedy birthplace site less than two blocks away, recalled that four of the Kennedy family began their educations at Devotion School, including former President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the central building opened in 1915. She said the National Park Service coordinates educational programs every year at Devotion School, focused on the neighborhood history.

Questions and comments: When Ms. DeWitt invited questions and comments, an audience member asked to see the options superimposed, but HMFH architects had not thought to compare their designs graphically and could not respond. Some in the audience appeared to dismiss options 2 and 3, focusing on option 1. They wanted to know how much of the field area in back of the school would be taken. Again, HMFH architects were unprepared.

George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, asked about enclosing open spaces in front of the school along Harvard St, as done now with the south portions. He said it “could be like the Public Garden” in Boston. Once more, there was no clear response from the architects. Mr. Metzger was straightforward, however, about going above five stories, saying that would “make it impossible to meet the educational plan.”

Devotion School is just 2-1/2 blocks from the Coolidge Corner transit station, a candidate for the selectmen’s recently announced town-wide transportation demand management. William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, did not seem to think it applied to his department. “Teachers need to park. They don’t always come from places with public transportation.” It sounded as though the fifth and sixth floors at Town Hall aren’t connected.

Toward the end of the hearing, parents of Devotion students began to speak up. Some were angry over the guidelines’ emphasis on maintaining historical structures. In particular, they seemed to see the 1915 central building as an obstacle. Mr. White sounded irritated, saying, “There are some people who don’t think we knock everything down in Brookline and build a Howard Johnson’s.”

Ms. DeWitt reminded the audience that a tax override was going to be needed. Many voters who have no children in the schools will have to support it, in order to win approval. A narrow focus on school needs alone won’t help. “It is the most expensive project the town has considered,” she said. “I will campaign for it very hard, and everybody here should be prepared to do the same.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 11, 2014

Board of Selectmen: fire engines, repairs and “flat earth”

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 9, started at 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, reported on plans for Brookline Day on Sunday, September 14, at Larz Anderson Park, 9 am to 1 pm. The current version of a Brookline community event began in 2012; the main sponsor is Brookline Bank.

Announcements: The Devotion School Building Committee will present plans to renovate the school Tuesday, September 10, 2014, in the Devotion auditorium at 7 pm. The committee was appointed in summer, 2012. Plans are being developed by HMFH Architects of Cambridge. When the current school opened in 1976, it was rated for 650 students. The state’s School Building Authority has authorized expansion to 1010 students.

The main design options are explained in a document from HMFH. Most options preserve the current central building, opened in 1915. The south building dates from the mid-1950s, replacing a building opened in 1893, and the north building dates from the mid-1970s, replacing a building opened in 1899. The historic Devotion House in front of the central building once had a large barn, demolished in the late nineteenth century.

Projects, contracts and hiring: The board accepted payment of $0.3 million from Children’s Hospital, agreed as part of the Brookline Place project, to be used for demolishing the 1970s pedestrian overpass across lower Washington St. Temporary funds from Brookline’s Community Development Block Grant become available for reallocation.

The Board approved contracts for $1.44 million to purchase two new fire engines, appropriated at the annual town meeting in May. Ray Masak of the Building Department got approval for a $0.17 million contract with Robicheau of Roslindale to complete Waldstein Park renovations, expected to reopen some time next spring.

At the Building Commission the same evening, Mr. Masak reported completion of roof repairs for Pierce primary, the main library and the water department. The board approved about $0.02 million in change orders to cope with unexpected conditions. As much as $0.1 million may be needed to cope with conditions at Lawrence School, Mr. Masak told the Building Commission, mainly more ash in soils than found by borings and testing.

Although the money involved is only $0.01 million, Kara Brewton, the economic development director, said that a contract with Nelson/Nygaard of San Francisco will have substantial consequences. The firm will expand on the transportation demand management being planned for Brookline Place, preparing a town-wide plan to guide future development.

The board approved hiring to replace head clerks in Veterans Services and the Building Department. One is taking another town job, and the other relocated. Kenneth Goldstein, the chair, made his typical request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates [and] consult with the personnel office” for the Building position. So far, the board has not interviewed candidates for a new Diversity Commission voted at the annual town meeting.

Appointments: As usual, the board took a more relaxed pace interviewing candidates for boards, commissions and committees: one for Public Health Advisory, two for Arts Commission, one for Commission on Women, two for Housing Advisory, one for Tree Planting and one for Economic Development Advisory.

Brookline has the oldest tree planting committee in the U.S., set up in the early nineteenth century. It has only three members. Board member Nancy Daly asked Nadine Gerdts, a committee member seeking reappointment, about adding more members. Ms. Gerdts seemed open to the idea. In response to other questions, she said a strong, current concern is to maintain mature tree canopies, such as those on Amory St. and Russett Rd.

Ordinarily the board does not make appointments at the same meetings candidates are interviewed. At this meeting, board member Neil Wishinsky was appointed Brookline’s representative on the Port Authority Advisory Committee, previously discussed on August 12. Elizabeth Childs, who interviewed on July 8, was appointed Brookline’s representative on the Norfolk County Advisory Board. There are many pending appointments.

Fall town meeting: The board authorized publication of a warrant for a town meeting to begin November 18. It has 20 articles: ten filed by departments, boards and committees and ten filed in petitions from town residents. Four of the latter propose resolutions.

Former town meeting member Fred Lebow is returning with the same proposal about measuring noise that was rejected at this year’s annual town meeting in a unanimous vote of No on a main motion–a very rare event. Mr. Lebow, an acoustic engineer, still wants to make life easier for fellow engineers by exempting them from night-time work–instead, estimating night-time noise by adjusting the amount of noise measured during the day.

Dr. Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad–ridiculed the idea at town meeting as “legislating” noise. He told town meeting last May that “the most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 10, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B

The Zoning Appeals Board held a continued hearing on Monday, September 8, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. It was most recently proposing nine 3-story structures tucked in behind houses along Russett and Beverly Rds. and a large building at the extension of Asheville Rd., with a total of 184 new units.

The Appeals Board has now had some experience with hostile 40B developments, notably on Centre and Marion Sts. Its favored approach of wearing out developers met with success, but that has now been foreclosed by state rules narrowing the scope of objections and setting time limits for actions. For those gifts, we can in part thank Werner Lohe, a Precinct 13 town meeting member who chairs the Massachusetts Housing Appeals Committee.

Regardless of rule changes, Brookline would have had tenuous prospects with such tactics now, because Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner of Hancock Village who is proposing the 40B project, has more resources than developers of previous projects and is unlikely to walk away just because the process takes a long time. Chestnut Hill was represented by Marc Levin and by landscape architect Joseph Geller of Stantec Consulting in Boston, who is a former chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Theodore Touloukian, a Boston architect, presented a review of proposed architecture. He described the nine low-rise buildings as a total of 44 units, 1-bedroom to 3 bedrooms, including 98 bedrooms and 22 lofts. The large building has 5 floors of apartments over 2 floors of parking, with 140 units and 223 bedrooms. A total of 369 new parking spaces is now proposed. Of the 184 total units, all are rental and 37 are to be subsidized for low-income and moderate-income residents.

Mr. Touloukian reported some success at improving landscaping and reducing the large building’s massing at its northern end but none at reducing the number of units or the height of buildings. Perimeter fencing is now to be 7 instead of 4 feet high to reduce headlight glare from night parking. He said he hoped to see further improvements: subdividing surface parking into smaller areas, preserving more trees, trimming the height of the large building to 4 stories at the northern end and using higher quality materials.

Mr. Levin and Mr. Geller of Stantec, speaking for Chestnut Hill, said they had gone as far with changes as practical. Any further change to the large building, they said, would substantially increase cost. Where new trees are being planted, they are willing to put in evergreens to improve year-round screening. They rejected most of Mr. Touloukian’s proposals for changes in architectural materials as too expensive.

Mr. Geller of Stantec exhibited 14 simulated walks around the project, showing Hancock Village buildings in some detail and surrounding houses in caricature. Views of the large building seemed particularly startling, revealing how the parking rises above grade at the south end, making the height seven stories there, and capturing the building’s massive presence as seen from the front or rear.

Several neighborhood residents and town meeting members commented. William M. Varrell, III, who lives at the corner of Asheville and Russett Rds., asked to scale back the large building, of which he probably has the closest view. “Make it smaller,” he said, “and see if it’s feasible.” Scott Gladstone, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and Russett Rd. resident, had a similar outlook. “Nibbling around the project doesn’t work,” he contended. “Make the project smaller.”

Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and Beverly Rd. resident, said none of the changes made since last January “substantially address the problems of the proposal. A five-story building is inappropriate for the site.” Her concerns about overcrowding Baker School were echoed by Abby Cox, a School Committee member and Precinct 8 town meeting member. Baker is already over capacity, Ms. Cox said, with about 800 students and “five sections for three grades.”

Alisa Jonas and Stephen Chiumenti, both Russett Road residents and Precinct 16 town meeting members, bore down on whether the proposed project was appropriate for the site. Before it went to the Board of Appeals, Mr. Chiumenti related, “Mass Development was prepared to reject…the original project,” similar is scope and size. He urged the board to “slash the size of this development, then consider financial feasibility.”

There was an interesting exchange between board members and their legal consultants for this review. Jesse Geller, the board’s chair and a lawyer, and Christopher Hussey, a board member and an architect, seemed to play a game of “After you, Alphonse.” Mr. Geller contended architectural elements were the main issues, while Mr. Hussey said, “I’m going to let the lawyers work [things] out.”

Edith Netter of Waltham, consulting on legal aspects of 40B development, seemed eager for board members to start weighing options, saying, “They’ve got to talk to one another.” Board member Mark Zuroff sounded more willing than the others to do so. “I think that the project is too dense,” he said. Board member Avi Liss advocated making the large building “less conspicuous” but did not say how that might happen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 9, 2014

Radio pollution: tangles and hazards in Brookline

Radio pollution is both an old and a new controversy here. The old controversy began in the early twentieth century, when AM broadcasting, as we know it now, took off after invention of the vacuum tube in 1906. Between the end of World War I and the end of World War II, it was the only commercially significant radio. There was then, of course, no television and no wireless communication serving the general population. A signature of a classic comics character, Dick Tracy, was the fantasy of a “two-way wrist radio.”

Golden-age service: The so-called “golden age of radio” starting about 1910 was tarnished by interference between stations using close frequencies. Like counterparts in the newspaper business, radio entrepreneurs treated broadcasting space at first as a free good, although it was not. Brookline once found that seemingly any number of news stands could occupy a corner. Any number of radio stations cannot. They may interfere, creating buzz and static. Government regulation started during World War I.

In 1922, a few AM stations were granted “clear channel” rights–prime use of a frequency at high power. WBZ of Boston at 1.03 MHz and WTIC of Hartford at 1.08 MHz are the only ones in New England. WTIC shares rights to its frequency. WBZ, however, broadcasts 24 hours every day at 50 kW from Brighton, with exclusive North American rights to appear at AM 1030. Initially broadcasting from Springfield, MA–the first commercially licensed U.S. radio station–WBZ can be tuned in nationwide, thousands of miles away.

Short-range services: At ultra-high frequencies (UHF) used during World War II for military radar and afterward for satellite, digital cellular and close-range services–around 1 GHz (1,000 MHz) and higher–earthbound transmission ranges are less than 100 miles, sometimes less than 100 feet. Signal energy is readily absorbed by soil, trees, buildings and body tissue. Signals do not travel far inside most buildings. That is why we cannot use GPS satellite location-finding indoors, except perhaps at a window.

At the low end of UHF, Verizon mounted its so-called “4G” cellular service on an LTE model, using carriers in 0.7 GHz bands–becoming popular across North America, Europe and Australia, plus large parts of South America and east and southeast Asia, including India and Japan. Because of lower frequencies, LTE is somewhat less attenuated by buildings than most UHF. However, lower frequencies also make LTE more vulnerable to crowding; there is less bandwidth to share among users.

During the past year, Verizon began expanding “4G” service using AWS spectrum, with carriers in 2.1 GHz bands. To sustain expansion, Verizon needs to increase the density and number of its cellular stations, while reducing power and limiting ranges. Those factors tend to make Verizon cellular services environmentally more friendly but more expensive. They also help to explain why Verizon is paying high-priced lawyers, trying to persuade Brookline to allow the company zoning variances for locating cellular base stations in residential areas.

Risks and benefits: Whether that is in the best interest of Brookline residents depends partly on how it might affect environmental risks. As we gradually learned from long controversies over nuclear power, there is probably no risk-free technology. Even spinning and weaving spread dust in the air that can cause lung disease and factory explosions. Risks from UHF radio became safety and health issues during the wartime 1940s, with the development of radar. Those concerns have continued.

UHF radio energy is more strongly absorbed by materials than lower frequency signals. An easily measured effect is heat. From the 1940s through the 1980s, heat was the main widely studied and well documented hazard. During the Reagan administration, a federal agency produced what has become the reference for nearly all current “environmental assessments” produced by or for industries. [Guy, et al., 1986] That was soon reflected in a so-called “consensus” standard, ANSI C95.1, updated but not basically changed since 1992.

During and before the early 1980s, most common household exposure to UHF radio came from occasional use of increasingly popular microwave ovens. There were few radar zones or microwave transmitters, no digital cell phones or base stations and no close-range emitters such as cordless telephones, WiFi, Bluetooth and “smart” meters and appliances. Few would deny economic benefits and conveniences of the more recent technologies. However, the commonplace uses and continuous exposures occurring today were not anticipated in research conducted before the mid-1980s.

Health and safety: It is unreasonable to expect that a 1986 evaluation of risks and hazards from UHF radio would reflect today’s environment. Nevertheless, that is what cellular service companies are encouraging. So-called “environmental assessments” rehash research before the mid-1980s, ignore about three decades of more recent discoveries and conceal shortcomings through technical jargon and numbers. Findings of “no significant impact” are all but guaranteed by lax standards based on obsolete research.

More recent research on health effects of UHF radio exposure–sometimes called “microwave exposure”–starting in the early 1990s, found associations with disturbances in humans, wildlife and laboratory animals. In 2011, documented risks of brain tumors persuaded a branch of the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, to classify “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” as a potential carcinogen. Other types of disturbances have involved biochemical, neurological, behavioral and developmental changes.

In 2012, an association of health researchers published a compendium of findings, calling for stronger standards. While other researchers criticized the effort as unfocused, it brought attention to neglected but potentially significant elements, including pulsed sources, common in telecommunications, and individual differences, with a few percent of the population who may be hypersensitive.

While industry groups commonly claim that allowed power levels are conservative by factors of 10 to 50, the association claims they are excessive by factors of 100 or more. Its findings are currently unassimilated. So far, no government-sponsored organization has sorted through the many reports, developed priorities, conducted well controlled research or performed regulatory analysis.

Investigation and regulation: Hazards from UHF radio exposure are not simple to investigate. Calibrated UHF survey meters with appropriate sensitivity cost around $20,000 or more. Some potential problems have been described as accumulating over long-term exposure, others as affecting a few percent of the population. Effective research may need large numbers of subjects and long durations. Mitigation measures have also received little attention so far, although UHF radio signals are readily blocked by even thin metal.

Zoning regulations, again at issue in Brookline, are not very flexible tools to address potential UHF radio hazards. However, a longstanding tradition in zoning, reacting to other uncertainties, has been to separate industrial activities from residential areas. That is currently the approach of Brookline’s zoning. As long as they do not prohibit telecommunication services, by leaving niches in which services can be located, zoning regulations are an obvious way we now have to reduce potential hazards that we cannot yet estimate well.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 7, 2014


Arthur W. Guy, et al., Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, Report 86, [U.S.] National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement, 1986

Barry Mishkind, WBZ and WBZA in Boston and Springfield, MA, Hammond Museum of Radio (Guelph, ON, Canada), 2004

Hammett and Edison, Statement re proposed base station site CA-SBR022, County of Santa Barbara, CA, 2007

Don Hayes, Petition Number 08-27 MetroPCS, Re 639 Granite St., Braintree, MA, Zoning Board of Appeals, 2008

Robert Baan, et al., Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, Lancet Oncology 12(7):624-625, 2011

Where did our RF standards come from? Hammett and Edison, Consulting engineers (Sonoma, CA), 2012

David O. Carpenter and Cindy Sage, Eds., BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for Biologically-based Public Exposure Standards for Electromagnetic Radiation, BioInitiative Group (Santa Barbara, CA), 2012 (25 MB)

Kevin Fitchard, Verizon quietly unleashes its LTE monster, tripling 4G capacity in major cities, Gigaom Tech News, December 5, 2013

Planning Board: mending a fence and a ‘derelict’ house

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, September 4, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of seven property improvement applications were scheduled, a heavy workload. Summer is the busiest season for property improvements, and the board had not met the previous week. The board elected Linda Hamlin as chair and Steven Heikin as clerk for the coming year. Ms. Hamlin, an architect, may be the first woman to chair the Brookline Planning Board.

Fence viewer’s call: A dispute over the height of a fence took more time than any other case. The fence at issue was recently built between two properties along Dudley St. The owners of the fence applied for a special permit allowing extra fence height, after their neighbor complained that the fence was over seven feet tall–the maximum allowed for the zone in a side yard, when less than 20 feet from a lot line.

The area’s terrain retains more of its natural variations than urban Brookline, with occasional rises and valleys. Before installing the fence, its owners sought to stabilize a slope with a retaining wall, along or near the lot line. At maximum, that raised their land elevation about three feet above their neighbor’s land. After they installed a fence six or seven feet high, from the neighbor’s land it looked nine or ten feet high.

Brookline specifies that height of a fence or wall is measured “above the natural grade,” and the building inspector who looked at the site took that literally, finding that the top of the new fence rose to more than seven feet above undisturbed land–too high. Special permits for extra fence height are allowed “to mitigate noise or other detrimental impact or provide greater safety,” but none of those circumstances seemed to apply.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the fence owners. The neighbor brought along a landscape designer who had worked on the property but no lawyer. As they often do, board members tried to mediate, seeking some avenue toward agreement. This time, they could not pull it off.

The neighbor offered to meet with the fence owners again, but the owners said that had been tried and didn’t work. Mr. Allen, who handles many such cases with generally calm demeanor, seemed to be exasperated over this one. He couldn’t take it “offline.” Faced with the impasse, the Planning Board briefly reviewed the zoning and sided with the neighbor, recommending the Board of Appeals deny a special permit for extra fence height.

Appeals Board cases: Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, introduced Jay Rosa to the board. Mr. Rosa has taken a new Planning Department position as zoning coordinator. He will assume duties from the town clerk’s office, following and reporting cases at the Zoning Board of Appeals. Earlier in the evening, Mr. Rosa had attended his first two cases, including a controversial “garage triangle” on Walnut Place.

The Appeals panel visited the site that morning. While there, according to panel member Mark Zuroff, they saw two large trucks make their way past two cars parked in the Walnut Place triangle. Panel members said they did not believe the proposed garage entrance would become a nuisance or serious hazard. They allowed the Upland Road applicants on the case to modify their garage so as to enter it from Walnut Place rather than Upland Road.

A ‘derelict’ house: Another case that proved controversial proposed to alter a house on Beaconsfield Road with a rear addition and both front and rear dormers. The house, in a T-6 two family district, is now a two-family and would remain one. However, the 4131 square feet of gross floor area would be increased well beyond the 4593 square feet normally allowed. To get such an increase requires design review, giving the Planning Board considerable scope.

Members of the Planning Board were appalled to hear that much of the house had been ripped apart, leaving a shell. A nearby resident said the house, with “hardly any work going on since spring, looks like a derelict [and] is very dangerous.” Ms. Hamlin asked, “Is this the new thing: we tear it apart and then ask for permits?”

Mr. Allen, also representing the property owner in this case, was quick to observe that work so far was done under a building permit and had not added new space to the house. One board member thought that the house was in a National Historic Register district, inhibiting demolition, but the Beaconsfield Terrace district starts to the west, toward Beacon St. While Brookline’s zoning is fairly strict about disturbing landscaping before design review, it does not forbid demolishing walls and floors.

Board members turned to the proposed design. Mark Zarrillo, the outgoing chair, said “it looks too bulky.” Mr. Heikin said the design was “out of scale [and] out of character with the surroundings.” According to Ms. Hamlin, “The existing houses have an intimate scale.” The proposed front dormer, she said, “totally overwhelms that house…the scale is wrong…you’ve eliminated any detail that gave it any charm.” The board continued the case and will review it again after the owner and his architect revise their plans.

School Committee: no PARCC testing this year

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, September 4, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included the state’s PARCC testing program and considerations for a general tax override, expected to be proposed early next year mainly to support public schools.

Superintendent of Schools William Lupini and the School Committee welcomed several new hires and promotions for leadership positions, They include new vice principals Jennifer Buller at Devotion, Brian DiNitzo at Lincoln and Dann Rudd at Baker. New administrators include Gabe McCormick for professional development, Michelle Adams for school affairs and Brian Poon as associate dean of students at the High School.

Many of their friends and family were there. At least two of the new hires and promotions are African-American. Public Schools of Brookline looks to be leading the town in diversity of senior staff recruitment–an example most municipal departments have yet to appreciate.

Testing plans: Superintendent Lupini described his opposition to introducing a new commercial testing regime in Brookline this school year, called “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers” (PARCC). These tests are being produced and sold by the Pearson company of London, with major offices in Boston and six other U.S. cities.

Dr. Lupini said the state group organizing PARCC had agreed to “extend by 50 percent” the testing times, only to reverse course under alleged federal pressure. They are “now considering eliminating the extra time,” he said. Communities that previously agreed to adopt PARCC will find “conditions have changed…will likely be upset.” He contended the situation left special-needs students at severe disadvantage. Bottom line: “PARCC didn’t provide an environment that’s in the best interest of our students.”

School Committee members appeared to expect Dr. Lupini’s change of heart and offered some considered reactions. Committee chair Susan Ditkoff sounded the most skeptical. She does “not agree on the question of timed tests” but nevertheless “supports the approach” Dr. Lupini proposed. The “equity issue is front and center,” she said, “especially special needs” students, although “Common Core standards ask for higher levels of thinking.”

Vice chair Barbara Scotto, previously a teacher in Brookline elementary schools for many years, said she “supports the decision,” although “it concerns me that the timing issue is so prominent” at state and federal levels. She explained that Brookline’s experience with untimed tests taught helpful lessons. When scheduled times were up, she said, “possibly a third…had finished, the rest of the students were taking their time,” and “the kids who rushed through often did not get the best scores.”

Dr. Lupini, who currently heads the state’s association of school superintendents, said that organization “will be bringing up the issue when we meet” later this month. As of now, he said, “59 percent of districts opted for PARCC…50 percent of students will go with PARCC.” He seemed to expect some districts may reconsider, now that it is clear accommodations for special-needs students are being constricted.

Background: At a School Committee meeting this May, Dr. Lupini had announced plans to implement PARCC testing in Brookline schools during the 2014-2015 school year. As the only exception, he proposed Brookline High School would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. A public hearing about the issues was set for June 5, to be followed by a School Committee review and vote later in June.

In a move that might have surprised some, on June 19 Dr. Lupini pushed out to September the review and vote about PARCC testing. He had become concerned, he said, about “the untimed nature of MCAS versus the timed nature of PARCC.” While that might have been a departure for Dr. Lupini, it was a familiar issue for people acquainted with decades of testing controversies, including several members of the School Committee.

PARCC has become the military arm of Common Core State Standards, the latest effort to regiment U.S. elementary and secondary schools. Supposedly state-coordinated but in fact federally promoted, it looks like an emerging cash cow for the publishing company formerly known as Pearson Education, recently rebranded as just “Pearson.” As compared with other regimented tests, it puts efficiency and not students first. It is both administered and scored by computers, even in so-called “essay” segments.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 5, 2014


Valerie Strauss, Teacher says, No longer can I throw my students to the ‘testing wolves,’ Washington Post, September 5, 2014

Louise Law and John Stifler, Look between the lines on education ‘reform,’ Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA), May 21, 2014

Les Perelman, Flunk the robo-graders, Boston Globe, April 30, 2014

Scott O’Connell, Rough start for PARCC, Metrowest Daily News (Framingham, MA), March 30, 2014

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering

A monthly meeting of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee on Tuesday, September 2, started at 5:45 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. All six members attended, with an agenda including commercial recycling, a new set of waste bins in public areas, and changes in fees to implement trash metering.

Solid waste trends: Edward Gilbert, the director of solid waste and recycling, reported that Brookline’s solid waste collection tonnages continue to fall. Refuse is down about three percent from a year earlier. Recycle collection has fallen even more, down about six percent. No one described reasons for the trends or compared them with other communities.

After a flurry of activity early in the Patrick administration, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection seemed to doze off. Its latest solid waste data published on the Web stop with 2011. Trends in solid waste disposal fell around five percent per year for 2004 through 2009, mainly decreasing landfill and out-of-state disposal. After that, progress halted; statewide refuse disposal for 2011 was up three percent over 2009. Brookline appears to be bucking a disappointing recent trend in Massachusetts.

Brookline achieved its progress without implementing a plan for trash metering that was proposed last May 14 by Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner. However, progress did not seem to dim the enthusiasm of Mr. Gilbert and committee members for the plan. Mr. Gilbert pointed out that Brookline could start charging for disposal of household furnishings some landlords continue to dump on town sidewalks.

Solar-powered compactors: Within about two months, new solar-powered compactors from the Big Belly company of Newton should be installed in public areas, and the old litter baskets will then be removed. The replacements come in pairs: one bin for refuse and the other for recycling. Signs on recycling bins will list materials they accept. The new bins are lined and covered. They should reduce attacks from birds, squirrels and other animals.

Since 2006, the committee has organized two trash audits, sorting through random samples of waste collection to estimate the amounts of recyclables in refuse bins and the amounts of refuse in recycling bins. A further project of the type is not being planned, but the committee noted objections from one town resident, who apparently has privacy concerns. An opinion from town counsel had held materials put out for collection become town property. Residents should shred items that might be personally identifiable.

Foam recycling: Committee members agreed to plan another collection of polystyrene foam for sometime next winter, but they were not enthusiastic about it. Past collections proved ecologically unsound, they said–high inputs but slim results, costing more in non-renewable resources than they saved. Brookline does not currently have a plastic foam compressor, which might help the balance. Committee members may take a trip to Newton, to see how its program operates.

No consensus emerged on commercial recycling. Committee members had heard that Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, had worked on a warrant article about the topic. There was discussion about recycling in local restaurants. Few if any now separate out recyclable beverage cans and bottles. A similar discussion occurred at a spring meeting of the Climate Action Committee, with a focus on school cafeterias.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 3, 2014