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

One thought on “Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO

  1. Pam Roberts

    This last comment regarding the Devotion expansion and renovation is misleading. It may LOOK like only five classrooms are being added. However, five+ have already been squeezed in these last few years, to accommodate the incoming five or six kindergarten classes in a school not designed for that many. The reason that Devotion’s older students will need to be at the Old Lincoln School next year is because, unless THEY leave, there will no place to put the rising 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades, which all have an extra classroom already. Staff and administration have give up space in the last few years to accommodate these classrooms; important testing, language work, one-on-one therapy and other sessions that are normally done in privacy must now occur in the library and hallways, while classes come in and out. This is NOT a desired situation; our students and families deserve better than this. In addition, the cafeteria and gyms CANNOT handle the amount of students in the school. Much about the school is out-of-date and not working; “renovation” implies “making things better”, which is what Devo families and staff want.


    Editor’s note: Mr. Benka’s mention of “five new classrooms” did sound strange, when the architects had said the previous week they were planning to add up to 30,000 sf of building space. However, that’s what he said and they said.

    There is room inside the square that encloses the current buildings to add at least 37,000 sf of building space. It’s not clear that Devotion expansion actually needs any of the field space, playground space or community space.

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