Monthly Archives: January 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary

A regular meeting of the Licensing Review Committee on Thursday, January 29, started at 8:30 am in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. This committee considers licensing policy and new types of licensing. The agenda was initial review of the proposed form of license for a registered marijuana dispensary. Patricia Corea, associate town counsel, is a member of the committee and described the proposed license conditions and the proposed form of a license application.

In addition to committee members, attending this meeting were Alan Balsam, the health director, Kara Brewton, the economic development director, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, Polly Selkoe and Lara Curtis Hayes of the Planning Department, Supt. Mark Moran and Lt. Philip Harrington of the Police Department and one member of the public. The town departments had presented their reviews at a previous meeting held on December 11.

Business plans: New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes operating from the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. The company is also planning a dispensary in Northampton and a production facility in Franklin. Present for the company were Mr. Vered, Norton Arbelaez, a lawyer, Amanda Rossitano and Jim Segel, a lawyer and a former state representative from Brookline. Mr. Arbelaez said the company hopes to open its production facility in March and be in full operation by fall.

The company is being reviewed for state certification. The Department of Public Health would act as primary regulator for the strength and purity of products. According to Mr. Vered, most sales are expected to be oil-based liquids, not solid or smokable marijuana. If the company receives state and local licenses, it will also need a special permit under Brookline zoning enacted in November, 2013, and maintained without change at the 2014 fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen issued regulations for a registered marijuana dispensary last year.

Brookline requirements: Mr. Arbelaez, representing NETA, questioned a proposed requirement to report racial and income information about customers. He said the company would not have the information. Asking for it could be an invasion of privacy. Dr. Balsam of the Health Department said his department’s intents were to keep track of how many customers received health-care subsidies and to check for potential discrimination. There was no apparent resolution of the issues at this meeting.

Mr. Arbelaez questioned proposed requirements to avoid “illegal” conduct, noting that marijuana distribution is expected to remain illegal under federal law, even if the federal government does not enforce the law against a state-regulated operation. The committee agreed to modify the requirements. Mr. Arbelaez also questioned requirements not to create “nuisance conditions” from illegal parking, littering and other activities–noting lack of control over activities outside the place of business.

Kenneth Goldstein, a committee member and chair of the Board of Selectmen, explained that proposed requirements were modeled after other town licensing and that the Board of Selectmen, as the licensing authority, understood practical circumstances and could not be “arbitrary or capricious.” Mr. Arbelaez noted that the company had submitted a “transportation demand management” plan, intended to reduce traffic problems.

There was an extended discussion of home delivery. The state is requiring that home delivery be available, but Mr. Vered maintained that while it might reduce traffic issues, home delivery was probably less secure than a well protected and highly visible business location. Police representatives indicated that they preferred deliveries be made from NETA’s production facility. Mr. Vered said that was also the company’s preference.

The proposed license application includes financial information about Brookline operations. Mr. Arbelaez noted that the information would not meaningfully reflect the company’s operations, since over 80 percent of its costs were expected to be incurred in production, not distribution. The committee agreed that audited financial statements, already required as public information, would suffice. It will hold another review in mid-February.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 29, 2015


Registered marijuana dispensary regulations, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, October 28, 2014

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, January 22, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda was a two-family conversion on Babcock St. and the board’s formal review of plans for Brookline Place redevelopment, being proposed by Children’s Hospital, the property owner. Lara Curtis Hayes, a senior planner in the Department of Planning and Community Development, and Polly Selkoe, the assistant director for regulatory planning, presented the cases.

Children’s Hospital was represented by Charles Weinstein, vice president for planning and development, by Sam Norod and Tim Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects, by Mikyoung Kim of Mikyoung Kim Design, landscape architects, by Skye Levin of Howard/Stein-Hudson, traffic engineers, and by George Cole of Stantec Consulting. Developers for Brookline Place had held a series of six meetings over last summer and fall with a design advisory team appointed by the Planning Board, including board member Mark Zarillo and Linda Hamlin, the board’s chair.

Members of the public–only four–were outnumbered by developer representatives and Brookline staff, including Kara Brewton, the economic development director. Rather than indicating lack of interest, slim attendance more likely reflected satisfaction with the project and its designs, negotiated with public input and participation.

BrooklinePlaceAerialFromNw20141212

Source: Town of Brookline, MA, from Children’s Hospital

Building a plan: The rendering shown is an aerial perspective from around 2,000 feet above Town Hall on Washington St. showing the Brook House in the background and the existing 10 Brookline Place, formerly Hearthstone Plaza, to the right. The 2-story former Water Department near Brookline Ave.–now an early-education and day-care center–is hidden in this view by offices at 1 Brookline Place.

While the main outlines of the project had been explained to town meeting last May, when it approved zoning changes, the building shapes and appearances and the landscaping developed during extended reviews. Plans call for removing two low-rise structures now at 2 Brookline Place and the adjacent 4 Brookline Place, replacing them with an 8-story office tower, and adding a 6-story wing, toward Washington St., to the existing two wings of 6-story offices at 1 Brookline Place. A 3-story garage is to be replaced by a larger, 5-story garage.

Current plans most nearly reflect a “boulevard concept” presented last summer. They feature a lawn across Pearl St. from the MBTA Green Line stop and many other landscaping elements. At the most recent meeting of the Transportation Board, those board members generally seemed to favor leaving views of the lawn unobstructed from Brookline Village by moving a taxi stand across the street, beside the Green Line stop.

Planning a building: Planning Board members took note of public improvements to be funded by Children’s Hospital under a development agreement with Brookline. They include removal of a long-disused pedestrian overpass across Route 9, built about 40 years ago and closed up after it harbored muggings and vandalism. Funds are to be contributed for street reconfigurations and improvements, including a traffic signal at Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. and signal coordination for Route 9 and nearby streets.

Planning Board members seemed as interested as Transportation Board members had been in traffic issues, but they were not able to make much headway during a meeting filled with other concerns. Ms. Hamlin noted that so far there had been little involvement by Station St. business operators, on the other side of the MBTA stop. The Planning Board is to revisit those issues soon, perhaps at its next meeting.

Screening along the Pearl St. face of the new garage and on the face adjacent to the lawn attracted interest. Mr. Norod, the architect, said that designs were preliminary and might change. The “framing” along Pearl St. and the “staircase” pattern adjacent to the lawn, he said, are intended to be “visually interesting.” The paths across the property will be open to the public and will be maintained by the building owner. The ground floor of the 8-story tower will house restaurants and retail shops.

Not shown in the rendering are large signs proposed for the roof of the 8-story tower and in other places, advertising Children’s Hospital. They were on the agenda to be considered for special zoning permits. Other permits are needed for parking, setbacks and projecting signage and for design review of a major-impact development. Participation by the design advisory team was an element of design review. Jonathan Simpson, a Planning Board member, asked about shadow studies. Ms. Kim said some studies had been done, but she spoke only about shadows inside the Brookline Place property and showed no studies at the meeting.

According to Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Norod, Children’s plans to develop in stages: first removing the low-rise buildings at and near 2 Brookline Place, then putting up 3-level, outdoor automobile stackers there to house vehicles temporarily that now use the current garage. Afterward, the current garage is to be removed and the new one built, and finally the new 8-story office tower at 2 Brookline Place and 6-story wing at 1 Brookline Place will go up. The Planning Board recommended approval of permits to the Zoning Board of Appeals but is seeking conditions, including review by Planning of final designs.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 23, 2015


Two Brookline Place / Children’s Hospital, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2015

Planning Board: offices and parking at Brookline Place, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Brookline Place project: three concept plans, Brookline Beacon, September 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone, Brookline Beacon, October 17, 2014

Board of Selectmen: bumper year for solar electricity

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 20, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Before it, the board met behind closed doors with the School Committee about a proposed property lease. Renting space for classrooms in a commercial building near Pierce School has been mentioned at recent public meetings.

Board member Betsy DeWitt announced that she will not be running for another term this spring. She has served on the board since 2006 and was chair from 2010 to 2014. Before that, she was a Precinct 5 town meeting member for 22 years and an Advisory Committee member for ten years, chairing the committee from 1994 to 1996, and she served as executive director of the Brookline Community Foundation.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board accepted a donation from the Korean Church to benefit the Fire Department. The church has made several donations in past years to public safety services. Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, received approval to hire a planner, replacing one who recently left. The board interviewed a candidate for the Planning Board.

Kara Brewton, the director of economic development, provided an update on Cleveland Circle development at and near the site of the former Circle Cinema. She introduced Theodore Tye of National Development in Newton, which recently took the role of lead developer. Mr. Tye indicated that National would honor the agreements with Brookline, including tax arrangements, previously negotiated with Boston Development Group.

Plans for the Cleveland Circle site have changed only a little. The Brookline portion will still have a hotel with 162 rooms, the same as before, and the Boston portion will have housing. Plans for housing now focus on elderly but mobile tenants; there will be a ground-floor restaurant.

Solar electricity: Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Michael Berger, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, and David Pantelone provided an update on Brookline’s solar electricity installations. The Climate Action Committee is planning a Climate Week event for February 2-10, 2015. It will feature TinySol, a small solar-powered house boat, to be exhibited in the Town Hall parking lot, 333 Washington St., on Saturday, February 7, between 9:00 am and 3:30 pm.

Calendar 2014 developed as a bumper year for solar electricity in Brookline, doubling the town’s total rated capacity. The Winchester St. condominium where Mr. Lescohier lives installed a rooftop unit rated at 47 peak DC kilowatts, becoming the town’s largest. There were 41 new systems installed, about three-quarters of them by SolarFlair of Ashland, which began an active marketing effort during the second half of 2013.

Brookline has had a fairly sleepy solar program, as shown in a database distributed by the state Department of Energy Resources. The rated capacity of Brookline solar installations is now about 9 peak DC watts per person. The state average is 130. In this measure, Brookline now ranks 328th of 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Some of the nearby communities are similar: Somerville: 7 peak DC watts per person, Watertown 9, Malden 11, Belmont 12, Cambridge 15. Four communities in the state have no solar systems. The town of Tolland ranks first–and energy-sufficient–at over 9,000 peak DC watts per person.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 22, 2015


Brookline solar electricity installations, 2008-2014, compiled from Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and U.S. Census Bureau data

Summary of Massachusetts solar electricity installations, 2008-2014, compiled from Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and U.S. Census Bureau data

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2014

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans

The Planning Board convened a special meeting Wednesday, January 14, starting at 8:15 am in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall, to review preliminary plans for Devotion School expansion and renovation. Present for HMFH Architects of Cambridge were Philip “Pip” Lewis, architect for the project, and Deborah Kahn.

The previous evening, the Building Commission had reviewed the plans in a meeting starting at 6:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with Mr. Lewis and George Metzger of HMFH. Attendance was slim, with four members of the public and three members of town staff at Planning and with two members of the School Committee and three members of town staff at Building. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, was at both.

Site plans: Preliminary plans for Devotion School are being developed from Option 1 of concept plans, presented at a public hearing in September and subsequently chosen by the Devotion School Building Committee. The historic center building, opened in 1915, is to be preserved. The south wing toward Babcock St. and the gymnasium areas, opened in 1955, and the north wing along Stedman St. and the library areas, opened in 1976, are both to be replaced.

As compared with last September’s concept plans, the new north and south wings are narrower and longer. They remain mostly two stories, with a ground floor of accessory space along Stedman St. away from Harvard St. and an underground parking structure along Stedman St. toward Harvard St. While there are greater setbacks than shown in September from Stedman St. and from adjacent properties along Babcock St., the new wings now extend farther into the front and rear of the schoolyard.

Site plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSitePlan2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

Plans for the school site do not affect the Town of Brookline tennis courts adjoining at the rear, nestled between properties on Babcock St., Devotion St. and Stedman St. They do reduce the hardtop basketball area in the back, along Stedman St., from three full courts to two, and they replace the junior-size baseball field, between the current building and the basketball area, with a full-size soccer field. Both the new soccer field and the new basketball courts are next to landscaped areas along Stedman St. that could include seating.

As compared with the current site, the preliminary plans move most children’s play areas behind the building, away from Harvard St. The wings of the new building extend about 50 ft toward Harvard St. beyond the historic Devotion House–dating from 1686–on both sides. By comparison, the Harvard St. face of the current north wing is set back from the front of the Devotion House about 60 ft, with a concrete plaza over underground parking, and the Harvard St. face of the current south wing extends about 20 ft past the Devotion House.

Landscape plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolLandscape2015
Source: Carol Johnson Landscape Architects for Town of Brookline

A children’s play area, intended for community use, remains near Harvard St. on the south side, but it is only about half the size of the current one. A sitting area, also intended for community use, remains near Harvard St. on the north side, at the corner of Stedman St. It is about the same size as the one installed during the 1990s. The front lawn between the Devotion House and Harvard St. remains unchanged.

Entrances and interiors: On the site plan, one sees fewer building entrances. It shows no equivalent to the current, community-friendly front entrance from the plaza on the north side and no equivalent to the current, child-friendly entrance at the Harvard St. end of the current south wing. A rear entrance from the play fields is maintained. An oddly located new entrance appears on Stedman St., at the ground level below the main interior levels, where now there is just a brick wall.

The formal front stairs entering the historic 1915 center building are to remain, but the building stands at risk of being disfigured through adding ramps. The current plaza entrance, at the corner between the center building and the current north wing, has provided front handicapped access in a way more respectful of nearby neighborhoods and of community history than the new plans. A so-called “urban room” near the historic front entrance proved a non-starter with members of the Planning Board and the Building Commission. No one stood up for it.

First floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolFirstFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

The preliminary plan for the first floor shows kindergarten through second grade in the new north wing, along Stedman St., moved from the historic site in the south wing. That had replaced the original Devotion Primary School, opened in 1892. The new rooms are the ones closest to the new entrance planned along Stedman St. Rooms for third through fifth grade appear in the new south wing, toward Babcock St., which lacks an entrance.

A central corridor is shown extending from the front of the first floor of the historic central building, to be double-height between the new library and main gymnasium spaces, reaching a stairwell at the rear to the ground floor and to an entrance off the rear play fields. Rooms for pre-kindergarten, a cafeteria and gymnasium spaces are located on the ground floor.

Like the current library, gymnasium and cafeteria spaces, those for new ones are behind the central building. The new library extends from the first floor, while new gymnasium and cafeteria spaces extend from the ground floor. Those areas are to be double-height with large windows, facing mostly toward the geographic northeast.

Second floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSecondFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

The preliminary plan for the second floor shows sixth, seventh and eighth grade classrooms in the new south wing, toward Babcock St.–displaced out of their historic sites in the original Devotion Grammar School, opened in 1898, extending down Stedman St. from the corner of Harvard and Stedman Sts. Atop new gymnasium space are extra-height spaces for a “multipurpose room” with a raised stage. (Under state protocols, politically incorrect to call them an “auditorium,” gratis ex-Gov. Patrick.)

Above the rooms for kindergarten through second grade in the new north wing are to be special-purpose rooms for science, languages, art and music. Many former, special-purpose areas for these activities have recently been lost in a cascade of compression to provide classrooms for increased enrollment.

Unlike the current north wing, opened in 1976, the new one shows no provisions for woodshop or home economics. Those longstanding parts of the elementary school curriculum vanished during the 1980s, after enactment of Proposition 2-1/2 led to major budget cuts. There are, however, plans for “technology classrooms” adjacent to the new library on both the first and second floors–having no counterparts in the former curriculum.

Exterior: Plans for the building exterior remain in flux. Three options have been presented to the Planning Board, the Building Commission and the Devotion School Building Committee. Members of the Planning Board and the Building Commission called for changes. Linda Hamlin, an architect who chairs the Planning Board, found none of the options satisfactory. George Cole, a member of the Building Commission, questioned the fairly narrow entrance from Stedman St.–expected to become the most popular access route for students, staff and parents.

At both Planning and Building reviews, there were repeated calls from several participants to simplify the exterior designs and reduce or eliminate costly accessories, including large roof “monitors” above the art rooms and movable sunshades along Stedman St. Sergio Modigliani, an architect and a member of the Planning Board, said all options presented lacked a consistent “architectural vocabulary” for the exterior, instead showing a hodge-podge of materials and patterns.

The side and rear entrances are not well delineated in some options. Mr. Modigliani said HMFH ought to “celebrate” the rear entrance onto the play fields rather than hide it. When plans are marked up for public reviews, Planning Board members said they needed to be simplified–calling out administrative and support spaces, for example, rather than about 30 categories as they did at this week’s reviews.

Corners joining the historic central building with the new wings were criticized. Plans show ostentatious glass towers in the front, labeled as “outdoor classrooms.” No evidence was cited showing that substantial extra costs of those features have been justified by comparable educational values. Plans also show a rear “outdoor classroom,” essentially a deck over the roof of the cafeteria space and two kindergartens. Ms. Hamlin reacted to its appearance in one of the options, saying it could suggest a prison exercise yard.

Unlike the costly and trouble-prone designs for the third Pierce School in 1970, plans for the third Devotion School in 2015 do not call for air conditioning. As Mr. Lewis of HMFH put it at the Planning review, “We don’t want another Newton North.” He described “displacement ventilation with dehumidification” that he said would provide an economical and satisfactory building. Plans show penthouses toward the rear of the north and south wing roofs but leave large areas of roof space unobstructed for solar panels.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 18, 2015


Devotion School Building Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

HMFH Architects, Preliminary plans for Devotion School, January 16, 2015, Town of Brookline, MA

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies, Brookline Beacon, September 11, 2014

HMFH Architects, Concept plans for Devotion School, September 10, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Advisory subcommittee on capital: school-building projects

On Wednesday, January 14, the Advisory subcommittee on capital met in the third-floor conference room at Town Hall, starting at 11:00 am. Four of the five subcommittee members were there–all except Amy Hummel–along with Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator. The meeting attracted another member of the Advisory Committee, three School Committee members, a Planning Board member, a Precinct 7 town meeting member and parents from the Baker and Driscoll School districts.

The unusually large turnout for an Advisory subcommittee meeting on a weekday morning suggested strong interest in plans for school expansion and renovation, heading the agenda. At the May 5 town election, the Board of Selectmen is now widely expected to propose a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion for Devotion School expansion and renovation, as well as a Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax override, mainly for public schools.

Past projects: So far, Brookline has performed two school-building projects using Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions:

• New Lincoln School construction, December 1, 1990, by vote of 5,919 to 2,963
• High School renovation, December 12, 1995, by vote of 4,648 to 3,038

In different past elections, Brookline voters also approved two Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax overrides, partly to benefit public schools:

• $2.96 million per year, May 3, 1994, by vote of 5,958 to 5,072
• $6.20 million per year, May 6, 2008, by vote of 5,236 to 4,305

Future projects: Mr. Cronin told subcommittee members that a preliminary FY2016 capital improvements program he drafted for the Board of Selectmen already includes two additional school projects, beyond Devotion School, also likely to need Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions. A High School addition, slated for 2019, is currently estimated at $56 million.

A major project for elementary school expansion and renovations, slated for 2022 or later, is estimated at $48 million. The project description suggests a new, ninth elementary school as an alternative. In addition, the preliminary capital improvement program includes $2.3 million spread over five years for “classroom capacity.” Mr. Cronin cautioned that estimated costs are based on past projects, not on specific plans.

Subcommittee member Clifford Brown asked Mr. Cronin how Brookline voters would know how much of Brookline’s normal capital funding is being used for the Devotion project and how much is covered by debt exclusion. The answer surprised most of the subcommittee and the audience. Mr. Cronin said a debt exclusion ballot question only names a project and gives no financial information. Mark Gray, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, asked if a ballot question could specify only part of a project. Mr. Cronin said he did not think so. School Committee member Helen Charlupski remembered that the 1990s debt exclusion questions included amounts of funding.

It turns out that our Great and General Court changed the law about fifteen years ago. The ballot questions formerly specified amounts of money, but now they read like blank checks. It is up to the Board of Selectmen to tell voters what they mean to do. There are limits on funds, however. They are set by the state Department of Revenue, based on appropriations and bonding authorizations voted by town meetings.

Subcommittee members worried that Brookline was embarking on uneconomic spending. School Committee member David Pollak said that was not the case. Modular classrooms being planned for Baker School and rental space planned for Pierce, he said, were far less expensive than constructing new buildings. Subcommittee chair Carla Benka was concerned about overruns. Fred Levitan, a subcommittee member, recalled that the Town Hall and new Lincoln School projects had been completed on-time and on-budget.

Predicting capital improvements: Brookline’s capital improvement planning has not provided reliable predictions for most types of projects. A study published in 1979 by the Advisory Committee found almost no agreement between projects and predictions five years earlier. Recent years provide the following comparisons for major projects–$1 million and more–funded for the current year.

FY2015 major projects, funds in $millions

Project Predicted Predicted Predicted Actual
Description as of 2009 as of 2011 as of 2013 in FY2015
street rehabilitation $1.55 $1.55 $1.55 $1.55
landfill closure $4.60 $4.60 $4.60 $4.60
wastewater system none $3.00 none none
Village traffic system none none none $1.20
Reservoir Park $1.40 none none none
Baldwin School $1.78 none none none
Devotion School none $48.75 none none
Driscoll School* none none none $1.00
school classrooms none none none $1.75

            * A proposed Driscoll School project was rejected by the state and cancelled.

Source: Financial Plan documents, Town of Brookline, MA

Only routine Public Works projects were predicted reliably during this time period.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 16, 2015


Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2014

Sean Cronin, Preliminary FY2016-FY2021 Capital Improvement Program, Town of Brookline, MA, January 13, 2015

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Financial Plan, FY2015 and previous years, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 13, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The regular business agenda was slim. Much of the meeting concerned proposals for tax overrides.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Erin Gallentine, director of the parks division of Public Works, won approval for a $0.03 million contract with J.F. Hennessey Co. to survey Larz Anderson Park, in preparation for repairs and improvements. Lisa Paradis, the Recreation director, got approval to hire a building custodian, replacing an employee who took a Library position. Contractors have been filling in temporarily.

Members interviewed a candidate for the Human Resource Board. They approved renewal of an agreement with Boston University for payments in lieu of taxes, totaling about $0.45 million this year. Payments were first negotiated in 2010 by Stephen Cirillo, the finance director. Members accepted annual reports from Powers and Sullivan of Wakefield, the town’s auditor, and from Segal Group of Boston, on retirement benefits.

There were no exceptions or adverse findings from this year’s audit. Funding for retirement benefits has reached $9.9 million this year. According to Segal, payments to a trust fund need to increase. The town has approved $3.3 million for the fund this year, and the board expects to increase that to $3.8 million next year. According to Segal, the town needs to reach $6.3 million per year to maintain the fund on a current basis.

Override proposals: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, summarized the tax override proposals thus far. The Board of Selectmen has sole jurisdiction over ballot questions to be proposed for an override. Mr. Cronin also presented an initial review of the town’s capital improvement program. Changes are to be proposed to the annual town meeting.

Since summer, it has looked likely that the board will propose a continuing “operating” override, to help Public Schools of Brookline cope with increasing enrollment, and will propose a temporary “debt exclusion” to meet part of the cost of renovating and enlarging Devotion School. Last August, the Override Study Committee of 2013 submitted its report, recommending an operating override of $5 million per year.

A minority of the override study committee, joined by members of the School Committee, have advocated a larger operating override. They say the schools have not been able to maintain levels of support staff during seven years of steady enrollment increases and need more than just funds for regular teachers.

Recently, William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, and Peter Rowe, the assistant superintendent for administration and finance, released details of school spending plans, including three options for how different amounts of override funding would be used.

At the January 13 meeting, the Board of Selectmen did not reach a firm decision, but a poll of the members showed that all favor a larger override. Amounts they discussed ranged up to around $9 million per year. According to Mr. Cronin, the average residential tax bill in Brookline this year is $8,434 per household. For each $1 million per year in an override, the average annual tax bill would increase by about $36.50.

Hearings, elections, town meeting: The Board of Selectmen will hold two public hearings next week on tax override proposals. The first is Tuesday morning, January 20, from 9:00 to 11:00 am. The second is Thursday evening, January 22, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. Both are in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. Override proposals and information are available from the Brookline, MA, municipal Web site.

The board voted to schedule the 2015 annual election for Tuesday, May 5. The annual town meeting will begin Tuesday, May 26. Four other dates are reserved for the town meeting: May 28, June 2, June 3 and June 4. The warrant for the annual town meeting opens on Thursday, February 12, and closes on Thursday, March 12. Instructions for preparing and submitting warrant articles are in the Town Meeting Handbook, available on the municipal Web site.

Meetings, lack of valid notice: The regular School Committee meeting on Thursday, January 22, is starting early–a public session at 5:00 pm, instead of 6:00 pm or later. For Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the municipal Web site calendar page noted a joint meeting of the School Committee with the Board of Selectmen starting at 5:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, but the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline did not indicate such a meeting.

As of Saturday morning, January 17, there was also a notice for a Board of Selectmen meeting starting at 5:30 pm on January 20. No list of topics or other form of agenda for such a January 20 meeting or for a joint meeting on that day appeared on either the municipal or school Web site. Under state and local Open Meeting Laws, there was no valid notice for a January 20 meeting, nor was there enough remaining time to post a valid notice.

– Beacon staff, January 14, 2015, updated January 17, 2015


Sean Cronin, Tax override proposals for 2015, Town of Brookline, MA, January 16, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

Sean Cronin, Growth in the cost of government, Town of Brookline, MA, January 6, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Sean Cronin, Override recommendations and review, Town of Brookline, MA, December 17, 2014

Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

New England energy: wobbly progress

New England continues to outpace the U.S. in generating electricity from low-emissions energy. However, it is losing margins it held ten years ago, is falling behind in wind energy and is starting to regrow its uses of coal and fuel oil. Not well known: wood and waste burning remain steady energy sources.

Energy for electricity, 2013

Energy source U.S. N.E.
Coal 40% 6%
Natural gas 26% 44%
Nuclear 21% 34%
Hydro 7% 7%
Wind 4% 2%
Fuel oil 1% 1%
Wood 1% 3%
Waste 0% 2%
Solar 0% 0%
Other 0% 1%

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Energy sources and obstacles: Development of New England energy over the past 20 years has largely replaced coal and fuel oil with natural gas. The region has hardly any fossil fuel deposits but has substantial resources in wind and wood. Sources of energy providing its electricity are shown in a chart.

NewEnglandElectricity2001to2014

Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, ISO New England for 2014

People informed from newspapers and pop media might think wind and solar have become large energy sources. They remain small–as the chart shows–ninth and tenth out of ten sources on the chart, until last year. In 2014, for the first time, New England wind turbines provided more energy than New England waste burners–each a little under two percent of total electricity. There has been more growth in electricity from hydro–mostly imported from Canada–than from wind, wood, waste, waves, solar, landfill gas and geothermal combined.

Cold winters in 2013 and 2014 saw drops in the use of natural gas for electricity. Distributors were obliged to supply heating customers. They could meet less than 90 percent of yearly average demands. New England now has generating plants that can replace all use of coal and fuel oil, but they lack reliable access to natural gas.

Blockage of natural gas supply to New England–from lack of pipeline capacity–is leading to higher prices and emissions. Blockages of high-voltage transmission lines and wind farm installations are aggravating the price and pollution problems. Political maneuvers and local factions are responsible. None of the problems come from limits of technology or finances.

Closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant at the end of December, 2014, removed about five percent of New England’s average generation and cut the share of nuclear electricity in New England from about 34 to about 29 percent. As the chart shows, natural gas-fired generation squeezed out fuel oil, then coal; financial stress was building on nuclear. The former Vernon, VT, plant was the smallest nuclear plant operating in the region. Lacking access to ocean water for cooling, it became the most costly to run for the size.

Coping with obstacles: Until a new gas pipeline is completed, much of the deficit from closing Vermont Yankee will be filled by using coal and fuel oil. They can be transported by train, barge or truck, although at higher cost than moving gas by pipeline. The few remaining coal-fired plants are set for a brief bonanza and might provide 10 percent of the region’s electricity.

Last year, subsidized by all customers of the New England Power Pool, around 2,000 MW of the generating capacity was outfitted for “dual fuel”–meaning oil burners and oil tanks. During the winter of 2015, it might be enough to dampen the huge electricity price spikes from fuel hoarding and gouging that happened in 2014. However, it also means New England power producers have institutionalized a shift from natural gas and nuclear back to more costly and polluting coal and fuel oil: a reversal toward the 1950s.

New, renewable energy sources are starting to contribute: mainly land-based wind farms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. However, after strong growth during 2009 through 2013, New England wind energy faltered last year. Local factions have blocked new sites, and transmission capacity has saturated. Collapse of the proposed Cape Wind project, offshore Nantucket, helps electricity customers and could stimulate land-based wind energy.

Cape Wind’s lapsed contracts with Northeast Utilities and National Grid featured average wholesale prices of about 24 cents per kWh over the lives of the contracts. That was more than four times the average wholesale price of electricity in New England, estimated at 5.6 cents per kWh for 2013. Effective prices to retail customers for Cape Wind electricity–including transmission and distribution–could have risen to over 40 cents per kWh, more than double today’s average retail price. Cape Wind was hardly a generous neighbor.

– Craig Bolon, January 12, 2015


New England electricity, amounts by energy sources, 2001-2014, U.S. Energy Information Administration and ISO New England (for 2014), January, 2015

Electricity data browser, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015

Daily generation by fuel type, Operations Reports, ISO New England, 2015

New England generation by fuel type, Natural Gas Weekly Update, U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 8, 2015

New England power grid forced to deploy oil units, Argus Energy News, January 8, 2015

High prices show stresses in New England natural gas delivery system, Natural Gas Issues and Trends, U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 7, 2014

2013 Wholesale electricity prices in New England rose on higher natural-gas prices, ISO New England, March 18, 2014

Eileen O’Grady, Entergy to shut controversial Vermont nuclear plant, Reuters, August 27, 2013

Shirley Leung, Northeast Utilities happy to get out of Cape Wind, Boston Globe, January 8, 2015

Craig Bolon, Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns, Brookline Beacon, April 8, 2014

Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain

As Brookline developed a management system, starting shortly after World War II, employee relations became steadily more complex and tension-prone. First the Board of Selectmen hired an executive secretary, a purchasing manager and a personnel manager. A volunteer Planning Board built a professional staff. A pre-war accumulation of independent departments and officials was consolidated in stages.

A much maligned traffic czar left, and a Transportation Board was created. The position of executive secretary gave way to a town administrator. The personnel manager was replaced by a human resources director, and a human resources board was organized. In more recent years, new missions have settled within a committee forest that has yet to be pruned. At each step, town functions tended to become more varied and complex.

A distant workforce: Even more profound changes have come from workforce unionization and abandonment of local residency, during the 1950s through the 1980s. Only fragments of the pre-war “family” of town workers remain. Safety services are probably the most conservative groups, still struggling with race relations–over 40 years after the town set up a Human Relations Commission.

To cope with issues raised by African-American firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., the Board of Selectmen recently announced review by “an outside attorney.” So far, the board has not authorized hiring outside counsel in its weekly agendas of budget and contract items, yet the review is looking rushed.

Last December 17, the board met behind closed doors to discuss “potential litigation.” Two days later, its office distributed a press release about Mr. Alston and the “outside attorney.” For January 6, the board’s agenda listed another closed-door session, this one including Paul Ford, the fire chief, to consider “the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charge brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or individual”–whatever that might mean.

Some of the particulars in Mr. Alston’s case reached the public because Mr. Alston chose to make them public, but such an approach is unusual. Employees who encounter problems generally don’t make them public and won’t talk about them on the record. The playbook for Brookline officials remains constant. As the recent press release put it, “The town is limited by privacy laws from speaking publicly….”

Friction: Another Brookline employee who encountered workplace friction recently left: Timothy Richard, employed for over two years as a planner in the Department of Planning and Community Development. His recent duties included keeping records of Planning Board meetings and acting as liaison between the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

Mr. Richard is an urban planning graduate who intends to make a career in government service. His case does not appear to involve race, sex or ethnic elements or any of the so-called “protected classes” of people that might underpin a discrimination complaint. Instead, it focuses on a supervisor whose escalating pattern of complaints led Mr. Richard to seek medical help and also focuses on a recently hired department head who engaged mainly with the supervisors, not with the other employees. A previous employee in Mr. Richard’s position, a woman, appears to have encountered similar friction.

After receiving a three-day suspension, Mr. Richard filed a grievance through his union, choosing to make the hearing open to the public. Accounts of the hearing suggest a one-sided procedure that left Mr. Richard even more unsettled. Shortly afterward, he resigned. Mr. Richards did not conduct a media event, like Mr. Alston, but he met and corresponded with news writers.

Although Brookline has human resources staff, they do not look to have been very helpful in this case. Their correspondence is stiff and formal, with no public, written evidence that human resources staff sought to assist in a constructive way. Like many aspects of Brookline, the town’s zoning is complex and can take years to master. Mr. Richard had made considerable progress, but now Brookline has lost continued benefits from his knowledge.

Discord and churn: During the past year, the office of the town clerk, generally a quiet and predictable place, has had unusual turnover. A long-term staffer was abruptly dismissed. Another left to take a full-time position in the Department of Public Works, after that staffer’s former position was cut to half time. No reason for the dismissal has been posted in public information.

While stories say that a lawsuit is underway, as usual no one in a position to know what happened is likely to say, for the record. Other stories, also off-the-record, say that a female employee was recently the target of outrageous slurs from a male supervisor and that a complaint from her was brushed off by human resources staff. If an employee cannot get help from the human resources staff, the only significant alternative could be a grievance hearing–not necessarily helpful either, as Mr. Richard found.

In recent years, departments have lost key personnel to other communities. Last year, a skilled and experienced engineer left Public Works. According to comments made at a public meeting, Mike Yanovitch, formerly the chief inspector in the Building Department, left to take a job in Walpole. The average salary of elementary school teachers remains well below the level that would occur if teachers had an average 15 or more years seniority, as used to occur in stable times.

Municipal and school services share an information technology department, but they maintain separate human resources offices. Brookline pays for duplicate leadership and overhead, while neither office posts regular, public information about employee turnover or job satisfaction. Apparently increasing churn suggests that neither office may be particularly effective at employee retention or at maintenance of strong morale.

Budget cuts related to coping with increasing school enrollment may be a significant factor in discord and churn. However, the Override Study Committee of 2013 had little to say about those issues, instead focusing on its numerical models–all but ignoring morale and effectiveness of town services. The Board of Selectmen absconded from civic duty when appointing members of this key committee as a slate. Now they are reaping what they sowed.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 9, 2015


Outside attorney in personnel dispute, Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen, undated press release received December 19, 2014

Board of Selectmen: firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., speaking, Brookline Beacon, December 6, 2014

Override Study Committee of 2013, Final Report, Town of Brookline, MA, August 14, 2014

Brookline government: public information and the committee forest, Brookline Beacon, August 1, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

David R. Kerrigan, Are local residency requirements legal?, Kenney & Sams, Boston, MA, 2014

Public schools: decoding a tax override

Tuesday evening, January 6, leadership of Brookline public schools began to decode some mysteries of their tax override proposals–for those willing to stay through a 4-1/2-hour meeting of the Board of Selectmen to well past 10 pm. Elements of the newly decoded override can be found in a document on the municipal Web site.

Instead of “One-time funds,” “Catch-up,” “Enhancement” and “Info tech,” William Lupini, the superintendent, and Peter Rowe, the assistant superintendent for administration and finance, explained proposals mostly using typical school spending categories, helping to answer the question, “What does it buy?” Not surprisingly, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe ask Brookline voters to fund more teachers, support staff and administrators.

Options: As in past reviews, they continue to advertise three override options, calling them “65 percent,” “90 percent” and “100 percent”–begging the obvious question, “Percent of what?” Here these are called A, B and C–in the same order. The following Budget Table shows school spending categories, current budgets and proposed budget additions for three override options, as organized by Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe. Amounts are in millions of dollars. Those called “current” are fiscal year 2015 budgets for the categories. Those called options A, B and C represent budget additions over three years following an override.

Budget Table

Category Current A B C
K8 classroom teachers $22.69 $1.32 $1.60 $1.60
HS classroom teachers $10.63 -$0.36 $0.78 $0.78
Student services $3.20 $0.94 $0.94 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) $1.04 -$1.04 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration $2.27 $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
Vice principals $1.07 $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
HS administration $0.74 $0.11 $0.21 $0.21
Steps to success $0.30 $0.00 $0.15 $0.15
ECS $0.39 -$0.31 $0.25 $0.25
Literacy specialists $1.55 $0.51 $0.51 $0.51
Math specialists $1.03 $0.55 $0.55 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Professional learning/innovation $0.20 $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Nurses $1.03 $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ETF $1.08 $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers $0.38 $0.10 $0.10 $0.10
Custodial repair & maintenance $2.21 $0.17 $0.17 $0.17
Instructional materials & supplies $1.79 $0.22 $0.22 $0.22
Special education and ELL $8.74 $2.33 $2.33 $2.33
Educational technology $2.63 $1.54 $1.54 $1.54

Source: Public Schools of Brookline

Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe used abbreviations, perhaps known to school mavens:
K8    kindergarten through eighth grade
K6    kindergarten through sixth grade
HS    high school
ECS  enrichment and challenge support a/k/a gifted and talented program
ETF  educational team facilitator a/k/a special education supervisor
ELL  English language learners

Budget cuts: Although the Board of Selectmen previously asked Dr. Lupini for a budget to be used if there is no override, he did not provide one. However, option A–the smallest override–shows that budget cuts are likely if there is no override and tells what might be cut. It includes some budget cuts even when an override is passed.

In the table, amounts shown in bold are negative amounts–budget cuts–all in option A, the smallest override. That option would cancel the so-called “world language” program for elementary schools, which voters funded in the 2008 override, dismissing all 15 teachers. Option A would also dismiss all four teachers who staff the so-called “ECS” (gifted and talented) program and would dismiss four high school teachers.

In those proposed cuts, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe appear to value “educational technology”–whatever that might mean–as more important than 23 teachers. They would cut about $1.7 million in teaching salaries and spend about $1.5 million of that on “educational technology.” Although three members of the School Committee were present at the January 6 review, none spoke up. It was not clear whether the School Committee agreed with those priorities.

Fuzzy numbers: The numbers in the Budget Table can’t be added to get meaningful totals. According to Mr. Rowe, they don’t all mean the same thing. Some, like the amount for “educational technology,” mean total spending over three years.

Others, like the amount for “2nd-grade paraprofessionals,” look to mean spending in each year after an override. Many, like the amount for “Special education and ELL,” mean spending in the third year after an override, with less spending during the first and second years. According to Dr. Lupini, typical proportions are 0.5 of an indicated amount the first year, 0.8 of the amount the second year and the full amount the third year.

As an example of turning fuzzy numbers into meaningful ones, the following Spending Table estimates three years of spending for option C, the largest override proposed. It is based on an attempt to designate amounts for the Budget Table categories as total amounts (T), as level yearly amounts (L) or as growing amounts (G). From those designations, increases in spending under an option C override are then calculated for each of three years following the override. The latter will all be millions of dollars per year, and they can be totalled and averaged.

Spending Table

Category Type Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
K8 classroom teachers G $0.80 $1.28 $1.60
HS classroom teachers G $0.39 $0.62 $0.78
Student services G $0.47 $0.76 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) L $0.21 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Vice principals L $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
HS administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Steps to success L $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ECS G $0.13 $0.20 $0.25
Literacy specialists G $0.26 $0.41 $0.51
Math specialists G $0.28 $0.44 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals L $0.53 $0.53 $0.53
Professional learning/innovation T $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Nurses L $0.24 $0.24 $0.24
ETF L $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers L $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
Custodial repair & maintenance T $0.06 $0.06 $0.06
Instructional materials & supplies T $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Special education and ELL G $1.16 $1.86 $2.33
Educational technology T $0.59 $0.59 $0.59
Totals (by year) $6.83 $8.92 $10.31

Source: spreadsheet analysis

Getting to Yes: Through their Budget Table, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe argued for an override of $12.6 million per year under option C, the largest proposed. Considerably less than that would actually be needed. Funding option C for three years takes an average of about $8.7 million per year, according to estimates in the Spending Table. If assumptions for that table needed changes, it would be an easy exercise to make them.

After such an override passed, there would be a revenue surplus the first year, a small deficit the second year and a larger deficit the third year. Public Schools of Brookline would need a stabilization fund, like the one municipal departments have long used, to match a flow of revenue with a different flow of spending. It becomes easier to persuade voters to support an override when the amount becomes smaller. Estimating spending year by year and using a stabilization fund provides a way to leverage programs from smaller overrides.

Of course, after an estimation period ends–three years in the example–then the revenue might not be enough to sustain programs, if the needs continue to increase. Brookline would have to review the situation again, but in the meantime the town would not be collecting more taxes than needed to provide services.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 7, 2015


William H. Lupini, Override budget scenarios, fiscal years 2016-2018, Public Schools of Brookline, January 6, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Craig Bolon, Override schemes: lies, damned lies and budgets, Brookline Beacon, December 18, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a review on Monday, January 5, about a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Like most previous reviews, this one took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. An audience of about 20 was present, including a member of the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly, plus six senior members of town staff.

Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin, by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs and by landscape architect Joseph Geller of Stantec Consulting in Boston, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Conditions: For weeks, it had seemed clear that the board intended to approve the project, despite a lawsuit pressed by the Board of Selectmen and nearly unanimous opposition from the community–aside from a few people whose employment or interests involve subsidized housing. The Web pages for the Department of Planning and Community Development have provided a draft comprehensive permit for the project, including 11 proposed findings and 68 proposed conditions.

Based on comments from Jesse Geller, the board’s chair, it appeared that the comprehensive permit had been drafted by Ms. Netter, in consultation with board members, Mr. Nagler and leaders of some town departments. There was no mention at the meeting or in the document of any inputs from elected officials or from the community at large.

Mr. Schwartz, on behalf of the developer, filed a memorandum of objections, available from the municipal Web site. He proposed to change many provisions, entirely removing one finding and three conditions. Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead, representing several neighborhood residents, also filed a memorandum, proposing two more findings and two more conditions.

Taking the pledge: A tangle of arguments ensued between board members and Mr. Schwartz over conditions that bear on long-term status of the subsidized apartments. As long as there are qualifying assisted rental units, under state regulations Brookline gets to count the entire project toward its assisted housing quota under the 40B law. Views of board members seemed to be that a “quid pro quo” for project approval would be preserving the project status in perpetuity–beyond potential future changes in project ownership and funding.

Starting from the late 1960s, Brookline set in motion and then endured hardships from previous subsidized housing–particularly federal Sections 202, 221 and 236 projects and state Chapter 121A projects. For about the past 20 years, the town has been trying to cope with expiring subsidies. Although there remained quibbles about the means to the goal, eventually Mr. Schwartz took the pledge, on behalf of the developer, and agreed to accept some approach to maintaining permanent project status for the Hancock Village development.

Another hurdle: Taking the pledge on permanent status will not likely end opposition to the project. Mr. Talerman’s memorandum asserts that a 1946 agreement between the Town of Brookline and the original developer, the John Hancock insurance company, “is expressly binding on the successors in title”–including Chestnut Hill Realty and its subsidiaries. Mr. Talerman contended that “the proposed project would not be possible” under “the terms and conditions contained in the 1946 agreement.”

A lawsuit being pursued by the Board of Selectmen was described as asserting claims similar to Mr. Talerman’s. While board member Jonathan Book did not favor adding Mr. Talerman’s proposed conditions to a permit, he said he “can’t imagine anyone would start building while this litigation was pending.” Board chair Geller seemed to agree. No one speculated about how long it might take to resolve the issues in court.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2015


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs, Brookline Beacon, November 6, 2014

Perspective: the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge

From an engineering perspective, the Longfellow Bridge was structurally deficient the day it opened. That’s what usually happens with public works designed by architects rather than engineers. To make matters worse, state agencies routinely underestimate the cost and time to renovate urban bridges, as they recently did with the BU Bridge and the Alford Street Bridge. As of mid-2013, they estimated about $250 million and 3-1/2 years to renovate the Longfellow, but their track record suggests at least $400 million and 5 years.

The Longfellow’s pretentious ten granite piers and eleven steel-arch spans, extending for 1,800 feet, were designed around 1897 to carry trains as well as horse-drawn vehicles and the emerging motor vehicles. The four cigar-stub towers were never anything but decorations. At the time, the lower Charles River was tidal mudflats. Shortly after the bridge opened in 1907, what is now known as the Science Park dam turned this part of the river into a catch basin for raw municipal sewage and industrial waste.

The former Union Railway had begun operating horse-drawn streetcars across the previous West Boston Bridge in 1856. Its successor, the West End Street Railway, began operating electrically powered streetcars across the previous bridge in 1889. The name Longfellow was merely a sentimental afterthought, attached about 30 years after the current bridge opened. By that time, the Charles River basin had already accumulated a bed of sewage and toxins up to a foot thick. They are now up to five feet thick.

From the beginning, the Longfellow and the Charles River basin were engineering disasters that never needed to happen. Just upriver, for example, is the Harvard Bridge–a longer bridge, about 15 years older. Unlike the Longfellow, it was built on-time and on-budget, even though originally it too had streetcar tracks and had a swing-section to accommodate barges traveling the Charles River. In the 1980s, major renovation cost about $16 million, again on-time and on-budget. The difference, well over tenfold, was sound engineering and reliable construction of the Harvard Bridge, both when built and when renovated.

The greatest misfortune of the Longfellow Bridge was that the complex, badly engineered structure came under custody of the former Metropolitan District Commission, an even worse steward than the Port Authority became of the Tobin Bridge. Unlike the Harvard Bridge, the Longfellow had not been designed to withstand careless management. In 1959, the Longfellow got a first overhaul under the MDC, by then a rotten, patronage-ridden agency in decline. The job was botched, failing to address complex features of the bridge, and after several years the Longfellow again fell into severe disrepair.

The Longfellow went to an unprepared Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2003. The state highway department planned an immediate overhaul, at an estimated cost of $125 million. Haggling over design with DCR added ten years of delay to a project only starting in 2013. Through 2013, the highway department had contracted for over $20 million in emergency repairs, to shore up the bridge against the nearly disastrous lack of maintenance under a former, corrupt MDC and a current, quarrelsome DCR.

The DCR has been taken over by antiquarians, determined to preserve not only the shape of the Longfellow but also its structurally deficient, badly corroded original materials. The Longfellow Bridge was an obvious candidate for demolition and replacement. By trying to overhaul rather than replace it, the cost of its bridge service, per lane-mile per year, could rise much higher than even the prodigal spending on a new Fore River Bridge between Quincy and Weymouth, and the bridge’s probable lifetime before another round of major maintenance is needed will not likely prove longer than 30 to 40 years.

(previously published in another venue)

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 4, 2015