Advisory Committee: in a generous mood

Years ago, long-time Advisory Committee member Harry Marks would tour the tables at the opening session of budget reviews. He would present men chairing subcommittees with tie clips and women with pins, in the shapes of scissors, reminding each one, “The purpose of the Advisory Committee…is to cut.” Mr. Marks imported scissors.

Starting off this year, Advisory looks engaged in a role reversal. Increases have been proposed over budgets received from the town administrator and Board of Selectmen. On traditional St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17, the full committee voted to add a firefighter position in the Fire budget. The next evening, its planning and regulation subcommittee voted to add 1.2 professional positions in the Planning budget.

Submitting budgets: Budgets remain a committee responsibility that is not simply “advisory.” By law, the Advisory Committee submits a town budget to an annual town meeting. Oddly, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner appears to treat the committee as a functionary, sending Melissa Goff, the new deputy administrator, while he attends mainly meetings of the Board of Selectmen. This year, that might prove shortsighted.

In a free-form discussion at the end of its Tuesday session, members of the committee considered how to “pay for the increases” through other budget maneuvers. Several members, sophisticated in municipal finance, offered a variety of options. Sean Lynn-Jones, the new committee chair elected that evening, and Carla Benka, the vice chair, said the committee would tackle the topic at its “omnibus” wrap-up session, once the individual budgets of agencies, departments and offices have been addressed.

Preservation planning: The most volatile budget issue to emerge so far concerns preservation planning. Over more than 40 years, Brookline has grown and expanded several functions in this area, starting in nineteenth century with a voluntary, still vital Brookline Historical Society. It developed a Preservation Commission, regulating local historic districts and also serving as a state historical commission, a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, and related functions of a Conservation Commission, a Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Planning Board.

A table of numbers, distributed at the Wednesday subcommittee session, measured preservation planning workload against professional staff:

Preservation planning workload

Year LHD Dem. NCD Staff
2001 50 28 0 1.33
2002 46 35 0 1.33
2003 46 10 0 1.53
2004 47 25 0 1.53
2005 53 34 0 1.53
2006 86 28 0 1.53
2007 88 25 0 1.53
2008 82 38 0 1.53
2009 109 31 0 1.53
2010 98 30 0 1.53
2011 103 45 0 1.53
2012 100 42 0 1.59
2013 102 40 0 1.80
2014 123 43 1 1.80

Source: Advisory planning and regulation subcommittee

In the table, “LHD” counts the number of property improvement cases in local historic districts, “Dem.” counts the number of demolition-delay cases and “NCD” counts neighborhood conservation district cases, which began last year. Since 2001, the workload appears to have more than doubled, while staff positions grew 35 percent.

Advocacy: When the Board of Selectmen held a public hearing for the Planning budget on Tuesday, board member Betsy DeWitt and former Preservation chair Jim Batchelor, an architect, made an appeal for more preservation staff. Advocates appeared in force at the subcommittee hearing the next evening, with over 20 people from several parts of town.

On Wednesday at the subcommittee, David King, current Preservation chair, argued that preservation cases have tended to become more complex over the years, needing more staff time per case. More of the demolition-delay cases involve historically significant structures. “The staff is overworked and exhausted,” he said. Many were aware that Dr. Hardwicke has been out recently with an illness and that Ms. Innamorati has resigned, coming in on special assignment about half-time.

Judith Selwyn, a long-time Preservation Commission member, described lack of coordination between zoning and preservation planning. It has become a particularly acute problem, she said, with new neighborhood conservation districts, contributing to delays in a recent case on Perry St.

Kate Poverman of Adams St. cited the pressures of Chapter 40B projects, threatening to override zoning, as a “catalyst for local historic districts.” Her neighborhood has organized to form a local historic district and performed volunteer efforts toward surveys and document preparation. Peggy Hogan of Toxteth St. recounted how her neighborhood worked to prepare a definition for a neighborhood conservation district. A new district, she said, involves town staff in “more communication, more meetings.”

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member and neighbor of Ms. Poverman, argued for three full-time preservation planners instead of the 1.8 positions proposed by the town administrator. She was joined by Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian and member of the Preservation Commission, who recounted the types of work performed by the planners, and by Mr. King, Mr. Batchelor, Ms. Selwyn, Ms. Hogan and several others. On motions from Lee Selwyn and Angela Hyatt, the subcommittee agreed and is making that recommendation to the full committee.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 19, 2015


Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits, Brookline Beacon, February 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

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