Category Archives: Meetings

public meetings

State transportation project: Carlton St. footbridge

On Wednesday evening, November 4, state transportation staff held a hearing on plans to renovate the Carlton St. footbridge, starting at 7 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The state is now managing a project that Brookline began in 1998.

Tracks and bridges: The footbridge was built in the 1890s over rail tracks–then part of the Boston & Albany Rail Road–running beside the Muddy River in Brookline, near the Longwood neighborhoods. From there, the river flows into the Back Bay Fens, one of the “public grounds” designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for the Boston park department. In an 1883 report, Olmsted resisted calling the facilities “parks.” He wrote that instead they were landscaped “drainage works.”

Site of the Carlton St. footbridge, 1887

MuddyRiverFensFootbridgeSite
Source: National Park Service

The arrow in the figure points to the site of the Carlton St. footbridge–near the intersection of Carlton St., coming south from Beacon St., with Colchester St. On the 1887 map from the Boston park department, the rail tracks are crossed by bridges at Longwood Ave. and at Park Dr., as the latter is now known. A footpath appears to connect a “flag stop” along the rail tracks with one of the circulation paths.

The tracks were originally built for the Boston & Worcester Railroad and Charles River Branch Railroad between Boston and Newton. From the 1850s through the 1870s, the railroad–through extensions, mergers and name changes–carried millions of tons of gravel from Newton and Needham into Boston to fill the Back Bay salt marsh, creating dry land for neighborhoods that continue to use the Back Bay name today.

In the 1870s, as the Back Bay landfill project wound down, the Boston & Albany (B&A) Rail Road took over the tracks running through Brookline and Allston into Boston, transporting both passengers and freight. There was a B&A terminal on Station St. in Brookline. Over tracks near the intersection of Carlton and Colchester Sts. the town built a pedestrian bridge–giving access from Longwood neighborhoods to the B&A “flag stop.”

Carlton St. footbridge, c. 1896

CarltonStreetBridge1896Mono
Source: Public Library of Brookline

Alexis H. French. Brookline’s first town engineer, oversaw construction of the bridge, built in the summer of 1894. It is a utilitarian steel “pony truss” design, with riveted beams and cross members. The main span is about 75 ft, and the overall length including staircases at each end is about 110 ft. Originally there were steel circles mounted along the sides, the only ornamentation.

Records now known show no involvement by Olmsted or his firm in building the Carlton St. footbridge. According to Prof. Charles Beveridge of American University, unpublished archives from 1892 showed it as a late addition to Riverway plans. For over 80 years, the bridge provided an alternate entrance to the Riverway segment that Olmsted and his firm designed–giving it historical context and significance.

Changes and decline: In 1958, the B&A notified the state that it was going to discontinue passenger service on the rail line. Massachusetts acquired interests in the route and contracted with Perini Corp. of Framingham to install electrical wiring and redirect the Boston end underground, to connect with trolley services at Kenmore Square. Perini completed the work in about a year.

Electrically powered service started in 1959 on what became the MTA Highland line–now known as the D branch of the MBTA Green Line. That introduced a new hazard for the Carlton St. footbridge: proximity to 600 volt, high current wires. Its 1894 state permit had called for a 15 ft height. The span was barely above the trolley wires, and the structure was in decline.

Indifferent maintenance, including use of road salt in the winter, led to weakening of stair treads, cross members and braces. By the 1970s, corrosion had become severe, and the bridge was a safety hazard. In the fall of 1975, both ends were blocked with chain-link fencing. Brookline looked into removing the structure but delayed doing anything because of costs and dangers from working around an active transit line.

By the 1990s, deterioration of the fenced-off, rusting structure had become so advanced that ordinary repairs had become impractical. The wood decking and smaller metal elements were stripped away, so they would not fall onto the trolley tracks. Only the original main steel columns and beams were sturdy enough to stay in place near the tracks.

Controversy and revival: Some neighbors hoped that the footbridge would be reopened. For example, the late Henry Kohn, a former Precinct 1 town meeting member, had used it almost every day. Dr. Kohn walked between his home on Monmouth Ct. and his office at Shields Warren Laboratory in the medical area. Others neighbors were wary of vagabonds known to collect in secluded parts of the Riverway, and they opposed reopening the bridge.

For several years, neighborhood opposition gained the upper hand, ousting many of the conservation-oriented Precinct 1 town meeting members who had supported efforts to reopen the footbridge. Starting in 2006, trends changed, and over the next few years the opposition contingent gave way to a new generation in Precinct 1 that supported efforts to reopen the footbridge.

Cathleen Cavell, a Precinct 1 town meeting member and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, began organizing to restore the footbridge in the late 1980s and formed Friends of the Carlton St. Footbridge in the late 1990s. They attracted support from the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, a membership group founded in 1987 to advocate and educate around open space issues. However, interest remained low and progress slow.

A lingering storm in October, 1996 helped the fortunes of the footbridge. About 8 to 12 inches of rain fell over three days. The Muddy River quickly flooded, and floodwaters flowed down Green Line tracks into the Kenmore Square station. From there, the flood spread into the trolley tunnel toward downtown Boston, under Boylston St. Damages to property and to the transit system ran to around $100 million, in current value. The Green Line repairs took about two years, with frequent interruptions and breakdowns.

In the aftermath, Boston and Brookline began closer cooperation on planning flood control for the Riverway and Fenway. A four-party plan developed, seeking assistance from the state and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the Swift administration in 2002, Ellen Herzfelder, who was then the state secretary of environmental affairs, made restoring the Carlton St. footbridge a component of the Muddy River flood control project, pressuring Brookline to provide funds and coordinate efforts to renovate the footbridge.

After years of planning and disputes, the fall town meeting of 2009 finally provided project funds. Article 5 allocated $1.4 million for design and restoration, passed by a 194-24 roll-call vote. By that time, political changes in Precinct 1 had developed and settled. Every town meeting member from the precinct voted in favor of funds to restore the footbridge.

Project underway: At the November 4 hearing, Margaret Walsh and William Chi of the state highway department described the current $2.7 million project to renovate the Carlton St. footbridge. The largest amount of the cost is expected to be paid from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds. If realized, Brookline and the state would each pay about $270,000 of the total. Brookline would be able to reclaim nearly $1 million from its 2009 appropriation, to use for other purposes.

Andre Martecchini of Kleinfelder SEA in Cambridge described the current design, for which Brookline paid the initial costs. It is intended to satisfy handicapped access requirements by attaching ramps at both ends of the span, just inside the staircases. Each ramp extends eastward toward Kenmore Sq. and loops back to the foot of its staircase. Original materials for the main steel beams are to be reused; most other parts will be new materials. Decking for the span is be Ipe hardwood, with an estimated 75-year service life.

Construction plans are to detach the staircases, lift the span and station it in a tent nearby. It will be renovated on-site, while ramps are built and staircases are rebuilt off-site. New foundations will raise the span about a foot and shift its location about a yard into the park, avoiding existing trees. When the structures are all ready, the span will be lifted back into place and the bridge reassembled, adding the new ramps and installing security screening along the span.

The current design is rated about 25 percent complete. It does not include any bridge or park lighting. The next part of the project is to produce working specifications and advertise for bids. The remaining project duration is estimated at around two years. Green Line service will be replaced with bus service for two weekends when the span is being lifted out and back, a significant part of project costs.

Comments and questions: Six town meeting members from Precinct 1 spoke in support of the project: Cathleen Cavell, James Franco, Neil Gordon, Sean Lynn-Jones, Robert Schram and Robert Sloane. None were opposed. Ms. Cavell, who started efforts that led to the project, said she had been “longing to see the bridge renovated and reopened.” Benjamin Franco, a former Precinct 1 resident and current member of the Board of Selectmen, said the project will “restore the Olmsted vision.”

Mr. Lynn-Jones, who chairs the Advisory Committee, asked about colors. Like the original, the renovated bridge will be mostly painted steel. Mr. Martecchini of Kleinfelder said the security screening will be black but “the rest will have some color,” not yet chosen. The original bridge was painted black, although what remains is heavily rusted.

Precinct 5 town meeting members Robert Daves, Betsy Shure Gross and Hugh Mattison and Precinct 6 town meeting member Thomas Vitolo spoke in favor of project plans. Mr. Mattison said they were the result of a “town-wide effort.” Arlene Mattison of Pond Ave, president of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, and Frances Shedd-Fisher of Walnut St., a former Precinct 5 town meeting member, echoed those sentiments.

Starting in 2006, Dr. Vitolo–a recent transplant from Precinct 1–became a figure in replacing a former Precinct 1 contingent that opposed reopening the bridge. He said he looked forward to bicycle crossings using the new ramps, expecting them to relieve congestion at the Longwood MBTA stop. New bicycle ramps on the Riverway, at the Route 9 intersection, will open at about the same time, he said, and should also help.

Others favoring the plans included Gilbert Hoy of Reservoir Rd., a former member of the Board of Selectmen who chaired Brookline’s project committee for the footbridge, Frances Gershwin of Glenoe Rd., who chairs the Oversight Committee for the Muddy River flood control project, Elton Elperin of Monmouth St., a member of the Preservation Commission, and John Dempsey of Brington Rd., a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Three former Precinct 1 town meeting members continued to oppose the project: Pamela Zelnick of Carlton St., a member of the Transportation Board, Frederick Lebow of Colchester St., chair of the Naming Committee, and Melvin Clouse of Monmouth St. Ms. Zelnick called the project “a total waste of taxpayer money.” Mr. Lebow recalled hearing “when that bridge was open, there was a higher crime rate.”

Anthony Raynes of Carlton St. echoed the opposition, saying the new “design is excellent” but claiming that the “bridge was closed because of crime.” With more bicycle traffic encouraged by a renovated bridge with ramps, Dr. Raynes said Carlton St. will become “total mayhem…the accident rate will be terrible.” Dr. Clouse said very few Brookline pedestrians would likely use the bridge, calling it a “bridge to nowhere.”

Opponents of renovating the Carlton St. footbridge, by now heavily outnumbered by supporters of the bridge, sounded unlikely to derail the project. Mr. Elperin of the Preservation Commission, an architect, said he “never expected the project would take this long or cost this much.” He commended the designers for “great care taken to make the ramps as light as possible” and observed that over time a steel bridge would be seen as “more valuable by being a rare feature of an Olmsted park.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 9, 2015

– Updated November 11, 2015, with letter from Prof. Charles Beveridge


Design public hearing for project 606316, proposal B-27-016, Highway Division, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, November 4, 2015

Transportation project funding, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, 2015

Priority evaluations, highway projects FY2016, Massachusetts Department of Transportaton, 2015

FY2013 Capital improvement program, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012, See $1,254,000 bond fund for 10 years for Carlton St. footbridge.

Minutes, Brookline Preservation Commission, April 12, 2011

Roll-call vote, Article 5, November 17, 2009, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant report for November 17, 2009, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Hugh Mattison, The Muddy River restoration project, Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, 2009

William A. Newman and Wilfred F. Holton, Back Bay: The Story of America’s Greatest Nineteenth-Century Landfill Project, Northeastern University Press, 2006

David O. Mendelsohn, Muddy River project facilitation, in Robert L. France, ed., Facilitating Watershed Management, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, pp. 55-58

Bridge to nowhere, Carlton Street Footbridge, 2003

Letter to Gilbert Hoy, Board of Selectmen, from Charles E. Beveridge, American University, re Carlton St. footbridge plans, September 25, 2001 (obtained from Cathleen Cavell)

Report of the town engineer, in Annual Report of Town Officers, Town of Brookline, MA, 1906, p. 157

Bridge over Boston & Albany Railroad at Carlton Street in Brookline, May 4, 1894, in Annual Report, Massachusetts Board of Railway Commissioners, 1895, p. 193

Report of the landscape architect, 1883, and Map for the Back Bay Fens, 1887, in Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, Vol. 8: The Early Boston Years, reprinted by National Association for Olmsted Parks, 2010

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?, Brookline Beacon, July 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Hazards of rail transport, Brookline Beacon, May 1, 2014

School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie

Contractors on sites for a ninth elementary school reported at a joint meeting of the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen, starting at 7:30 pm October 22 in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Fees for an outfit called Civic Moxie, addressed in Brookline, are approaching $100,000. So far, the town got little for such lavish spending. The new concepts aren’t that useful, and the useful concepts aren’t that new.

Shlock tactics: Contractors say they found 3-acre school sites. Brookline has not accepted postage-stamp sites for elementary schools since early years of the Great Depression. Old Lincoln School–less than two acres on Route 9, built in 1932–was the last of the postage-stamp sites. Social injustice in cramming old Lincoln School onto a squat of land on a busy highway sparked the 20 years of protests, between the 1970s and 1990s, that brought new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd.

Brookline school sites, counting adjacent parks

BrooklineSchoolSites
Source: School outdoors comparison, 2013

Site models illustrated by the contractors reuse old factories and warehouses found in depressed parts of Newark, NJ, and Baltimore, MD. Few of today’s Brookline parents probably look forward to housing their children in old factories and warehouses. Brookline never had much of either, anyway. Most of the ones remaining can be found in Brookline Village, between Station St. and Andem Pl. Contractors did not propose to reuse them.

Elementary school sites, from Newark and Baltimore

ShlockSchoolSites
Source: School site presentation, 2015

Search and research: In 2013, a committee organized by the Board of Selectmen produced a school site plan of sorts. Caught up in strong controversy, after proposing to use parks and playgrounds as sites, that committee backed away, recommending an approach it called “expand in place”–meaning enlarging current schools. As some members knew, such an approach could prove extremely costly. The Devotion School project now underway will cost around $120 million, yet it adds only about nine classrooms.

Neither the 2013 nor the recent 2015 study provides a geographical analysis, showing densities of increased school populations. Lack of this basic tool indicates that neither group sought professional guidance, and neither made constructive use of data and expertise already available in Brookline agencies. Instead, both engaged in speculation about specifics, without creating a knowledge base to guide the choices. The Moxie report describes six potential new school sites with some detail, five of them in urban Brookline.

New school sites in urban Brookline

NewBrooklineSchoolSites
Source: Ninth elementary school study, 2015

The sixth location, in suburban Brookline at the southeast corner of Larz Anderson Park, can probably be neglected as an elementary school site, since very few students would be within reasonable walking distance. Of the five urban sites, the one shown as no. 5 is old Lincoln School–firmly rejected as a suitable for a permanent elementary school. Instead, that site has become a land bank, Brookline’s relocation center during major town projects.

The three shown as nos. 2-4 are postage-stamp sites strung along Harvard St. All three are too close to either Pierce School or Devotion School to create a credible locus for a new school district. Only the site on Amory St., shown as no. 1, has some potential. However, this site would need to draw students from the low-density Cottage Farm and Longwood neighborhoods to make sense. Lack of geographical analysis for growth trends in Brookline’s student population makes it impossible to know whether the Amory St. site would solve more problems than it might create.

Moxie study files in their original form are probably outside most people’s price range: all but unreadable on much less than giant UHD 2160p displays costing around $2,000 and up. The study’s failure to explore the northeast side of Addington Hill–off Washington St. at Gardner Rd. and about equally spaced from Driscoll, Pierce, Lincoln and Runkle Schools–leaves a major gap in knowledge. The appendix files from the study show no attention at all to a critical part of Brookline.

–Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 25, 2015


School site presentation, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 22, 2015 (9 MB)

Ninth elementary school study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October, 2015 (in 12 files, 92 MB)

Final report, School Population and Capacity Exploration Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, September, 2013 (3 MB)

Perry Stoll, Ninth school site presentation, Driscoll Action, October 22, 2015

Ulrich Mok, Brookline school outdoors comparison, Driscoll Action, November 15, 2013 (4 MB)

Recommendation, Edward Devotion School, Massachusetts School Building Authority, November 12, 2014

Trevor Jones, Brookline dedicates two newly renovated K-8 schools, Brookline Tab, December 13, 2012

Property listing, 194 Boylston St, Brookline, MA, RealtyTrac, 2008

Community Facilities, Comprehensive Plan for 2005-2015, Town of Brookline, MA, November, 2005 (7 MB)

Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, W W Norton, 1985

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

School news: new superintendent, Devotion plans, Brookline Beacon, October 1, 2015

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

Education news: Advisory thinks, Chester blinks

The large, first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall, home to the Advisory Committee during town meeting seasons, witnessed another episode in the long-running struggles over regimented testing in public schools, starting at 7:30 pm Tuesday, October 20.

Earlier that day, Mitchell Chester, the state’s current education commissioner, had set off a policy bomb. It blew up a campaign to replace the testing used in Massachusetts public schools for the past 18 years–a campaign that had been led by Dr. Chester himself.

Tarnished icons: The mystique of regimented testing has been burnished and tarnished so often that it was surprising to hear a usually sophisticated Advisory Committee weave around the topics. However, it has been about fifteen years since a town meeting campaign that most recently introduced them into Brookline politics. Only a few current Advisory members have been involved long enough to remember.

Although precursors can be found in ancient China, medieval Europe and mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts, regimented testing is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon. A quantitative approach helped give standard tests a claim to objectivity, shrouding heavy cultural bias. The tests reward informally acquired language skills and penalize lack of those skills, tending to make them tests of home and community backgrounds.

When anyone thought to look, a secret emerged: test scores strongly tracking home and community incomes. Trends were discovered with IQ tests in the 1920s, Iowa tests in the 1930s and SAT tests in the 1940s. The more recent tests do likewise, including state-sponsored regimes. Scores from the early years of the Massachusetts MCAS tests showed strong associations with community incomes.

MCAS test scores versus community incomes

BostonMetroMcasPlotAbs01
Source: Significance of test-based ratings, EPAA, 2001

Dumping PARCC: Dr. Chester, of the state education department, has been serving as national board chair of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Despite a glorified title, PARCC is a commercial test series produced by a division of Pearson PLC, a London-based publishing company. Its cachet has been fully computerized test administration and scoring.

Many observers have described the superficially clever construction of PARCC tests, seemingly designed to confuse and mislead. To people familiar with The Times of London or The Nation magazine, they suggest the prompts for British-style crossword puzzles.

In the United States, supposed merits of PARCC were quickly unmasked. As one experienced teacher put it, “Test manufacturers…tell us…their tests require critical thinking. They are lying. They prove [it with] relentless emphasis on test security.” Pearson will not allow teachers to see the questions that students were asked. If their tricks were to become known, they might easily be foiled.

In his day job as education commissioner, Dr. Chester had been in deep and obvious conflict of interest with his night job as chair of the PARCC board. When finally dumping PARCC on October 20, he arrived late to the party at a national trend. Over two-thirds of the state-level jurisdictions that tried PARCC have dumped it. Even by the obtuse standards of educational testing, PARCC was flagged as a loser.

Dr. Chester’s loyalists sententiously claim “there was no ultimatum given [by] Peyser and Baker”–meaning the new governor and his education secretary. Such pre-emptive denials tend to say the opposite. Politicians may not be great at higher math, but they can count.

Thinking about testing: At the fall town meeting scheduled for November 17, Article 16 seeks support for H. 340, pending in the General Court. Filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, it would forbid, for three years, the use of “MCAS or another standardized test” as a “condition for high school graduation.” That is what many call “high-stakes uses” of test scores. Rep. Frank Smizik, who represents Brookline Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, is a cosponsor of H. 340 and also a co-petitioner for Article 16.

At Advisory Committee on October 20, Brookline resident Lisa Guisbond spoke for Article 16. She is executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a Boston-based nonprofit founded to support progressive, public education. “With high-stakes uses of test scores,” she said, “the teaching focus is narrowed to the subjects tested…you lose access to a broad curriculum.”

In Brookline schools, that probably tends to happen with students who are identified as at risk of not graduating because they have trouble with one or more of the tests. Many of those students benefit from programs that try to strengthen their abilities in the areas tested. Inevitably, however, teaching to the test crowds out other areas of knowledge, as well as aspects of a topic that are not going to be tested.

Committee member Amy Hummel sounded eager to “put a moratorium on it.” Since 1993, she said, when a law authorizing MCAS was passed, “there are so many things that are different…MCAS is one vegetable in the pot…In my family, it’s converse to learning.” Few other committee members seemed to have such clear perspectives on regimented testing.

Some committee members tried to extrapolate from personal experience but found it difficult. Committee member Janet Gelbart remembered “studying for (New York state) Regents Exams…taking courses to learn how to take exams” but said her daughter was graduated from Brookline High School “long before MCAS.”

Many committee members seemed to discount educational experiences with testing regimes and instead resort to their hunches about policy. Committee member Fred Levitan said he failed “to see how stopping testing allows people to study it.” Clifford Brown saw “no reason to stop the use of testing.” Lee Selwyn said he couldn’t understand “shutting it down for three years.”

Advisory Committee members seemed confused when voting on the topics. When Sean Lynn-Jones first counted votes on a motion to approve Article 16, he found 9 in favor and 9 opposed, but some committee members said they did not understand what was proposed. After more explanation, a recount found 9 in favor, 10 opposed and 2 abstaining–putting the committee on record as narrowly opposing Article 16.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 21, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Michael Jonas, Chester abandons PARCC, Commonwealth Magazine, October 20, 2015

Andy Hargreaves, Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia, The success of schools in Massachusetts cannot be explained by testing, Diane Ravitch on Education, June 18, 2015

An act relative to a moratorium on high stakes testing and PARCC, H. 340, Massachusetts General Court, 2015

David A. Goslin: The Search for Ability, Russell Sage Foundation, 1963

Craig Bolon: School-based standard testing, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 8(23), 2000

Craig Bolon: Significance of test-based ratings for metropolitan Boston schools, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 9(42), 2001

Lisa Guisbond, Testing reform victories, the first wave, National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014

Forum: regimented testing in Brookline public schools, Brookline Beacon, October 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2014

Advisory subcommittee: new crews needed to right ships

Gathering in the large, first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall starting at 7:30 pm Wednesday, October 14, the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation heard two articles for the fall town meeting, scheduled for November 17.

Subcommittee members found that Article 12, offered by member Lee Selwyn to revise the meaning of “habitable space” under zoning, needed substantial review. They proposed referring the article to a committee to be appointed by Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, and Mr. Selwyn agreed.

Park land for Putterham neighborhoods: The subcommittee took a similar approach to Article 15, from petitioners led by Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member. However, circumstances are different. Convening a special review committee is actually what Article 15 asks for. It represents a long detour, starting from an article approved at the May 26, 2015, annual town meeting.

In Putterham neighborhoods–the southernmost parts of Brookline–as Ms. Frawley argued last spring, there is little public open space. During years of the Great Depression, when much development in those neighborhoods was underway, Brookline did not acquire park and playground land, as it had done earlier in other parts of town. The only sizable areas remaining as potential recreation space are the so-called “buffers” on the north side of Hancock Village.

Following development concepts worked out with the Brookline Planning Board during 1945 and 1946, when the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. developed Hancock Village, it left unbuilt land adjacent to single-family houses along Beverly and Russett Rds. Since then, that land has often served informally as recreation space for residents of Hancock Village, as well as those of nearby streets.

The Hancock Village buffers soon came under attack. First the Hancock Co., in the 1950s, and then the next owner–the Niles Co.–in the 1960s, applied to turn the buffers into parking lots. The apartment zoning approved at the 1946 annual town meeting had left the buffers part of the large single-family zone to the north, which does not allow parking lots. The Zoning Board of Appeals turned down the applications.

Recent perils: More recently, the current owner–a subsidiary of Chestnut Hill Realty–has proposed to build both parking lots and more apartments on the buffers. The proposal, approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals last February, draws on provisions of Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override zoning in return for partly subsidized housing.

The current Board of Selectmen and its predecessor opposed the Hancock Village 40B project, although neither has been successful so far. The predecessor board–including Kenneth Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt–sued the Massachusetts Development Financing Agency for issuing a “project eligibility letter,” allowing the project application to proceed. That lawsuit has been dismissed at both superior court and the Court of Appeals.

While considering further appeal of the first case, the Board of Selectmen–now including Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene–is suing members of the Brookline zoning board in Land Court for approving the Hancock Village 40B project. A hostile motion to dismiss is pending in that case, building on the loss by the Board of Selectmen at the Court of Appeals.

The Board of Selectmen now looks mired in conflicts around a proposal to use land at Hancock Village for recreation. Besides the two lawsuits, at this year’s annual town meeting, recently elected board member Nancy Heller filed Article 17, promoting changes to the 40B law that would authorize “local elected officials” to make “binding recommendations” on 40B projects.

Reviewing recreation land: When this year’s annual town meeting approved Article 18, asking the Board of Selectmen to “study and consider in good faith” taking the Hancock Village buffers as permanent recreation land, almost everyone assumed the board would appoint an independent, expert review committee. However, nothing like that has happened so far.

Instead, about a month later, the board sent the Advisory Committee a $15 thousand reserve fund request to hire a consultant, who would work with town staff reporting to the board. The Advisory Committee took note of Massachusetts cases involving conflicts between 40B projects and land takings for other purposes, when refusing to fund a consultant interacting with the Board of Selectmen.

While land taking for community uses is possible, even though a 40B project has claims, it must occur in “good faith” and not mainly to block a project. Involvement by the Board of Selectmen in a proposal for Hancock Village land, given their conflicts, looks to risk poisoning the well and defeating an attempt to acquire land for recreation.

Seeing a Board of Selectmen seemingly frozen on recreation land issues, doing nothing constructive, Ms. Frawley and co-petitioners filed Article 15 for the November town meeting. It calls for a special review committee, to be appointed by the Advisory Committee and the moderator of town meeting. That could separate the recreation land issues from the Board of Selectmen and allow them to be reviewed in “good faith.”

Recommendation: For the subcommittee, Ms. Frawley briefly reviewed activities related to recreation land at Hancock Village since May. According to her, Melvin Kleckner, the town administrator, opposed an independent committee to review the issues–at first claiming to be “too busy” to meet with her and then, two weeks later, saying he intended to hire a consultant.

Mr. Kleckner is a town employee who lives elsewhere, not an elected official of Brookline. Since he was apparently involved in withholding information about a $200 thousand cost overrun during the May town meeting, his relations with the Advisory Committee have become rocky at best. One long-term committee member, reportedly fed up with disrespectful treatment, has resigned from the committee.

According to Ms. Frawley, Mr. Kleckner said the issues of recreation land are “too challenging” for mere citizens. Somehow though, over the years, Brookline citizens managed acquisitions of Hall’s Pond, Amory Woods and the Blakely Hoar Sanctuary, plus more than 100 park and playground parcels, without need for Mr. Kleckner’s consultants.

Subcommittee member Lee Selwyn recalled the $15 thousand reserve fund request for a consultant that had been rejected, suggesting that a committee may need “paid expertise.” Ms. Frawley said the committee could assess its needs. Stanley Spiegel, the subcommittee chair, said nine messages in support of Article 15 and one opposing it were on record so far. The subcommittee favored Article 15 and recommended approval, in a unanimous vote.

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


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Comprehensive permit for The Residences of South Brookline, LLC, on the site of Hancock Village, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Brookline, MA, February 20, 2015 (4 MB)

Board of Selectmen to Land Court: you win, Brookline Beacon, October 5, 2015

Hancock Village lawsuit: Brookline’s appeal dismissed, Brookline Beacon, September 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: probing a disconnect, Brookline Beacon, July 29, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Craig Bolon, Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well, Brookline Beacon, July 2, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

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

Advisory Committee: return of the leafblowers

On Thursday, October 8, the Advisory Committee got off to an uncertain start at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. With Sean Lynn-Jones away, Carla Benka, the vice chair, led a session that focused mainly on leafblowers.

Beginning in 2000 with a petition article from Jerome Sadow, unsuccessful on first try, this is the fourth visit by leafblowers to town meeting. Article 10 for the fall town meeting, starting November 17, calls for a total ban on the machines–however powered and however used. Article 11 calls, on the other hand, for extensions to seasons of allowed use. Noise remains the most common complaint.

Sound and noise levels: Ordinary conversations typically involve sound levels around 60 decibels A-weighted (dBA), at a distance of 3 ft. Perceived loudness doubles with each 6 dBA increase. Federal noise exposure limits, intended to prevent hearing damage, have long been 85 dBA for an 8-hour workday. At that intensity, conversation is almost impossible. The noise would sound around 20 times louder than ordinary conversation.

Introduced in the 1970s, small leafblowers have long been loathed because of noise, although performance has gradually become more tolerable. Some of the earliest machines emitted literally earsplitting noise: as loud as 95 dBA, measured at a distance of 50 ft. Unprotected operators, who work much closer to machines, experienced up to 115 dBA, comparable to peak noise from a 737 jet on takeoff, measured about 200 ft from a runway.

Demographic shifts: As Brookline’s populations changed, more people tended to be working longer hours. They tended to have less free time and more surplus income. Rather than do their own lawn care and gardening, they turned increasingly to landscapers, who brought increasing amounts of power equipment, including leafblowers.

By the middle 1990s, Brookline had a noise bylaw limiting lawn and garden equipment to a maximum noise level of 80 dBA at a distance of 50 ft. Many leafblowers then in use were noisier than permitted, but there was little enforcement. In 2000, that situation prompted Mr. Sadow to propose limiting leafblower noise to 72 dBA. However, only a few leafblowers then available could meet such a standard.

Leafblower limits: After a long review by a moderator’s committee, the fall town meeting of 2001 voted to limit leafblower noise to 72 dBA for units manufactured in 2002 or later and to limit hours of operation: 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 6 pm on weekends. The Police Department got more sound level meters, and enforcement became somewhat more attentive.

The slow phase-out of older, noisier leafblowers and the continued increases in use left many residents unsatisfied. At the fall town meeting of 2008, a package of revisions to Brookline’s noise control bylaw, introduced by the Board of Selectmen, lowered the maximum allowed noise level for leafblowers manufactured in 2009 and later to 67 dBA, measured at 50 ft. However, hours of permitted use were extended: 7 am to 7 pm weekdays and 8:30 am to 6 pm weekends and holidays. Those standards remain in effect today.

After seeking stronger measures from the 2008 fall town meeting and leaving empty-handed, Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, returned at the 2011 fall town meeting proposing restrictions specific to leafblowers in a new bylaw. It set seasons of allowed use: between March 15 and May 15 and between September 15 and December 15, allowing emergency uses out-of-season by town workers. It also set penalties: from a warning on a first offense to a $200 fine on a third or later offense.

For his efforts, Mr. Fischer was rewarded by opposition from all members of the Board of Selectmen and from all but one member of the Advisory Committee. They tried to shoo him away with a resolution, merely asking residents and contractors to be “considerate…sensitive…[and] reasonable.” Mr. Fischer argued that lapses from those fine sentiments had been at the heart of continuing problems with leafblowers. He won the day.

Another round of review: This fall, Richard Nangle, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, with other petitioners, is seeking a total ban on leafblower use in Brookline, under Article 10. At Advisory, Mr. Nangle argued that enforcement of Mr. Fisher’s leafblower law has not worked. Leafblowers continue in use out-of-season, landscapers sometimes claim they are “exempt” from laws and police are rarely able to catch violators. Only ten percent of complaints logged over three years resulted in citations.

Local landscapers led by Faith Michaels and Peter Gately, who are behind Article 11 seeking to extend the leafblower seasons, spent most of their efforts opposing Article 10. They claimed leafblowers have been key elements in making money as landscapers. Erin Gallentine, the director of Parks and Open Space, was equally emphatic, citing time and motion studies. Under Article 11, landscapers want to end the spring season on June 15, not May 15, and want to end the fall season on December 31, not December 15.

Leafblowers, they all said, do a better and more efficient job than rakes and brooms. However, Ms. Michaels and Ms. Gallentine were unable to explain why total clearance of leaves should be critical today, when 40 years ago and earlier–before leafblowers came to Brookline–it wasn’t. Somehow, previous generations had managed to live safely and happily despite some stray leaves.

After 20 minutes into a stem-winding report from the subcommittee on public safety, Janice Kahn, the chair, disclosed that it had no position on Article 10, seeking a ban–despite two sessions of public hearings. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, sought to send Article 10 to a committee, when it had already arrived at a committee: the Advisory Committee.

Subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein described regulations in Cambridge and Arlington. Unlike Brookline, those communities limit numbers of leafblowers in simultaneous use, according to sizes of lots. It did not seem to occur to subcommittee members that anything between the status quo and a total ban might come within the scope of Article 10, and they did not propose such limits for Brookline.

Alan Balsam, the health director, undercut one argument against leafblowers: debris they blow into the air along with leaves. Dr. Balsam said the Advisory Council on Public Health had “found no compelling health threat.” Ms. Michaels dealt with another concern, worker exposure to noise. Units her company and others said they now use, rated for 65 dBA noise at 50 feet, expose workers to 83 dBA, below the federal limit for 8-hour industrial exposure.

Recommendations: Slogging through a total of six motions from Advisory Committee members, Ms. Benka organized recommendations. The committee opposed a leafblower ban under Article 10. That got only three votes. Under Article 11, the committee supported a minor change authorizing the public works commissioner to allow leafblower use in emergencies, but it opposed extending regular leafblower seasons.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 11, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Records of town meetings since 2000, Town of Brookline, MA, 2015

Leaf blower information, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Leaf blower study group, Town of Lincoln, MA, 2015

Leaf blowing, Department of Public Works, City of Cambridge, MA, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions, Brookline Beacon, October 6, 2015

Board of Selectmen to Land Court: you win

On Tuesday, September 29, three members of the Zoning Board of Appeals who are being sued for awarding a permit allowing a Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village met in a rare closed session. The judge hearing the Land Court lawsuit against them had threatened to remove Joslin Murphy, Brookline’s town counsel, from representing the Board of Selectmen if no legal representation were provided for the appeals board members. Appearances to represent the three were filed the following day, just before the deadline.

Eye on the money: There have been no agenda items for the Board of Selectmen to allocate money for such a purpose from the contingency fund or make a request from the reserve fund. That leaves the outside services budget for the Office of Town Counsel as a likely source of funds. The costs could put substantial pressure on a budget account that already seems overstressed.

The new appearances at the Land Court for zoning appeals members were from Kathryn Murphy and Jill Meixel of Krokidas & Bluestein in Boston. Ms. Murphy of the Krokidas firm was one of two lawyers from that firm hired to advise the zoning appeals board during hearings on the Hancock Village Chapter 40B application. Spending on outside services during that episode averaged around $25,000 a month.

The Office of Town Counsel is also bearing costs of representing the Board of Selectmen in the Land Court case. During the Hancock Village episode, outside legal bills totaled $295,121, far more than the outside services budgets for the Office of Town Counsel. The Advisory Committee was approached multiple times to tap the reserve fund. A double burden of costs had been observed last April by committee member Lee Selwyn, who said the town was “turning the heat and the air conditioning on at the same time.”

Next events: While the Board of Selectmen apparently did not participate in funding recent legal services, it is nearly inconceivable they would not have been informed. The board can probably dodge bullets for a while, but as costs mount either they will have to abandon their Land Court lawsuit or else they will need to go back to a skeptical Advisory Committee for more money.

At Land Court, Judge Gordon Piper has scheduled a status hearing as part of a court session starting at 10 am on Friday, October 16. He also took official notice of the Court of Appeals rulings issued September 25, undercutting at least one key element of the Land Court case.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 5, 2015


Town of Brookline and others v. Jesse Geller, Member of the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, and others, Massachusetts Land Court case 2015-MISC-000072, filed March 11, 2015 (click button to search public records, select Land Court Department and Case Number tab, enter case number “15 MISC 000072″ and click Search button, click any Case Number item for “15 MISC 000072″)

Memorandum and order, case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, September 25, 2015

Hancock Village lawsuit: Brookline’s appeal dismissed, Brookline Beacon, September 29, 2015

Land Court to Board of Selectmen: put up or shut up, Brookline Beacon, September 20, 2015

Land Court: Dueling boards, Selectmen v. Zoning Appeals, Brookline Beacon, September 5, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land

The first Advisory Committee warrant review for the fall, 2015, town meeting got underway at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 1, in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. The committee tackled Article 6, likely to be one of the most contentious. It recommended against adding more restrictions on use of town land–specifically, Larz Anderson Park–until community needs for school expansion are better understood.

Lakeside view at Larz Anderson Park

LarzAndersonLake
Source: Brookline Recreation Department

Larz Anderson Park: The land now known as Larz Anderson Park was conveyed to the Town of Brookline through the will of Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson, wife of Larz Anderson, III (1866-1937), after she died in 1948. The Weld family, from whom she was descended, had owned the former Windy Top estate since the 1840s. It also owned the site of today’s Hancock Village, using it for a private golf course until 1945.

Although it might seem odd now, Brookline’s 1949 annual town meeting struggled over whether to accept the gift of land. Some said Brookline could not afford to maintain it. The large parcel was then occupied by a mansion, by Italianate gardens at the hilltop and by several support buildings–including a handsome garage for classic automobiles that had interested Mr. Anderson.

Eventually doubts were overcome, and the town meeting voted to accept the bequest. That said the land must be used for park, educational or charitable purposes. A location at the edge of town–64 acres bordering Jamaica Plain, far from the town’s population centers–led to use for what has become Brookline’s best known public park. It includes a small lake, picnic and grill facilities, baseball fields and an outdoor skating rink.

Unfortunately, the Brookline DPW description of Larz Anderson Park on the municipal Web site omits nearly all the rich historical context of the site. The DPW map display offers text that will be unreadable with most browsers and monitors. The map information is not page-linkable, does not name, locate or describe the park features and does not outline the park boundaries–a disgrace.

Parkland protection: For many years, most involved in Brookline’s government had thought the major town parks were protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts state constitution. However, several may not be, including most of Larz Anderson Park. Parkland protection under Article 97 requires a declaration by a town meeting.

At a public hearing held September 30 by the Advisory subcommittee on capital, Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, testified that the status of protection for several Brookline parks is uncertain. Recent cases from state appellate courts say protection is not active simply because of ways land has been acquired or used.

Restrictions in wills, deeds and trusts are not generally permanent, under Massachusetts law. Brookline was sharply reminded of that by the recent Court of Appeals decision affecting Hancock Village. In many circumstances, those restrictions expire after 30 years. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 184 (Real Property), Section 23, provides (in part):

“Conditions or restrictions, unlimited as to time, by which the title or use of real property is affected, shall be limited to the term of thirty years after the date of the deed or other instrument or the date of the probate of the will creating them, except in cases of gifts or devises for public, charitable or religious purposes.”

There are other exceptions to the 30-year rule. Conditions of wills and deeds involved with Brookline parks will need review. Brookline also needs to review which parks or parts of them are covered by town meeting declarations protecting land under Article 97. Such protection can be altered, but according to Ms. Murphy that takes a unanimous vote of the supervising board and two-thirds votes of both a town meeting and the General Court. Only votes in the General Court are required by Article 97. Ms. Murphy did not cite any sources for other requirements.

Proposal and background: In Article 6 for the November town meeting, the Park and Recreation Commission is proposing to declare about 55 of the 64 acres at Larz Anderson Park protected under Article 97. That would be needed to satisfy requirements for a state grant, reimbursing parts of planned improvements. The hilltop, now occupied by the town’s skating rink, was protected in 1998. According to Ms. Murphy, most of the remaining park area is probably not similarly protected.

In 2013, under item B.15 of Article 8, the annual town meeting appropriated $0.66 million for a program of improvements at Larz Anderson Park. However, the DPW Division of Parks and Open Space had developed a plan needing more than $1 million. For the balance, the division expected to seek state support. The division has prepared an application for a $0.4 million grant, not yet acted on.

Brookline’s continuing surge in school enrollment became a wild card in the deck. In December, 2014, the town hired a consultant to review needs and possibilities to build new schools. After a surge of school building during the middle and late nineteenth century, school sites have become a foreign topic. During the twentieth century, the only new school site was for Baker School on Beverly Rd., opened in 1939. The new Lincoln School opened in 1994 at the former, private Park School site on Kennard Rd.

It has been more than 75 years since Brookline had to search for a wholly new school site, one that was not in similar use before. Over that time, the town has become fully built-out, and land prices have escalated. If Brookline tried to buy land equivalent to Larz Anderson Park today, $50 million might not be enough. Most of that parkland area apparently remains eligible for use as a school site.

Advisory review: The Advisory subcommittee on capital brought in a recommendation against Article 6, by a vote of 1-4. Amy Hummel took more than ten minutes to present it, mentioning only at the end that all the other subcommittee members opposed Article 6. A prospect of locking up $50 million or more in permanent land value in return for $0.4 million or less in one-time state aid had not convinced them.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, tried to sway the committee with arguments about a 1989 “master plan.” She said park improvements were “the next big vision for the community.” The 1989 document has not been available on the municipal Web site–a plan that few committee members had even heard about. The recently prepared grant application has not been available on the municipal Web site either.

Strangely, Ms. Gallentine did not distribute details of the grant application to Advisory Committee members, who were left to imagine what it proposed. Committee member David-Marc Goldstein asked how likely Brookline stood to get $0.4 million. Ms. Gallentine offered a rambling reply that sounded uncertain. An amendment was offered to restrict spending to any amount awarded. John Doggett asked about protecting a smaller part of the park. Ms. Gallentine complained she would have to change the grant application.

Exploring an activity that seemed contrary to restrictions of the Anderson bequest, Leonard Weiss asked how DPW equipment garages came to be built on Larz Anderson land. Ms. Gallentine claimed not to know, saying that had happened “before my time…done by the Park Department.” The former independent department was made into a DPW division through a 1981 town meeting article, after long-time director Daniel Warren retired.

Carla Benka, chair of the subcommittee on capital, described her work years ago to get Larz Anderson Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That insures a process of review for most proposed changes. She questioned the relevance of a 1989 plan, comparing school versus open-space priorities and saying, “It’s not right to play favorites…a whole lot has changed in 26 years.”

Several committee members defended Article 6 against detractors, including Mariah Nobrega, Michael Sandman and Stanley Spiegel. However, few votes were there for those views. Ms. Benka joined a majority of more than two to one, recommending that town meeting turn down Article 6.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 3, 2015


Larz Anderson Park information and reservations, Recreation Department, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Memorandum and order, case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, September 25, 2015

Sanjoy Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 464 Mass. 604, 2013

Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 444 Mass. 502, 2005

Adele Toro v. Mayor of Revere, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, 9 Mass. App. Ct. 87, 1980

Massachusetts Constitution, as amended through 1990, see Article XCVII (97, approved 1972) and Article XLIX (49, superseded)

Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

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

School news: new superintendent, Devotion plans

News spread Wednesday, September 30, that William Lupini, the school superintendent since 2004, will be leaving Brookline schools soon. Dr. Lupini is expected to head Essex North Shore, a county-based district founded in 1913 serving several communities–including Beverly, Boxford, Danvers, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Lynnfield, Manchester, Marblehead, Middleton, Nahant, Rockport, Salem, Swampscott, Topsfield and Wenham. That might involve less time commuting from the North Shore town where he lives.

Interim superintendent: The near-term replacement, pending final negotiations, is expected to be Joseph Connolly, since 2014 the interim principal of Devotion School–as he confirmed to the Beacon on Wednesday. Dr. Connolly enjoyed a long career in public-school teaching and leadership before retiring as superintendent of the Stoneham public schools in 2007. His would-be “retirement” was soon interrupted by several interim leadership positions, most lasting about a year.

Before heading the Devotion School administration, Dr. Connolly served during 2009 and 2010 as the interim principal of Runkle School, following another sudden resignation. At both Runkle and Devotion, he has been involved in major renovations of Brookline school buildings, now in advanced planning for Devotion. He has also served as interim superintendent of the Gloucester and the Harvard public schools and as both interim school superintendent and interim town administrator in Boylston.

Dr. Connolly had been a strong favorite for the interim position among parents and teachers. He is widely respected and much liked. Four years ago, after signing up as interim superintendent in Harvard, MA, he described his management approach as “open door”–saying, “I can’t help people if I don’t know that they have a problem.”

Devotion School plans: The 20-member Devotion School Building Committee provided a public presentation and hearing on its plans to rebuild and renovate the school during the 2016-2017 and the 2017-2018 school years. It began at 7 pm Wednesday evening, September 30, in the Devotion School auditorium.

The main architecture has been stable for about the past year, since a low-rise, community-oriented option was chosen over somewhat less costly but much less friendly alternatives. It fully preserves the historic center building, opened in 1915, and it preserves the historic, community-oriented site plan, with east-west wings aligned to Stedman St. toward the north and to Babcock St. toward the south.

Since the fall of 2014, the new north wing has moved nearer to Harvard St. and away from the playground in back. The new south wing, toward Babcock St., has been stepped away from nearby houses and apartments. Those revisions appeared at the Planning Board review in January, 2015. At that point, a visually appealing tilt to the front of the new north wing also appeared, parallel to sides of the 1686 Devotion House and designed to maintain an open appearance for the Devotion House lawn and the Harvard St. frontage.

HMFH, our Cambridge-based architects, are clearly unfamiliar with neighborhood senses of direction and history. They persist in calling the new wings “east” and “west”–much as they persist in calling the historic center structure the “1913 building,” although it opened to the public in 1915. To long-term residents of North Brookline neighborhoods, who typically navigate without compasses, one travels “north” on Harvard St. from Coolidge Corner to the Allston town line.

Relocation plan: A major new element in plans calls for Devotion School to be rebuilt and renovated in a single stage of work, with all the students relocated offsite. Upper grades, fifth through eighth, are already at the old Lincoln School on Boylston St. and will stay there two more school years. No other suitable, vacant school property could be found either in Brookline or in neighboring communities.

An approach that now seems workable is leasing the building at 30 Webster St., a block from Coolidge Corner and now the Coolidge House nursing care center–renovating it for school uses. The center is slated to close by the end of 2015. The building might serve for at least one more school building project beyond the Devotion School project. A disadvantage is limited outdoor space in the back, not more than around 2,000 sq ft. However, there is parking already available to the public at the Courtyard Hotel next door.

School plans and reactions: Few of about 80 parents and neighborhood residents at the September 30 event had attended previous meetings of the Devotion School Building Committee. Those occurred mostly at 8 o’clock weekday mornings. Except for illustrations published in the Beacon, many were viewing plans to build a new Devotion School for the first time.

There were sounds of surprise on seeing a front vista, showing the Devotion House nestled among the historic center structure and new north and south wings. The new wings look lively and contemporary. Because of the choice of a low-rise approach a year ago, they don’t loom over the historic structures, but they do present some contrasts that are not so modest as those from the 1955 south wing and the 1976 north wing.

New Devotion School, from above Harvard St.

DevotionPlanFrontOverhead20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

Since last January, the architects toned down initial and highly assertive designs–now showing less glass, more brick, softer colors, more shrubs and trees, and some friendly, community-oriented spaces directly along Harvard St. Philip “Pip” Lewis, chief architect for the project, Deborah Kahn, project manager, and Kathy Ottenberg, landscape designer, described design development and responded to questions.

New Devotion School, along Stedman St. toward Harvard St.

DevotionPlanStedmanStreet20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

The usual, everyday entrance will move from a back corner of the current north wing to the side of the new north wing along Stedman St., where now there is just a plain brick wall at street level. On the east end, toward the playground at street level and just off the new main entrance, will be rooms for pre-kindergarten and perhaps after-school care. Those will also have doors to the playground.

New Devotion School, along the side toward Babcock St.

DevotionPlanBabcockSide20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

Landscaping along the Babcock St. side has changed considerably since the first plans from September, 2014. Gardening space, intended to support classroom programs, increases from about 200 sq ft now to about 400 sq ft, meeting ADA requirements for handicapped access. Tiers of cedar boxes are intended to support management of different micro-environments. A public walkway between Harvard St. and Devotion St. will feature gently graded ramps instead of steps.

Interior plans were previously more developed, even a year ago. Changes have been fewer and less dramatic. Grade clustering of classrooms has been maintained, with kindergarten through second grade on the lower main floor of the new north, Stedman St. wing, with third through fifth grades on the corresponding floor of the new south wing, toward Babcock St., and with sixth through eighth grades on the upper main floor of that wing.

Special facilities for science, art and music are on the upper main floor of the new north wing. Core facilities–cafeteria, library, auditorium (now a “multipurpose room”), technology labs and gymnasiums–are behind the historic center structure and mostly between the two new wings. Mezzanine space between the ground floor along Stedman St. and the lower main floors of the new wings houses ventilating equipment and has the utility and storage rooms. Nearly all the new roof space is left available for solar panels.

There was one, fairly predictable audience reaction to the exterior design, calling it “boxy, modern and incongruous.” Most reactions, however, focused on open spaces around the new school. Many were concerned about the limited amount of play spaces.

Mr. Lewis of HMFH explained that architects had tried to maximize the usability of open spaces, in the face of safety requirements and a larger building area. He said that the usable parts of the playground will actually be larger in total area than they are now. Dr. Connolly, leading the meeting in one his last events as Devotion School principal before he takes over as Brookline’s superintendent, explained how play spaces had been consolidated behind the buildings, “the safest area” of the historic school site.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 1, 2015


Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans, Brookline Beacon, January 18, 2015

Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school, Brookline Beacon, September 26, 2014

Human Resources: resisting the Earned Sick Time law

At a meeting Thursday, September 17, the Board of Selectmen heard a proposal from Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of the Human Resources Office, to allow a version of what she called “sick leave” for some of Brookline’s nonunion employees. It looked designed to resist Article 7 at the town meeting on November 17.

Earned Sick Time: At the state election of November, 2014, three out of four Brookline voters said Yes to Question 4. They joined other voters statewide to enact the Earned Sick Time law, which went into effect July 1. The new law governs most private companies in Massachusetts with 11 or more employees. However, it does not apply automatically to cities and towns.

Massachusetts towns can adopt the Earned Sick Time law and follow its state regulations through votes of town meetings. That is what Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, and Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, propose in Article 7. Their explanation is straightforward.

“This law allows employees to use Earned Sick Time to look after their own medical needs or the needs of family members, or to address issues related to domestic violence. It requires an employer of eleven or more employees to provide a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every thirty hours worked by an employee, up to 40 hours of earned paid sick time in a calendar year.”

Proposed benefits: An effort to resist Article 7 began this summer. Apparently seeing that outright opposition could easily be overcome at town meeting, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed some concessions. The document that emerged on September 17 showed signs of haste. Obvious mistakes included grammatical errors, dangling phrases and duplicated paragraphs. Instead of “Earned Sick Time” it used several different terms, without defining them clearly.

The focus of the proposal was a favored set of nonunion employees who currently lack Earned Sick Time benefits–specified under Brookline’s Classification and Pay Plan, a policy document Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish on the municipal Web site. Rather than hour-by-hour accruals of Earned Sick Time, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed periodic “lump sum” accruals, which are also recognized under the new state regulations.

An item-by-item examination of the September 17 proposal found over a dozen items for which it was more restrictive than the new state law and regulations: reducing benefits or denying benefits to some employees. There looked to be no item that expanded on those state standards. On September 17, Ms. DeBow-Huang claimed the proposal was “generous,” but the examination showed the opposite. A subtext hinted by the September 17 proposal was trying to set a model for negotiations over union contract renewals.

Union employees: Most Town of Brookline employees belong to unions. Some of the “regular” employees–working more than half-time–have gotten Earned Sick Time benefits through union contracts for years. However, there can be different benefit policies, since there are different union locals representing employees. The contracts are public records, but Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish them on the municipal Web site, making it tedious and costly for anyone outside her office to compare them.

The November town meeting will consider whether the September 17 proposal corresponds with what Brookline voters expected when endorsing the Earned Sick Time law. It looks likely that the Board of Selectmen will oppose adopting the new law and instead will support the September 17 proposal or some variant.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 25, 2015


Sandra DeBow-Huang, Paid sick leave, Brookline Office of Human Resources, September 17, 2015 (reformatted for readability and annotated, items examined highlighted in red)

Craig Bolon, Issues with proposed policy in lieu of Earned Sick Time, September 25, 2015

Earned Sick Time law, Office of the Massachusetts Secretary of State, 2015

Earned Sick Time regulations, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, 2015

Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Cable services: renewing Comcast in Brookline

On Wednesday, September 16, starting at 7 pm in Town Hall, members of the Board of Selectmen and its cable television committee conducted a public hearing on renewal of the Comcast license to operate in Brookline. What they heard was dominated by insiders, trying to extract more money for local programming efforts, now called Brookline Interactive, and for subsidies to low-income residents. Attendance was about 15 people.

Technology dreams: Boosters for Brookline Interactive seemed divided into two camps. One was looking mainly for better distribution of content, the other looking mainly for better technology to deliver it. Karen Katz of Pleasant St., president of Brookline Interactive, complained about “no delivery” of her organization’s content by Comcast, recently rebranded as Xfinity. Comcast does not display a schedule of Brookline Interactive programs. She wanted more Comcast money to support local programming efforts.

Albert Davis of James St., who described himself as a media producer, does productions at Brookline Interactive. He complained that Comcast “does not support an everyday medium”–meaning high-definition, wide-screen television–calling that “a huge mistake.” He wanted Comcast to “get involved” with Brookline Interactive, a “partnering opportunity.”

Kathy Bisbee of Gorham Ave., recently hired as Brookline Interactive director, mentioned “over the top” fees as a way to boost her organization’s take of Comcast revenue. Although she did not explain, that would be techno-speak for fee-based, Internet-distributed services such as Showtime, currently about $11 a month.

Limited incomes: At an opposite pole from Ms. Bisbee and Brookline Interactive technophiles was David Trietsch of Linden Pl., board chair of the Brookline Housing Authority. He complained that few public housing residents could afford any type of Internet service–and probably not $11 a month “over the top.” Recently, he said, RCN has offered “favorable terms” for service to the new Dummer St. project.

Frank Caro of Beacon St., a member of the cable television committee and a Precinct 10 town meeting member, spoke for retired residents. He said he found almost no “senior discounts” for telecommunication services in Brookline. He was “deeply disappointed” that Comcast offered only $2 a month off, only on “basic” service.

The sole Brookline residents to complain about the quality of Comcast services were Cathy Corman of Pleasant St. and her husband Mark Penzel. Their house had apparently been built after the neighborhood was wired and has no cable service. Comcast initially wanted over $20,000 to install a cable but then offered to do that for $2,300 if it could dig a trench beside a tree in a neighbor’s lawn.

High costs: What none of the earnest speakers mentioned but would surely be uppermost for a network operator are high costs of new technology. At an average cost per person estimated by Goldman Sachs, Comcast would need to invest around $30 million to replace its Brookline network. That looks unlikely for a business with annual revenue potential around $10 million: possibly a 10-year payback or worse.

Comcast is stuck with early 1980s cable technology: good for its day but well into old age. It was built for 1953 NTSC broadcast television, about 6 MHz per channel. HDTV in 1080p24 format–the newer “wide screen” broadcast standard since 1998–needs about three times the bandwidth, despite digital techniques. However, it can be fit into 6 MHz channels through digital compression, at loss of optical and temporal definition.

With its dated cable infrastructure, Comcast cannot achieve the level of services fiber-optic systems can provide, such as those installed by RCN and promised–some day–by FIOS technology from Verizon. However, by replacing its complex of signal-transmission electronics and requiring subscribers to install new set-top boxes and modems, Comcast could augment services.

Providing a degraded, 720i24 format of HDTV, while maintaining its repertoire of channels and continuing to use its 1980-era cables above and below the streets could be realistic. Even such a limited project might cost several million dollars to retrofit Comcast’s infrastructure in Brookline. The company would still retain a trouble-prone network of aging cables that has been irritating customers for years.

Silent voices: At the Wednesday hearing, no one spoke up for ordinary customers, surely the vast majority of those concerned about Comcast services in Brookline. The Board of Selectmen did not make any more than minimal, legally required efforts to publicize the hearing. Had they done so, the sixth-floor meeting room might have overflowed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 17, 2015


Mark Biegert, High-definition television bandwidth, Math Encounters (Maple Grove, MN), 2012

Karl Bode, Google fiber build estimate: $140 billion, DSL Reports (New York, NY), 2012

Heather Bellini, et al., Clash of the titans, Goldman Sachs Group, December 7, 2012

Craig Bolon, Broadband telecommunications: Brookline-based services, Brookline Beacon, August 22, 2015

Housing Authority: renovations, programs and project development, Brookline Beacon, August 11, 2014