Category Archives: Neighborhoods

Brookline neighborhoods

Trash metering: cheaper by the barrel

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen started at 6:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The main business of the evening finally began an hour and a quarter later: a public hearing on trash metering, repeatedly postponed for more than a year.

Melvin Kleckner, the town administrator, seemed to suggest he had played some role in the plans, saying his administration was “still early in the process.” While that might be, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had described the elements at a public meeting two years earlier: standard-sized trash carts replacing a wobbly approach that charges every participating household the same fee for unlimited refuse collection and disposal.

The gist of the new plan is that households can sign up for trash carts of different sizes and pay annual fees for weekly collection and disposal. They can also buy standard plastic bags, as many as they need, for either regular or overflow refuse collection. Bags are more costly to handle, so proposed fees per pound of refuse put out in bags are higher than fees for using standard trash carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not give a starting date for trash metering, saying it was still at least a year away.

The most recent twists on the plan were on display at the hearing: four sizes of standard trash carts with capacities rated at 18, 35, 65 and 95 gallons–all to be supplied by the town. Starting about five years ago, Brookline has been supplying bright blue plastic carts for recycling. They were originally all 65-gallon capacity. More recently, 35-gallon and 95-gallon capacity has been available on request. The 18-gallon cart is a new member of the line. It has about the same girth as the 35-gallon cart but is not as tall.

Refuse service fees, cheaper by the barrel: According to Mr. Pappastergion, several other communities in eastern Massachusets now operate refuse and recycling collections in similar ways. However, the rubber meets the road in pricing. The fees now proposed make refuse services much cheaper by the barrel, rather than by the bag.

type refuse, lb fee–weeks annual lb annual fee fee per lb
big bag 25 $3–1 1300 $156 $0.120
18-gal 24 $130–52 1248 $130 $0.105
35-gal 48 $180–52 2496 $180 $0.072
65-gal 87 $260–52 4524 $260 $0.057
95-gal 125 $340–52 6500 $340 $0.052

Proposed fees are also much higher for the smaller trash carts: about twice as much per pound for the 18-gallon carts as compared with the 95-gallon carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not provide the comparisons that the Beacon shows, above, and he did not offer any explanation of pricing. Multifamily buildings with space for the larger carts will pay much less for refuse services than buildings that lack enough space. A typical 3-family building would pay less yet get a bigger service quantity by using 65-gallon rather than 35-gallon trash carts:

size number carts annual fee annual lb
35-gal 3 $540 7488
65-gal 2 $520 9048

Public comments: Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member who chairs the Advisory Committee, urged that Brookline “maintain flexibility” and consider individual circumstances. Kenneth Goldstein, who stepped off the Board of Selectmen a year ago, recounted his experience using a single, 35-gallon trash cart for his family of four. They get along with it, he said, “It works.”

Nomi Burstein of Garrison Road told a different story. Space in her neighborhood is very limited, she said, not enough even for current recycling carts: “Last year we stopped recycling during the winter.” Susan Granoff of Vernon Street, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, agreed. “Lack of storage space,” she said, “is a big problem.” Anne McNulty of Claflin Road said her street is “littered with blue.” Brookline recycling carts are being kept in front of buildings for lack of space to store them elsewhere.

Ms. McNulty’s neighbor Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member, said Claflin Road neighbors will hold an exhibit on their street next Sunday afternoon, May 22, showing how difficult a situation the town-supplied carts are creating for their urban environment. Mr. Friedman sponsored Article 17 at the annual town meeting that starts Tuesday, May 24. It proposes a resolution seeking an “exception system” where use of trash carts would be “impractical.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 18, 2016


Warrant report for the 2016 annual town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, May 10, 2016

Department of Public Works, Hybrid pay-as-you-throw (trash metering) proposal, Town of Brookline, MA, May 17, 2016

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Babcock Street: a fake bicycle track

Staff of the Transportation Division in Public Works have come up with plans for a so-called “bicycle track” on Babcock Street. A classic bicycle track is a fully separated path, similar to much of the 40-year-old Paul Dudley White path around the lower Charles River. Shabby Brookline plans were shown at a public meeting in Town Hall on Wednesday, March 9.

Babcock Street is much too narrow to insert a bicycle track without some other change. The two plan variants show most of Babcock Street becoming one-way for motor vehicles, from the north boundary of Fire Station 5 toward the south side of Commonwealth Avenue. The proposed bicycle track would use street width now occupied by southbound traffic on Babcock Street.

One variant leaves short, two-way segments between Freeman Street and Manchester Road and between Commonwealth Avenue and Winslow Road–producing four changes between one-way and two-way in less than half a mile. Both variants require bicyclists to cross an open, unprotected segment of Babcock Street near the fire station.

Who ordered that? Actually, no one did. The plans developed during a review of street patterns triggered by a project to rebuild Babcock Street, replacing crumbling concrete pavement. There was no coherent strategy and hardly any structural thinking when choosing Babcock Street for Brookline’s first major, urban bicycle track. It was not an obvious town priority.

At Bicycle Advisory Committee last summer, Babcock Street proved merely a convenient target of opportunity, located in a neighborhood where members of the committee did not live. Over the years, that committee has lapsed into a claque of mostly single-interest “groupies” who collaborate to select a replacement for a member who leaves. The practice has left no diversity of outlook and little broad-based community engagement.

Neither plan variant provides a fully separated path. Instead, both merely show soft pavement raised a few inches above street level, leaving bicyclists exposed to trucks and cars. No guard rails or other physical barriers have been planned. Trucks and cars could easily climb the beveled edges of the track. Northbound bicycle riders would have northbound truck and car traffic approaching from behind, out of direct sight.

At the Wednesday meeting, bicycle promoters claimed the proposed track would improve the neighborhood. It would appeal, they said, to youngsters riding tricycles and scooters, to people using wheelchairs and to older bicycle riders. However, coming mostly from people living outside the neighborhood, those sentiments lacked appeal. No one could imagine a responsible parent allowing a child onto the proposed track.

Instead, the proposed track–burdened with gross, obvious hazards–looked likely to discourage anyone but the “road warriors” who are willing to use the current, dangerous painted bicycle lanes in the open streets. For them, it would likely become no more than a luxury hood ornament, subsidizing private vanity at public expense. Rather than a real bicycle track, it’s a TINO: a Track In Name Only.

Comparisons: Fortunately, there are nearby comparisons, showing how some hazards of the proposed bicycle track have been reduced elsewhere. The divided bicycle track segment on Vassar Street in Cambridge, between Memorial Drive and Massachusetts Avenue, opened several years ago. The street schematic has the following elements, from north to south:

• north-side walkway
• one-way bicycle track, heading west
• tree berm
• high curb, north side
• parking lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading east
• high curb, south side
• tree berm
• one-way bicycle track, heading east
• south-side walkway

Vassar Street bicycle lanes have dark paving and gray edge blocks, totaling about 6 ft wide starting about 4 ft from curbs. Walkways, also about 6 ft wide, have light paving blocks and are farthest from the roadway. Bicycle lanes have painted, federal-standard bicycle markings and painted arrows. Spans between bicycle lanes and curbs include trees in some portions. However, there are no traffic signals.

Separation from motor vehicle lanes, tree berms, parking lanes and high curbs all contribute to safety. None of those major safety features have been planned for Babcock Street, even though they need not subtract from street width. The features are not some kind of “Cambridge pattern.” Across Massachusetts Avenue, running toward Main Street, Cambridge narrowed the spacings and removed most tree berms and parking lanes. That part of the Vassar Street track has seen several serious bicycle crashes, including at least one fatality.

A newer Cambridge bicycle track, opened around a year ago, extends along the north side of Western Avenue from Central Square to Memorial Drive. Like the Babcock Street proposal, it has a two-way track on one side of the street, with the following schematic elements, from north to south:

• north-side walkway
• two-way bicycle track
• tree berm
• high curb, north side
• parking lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading west
• high curb, south side
• tree berm
• south-side walkway

Like the main portion of the Vassar Street bicycle track, the Western Avenue track uses contrasting pavements and positions high curbs, tree berms and parking lanes to protect bicyclists. Traffic signals include elements for bicycles, pedestrians and motor vehicles. None of those major safety features have been planned for Babcock Street. While it will take several years to measure effects on safety, the care and thoughtfulness put into the Western Avenue design are obvious. They show the current Babcock Street plan as a TINO: a Track In Name Only.

A way forward: Current plans for a fake bicycle track on Babcock Street should be shelved. They violate responsibilities for public safety. Clearly Brookline lacks the technical skills and the seasoned, mature leadership that would be needed for such a project. Rather than waste more resources on project plans, the town should start recruitment efforts.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 12, 2016


Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

Molly Laas, Cambridge bike lane death trap, Boston Phoenix, July 11, 2002

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 26, started at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, read a statement about complaints of racial mistreatment lodged by staff of the fire and police departments. While expressing concerns over the issues, Mr. Wishinsky’s statement did not mention new efforts to address them.

Civil rights lawsuit: In a document filed at the federal court in Boston on the day of the meeting, the civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of firefighter Gerald Alston was joined by police officers Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun. Five other Brookline workers and residents–all alleging racial mistreatment–also joined: Cruz Sanabria, Juana Baez, Rogelio Rodas, Demetrius Oviedo and Deon Fincher.

The Brookline police officers rejected an offer of mediation made by Daniel O’Leary, Brookline’s chief of police, writing that “Racism cannot be mediated.” According to the officers, “The Chief and the Selectmen made promises regarding ‘zero tolerance’ for racism on the force, but we have experienced two separate occasions already where we reported these incidents and the perpetrators remain on the job, without consequence.”

The amended complaint in the lawsuit now names several Brookline staff alleged to have engaged in racial mistreatment, although it does not add them to the list of defendants. A central issue raised in the lawsuit remains an alleged “racist and unconstitutional policy” claimed to be “longstanding” in town government. Brookline’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission testified to the board on January 5 that the town government has “a culture of institutional racism” which “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

Some allegations can grow more chilling as one understands them better. For example, “Other police officers referred to [Mr. Zerai-Misgun] repeatedly as an FI, the police designation for a suspicious individual….” [Amended complaint, paragraph 18, p. 8] The abbreviation means a target of “field interrogation”–suggesting that an African-American may be targeted by race.

Complaints of racial mistreatment: An African-American member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission has described, at a public meeting of the commission on December 16, how he was personally targeted. The commission meeting was attended by Bernard Greene, a member of the Board of Selectmen who is African-American. The amended complaint also recounts other incidents involving Mr. Greene.

“Following the meeting, Selectman Bernard Greene met with the Police Chief and other town officials to formulate a plan to discredit the officers’ allegations. Selectman Greene later executed that plan by sending a confidential e-mail to selected town residents…Selectman Greene intended for his e-mail to be confidentially distributed among a select group of politically active residents as part of a broader whispering campaign to discredit and smear the officers and their supporters.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 31, p. 13, and paragraph 38, p. 15]

These allegations sound at least as serious as ones directed at Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. However, Mr. Greene has not been named as a defendant. The Brookline Department of Public Works and Office of Human Resources are implicated in other incidents described in the amended complaint.

“Deon Fincher was hired by the Town of Brookline as a laborer in 2009…Mr. Fincher was the only Black worker in [the] sanitation division…All the teams alternated between driving and collecting trash, except for one…On Mr. Fincher’s team, Mr. Fincher threw trash full time…In 2010, he injured his shoulder and required an operation…Mr. Fincher complained that the repetitive throwing motion was damaging his shoulder…The Town’s Human Resources director refused to assign Mr. Fincher another job…The head of the division…was hostile to Mr. Fincher when he attempted to assert his contractual rights. Mr. Johnson yelled at Mr. Fincher for requesting a union representative. White employees did not receive the same hostility.” [Amended complaint, paragraphs 87-96, pp. 29-31]

Sandra DeBow-Huang, director of the Office of Human Resources, has been named as a defendant in the civil rights lawsuit. Kevin Johnson, the highway, sanitation and fleet maintenance director in the Department of Public Works, has not been named as a defendant.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 27, 2016


Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, Racism cannot be mediated, statement to Brookline Board of Selectmen, January 26, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Memorandum in support of partial motion to dismiss, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 12, 2016

Complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed December 1, 2015

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Board of Selectmen: marijuana dispensary license

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 8, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The early start left ample time for a final hearing on the registered medical marijuana dispensary being proposed at 160 Washington St. in Brookline Village–the intersection with Boylston St. (Route 9).

Minutes: Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, announced that minutes of closed sessions that were held this year on January 20, May 12, June 9 and September 8 will be released. They all concerned “real property,” a lawful topic for a closed session. The session on January 20 was described as reviewing a “lease agreement.” The ones on June 9 and September 8 were held jointly with the School Committee.

The four sets of minutes were not online as of December 12 but are available on request. Under the state’s open meeting law and regulations, the board must release minutes of closed sessions when the matters are finished and the reasons for confidentiality no longer apply. In practice, the board has reviewed and released minutes of closed sessions only on request. There are hundreds of closed meetings with unreleased minutes.

Marijuana dispensary: A long review of a registered dispensary for medical marijuana is nearing an end. Voters approved medical marijuana in the fall of 2012. A town meeting authorized zoning and local licensing in the fall of 2013. The next year, New England Treatment Access (NETA) filed for a zoning permit, reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a local license, reviewed by the Board of Selectmen.

After exploring a potential site near the corner of Beacon St. and Summit Ave., NETA negotiated an agreement for the currently proposed site in Brookline Village. In December, 2014, the town’s Licensing Review Committee began a series of five public meetings and one public hearing. The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing April 23 of this year and granted a zoning permit.

The NETA proposal to use the former Brookline Savings Bank building at 160 Washington St. attracted strong neighborhood protest. Opponents filed an article for the fall town meeting last year, seeking zoning changes that would have struck out the former Savings Bank building as a potential site. They lost 60-146, in an electronically recorded vote.

The Licensing Review Committee developed a fairly stringent set of recommended license conditions, completed last April. On April 25, the Board of Selectmen adopted general regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries, based on those committee recommendations.

Until May, the committee was headed by Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, former members of the Board of Selectmen. They did not run for new terms and were replaced by Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene. The Licensing Review Committee’s findings are advisory; the Board of Selectmen is not obliged to follow them.

Headwinds: Signs of dissent emerged last month. As a regular meeting Tuesday, November 3, the Board of Selectmen was to discuss “the process for reviewing the application” from NETA for a local license. As minutes of the meeting show, the discussion soon veered from process into substance. Mr. Wishinsky suggested that any license be for a “trial period.” Board member Ben Franco questioned sales of edible products containing marijuana.

Nancy Daly, now in her tenth year on the board, called for monitoring “excessive prescriptions.” She did not say how that might be achieved but did propose several added conditions on a license for the proposed medical marijuana dispensary. They included:
• No walk-in business, service by appointment only
• A maximum number of appointments per hour
• On-site dispensing limited to 20 percent of state limits
• Home deliveries for balances of sales above local limits
• Hours of operation 10 am to 7 pm except noon to 5 pm Sunday

So far, the board is not known to have proposed similar limits on local businesses that sell other medical products. Although medical marijuana has not been identified as a significant cause of death in the United States, most pharmacies stock prescription drugs involved in a long, horrible trend of U.S. drug deaths.

U.S. drug deaths, 1999 through 2014

CdcDrugDeathDate1999to2014
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Contrary to many, uninformed news reports, rapidly rising deaths from drug use are not a recent trend. Data from the federal government that span 15 years show major growth in drug deaths of U.S. residents over that entire period. Prescription drugs–not black-market drugs–caused an average of about two-thirds of those drug deaths. Currently, the U.S. rate of drug deaths exceeds the U.S. rate of deaths from motor vehicles. Prescription drugs are responsible for about 60 percent of current U.S. drug deaths.

Public hearing: The board’s public hearing on a local license continued for over two hours but produced little that had not previously emerged from several related hearings held this year and last year. Those occurred at the Licensing Review Committee, the Advisory Committee on Public Health, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Advisory Committee and its subcommittees.

Following its November 3 meeting, the Board of Selectmen released an unsigned document titled “Proposed conditions for a registered marijuana dispensary license (2015-11-20 Draft)”. Footnotes tell who on the board proposed some of the conditions but give no explanations. At the hearing, Amanda Rossitano, who has been named manager of NETA’s Brookline dispensary, objected.

The NETA dispensary now operating in Northampton, Ms. Rossitano contended, has had no problems that might justify added license restrictions. She objected to proposals for business by appointment only, for an on-site sales limit lower than the state limit and for home delivery requirements applied to larger sales.

Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, asked for a police report. Mark Morgan, a deputy superintendent, responded: “No traffic or police issues experienced in Salem, Brockton or Northampton”–three of the four communities with dispensaries now operating. The board spent substantial time questioning pharmaceutical properties and testing of products, although it lacks jurisdiction in those areas.

Frank Smizik, state representative for Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, testified in support of a local license. “NETA is a competent company,” he said. “Amanda Rossitano helped lead my office for several years.” Mr. Smizik stated he “does not support additional purchase limits” as license conditions.

Several other Brookline residents and former residents supported a license for NETA, with some objecting to added license restrictions. They included Anne Braudy of Linden Ct., Richard Brauley of Pond Ave., Fred Levitan of Beacon St., Linda Olson Pehlke of Browne St., Ronna Benjamin of Newton, Dr. Peter Moyer of Walnut St., Dr. Jordan Tishler of Loveland Rd. and Dr. Mark Eisenberg of Monmouth St.

Brookline opponents included Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave., Andrew Olins of Walnut St., George Vien of Davis Ave. and Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St. Some supported added restrictions, and all opposed the proposed site on Washington St. However, Dr. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel of Wolcott Rd. said the location is “as good a site as we can get in the town” and pointed out that “home delivery is not an option for some people.” The Board of Selectmen will review the hearing and reach a decision at a later meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 12, 2015


Causes of drug deaths, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February, 2015

Tracey Michienzi, Draft conditions from Licensing Review Committee, April 8, 2015

Regulations, registered marijuana dispensary, Town of Brookline, MA, April 24, 2015

Minutes, Board of Selectmen, Town of Brookline, MA, November 3, 2015

Unsigned, Draft conditions, from current Board of Selectmen, November 20, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

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

2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting, Brookline Beacon, November 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline, Beacon, December 7, 2014

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

Craig Bolon, Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems, Brookline Beacon, August 7, 2014

Hancock Village 40B: parties try further appeal

Private parties to the original lawsuit over the proposed Chapter 40B housing project at Hancock Village have filed for an appeal at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). That lawsuit challenged the “project eligibility letter” that the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency issued, allowing the project to be considered by Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Further appeal: At superior court for Norfolk County and recently at the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, the Town of Brookline and the allied homeowner group lost. The appeals court issued an abbreviated “rule 1:28″ decision, indicating it saw “no substantial question of law.” That could make the task of obtaining SJC review problematic.

The SJC has discretion over “further appellate review” and does not routinely accept an application unless there is disagreement at the Court of Appeals or what the SJC sees as significant unresolved issues. The Brookline parties might see the appeals court’s summary approach to its case as cause to claim that issues they have are significant and unresolved.

Unresolved issues: When explaining its ruling, the appeals court took a formalist view of a prior case, citing procedures but not substance of events that the Brookline parties had relied on. A key element of their case was an agreement on conditions for how Hancock Village would be developed. It was presented to the 1946 annual town meeting as part of the text of Article 23. After reviewing it, the town meeting voted to change land now called Hancock Village from single-family zoning to apartment zoning.

As a key argument, the Brookline parties had cited a recent appeals court ruling saying that conditions on a subdivision in the town of Orleans were permanent. According to the appeals court, because the Orleans conditions were part of a “discretionary grant of regulatory approval” they did not expire after 30 years, like restrictions in a deed. [Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, 2014]

Surely Brookline’s 1946 rezoning to allow apartments in Hancock Village also was a “discretionary grant of regulatory approval,” and its conditions for development also would not expire in 30 years. According to the Court of Appeals in 2015, that was not enough. The exact procedures had not been followed in Brookline. To make conditions permanent, it was necessary that “land use restrictions” be “imposed” as in Orleans.

That’s actually what Brookline does today, with its specialized and overlay zoning districts of the past 20 years–like ones for Cleveland Circle, Commonwealth Avenue and Brookline Place. These are heavily customized types of zoning, designed around specific development projects. In 1946, however, such concepts were decades away. With its innovative 1946 plan for Hancock Village, the town did what looked reasonable at the time.

Instead of conditions “imposed” by a zoning district or a Zoning Board of Appeals decision, the 1946 town meeting reviewed conditions agreed to by the developer, who stated that the conditions would apply to “itself, its successors and assigns.” The agreement did not specify any particular process through which the conditions would be carried forward, leaving that to the developer.

Prospects: Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress–and by extension other legislatures–are not able to make “ex post facto laws,” applying after events happen. Courts are not so restricted, and that is what the Court of Appeals seems to be trying to do. No doubt, had the Town of Brookline known in 1946 that in 2015 the Court of Appeals would insist that it “impose” conditions, it would have found a way to do that–consistent with understandings that Hancock Village conditions were meant to be permanent.

Now the Brookline parties need to persuade the SJC that the Court of Appeals made a mistake, insisting on procedures that the appeals court prescribed decades after the facts of 1946, rather than considering the substance of what happened in Brookline then.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 13, 2015


Docket, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and another, case number FAR-23838, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, filed October 16, 2015

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

Martha Samuelson and another v. Planning Board of Orleans and others, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, July 2, 2014

Hancock Village 1946 Agreement, Article 23, Annual Town Meeting, March 19, 1946, from Brookline, MA, 1946 Annual Town Report, pp. 32-34

Rule 1:28, summary disposition, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, 2009

Stephanie J. Mandell, The history of rule 1:28, Massachusetts Bar Association, 2008

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

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

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

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: 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

Land Court to Board of Selectmen: put up or shut up

In a case of dueling boards–Selectmen versus Zoning Appeals–the Massachusetts Land Court filed a written ruling on the motion of another defendant, Chestnut Hill Realty. It seeks to disqualify Town Counsel Joslin Murphy and her staff from participating in the main challenge to a proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village.

In an odd sort of process, that ruling has been posted to the online Docket Information page for the Land Court case, making it available to anyone without a trip to see the clerk of the court. As apparent before and at the Land Court hearing, the Board of Selectman and the town counsel look to be in a pickle.

In effect, the court wrote to that board: Put up (a lawyer for the Zoning Board of Appeals) or (we shall) shut up (the town counsel as your representative). Judge Piper’s docket entry reads a bit like George Ade on steroids, for those who remember the notable Chicago Record journalist (1866-1944). Text follows.

“09/03/2015, Event: Motion scheduled for 09/03/2015 10:00 AM

“Result: Hearing Held on Private Defendant’s Motion to Disqualify Brookline Town Counsel. Attorney Murphy Appeared for Municipal Plaintiffs. Attorney Talerman Appeared for Individual Plaintiffs. Attorney O’Flaherty Appeared for Private Defendant. No Counsel Appeared for Defendant Members of the Board of Appeals. Following Argument, Court Made its Ruling[s] from the Bench, Which Are Summarized Generally Below.

“Subscribing to the View That Courts Should Be Reluctant to Disqualify Counsel, That Clients Are Entitled to the Counsel of Their Choice, and Relying Greatly on the Ethical Awareness of Lawyers, Court Is Nonetheless Troubled by the Posture of this Litigation. Here, the Board and its Defendant Members Remain Unrepresented, the Court Is Unable to Know Their Level of Satisfaction (Or Not) with That Situation, and it Is Evident that those Who Control Municipal Plaintiff’s Prosecution of this Action Have Taken No Effective Steps to Provide These Defendant Board Members with Counsel. They Thus Are Left Unable to Defend, to Participate in, and to Be Heard in this Litigation.

“This Is Not the Common Situation Where a Municipal Board Stands down During Litigation to Allow the Private Defendant (The Permit Recipient) to the Mount a Defense of the Challenged Permit. Here, the Permit Has Been Challenged by the Town Itself, Acting Through its Board or Selectmen, Claiming an Injury to the Town’s Interest as an Abutting Landowner. All Parties Agree, as They Must, That If a Law Firm Represented the Applicant During the Permitting Process, and Then, Once a Permit Had Issued, Attempted to Represent an Abutting Landowner in Challenging the Same Permit, the Court Would Be Obligated to Disqualify that Law Firm Under Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.7 [because there is a concurrent conflict of interest under 1.7(a), coupled with a claim by one client against another under 1.7(b)(3)].

“Here, Counsel for Plaintiffs Attempts to Distinguish the Instant Case by Arguing, First, That Town Counsel Commonly Represents Multiple Municipal Interests Simultaneously, Which Interests Do Not Always Perfectly Align, and Second, That Notwithstanding this Broader View of the Role and Obligations of Government Lawyers, That Here the Defendant Board of Appeals Was Afforded Special Counsel During the Permitting Process So There Is No Conflict in Fact.

“Even Recognizing the Broader Latitude Given Government Lawyers When Analyzing Their Possible Conflicts, the Court Concludes That this Is One of Those Troubling Cases Where it Might Be Obligated to Disqualify Municipal Counsel. While There Has Been No Hard Showing That Town Counsel Possesses Some Confidential Information Gained Giving Earlier Advice to the Board, the Existence of Any Such Confidences Is Very Hard to Learn Because the Party That Would Normally Object (The Former Client) Is the Board of Appeals, Which Has No Ability or Opportunity to Make Such a Concern Known to the Court; the Private Defendant, Who Brings the Motion to Disqualify, Has No Way of Knowing Whether Confidences Have Been Exchanged or Not.

“The Record Does Make Clear That the Office of Town Counsel Previously Rendered Advice, Shared with the Zoning Board, about Two Important Legal Issues in Connection with the Comprehensive Permit: the Effect of the 1946 Agreements Between the Town and the Prior Owners of the Site, and the Validity of Site Eligibility Determinations for the Project. Those Issues Are Central to the Attack the Town, Now Represented as Plaintiff by Town Counsel, Makes Against the Comprehensive Permit in Both this Litigation and in the Superior Court Case Now Before the Appeals Court.

‘Without Diminishing the Court’s Concern That this Is a Case Where a Conflict May Exist, the Court Nonetheless Defers Ruling on the Motion to Disqualify at this Time, in the Hope That Some Attention Will Be Paid to Obtaining Separate Counsel for the Board of Appeals. If Separate Counsel Appears and Assures the Court That the Board of Appeals Does Not Object to the Ongoing Representation of the Plaintiff by Town Counsel, That Would Go a Long Way to Satisfy the Court That the Motion to Disqualify Ought to Be Denied.

“If, on the Other Hand, There Is a Continuing Inability to Hear from the Board, Court Would Be Inclined to Allow the Motion to Disqualify. Parties Are to File No Later than September 30, 2015 a Report on the Status of Representation of the Board of Appeals; If by That Date No Appearance on Behalf of the Board of Appeals Has Been Filed, the Court Will Proceed Either to Rule on the Motion to Disqualify Without Further Hearing, to Schedule Further Hearing, or to Make Other Appropriate Orders.”

So far, no funding to support legal counsel for the Zoning Board of Appeals has shown up on agendas for the Board of Selectmen. September 30 is a Wednesday. Before then, the Board of Selectmen scheduled two more meetings: on Thursday, September 24, and on Tuesday, September 29. Funding for a town board would clearly be public business. Trying to hide it in closed session, perhaps under a rubric of “litigation,” would not appear consistent with the state’s open meeting law.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 20, 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″)

Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 2015 (2 MB)

Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure, Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries, 2015 (2 MB)

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

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

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

Land Court: Dueling boards, Selectmen v. Zoning Appeals

At the Massachusetts Land Court, the Brookline Board of Selectmen faced a motion to remove Town Counsel Joslin Murphy and members of her staff as their representatives in a lawsuit they had filed against members of Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals. It’s a strange case, essentially one town board suing another.

After hearing arguments starting at 10:30 am Thursday, September 3, Judge Gordon Piper indicated he would allow the motion unless the Town of Brookline provides its zoning appeals board legal representation in the case before the end of September.

Hancock Village controversy: Chestnut Hill Realty of West Roxbury, through subsidiaries, originally proposed building 466 new apartments on parts of Hancock Village in south Brookline. After false starts, they reduced the scope of the project and proposed using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, Sections 20-23, to override Brookline zoning in return for building partly subsidized housing.

On February 4, 2015, after more than a year of hearings, Brookline’s zoning appeals board voted unanimously to grant a so-called “comprehensive permit” to build 161 apartments plus 292 parking spaces. There would be a high-rise structure over a rock outcrop, previously considered unbuildable, plus low-rise structures on unbuilt land that had been reserved as “buffers” following 1940s agreements with the Town of Brookline.

In a closed session at a meeting March 3, as confirmed by participants, the Brookline Board of Selectmen voted to sue the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals. A complaint was filed in the Massachusetts Land Court on March 11, seeking to annul and revoke the permit: Town of Brookline and others v. Jesse Geller, Member of the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, and others. That became Land Court case 2015-MISC-000072.

The Town of Brookline stands directly affected by the permit partly because it owns two abutting properties: Baker School land and D. Blakeley Hoar conservation land. Other plaintiffs in the case are residents who own abutting private property. Main defendants are the zoning appeals board members who voted to grant the permit: Jesse Geller, Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book–named in their roles as town officials. Other defendants are the Chestnut Hill Realty subsidiary awarded the permit: Residences of South Brookline, LLC.

Legal representation: The Board of Selectmen opposed the Hancock Village project throughout 2014 and, so far, 2015. However, that board assisted the zoning appeals board with services of outside counsel, who attended hearing sessions and offered advice. The Board of Selectmen approved several requests to the Advisory Committee for reserve fund transfers to pay for outside counsel. Funds went through both the Legal Services department and the Planning and Community Development department.

According to online town records, during fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015 Brookline paid two firms who advised the zoning appeals board a total of $295,121 for services: Krokidas and Bluestein, of Boston, and Edith M. Netter and Associates, of Waltham. The lawyers who attended the appeals board sessions were Samuel Nagler and Kathryn Murphy from the Boston firm and Edith Netter from the Waltham firm. All testimony and advice was in public sessions recorded by Brookline Interactive Group.

At Land Court this week, Judge Piper appeared familiar with the background of the Brookline case. Before arguments, he expressed concern that no legal appearances had been filed for the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals members and that no counsel attended the hearing to represent their interests.

According to communications, Judge Piper said, legal appearances were supposed to have been filed in June. Brookline Town Counsel Joslin Murphy responded that there was “no funding in place.” Judge Piper asked, “Was it requested?” Ms. Murphy said, “Selectmen were asked for support…they did not authorize any.”

Kevin O’Flaherty, representing Chestnut Hill Realty interests, maintained that Ms. Murphy and her staff had “unwaivable conflict,” responsible to represent two boards with opposing outlooks. The judge asked where there had been practical problems. Mr. O’Flaherty contended there might be problems such as obtaining documents, noting there was no counsel to contact for the zoning appeals board members.

Ms. Murphy countered that “the town has responded to discovery requests.” She noted that all sessions and records of the zoning appeals board were public and that Brookline’s Department of Planning and Community Development had provided staff support to retrieve records. She said that “the chairman of the ZBA [Zoning Board of Appeals] did correspond with the court.”

Zoning agreement: Jason Talerman, representing other plaintiffs in the case, opposed removing Ms. Murphy and her staff from the Land Court case and noted a related case now pending in the Court of Appeals. A key issue in the Appeals Court case has been a 1946 zoning agreement between the Town of Brookline and the John Hancock Life Insurance Company, specifying enduring restrictions on Hancock Village development.

Mr. Talerman had previously raised the issue in a memorandum sent on December 31, 2014, to the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals. As in that memorandum, under the 1946 agreement, he told Judge Piper, “The project as proposed would be impossible.” In its comprehensive permit, however, the zoning appeals board took no notice of the 1946 agreement.

Threat: After more than an hour of argument, Judge Piper seemed unmoved by the particulars and returned to his initial concern over lack of legal representation for Brookline’s zoning appeals board members, saying he found it “deeply troubling.” Board members, he said, were left “entirely speechless, unable to be heard.” Since the members are being sued in their official capacities, they are apparently ineligible to present arguments pro se as plaintiff or defendant individuals might.

According to Judge Piper, “The developer,” apparently meaning the subsidiary of Chestnut Hill Realty, “is limited in its ability to gain access to the minds of the [appeals] board…I will not rule at the moment, [but]…if there is continued inability to hear from the board…I will be strongly inclined to allow the motion.” If that threat were carried out, however, it would instead leave both the main plaintiff and the main defendants in the case unrepresented.

As acknowledged to the Beacon by Ms. Murphy, Brookline has several sources of funds, including her office’s budget for outside legal services, the contingency fund and “in the worst case” a request to the Advisory Committee for a transfer from the reserve fund. Ms. Murphy did not succeed with her most recent reserve fund request.

Mysteries: Partly owing to statements in open court from Ms. Murphy, mysteries remain. There is no docket entry in the case for a communication from Jesse Geller, who chairs the zoning appeals board. If he is ineligible to represent himself in the case yet did “communicate with the court,” then how, when and what did he communicate?

Records should say whom the Board of Selectmen asked for advice about a request to provide funds for outside counsel to represent members of the zoning appeals board in the Land Court case, also what advice was offered and what members of the Board of Selectmen had to say. How and why did members of the Board of Selectmen “not authorize any” funds to represent members of another town board with whom they disagreed on a key issue?

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 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″)

Complaint, Town of Brookline and others v. Jesse Geller, Member of the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, and others, Massachusetts Land Court, March 11, 2015

Town of Brookline, MA, FY2015 accounts, Vendor payments for KROKIDAS and BLUESTEIN LLP, August, 2015

Town of Brookline, MA, FY2015 accounts, Vendor payments for EDITH M NETTER and ASSOCIATES PC, August, 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)

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Jason Talerman to Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, Re: Chestnut Hill Realty, Chapter 40B application, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, December 31, 2014

Irene Scharf and Jason Talerman, Testimony at Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, February 24, 2014, see pp. 13 and 45-48

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

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

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

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

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

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO, Brookline Beacon, September 17, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Judith Leichtner, Comments to Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals on proposed chapter 40B development at Hancock Village, September 8, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 24, 2013

Board of Selectmen: new saloon and funding gap

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 4, started at 5:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation and probably won’t meet again in August. This rambling, sometimes cornball board often pushes the biggest problems far out into the night; maybe observers might give up and sign off. The last agenda item on this particular night was a zinger.

$4 million funding gap: The town looks to be around $4 million short of money to rebuild Devotion School. To town administration, that was obviously stale news. The state had sent a funding letter on June 10. The Board of Selectmen did not put the matter on their agenda and let the public know about the problem until almost two months later.

Last May 26, town meeting voted $118.4 million for the project, told by the board and the Advisory Committee to expect $27.8 million in state aid. Six weeks later, the state came back with only $25.9 million. Adding to a $1.9 million problem, the public schools still have no place for kindergarten through fourth grade students during the project. Old Lincoln School will be full with fifth through eighth grade students.

At a morning meeting on August 4, according to board member Nancy Daly, Suffolk Construction of Boston, the general contractor, proposed to install temporary classrooms over the asphalt basketball courts behind the school along Stedman Street. That would cost another, unplanned and unfunded $1.8 million. Where can it all come from? Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, thought it could not come from the debt exclusion approved at the May 5 town election, saying voters had been “promised” some particular amount. He was mistaken.

Mr. Wishinsky apparently forgot that voters approved a project–not an amount of funds. According to state law, that is how debt exclusion questions have to be worded. Up to the times of the town election and town meeting, Brookline had only estimates of total costs and of state funding. It was in no position to make promises to anybody about amounts of funds.

The May town meeting was advised differently by the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. The board estimated debt exclusion would apply to $49.6 million in bond funding. [on page 8-25 of the warrant report] The committee estimated debt exclusion would apply to $44.6 million. [on page 8-69 if the warrant report] The town meeting endorsed neither estimate, and it appeared not to have authorized bond funding either.

Instead, the town meeting approved a project total of $118.4 million, by a vote recorded as 222-1. Prior to the vote, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator, did not say the motion included bonding, although the margin was more than required by law for bonding. So far, no one knows how much of the approved total might come from current revenue, how much if any from bonding and how much of the latter via debt exclusion. What looks nearly certain is that the total funds approved won’t cover the total costs.

Irish saloon: In another roundabout of the evening, the board approved a large Irish saloon amid lower Beacon Street neighborhoods. Known elsewhere as Waxy O’Connor’s, the Brookline site is to be only a Waxy’s–without beer pitchers and self-serve beer taps. Brookline is getting management from Woburn, at least for a while. In Woburn, according to an online review last month, “The people at the bar were screaming, swearing and running in and out of smoking cigarettes.”

Waxy’s put on a better show than three weeks ago. Frank Spillane, the Foxborough lawyer representing the chain seeking to open at 1032 Beacon St., had reviewed Brookline regulations. Ashok Patel, the Woburn site manager, was slated to manage the Brookline site–no more questions about who the manager would be. Mr. Spillane and Mr. Patel had settled potential problems with some neighborhood representatives.

Board members still proved wary. Although they approved licenses for a restaurant, full liquor service, entertainment and outdoor seating, they limited closing hours to 1 am and attached conditions, including outdoor service to end at 10:30 pm with clean-up completed by 11 pm, limits on noise, deliveries and smoking, little or no paper on the patio and multiple security cameras. Restrictions are still lighter than some at Chipotle on Commonwealth Avenue, where no alcoholic beverages can be served outside. As board member Nancy Heller observed, the ban on pitchers did not extend to sangria or margaritas.

Personnel, contracts and finances: In a little over half an hour, the board reviewed and approved hiring for 25 vacant positions, and it approved six miscellaneous contracts ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. It is unclear why, in a community that employs an expensive town administrator with a staff of six, the Board of Selectmen would not delegate such matters, which it always approves.

David Geanakais, the chief procurement officer, presented a contract to lease space on the third floor at 62 Harvard St. for classroom space. The contract distributed by the board was abridged to leave out the amount and cost of the space. Members of the board did not seem to think that important to tell the public about, but afterward Mr. Geanakakis said the first-year cost would be $129,000.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, won approval for two contracts with Susi and Sons of Dorchester for a total of $1.23 million, the main yearly contracts for street and sidewalk repairs. Susi was low bidder on the $0.95 million street repair contract but won the sidewalk contract only when another bidder failed to submit complete documents.

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


Annual town meeting, first session, Brookline Interactive Group, May 26, 2015 (video recording, vote on appropriation for Devotion School at about 01:40:10)

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors, Brookline Beacon, July 18, 2015

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public, Brookline Beacon, June 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 14, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation for the summer. However, the extra rest and vacations did not seem to help with what is striking some as crabby behavior, at least when dealing in public affairs. Like a chameleon, the board can seem to change colors when dealing with licenses, at least as seen by the general public, if not always as seen by the license applicants.

Discord: Nine Advisory Committee members gathered to witness a protest: vice chair Carla Benka, Janice S. Kahn, chair of the Public Safety subcommittee, Stanley Spiegel, chair of the Planning and Regulation subcommittee, Leonard Weiss, chair of the Administration and Finance subcommittee, Clifford M. Brown, Janet Gelbart, Fred Levitan, Neil R. Gordon and Steve Kanes.

Mr. Weiss spoke about lack of communication shortly before the annual town meeting this May. Not more than a day or two earlier, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had concluded negotiations starting in April for a new recycling collection and processing contract. He had settled a price about $200,000 per year above the budget the Advisory Committee published, which it was about to propose at the town meeting.

Since 1910, the Advisory Committee and its predecessor, the Warrant Committee, appointed by the moderator of town meeting, have served as Brookline’s finance committee. Under Section 16 of Chapter 39 of Massachusetts General Laws, the committee proposes budgets to annual town meetings. In between, it regulates use of the reserve fund. In Brookline, the same committee and its subcommittees also review, hold hearings on and make recommendations about all warrant articles for all town meetings.

Although Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, knew that the budget would go out of balance, he withheld information from the Advisory Committee and might have withheld it from the Board of Selectmen. As a result, the town meeting passed a budget with a major, structural deficit that likely could have been prevented. Mr. Kleckner admitted as much in a later exchange with Sean Lynn-Jones, chair of the Advisory Committee.

According to Mr. Weiss of the committee, that was a breach of trust. The committee, he said, “places great reliance on management representations…Some folks thought withholding information was a good idea…This experience has severely damaged my trust and respect in management.” Fallout included a hotly controversial reserve fund transfer, narrowly approved July 7, when another reserve fund request was denied.

Two members of the Board of Selectmen rushed to defend Mr. Kleckner, and none questioned him, even though all five current board members are Advisory graduates. Nancy Daly, the only board member not serving a first term in office, claimed, “This was not an attempt to hide information…A suggestion that we were trying to sweep something under the rug…was quite offensive.” She did not explain what that referred to.

Neil Wishinsky, chair of the board, made a long statement, concluding, “We try to act in good faith…use our best judgment…There was no bad faith.” In the message exchange, committee chair Lynn-Jones had asked Mr. Kleckner, “…did you consider letting the Advisory Committee know [in April]…budget recommendations might have to be revised?” Mr. Kleckner had responded, “Not at that time….”

Public affairs: Deborah Rivers of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance described to the board proposed changes in the town’s “climate action plan.” However, from her descriptions alone, it was not clear what differed from the previous plan of December, 2012. An interactive form of the 2012 plan has vanished from the municipal Web site, but the conventional document for that plan remains available.

Comparing proposed actions in Appendix F from the 2012 plan with a new Appendix A of proposed changes showed a reduction in actions being considered. Gone, for example, was a 2012 proposal to “develop a program for replacement of…refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers” and a dozen other types of equipment. There are still no comparisons of costs with benefits, and there are no estimates for amounts of efforts involved.

Linda Hamlin and Steve Heikin from the Planning Board and Roger Blood from the Housing Advisory Board asked for authorization to file an application for a $15,000 state grant. Grant applications are routinely filed by town staff without authorization, and approval is sought only to accept grants. It was not clear why any such authorization was needed and why those members of other town boards had become involved.

Their presentation was mostly a replay from a recent meeting of the Housing Advisory Board. Without any explanation, however, the ante had gone up. Instead of less than $35,000–an amount intended to avoid public bidding requirements under state law–Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood were now talking about a total of $50,000 or more–not saying why more money was needed or where a missing $35,000 or more might come from.

Although they used oblique language, the main strategy from Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood was clearly to target Brookline neighborhoods for major development and to invite Chapter 40B developers whom they might prefer into Brookline to take over properties. Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, seemed to catch on partly, saying such an approach would be “difficult”–involving “identifying specific sites” and “public processs.” However, he seemed to think the strategy involved zoning, when the intent of Chapter 40B is to override zoning, along with all other local permits.

Other board members were circumspect. Nancy Daly spoke about “a huge need in town for affordable senior housing.” Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, claimed Brookline could not focus on senior housing, apparently unaware such plans are authorized under federal law and had been recently announced for development at the Kehillath Israel site on Harvard St. With board member Bernard Greene not participating, the other four voted to approve filing a grant application.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, got approval to accept a $0.24 million state energy resources grant, intended to offset costs of energy-efficient lighting. Brookline is in the second year of street lighting improvements. In response to a question, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said changes to street lighting are about 40 percent complete. The new grant, however, is to be used for other public facilities: the high school, the Tappan St. gym, the swimming pool and several parks.

Mr. Ditto got approval to accept $0.144 million in state funds for repairing winter storm damage to streets. He said all the work had been completed by June 30. At his request, the board also approved a $0.024 million contract with Superior Sealcoating of Andover for summer street maintenance.

Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, sought hiring approval for two lead teacher positions at the Soule Recreation Center. As board member Nancy Daly observed, there has been high turnover among the seven teaching jobs at the center. From participants, there have been some notes of morale issues. Responding to a question from board member Nancy Heller, Ms. Paradis said the average length of employment was 3 to 4 years. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Paradis to “seek a diverse pool of candidates.”

Licenses and permits: After the board turned its attention to license applications, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, left the hall. First up was Richard Nasr of Westwood, who operates the Ontrack Cafe there, seeking a food vendor license at 1633 Beacon St, to be called Square Deli. Such a license for prepared foods does not include restaurant seating or service.

Ms. Daly questioned the application for 2 am closing, calling that “pretty strange” for a sandwich and salad shop. However, as the application noted, the previous business at the site, a 7/11 market, had operated with 2 am closing hours. The board approved the new license with 2 am closing hours.

Adam Barnosky, a member of the law firm headed by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., represented Peet’s, seeking approval for three outside tables and service for nine seats at 1154 Boylston St., formerly Starbuck’s. The board has become quite liberal about outside seating, even allowing it on some sidewalks. At this site, outdoor seating was planned on private space in a narrow strip adjacent to a sidewalk. The board approved, subject to another review of seating area dimensions by the Building Department.

A prime candidate for board attention this evening was a proposal for Waxy’s, a regional chain of restaurants with an Irish theme, to open at 1032 Beacon St. That had most recently been the site of a sometimes troubled Mission Cantina. Waxy’s submitted an ambitious proposal, asking for 122 indoor seats, 48 outdoor seats, up to 60 employees, full liquor service including a bar, 2 am closing hours all 7 days a week and recorded entertainment. It would become one of Brookline’s largest restaurants.

The chain was represented by Frank Spillane, a Foxborough lawyer. There turned out to be disconnects. The people named as managers on papers distributed for the license hearing were not actually expected to be the managers once the restaurant was open. The chain was still looking for someone. A main spokesperson at the hearing was a manager recently hired at another location who mumbled his name, although clearly it was not one of those names appearing on the license papers.

Members of the board had read a Brookline Police Department report calling attention to multiple problems at one of the chain’s current locations, in Foxborough. There had been a sale to a minor, drunken behavior by patrons and repeated license suspensions–at least one while that location was managed by one of the people named on license papers as a Brookline manager.

Lt. Hayes of the Brookline Police Department, who had investigated, recommended 1 am closing hours, security cameras and other license restrictions. Board members Nancy Daly and Ben Franco stated they would vote against the application as it stood. With Bernard Greene not participating, the application could not get a majority vote of approval. Mr. Wishinsky, the chair, called for public comment.

Steve Kanes of Carlton St., an Advisory Committee member, described widespread neighborhood concerns. They included noise, litter and smoking. A license, he said, should not allow outdoor entertainment. He mentioned late-night noise after closing, around the outdoor trash receptacle, asking for restrictions.

Joel Feingold of Beacon St., a next-door neighbor, said the former Mission Cantina had caused much more trouble for nearby residents than other business at the site: “a rude awakening” and “a difficult neighbor.” They ran until 2 am outdoors, he said, although licensed only until 11 pm. Outdoor litter and late-night noise had been chronic problems. He asked for no deliveries before 8 am if a license were granted.

James Franco of Amory St., a Precinct 1 town meeting member, asked for no outdoor service after 10 pm if a license were granted, intending that use of outdoor seating should end before 11 pm. Neil Gordon of Ivy St., also a Precinct 1 town meeting member, had similar concerns. Other neighbors recounted past problems and joined in asking for restrictions on any new license. The board was going nowhere with this application. Mr. Wishinsky announced the hearing would be continued to a future date.

Chickens: Brookline is not always so difficult for applicants. Illustrating the point, two evenings later the Zoning Board of Appeals considered an application at a location not far away, on Amory Street, asking for a permit to install a small chicken coop. There may not have been a similar application north of Route 9 during at least the past half century.

The applicants were the Gurock family, who opened the popular Magic Beans children’s store on Harvard St. in 2003, at the former site of Imaginarium. They now have five other locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The parents are seeking educational experiences for their children, said Sheri Gurock, describing measures the family plans to prevent odors and neighborhood disturbances (no roosters). Neighbors sent in letters of support, and there was no opposition. The board approved.

Located in the Cottage Farm historic district, the proposal also needed Preservation approval, which it had previously received. The district name was an 1850s invention of Amos Adams Lawrence (1814-1886), sponsor of the unusual development. It did not reflect any known historic farm that might also have raised chickens.

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


Memorandum from Melvin A. Kleckner, Town Administrator, to Sean Lynn-Jones, Chair, Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, July 13, 2015

Climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, December, 2012

Revisions to climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, July, 2015

Planning assistance toward housing (PATH), Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, 2015

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development, Brookline Beacon, July 9, 2015

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

Housing Advisory Board: “smart growth,” $35,000 consultant, Brookline Beacon, June 25, 2015

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development

On Wednesday evening, July 8, representatives of the Kehillath Israel congregation announced at a public meeting held at the site that they were starting real estate development, in two parts. Part 1 renovates the synagogue building, dedicated in 1925, and adds about 10,000 square feet of support space on the north side. Part 2 builds an undisclosed amount of partly subsidized new housing, replacing the community center opened in 1948 and using Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning.

Rabbi William Hamilton opened the meeting, saying the congregation was planning for a next century. The membership has shrunk from a peak of around 1,200 families in the 1950s to around 400 now. He introduced Joseph Geller, a landscape architect and developer, member of the congregation, Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, who led most of the discussions.

Mr. Geller introduced Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a local real estate lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen with whom Mr. Geller served. Mr. Allen is representing the congregation’s legal interests in development plans. Asked about potential disruptions from pursuing development while nearby Devotion School is being rebuilt, Mr. Allen merely said it could be “a problem.”

According to Alison Steinfeld, Brookline’s director of community planning and development, about a year ago Mr. Allen met with members of the department for an initial discussion. Ms. Steinfeld said she did not know the amounts of housing Kehillath Israel might have in mind. Such a discussion, as well as such a meeting as happened July 8, are among steps in Brookline’s design review process for any development on Harvard St.

Location, location: Stories about a potential large housing development have circulated around nearby neighborhoods for many months, with a wide range of speculation about locations, amounts, sizes and heights. The presentation on July 8 settled only location: space now occupied by the community center, which representatives of the congregation called the “Epstein building.”

The current community center’s building outline is about 120 by 65 feet, plus a depth of about 30 feet for front entry and steps. If there were to be no further incursions past those perimeters, that could provide a gross area near 10,000 square feet per floor. A modern 4-story building, similar in overall height to the community center, might house around 40 medium-size apartments.

North Brookline neighborhoods have had two previous experiences with 40B developments. A private developer near the synagogue substantially scaled back initial plans and built a double wood-frame quadruplex at 107A through 113B Centre St. in the late 1990s, replacing a large house. Occupancy of these condominium units has proven fairly transient, with turnovers every several years.

After about seven years of disputes and negotiations, the development arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston scaled back initial plans for the former St. Aidan’s Church by about 60 percent and put up mostly modern, fireproof new construction around 2008. However, adaptive reuse, unprecedented for the Archdiocese, placed several apartments inside the historic church structure and preserved the large courtyard at the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts. and its huge copper beech tree.

Senior housing: Mr. Geller said Kehillath Israel was planning “senior housing”–favorable for a community in which escalating costs of public schools have been driving up budgets, leading to tax overrides passed this year and in 2008. While age-restricted housing is clearly a form of discrimination, under some conditions it is allowed by laws and regulations.

Massachusetts has had antidiscrimination housing laws for many years. They were partly subsumed by the federal Fair Housing Act, Title 8 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (PL 90-284). The original version of the law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in the sale and rental of dwellings. Other protected categories have been added.

Section 4 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, “Unlawful Discrimination,” prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap and receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy in the selling, renting or leasing of housing accommodations, commercial space or land intended for those uses. Fines are up to $50,000 per violation. Massachusetts regulations in 804 CMR 02 implement the law.

One of the few general exceptions in housing discrimination laws has allowed, after 1988, qualified “senior housing” developments, as modified under the federal Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (PL 104–76). Such a qualification requires 80 percent of dwellings to be occupied by at least one person who is 55 years of age or older. The federal qualification can be lost if that operating status is not maintained.

The Kehillath Israel congregation would almost surely be able to qualify a development as “senior housing.” Asked how the congregation might guarantee that “senior housing” will continue to qualify and operate that way, Mr. Geller said he expected there would be a continuing agreement with the Town of Brookline. By contrast, the management at Hancock Village in south Brookline has been moving away from “senior housing,” actively marketing to mostly foreign families with children. They are not planning “senior housing” as a part of their current Chapter 40B housing project in Brookline.

When a religious organization sponsors housing, some assume members and affiliates of the organization will become occupants or may be favored. Occupants of new housing at the Kehillath Israel site need not be Jewish or otherwise share some background that might tend to exclude people protected against discrimination. During controversy over redevelopment of the former St. Aidan’s Church, at least some former parishioners seemed convinced they would be favored to occupy new apartments there. Since that did not agree with housing laws and regulations, it did not happen.

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


Fair housing regulation, Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

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

Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button

Meeting on Tuesday, July 7, at Town Hall, starting at 6:15 pm, the Advisory Committee and its subcommittee on planning and regulation rejected a reserve fund transfer request from the Board of Selectmen and from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, voting by 2 to 1 margins and more. Such outright rejections have been rare. This one seemed to surprise Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, and Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, who were on hand to make the case for the reserve fund transfer.

The request was for legal support related to potential taking of Hancock Village buffers in south Brookline as recreation land, proposed for study by a resolution from the annual town meeting this May under Article 18. The Board of Selectmen had been widely expected to set up an independent “blue ribbon panel” to consider the issue, since they are entangled in two lawsuits involving a Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, overriding Brookline zoning, which they strongly oppose.

To nearly everyone’s surprise, Mr. Kleckner and members of the Brookline Board of Selectmen recently seemed to ignore conflicts in those matters, angling toward involvement in the recreation land issues, including their recent request for a transfer from the reserve fund. In effect as well as in words from some of its members, the Advisory Committee called on the Board of Selectmen to reach for the reset button and recast a potentially troubled approach.

Conflicts and bad faith: A land taking under powers of eminent domain can be held valid in Massachusetts when the land is part of a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. However, Brookline would need to be able to show that such a taking was in “good faith”–that is, mainly for a claimed and legitimate public purpose and not mainly to restrict a Chapter 40B development.

Such a case began about 44 years ago in Chelmsford. Its town meeting voted to take a parcel of land for conservation that was also the site of a Chapter 40B project for partly subsidized housing. The Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the case in Chelmsford v. DiBiase [370 Mass. 90, 1976]. It found, in part:

“A taking of land by eminent domain by a town in good faith and for a public purpose was valid notwithstanding a pending application to the board of appeals for a comprehensive permit to build low and moderate income housing on the land pursuant to General Laws Chapter 40B, Sections 20-23….”

According to the opinion in Chelmsford v. DiBiase, there were no material disputes over whether the town had acted in good faith–that is, mainly to take land for conservation purposes and not mainly to restrict a Chapter 40B development. In a later case, Pheasant Ridge v. Burlington [399 Mass. 771, 1987], disputes over “good faith” arose and led to a different outcome.

The Burlington Board of Selectmen apparently concocted a hasty justification for taking land by eminent domain at the site of a proposed Chapter 40B development. Massachusetts courts were not convinced by claims that the public purpose was legitimate but also considered circumstances under which the justification for a taking had been asserted, The Supreme Judicial Court opinion held, in part:

“…a municipal land taking, proper on its face, may be invalid because undertaken in bad faith…the record in this case…required the inference that the town, acting through its town meeting, was concerned only with blocking the plaintiffs’ development….”

Recreation land: The Brookline proposal for recreation land stands in the balance. Two situations are almost never identical. A Chelmsford case showed that a taking for recreation could succeed, while a Burlington case showed that conflicts of purposes might undermine it. Just after the recent town meeting, the town administrator and members of the Board of Selectmen set out in a sensible direction, along lines of past precedents in Brookline, keeping some distance from a study of recreation land.

More recently, ignoring the request of town meeting to act “in good faith,” they swerved toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. Some observers are already tending toward an interpretation of the changes as sabotage. Maybe, they say, the town administrator and members of the Board of Selectmen mean to block the recreation land proposal by linking it with their lawsuits and making it impossible to defend.

Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and the principal petitioner for Article 18, told the full Advisory Committee, “The goal hasn’t changed…active recreation space in perpetuity.” The petitioners, she said, had been “very mindful to separate the fact the town had two law cases involving the property…the issue of bad faith versus good faith.” At town meeting, she recalled, “selectmen abstained from Article 18 so they would not contaminate the case…They had the power to create a ‘blue ribbon panel.’ After town meeting, they chose not to do that.”

According to Lee Selwyn, a member of the Advisory subcommittee, “The issues now are mainly factual…a citizen panel to develop a factual record is what the proponents of Article 18 had in mind.” At the recent town meeting, he said, “a clear majority” supported the article about recreation land. “It wasn’t close…a factual record supporting its legitimate use…would help to overcome a ‘bad faith’ claim.”

Len Weiss, an Advisory Committee member, contended, “We should vote against the reserve fund transfer. There’s money to be spent in the budget right now [and] no need to transfer money from the reserve fund.” Committee member Fred Levitan said that “in my tenth year [on the committee], I don’t recall reserve fund transfers in advance,” only seven days into a fiscal year.

In the end, the Advisory Committee denied the request for a reserve fund transfer by a vote of 16 to 7, with Alisa Jonas of Precinct 16 abstaining. Ms. Jonas has been described as a participant in a lawsuit brought by a group of south Brookline residents and linked with one of the lawsuits brought by the Board of Selectmen, opposing the Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 8, 2015


Chelmsford v. DiBiase, 370 Mass. 90, 1976

Pheasant Ridge v. Burlington, 399 Mass. 771, 1987

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, acted on May 28, 2015

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

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

Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well

On Tuesday, June 30, as recommended by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, the Board of Selectmen voted to ask the Advisory Committee for $15,000 from the reserve fund on July 7, “for expertise in the study of eminent domain,” to be expended by the Office of Town Counsel. The request was prompted by approval at the annual town meeting of a resolution under Article 18, calling for the following main activity:

“…Town Meeting asks the Board of Selectmen to study and consider in good faith the taking under the powers of eminent domain [of] the two buffer zones presently zoned S-7 within the Hancock Village property, abutting Russett and Beverly Roads, for a permanently publicly-accessible active recreational space….”

Entanglements: A key problem with this request has been that members of the Board of Selectmen are plaintiffs in two lawsuits involving the Hancock Village property. They are suing a state agency that authorized the owner to propose a project under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, overriding Brookline zoning and other permits. They are also suing the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, for approving the project and granting a comprehensive permit.

If that were not enough, Nancy Heller, a newly elected member of the board, submitted Article 17 to the 2015 annual town meeting and argued it. It’s entitled, “Resolution in support of changes to the affordable housing law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40B.” She and other petitioners explained, “…[We] have worded the resolution in a broad manner. The purpose is to give our legislators as much latitude as they need to work with other legislators to amend 40B….”

Thus members of the Board of Selectmen are entangled in attacks against both a controversial 40B project at Hancock Village and the key Massachusetts law enabling the project. This leaves high risks for any involvement they might have in proposals arising from Article 18, under which Brookline would consider taking currently vacant parts of Hancock Village by eminent domain, to be used as recreation land.

One of the common challenges against eminent domain is acting in “bad faith”–that is, for covert purposes other than those claimed. With the Hancock Village situation, the property owner could be expected to claim that members of the Board of Selectmen considered eminent domain in “bad faith”—mainly to restrict an unwelcome Chapter 40B development rather than mainly to acquire recreation land.

Anticipation and defenses: After the recent town meeting, many participants and observers anticipated the Board of Selectmen would appoint a study committee for Article 18, as they often do for other issues, and would then keep their distance from it.

It would need to become an independent “blue ribbon panel,” with no further involvement by members of the Board of Selectmen. Putting the issues in the hands of an independent panel could provide defenses against acting in “bad faith,” should a recreation land effort proceed and should eminent domain be used to acquire Hancock Village land.

For quite a few years, several iterations of the Board of Selectmen have swung the other way. Coached by ambitious town administrators, they have politicized almost every new board, commission, committee and council by installing one of their members on it, often naming that member as chair. Article 18 presented a situation where such a domineering brand of machine politics cannot work. It could obviously encourage claims of “bad faith” and could well destroy a project to acquire recreation land.

Precedents: After idling on Article 18 for a month and making a false start, Mr. Kleckner, who seems to know very little about Brookline history, tried to claim a committee was unlikely because the town no longer has a redevelopment authority to call on. The former Brookline Redevelopment Authority was indeed active in takings during the Farm Project and Marsh Project, but the Town of Brookline did similar work, too. Disputes focused on policies and costs; mechanics were not thought to be much of a stretch.

Under Article 25, the 1974 annual town meeting authorized taking land off Amory St. by eminent domain for conservation. The relatively new Conservation Commission had proposed the Hall’s Pond project and presented all the key evaluations and arguments to boards, committees and town meeting. Not long afterward, the commission did similar work for the conservation area now known as Amory Woods.

Like the Hancock Village buffers, the Hall’s Pond parcel was seen as threatened by development, yet it was intact and had never been built on. North of Route 9, Brookline had no conservation land then, and very little suitable land remained. At 3-1/2 acres, the site to the east of Amory Playground was about half the size of the Hancock Village buffers combined.

The Conservation Commission obtained advice from local lawyers, contracted for a land survey, commissioned independent appraisals, and prepared and submitted the 1974 town meeting article. Commissioners persuaded only two members of the Board of Selectmen, but they got help from the Planning Board and a unanimous endorsement from the Advisory Committee. Town meeting gave strong support, and a counted vote was not needed.

Poisoning the well: On June 30, Mr. Kleckner led members of the Board of Selectmen in an odd direction–at high risk of poisoning the well, though coupling them into “bad faith” maneuvers. They did not hold matters at arms length by appointing an independent committee. Instead, they voted to submit a reserve fund request for funds to be spent by the town counsel, who reports to them.

They expect to entertain discussions of the issues among the board–potentially some closed to the public, at which they may also be considering “litigation,” as their agendas often call out. According to Mr. Kleckner, they expect to couple investigations pertinent to recreation areas with those pertinent to potential school sites and possibly other town projects.

By failing to maintain a bright line of separation between recreation land proposed at Hancock Village and other town business, including lawsuits against Hancock Village development, recent actions by Mr. Kleckner and members of the Board of Selectmen stand at grave risk of poisoning the well. Ignoring the request of the town meeting to act “in good faith,” they are proceeding headlong toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. At least some will say that is what they meant to do.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2015


Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, heard and acted on May 28, 2015

Board of Selectmen: back to the drawing board

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 30, rambled into unfamiliar territory, hearing an appeal from a decision of the Brookline Transportation Board. Arguments and discussions about the case took nearly half of a 4-1/2 hour meeting.

Last May 21, the Transportation Board had approved building a giant peninsula near the corner where Clinton Rd. branches away from Buckminster Rd. west of the High School. It would bloom out the sidewalk from the northeast sides of Clinton and Buckminster Rds. at the junction, pushing edges of those streets up to 35 feet away from their current alignments.

Peninsula at intersection of Clinton and Buckminster Rds.

BuckminsterClintonProposal20150630
Source: Transportation Division of Brookline DPW

The advertised purpose was to slow cars going westbound on Buckminster Rd. and bending onto Clinton Rd. Past the intersection, Clinton Rd. goes downhill, and cars sometimes reach 40 mph or higher. With the peninsula in place, cars would have to slow at the intersection and then turn right. However, no “traffic calming” had been planned for Clinton Rd., so speeds could rise quickly once past the intersection.

Most of the giant peninsula would sit in front of a house at 79 Buckminster Rd., obliterating its streetscape. Owners Michael and Tania Gray are less than pleased. On May 31, they called on the Transportation Board to cancel or radically shrink plans for the peninsula. When that board failed to act, they circulated a petition appealing the case to the Board of Selectmen.

Arguments: Although provided for in Brookline’s state enabling law since 1974, appeals from Transportation Board decisions to the Board of Selectmen have been rare. Neil Wishinsky, chair of the latter board, remarked, “We don’t have traditions for how these things are done.” He had decided to hear from the Transportation chair, then the house owners who brought the appeal, then more than 30 residents who came.

Joshua Safer, the Transportation chair, scoffed at the appeal, saying “I’m a little surprised to be here.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have been. Lack of concern for neighborhood impacts from Transportation initiatives has been raising hackles in other parts of town, too–a pattern for at least a few years. Dr. Safer made himself seem tone deaf, saying the dispute was only about “loss of a parking space or two.”

Mr. Gray painted a different picture, contending that a supposed safety benefit would become a safety hazard in winter, “a place for plows to deposit snow.” Blocked lines of sight could turn a difficult intersection into a dangerous one. On-street parking spaces that are “currently the safest parking on the street” would be replaced by “dangerous parking spaces” along the border of the proposed peninsula.

The house at 79 Buckminster Rd. shares a driveway with its neighbor at 3 Clinton Rd., including a sharp turn and a steep slope at the back. According to Mr. Gray, “The problems are now compensated by parking in front.” Those arrangements would be disrupted by the proposed peninsula. Mr. Gray, whose family has lived in the house for over 20 years, commented, “We would not have purchased the home with the Transportation plan in place.”

Since the May 21 Transportation meeting, Mr. Gray had examined conditions and regulations said to justify the Transportation proposal. He said they did not stand scrutiny. Fewer than half the federal standard of 20 peak pedestrians per hour, justifying a new crosswalk, had been tallied. Crash records showed less than a tenth the frequency of five or more per year needed to identify a “dangerous intersection.”

Comments: Roberta Winitzer of Beacon St., a former Library trustee, described herself as an aunt of Mr. Gray and a frequent visitor at 79 Buckminster Rd., calling the Transportation proposal “overkill.” Judy Meyers, a Precinct 12 town meeting member and former School Committee member, said it was “not fair to approve a plan that has such an adverse impact on the Grays.”

In a preview of comments to come, Ms. Meyers claimed, “The Transportation Board has a strong bias in favor of [altering] streetscapes, as opposed to [using] signs and paint.” The board “should have a comprehensive plan,” she said. Their current plan would not stop Clinton Rd. from being used as “a speedway.”

Not all neighbors sounded convinced. Andrea Bleichmar of 3 Clinton Rd., whose house shares a driveway with 79 Buckminster Rd., said she had “listened to the engineers.” Conditions near the intersection were “an accident looking for a place to happen,” she claimed. George Tolis, who lives two houses away, agreed. Dr. Tolis, a heart surgeon, said he had rearranged his operating schedule to be present. “Maybe,” he asserted, Brookline “should make Clinton Rd. one-way uphill.”

Residents farther down the hill on Clinton Rd. proved less supportive. Most remarks suggested that a pause in speeds at the intersection with Buckminster Rd. would not prevent their part of Clinton Rd. from continuing to be used as “a speedway.” Even Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, seemed to back those views. He estimated the average speed entering Clinton Rd. at the intersection would be reduced from 23 to 15 mph by the proposed peninsula, not much of a difference.

Beth Epstein of 111 Clinton Rd. protested faulty public notice. She described herself as a resident for 20 years, bringing up five children on the street, saying “I was kind of appalled.” A notice came on a Saturday for a hearing the next week, she said. It provided “no drawings or plans.” For occupants of the many “houses beyond this intersection,” [the proposal] “will not solve their problems.”

Review and decision: During their review, members the Board of Selectmen sounded sympathetic to concerns of the Grays. Nancy Heller said the proposed peninsula was “harmful to a family.” Nancy Daly said, “I don’t know of any place in town where we’ve stuck something like this in front of somebody’s home.” She was also “convinced that there needs to be traffic calming” downhill along Clinton Rd.

Ben Franco called for Public Works to “delay the Buckminster [repaving] project,” which had started a process leading to the peninsula proposal. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said, “We’ll do Buckminster this year but not the intersection.” Ms. Daly turned adamant, saying, “I’m not approving a [roadwork] contract unless we know that the current proposal is not part of it.”

In the end, members of the Board of Selectmen voted to “remand” the peninsula proposal to the Transportation Board, with instructions to “examine another solution for the intersection.”

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


Craig Bolon, Transportation Board: tone deaf, Brookline Beacon, June 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules, Brookline Beacon, May 23. 2015

Transportation Board: tone deaf

When the Transportation Board held a public review of a recent proposal to rip out all 66 of the public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, on Thursday, June 18, it held back. No action was taken, but the proposal from the Bicycle Advisory Committee, appointed by this board, remains on the books and could still be implemented.

Over 60 Brookline residents came to the meeting, despite the onset of summer vacations and the competing Devotion School “Carnivale”–the former spring fair on steroids–drawing hundreds from the school district plus many others town-wide. About 30 residents spoke at the Transportation meeting, even after board chair Joshua Safer tried to shoo them away–saying the board “got it.”

Threat and insult: So far, the board did not “get it.” Most of its members live in suburban settings. They obviously fail to understand the urban settings of North Brookline and Brookline Center, where nearly half the town’s population lives, and some apparently don’t care. They said nothing.

The board’s Bicycle Advisory Committee threatened and insulted the Babcock Street neighborhoods. On June 1, without consulting any neighborhood people or visiting the neighborhoods, they proposed a plan to remove all 66 public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, plus 16 potential spaces currently marked “no parking,” to install a bicycle lane.

One committee member, Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, dissented. Dr. Vitolo argued against disruption of the Babcock Street neighborhoods. However, he was unable to persuade any other member of this neighborhood-hostile committee. The other members opted to invade Babcock Street neighborhoods with bulldozers, ordering people around and destroying key parts of the Babcock Street social and physical environments.

Remedies: Well in advance of the Transportation Board Meeting, Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, agreed with Precinct 8 town meeting members to defer work on Babcock Street to next summer. However, no public participation is guaranteed, and so far none has been arranged. A Precinct 8 town meeting member has asked the Board of Selectmen to appoint a project review and monitoring committee.

The only long-term remedy likely to prevent a recurrence of this abuse is to dissolve the narrowly focused and irresponsible Bicycle Advisory Committee. Instead of a single-interest group, the community needs a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee. It would represent the main, human-powered transportation alternatives that need protection from operators of motor vehicles.

On June 18, it was not clear that Transportation Board members heard the cadence or the melody. Instead, they appointed a person who came across as yet another bicycle “groupie” to the Bicycle Advisory Committee. The neighborhoods have been patient. They will wait months but not years. They are looking for clear and positive, decisive action. If that does not happen, people will likely say other adjustments are needed.

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


Craig Bolon, Conflicts of interest: state treasurer and transportation board member, Brookline Beacon, June 10, 2015

Conflicts of interest: state treasurer and transportation board member

Conflicts of interest abound in government: duties to represent citizens, as opposed to private interests. Few political officeholders are immune. Locally and recently, we have seen Brookline residents involved.

Deborah Goldberg, a former chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen who is now the Massachusetts state treasurer, recently disclosed a potential conflict involving her husband, Michael Winter, a J.P. Morgan executive. His firm was awarded contracts to market $100 million in state bonds. Mr. Winter, however, does not work in the company division responsible for government bond marketing.

In a local context, Christopher Dempsey of 43 Brington Rd., a Transportation Board member, has an apparent personal interest in a proposal submitted to his board by the Bicycle Advisory Committee, on which his father, John P. Dempsey of 43 Brington Rd., now serves. At an evening meeting on Monday, July 1, the elder Mr. Dempsey argued and voted in favor of a proposal to remove all parking from the east side of Babcock St., from Fire Station No. 5 at 49 Babcock St. to the town line at 1010 Commonwealth Ave., in order to install a lane marked exclusively for bicycle use.

That part of Babcock St. now has a total of 66 available parking spaces along a street with many apartment buildings that have no parking. The Bicycle Advisory Committee proposal is scheduled to be reviewed by the Transportation Board at a June 18 meeting. On Monday, June 8, town meeting members from Precinct 8 agreed with Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, that work on Babcock St. would be deferred until 2016, avoiding near-term confrontations on the issue.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 10, 2015


Matt Stout, Treasurer hubby’s firm got $100M in bonds, Boston Herald, June 10, 2015

Brookline Transportation Board, Agenda for June 18, 2015, See item 7

2015 annual town meeting: budgets, bylaws and resolutions

Unlike last year, Brookline’s 2015 annual town meeting rolled along at a brisk pace and needed only two sessions–Tuesday, May 26, and Thursday, May 28–both starting at 7 pm in the High School auditorium. The generally progressive tones of Brookline civic engagement remained clear, and some of the musical theatre of years past returned for an encore. This is the one-hundredth year for Brookline’s elected town meeting.

Budgets: Disputes over budgets that roiled the winter workups to town meeting had evaporated after voter approval of a major tax override at the Tuesday, May 5, town election. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, mentioned “controversy” over a three-word amendment to one special appropriation. The Advisory Committee proposed two changes to the “override” financial plan as proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator.

In the traditional presentation of an annual budget, Sean Lynn-Jones, newly elected as chair of the Advisory Committee last winter, called 2015 “an interesting year.” He noted that new revenues were going to be involved in maintaining a stable budget, singling out parking meter and refuse fees. Mr. Lynn-Jones said he expects “fiscal challenges…another general override in three to five years…possibly a ninth elementary school…high school [expansion] at over $100 million, not $35 million,” as most recently estimated.

In the traditional response from the Board of Selectmen, Neil Wishinshy, recently elected as the new chair, said strongly contested elections, like those this year, “make our town and democracy stronger.” He spoke of new efficiencies contributing to a stable budget, singling out trash metering, which has been mentioned at official meetings but so far not detailed. Mr. Wishinsky called on town meeting members to “put aside narrow self-interest,” saying, “We live in the real world.”

Staff for preservation planning will increase from 1.8 to 2.0 full-time-equivalent positions, a budget hike of $14,119. It is expected to provide a full-time position for preservationist Greer Hardwicke. The Public Works budget for pavement markings got $2,673 more, to cope with after-effects from a harsh winter. Those had been wrapped into Advisory Committee motions. A $264 million spending plan sailed through, mostly on voice votes.

A three-word amendment to a $100,000 special appropriation had been proposed by Craig Bolon, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who edits the Brookline Beacon. Offered on behalf of Brookline PAX, it asked that a study of Coolidge Corner parking be done “with neighborhood input.” Town meeting agreed in a unanimous voice vote.

Instead of parochial concerns with Public Works, this year’s town meeting focused more on the Police budget. Lynda Roseman, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, asked about progress coping with mental health issues. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, compared last year–when three members of the force were involved–to this year, when two grant-funded programs are underway. By the end of the year, he said, about a quarter of the force will have completed 40 hours of training.

A large municipal solar-power array, in effect a budget item, was approved out-of-line under Articles 15 and 16. Brookline is contracting with Blue Wave Capital, a company endorsed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which is to build and operate it, using part of the former landfill site near the waste transfer station off Newton St. Rated capacity is to be 1.4 MW, peak. Expected income is about $0.08 million per year.

Bylaw, Living Wage: Under Article 10, the Recreation Department proposed to gut much of the Living Wage bylaw enacted several years ago, by exempting from coverage several employee groups and by eliminating the Brookline minimum wage: a one-dollar premium over the state minimum. Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who was the chief sponsor of the bylaw, had resisted the effort strongly.

Scott Gladstone, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, was entirely opposed to Article 10. “The bylaw is already a compromise,” he claimed. “Junior lifeguards,” whom it would remove from coverage, “are lifeguards…with the same Red Cross certifications as anybody else…What we’re trying to teach here…is work values…Should we teach them that they should not be demanding a living wage?”

Ms. Connors was supported by Brookline PAX. Co-chair Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, stated, “PAX supports working people and fair wages.” Board member Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, called Article 10 “an assault on working people,” saying, “I wonder how many [town-funded] cars it would take to cover the wages of students with first-time jobs.”

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, tried to deflect those arguments. saying that when the now-disbanded Living Wage Committee proposed the bylaw, “We were way out front.” He favored some compromises being sponsored by the Advisory Committee. Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member who lost this year when running for the Board of Selectmen, agreed with Mr. Allen. “If we pass the [Connors] amendment,” she said, “we’ll be hiring college students instead of high-school students.”

Ms. Connors was proposing to maintain the current bylaw’s definitions of seasonal and temporary employment. It was not certain whether Mr. Allen or Ms. Lodish understood, but Merelice, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, clearly did. The current bylaw’s approach is not supported by the HR module of Munis, recently adopted for maintaining employment records by the Human Resources (HR) office. According to Merelice, the attitude of HR is “an example of being concerned about the dirt when we hold the broom.” She contended, “We can certainly find the technology.”

Town meeting members sided strongly with Ms. Connors, Merelice and Brookline PAX. In an electronically recorded vote, the Connors amendment passed 141 to 48, with 10 abstentions. The amended main motion on Article 10 passed 144 to 42, with 5 abstentions. Although the Brookline minimum wage premium is maintained, so-called “junior” employees in the Recreation Department will no longer be covered by the Living Wage, reverting to the Brookline minimum wage–currently $10.00 versus $13.19 per hour. Recreation claims to be able to support more positions.

Bylaw, snow clearance from sidewalks: Town meeting grappled with the latest edition of a snow-clearance bylaw under Article 12. For about 30 years a bylaw initially proposed by Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, has required property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks of snow. However, until a push last year from Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member who filed a resolution article, and from the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, enforcement proved erratic.

During the 1970s and before, Brookline plowed most of the sidewalks, but after budget trims in the aftermath of Proposition 2-1/2 it cut back to only a few, including ones near schools. Article 12 was proposed by a Sidewalk Snow Removal Task Force, appointed in the summer of 2014 by the Board of Selectmen to strengthen the town’s law and its enforcement. The group–including staff from Public Works, Health, Building and Police–acknowledged that a complaint-driven approach had worked poorly.

Last winter, the four departments contributing to the task force divided Brookline’s streets into four sectors and began proactive enforcement during weekdays, with Police assuming most duties at other times. Despite the unusually harsh winter, enforcement generally improved, as described to town meeting by Nancy Daly, speaking for the Board of Selectmen. However, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, pointed out the lack of coordination in the current form of enforcement.

In its town-meeting article, the task force proposed to discontinue automatic warnings for first violations at residential properties, to raise fines and to institute a $250 fine for placing snow into a street–forbidden by Brookline’s general bylaws since the nineteenth century.

Compromises made as outcomes of several reviews had gutted most of the original proposal, leaving relatively weak enforcement, modest fines and no administrative appeals. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, offered two amendments intended to address some compromises. One would have limited a period of enforcement delay, at discretion of the public works commissioner, to no more than 30 hours after the end of a snowfall.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, speaking for the Advisory Committee, objected to an arbitrary time limit for the commissioner’s discretion. During the Blizzard of 1978, many streets remained impassible for several days, because Brookline then lacked much equipment capable of clearing them. That amendment was rejected through an electronically recorded vote, 78 to 108, with 6 abstentions.

Dr. Vitolo’s other amendment sought to restore the schedule of fines that the task force had proposed. Those called for a $50 fine on a first violation at a residential property, rather than an automatic warning, and a $100 fine for subsequent violations.

Dennis Doughty, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who served on the task force, supported the amendment on fines. He compared hazards of sidewalk snow with other hazards now sanctioned by $50 fines and no warnings, including putting refuse out for collection earlier than 4 pm the previous day. Town meeting members approved the amendment on fines through an electronically recorded vote, 135 to 52, with 5 abstentions.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vitolo’s amendment on fines for failure to clear sidewalk snow seems to leave the Brookline bylaws inconsistent. According to the main motion before town meeting, proposed by the Advisory committee on p. 5 of its supplemental report section and amended per Dr. Vitolo, the snow clearance bylaw was changed by town meeting to read, in part:

“The violation of any part of Section 7.7.3 [that is, the requirement to clear sidewalk snow at residential properties]…shall be noted with a $50 fine for the first violation and subject to a fine of $100.00 for the second and subsequent violations….”

However, according to the main motion, revised penalties are stated again in Article 10.3 of the bylaws, Table of Specific Penalties. What Dr. Vitolo’s amendment did was to revise penalties stated in the bylaw on snow clearance but not those stated in the Table of Specific Penalties. There will likely be no more snow before a fall town meeting, which might make the Brookline bylaws consistent.

Bylaws, tap water and bottled water: Articles 13 and 14, the two “water articles,” had been filed by Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Clinton Richmond, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, and several other petitioners. Both were “watered down” during reviews before the town meeting, yet significant parts of each survived and won approval.

Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond are co-chairs of the “green caucus” in town meeting, which counts over fifty town meeting members as participants and has been effective at marshaling votes for some recent, environmentally oriented initiatives. Brookline PAX, with a somewhat overlapping base of support, was recommending voting for motions offered by the Board of Selectmen in favor of parts of the two articles.

Article 13 sought a bylaw requiring Brookline restaurants to offer tap water. They already do, said Sytske Humphrey of Precinct 6, speaking for the Advisory Committee. She called the proposed bylaw “unnecessary and ineffective.” However, the petitioners had found some sinners. An Indian restaurant in Washington Square did not offer tap water on its take-out menu, and one pizza place did not seem to offer it at all.

Differing from the Advisory position, the Board of Selectmen saw little objection to such a law but added a phrase, “upon request,” and removed a sentence: “Establishments may charge for this service item.” That might give an impression, they wrote, that charging for water “was a requirement.”

Diana Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, said the topic could be handled by conditions on restaurant licenses and moved to refer the article to the Board of Selectmen. In an electronically recorded vote, the referral motion failed 78 to 103, with 5 abstentions. The motion for a bylaw drafted by the Board of Selectmen passed 124 to 56, with 7 abstentions.

Article 14, seeking to ban sale and distribution of bottled water at town events and on town property, encountered stiffer headwinds at reviews before town meeting and quickly lost altitude. According to Mr. Richmond, the purpose was not banning water but banning the plastic bottles usually supplied. Hundreds of billions a year are sold. While they might be recycled, at least in part, they are mostly thrown away.

By town meeting, motions under the article had been trimmed back to a proposed ban on spending town funds to buy water in plastic bottles of one liter or less for use in offices. The Board of Selectmen proposed to refer the rest of the article to a study committee, to be appointed by the board. The Advisory Committee stuck with its original approach, recommending no action.

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a past participant in the “green caucus,” was not in line this time. The bylaw favored by the Board of Selectmen would have negligible impact, he claimed, and if widely emulated elsewhere, then companies selling bottled water would easily subvert it. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly disagreed, saying the debates over Article 14 had “succeeded at least in educating me.”

The Advisory Committee remained unmoved. Robert Liao of Precinct 15 recommended voting for the Harris motion to refer, consistent with the Advisory position. There will be “adverse unintended consequences” from a bylaw, he claimed, saying, “Reusable bottles require planning and changes in behavior.”

Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether the town was spending money on either bottled water or bottled soda. The answers were yes as to both, according to Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. Echoing a topic heard often during reviews, Jonathan Davis, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, asked whether vending machines on town property would be affected. Mr. Richmond conceded they would not be, since “the machines are put out to bid” and do not involve spending town funds.

Mr. Gadsby, the moderator, took a motion for the question–that is, a motion to terminate debate. Not enough town meeting members were ready to do that. On an electronically recorded vote the motion failed 129 to 71, with 2 abstentions. Such a motion takes a two-thirds margin but got only 65 percent.

Susan Helms Daley of Chatham Circle and her son Jackson, a fourth-grader at Lawrence School, told town meeting members about an alternative that is catching on. For the past few years, the school has had a “green team” and tried “to discourage use of bottled water.” Ms. Daley asserted, “Bottled water is the same as cigarettes.” Jackson Daley said after the school installed “water bottle refill stations”–a PTO project–”more people brought water bottles” to school. So far, he said, “We have saved 10,129 plastic bottles. How cool is that?”

After hearing similar opinions from a junior at Brookline High School, Mr. Gadsby again accepted a motion for the question. He declared it had passed, on a show of hands. The motion from Mr. Harris to refer all of Article 14 failed on an electronically recorded vote, 97 to 102, with 2 abstentions. The motion from the Board of Selectmen for a bylaw banning some uses of town funds passed by a substantial majority, on a show of hands.

Resolution, recreation land: Article 18 proposed a resolution seeking a study of acquiring land in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline for park and recreation uses–specifically, so-called “buffer” areas of Hancock Village near Beverly and Russett Rds. Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, prepared the article. Although not an abutter to Hancock Village, Ms. Frawley has lived nearby since 1968.

While it is possible that the current landowner, Chestnut Hill Realty, might agree to sell the land, a series of development plans, currently tapping powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, have left the company at loggerheads with the Board of Selectmen. A purchase-and-sale agreement now looks unlikely, so that Ms. Frawley suggested the land would probably have to be taken by eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley showed, there is little public open space. She described the current open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be suitable. The only sizable public spaces now are around Baker School. They are laid out for specialized uses and are unavailable to the public during school days. For over 70 years, neighborhood residents have often used the buffer areas for recreation instead, as tolerated by a succession of landowners.

Moderator Gadsby immediately took comments from Rebecca Plaut Mautner, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, ahead of normal order and before hearing from the Advisory Committee and town boards. He did not explain the unusual conduct. Ms. Mautner operates RPM Consulting, according to the Web site of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association in Boston–providing “affordable housing development services” in New England.

Ms. Mautner delivered a broadside against Article 18, saying it “will be perceived by the outside world as an effort to undermine creation of affordable housing…a message that Brookline will stop at nothing to prevent affordable housing.” That did not seem to resonate well, broached in the first town in Massachusetts to build public housing, where inclusionary zoning has been active for over 20 years.

Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13, speaking for the Advisory Committee, recalled that the proposed “Hancock Village project did not start out as 40B…there was no affordable housing in the original plan.” The owner, he said, is “using 40B as a means to pressure the town.” He said Article 18 proposed “a reasonable public use” of land, and he noted that a parcel adjacent to Hancock Village had been “taken by the state by eminent domain to prevent an inappropriate development.” The Hancock Woods area was taken as conservation land about 20 years ago.

Janice Kahn of Precinct 15, also an Advisory Committee member, supported the study. She said it could teach the town about using eminent domain. There has been no substantial taking since the Hall’s Pond and Amory Woods conservation projects in the 1970s. Given the ongoing disputes with Chestnut Hill Realty, the Board of Selectmen had declined to take a position on Article 18. Members had said they would abstain from voting on it.

Mr. Mattison of Precinct 5, a suppporter, said the buffer “space has served as informal recreation space.” Some 1940s correspondence with the town, he said, describes “how the commitment would be binding” to maintain it as open space. However, that was not part of an agreement presented to a 1946 town meeting, when the bulk of Hancock Village was rezoned to allow apartments.

Lauren Bernard, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether a “prescriptive easement” would be possible, given the long history of public use, and whether that would be “mutually exclusive with eminent domain.” Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, said easement issues were “not considered yet,” but easement and eminent domain would probably “be mutually exclusive.”

Even though the hour was getting late, at 10:30 pm, town meeting was willing to hear more arguments. A motion for the question failed on an electronically recorded vote, 88 to 78, with 17 abstentions. Julie Jette of Payson Rd. spoke. She said she had been “very surprised” when moving there “that really the only fully accessible playground is in West Roxbury.”

Crossing the rotary and the VFW Parkway with young children seemed too dangerous, Ms. Jette said, and she had never tried. However, she said, “yards are not a substitute for social and community opportunities. It’s time to create a true neighborhood park in south Brookline…Time is of the essence, given Chestnut Hill Realty development plans.” After a few other comments, town meeting approved Article 18 on a show of hands, looking like a ten-to-one majority at least.

Resolution, Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposed a resolution, objecting to plans for holding the Olympic Games in Boston during 2024. The plans never gained traction in Brookline, where many people see heavy costs and slender benefits. The Board of Selectmen had nevertheless postponed making a recommendation, reaching out to the pressure group pushing for the Olympics, but no one from that group responded.

At the town meeting, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, led off–speaking for Brookline PAX, of which he is co-chair. Unlike his fellow co-chair, Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, Mr. Rosenthal said he is a sports fan and “was excited at first.” However, he had realized “there might be some issues here…it was more for the benefit of non-Brookline people.” PAX opposes plans for 2024 Olympic Games in Boston.

Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, was giving no quarter. He has co-founded a volunteer group, No Boston Olympics, and was on the warpath, armed with PowerPoint slides. The pressure group behind the Olympics plans, he said, is aiming to raid public funds. A long article published the previous day in the Boston Business Journal revealed much of that story to the public.

According to Business Journal staff, previously secret sections of the Olympics “bid book” said public money would be sought to “fund land acquisition and infrastructure costs.” The plans were also “relying on an expanded Boston Convention and Exhibition Center”–a deluxe Patrick administration venture that the Baker administration has canned.

Mr. Dempsey was having a field day, saying, “Boston 2024 is not going to fix the T…In London and Vancouver the Olympics Village financing was from public funds…Olympics budgets are guaranteed by taxpayers…The more you learn about 2024 Olympics, the less you like it.” Ben Franco spoke for the Board of Selectmen, simply stating that the board “urges favorable action” on Article 19.

Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 said that “the money and resources spent would benefit the Olympics shadow.” The current plans have “no real public accountability,” she contended, and “Brookline will be heavily impacted…The biggest concern [of the Advisory Committee] is the taxpayer guarantee…Lack of public process is unacceptable.”

Olympics boosters did have some friends. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, advised caution, saying, “Who knows what will happen in Boston? We don’t have to make this decision now.” Susan Granoff of Precinct 7, attending her first town meeting, said, “Let’s give Boston 2024 more time.” The Olympics, she contended, “would create thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars…It’s private money being donated.”

Most town meeting members were not convinced by such claims. They approved the resolution in an electronically recorded vote, 111 to 46, with 7 abstentions. Katherine Seelye’s story in the New York Times on Saturday, May 30, may have deep-sixed the Olympics plans. She included the Business Journal disclosures and cited the Brookline town-meeting resolution.

Other actions: Under Article 9, town meeting voted no action on a proposal to make holders of state and federal offices living in Brookline automatic town meeting members. After encountering opposition, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, offered a “no action” motion on the article that he and other petitioners had submitted.

Article 17 proposed a resolution seeking changes to Sections 20-23 of Chapter 40B, the Comprehensive Permit Act of 1969 that was encouraged by the late Cardinal Cushing. Nancy Heller, the principal petitioner, now a member of the Board of Selectmen, had not seemed to recognize the complexity of the issues and soon agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and Housing Advisory Board. That was the course taken by town meeting.

Under Article 11, town meeting voted to create a Crowninshield local historic district, on petition from the owners of about 85 percent of the houses on Crowninshield Rd., Adams St., Elba St. and Copley St. Speaking in favor were David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, John Sherman and Katherine Poverman, both residents of Adams St., Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5 for the Advisory Committee and Nancy Daly for the Board of Selectmen.

Dr. White recalled that the neighborhood had been home to well-known writers and artists. He mentioned novelist and short-story writer Edith Pearlman, an Elba St. resident for many years, and after a little prompting the novelist Saul Bellow, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, who lived on Crowninshield Rd. in his later years. Only Clifford Ananian, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, took exception. He said preserving “single-family homes is a waste of a valuable resource,” although he lives in one of those homes. Despite the objection, the town meeting vote to create the district proved unanimous.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 30, 2015


Katherine Q. Seelye, Details uncovered in Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid may put it in jeopardy, New York Times, May 30, 2015

BBJ staff, Boston 2024 report highlights need for public funding, expanded BCEC, Boston Business Journal, May 28, 2015

Matt Stout, Gov. Baker puts brakes on $1 billion convention center plan, Boston Herald, April 29, 2015

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Age-Friendly Cities: health fair, outreach, snow and parks, Brookline Beacon, May 25, 2015

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage, Brookline Beacon, May 4, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures, Brookline Beacon, April 14, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

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

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points, Brookline Beacon, June 7, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules

If you’re curious to see what suburban-oriented government looked like in the 1950s and before, visit the Transportation Board–where it can sometimes seem as though antique outlooks have been preserved in amber. Within the past week–at public meetings of two of the town’s many other boards, commissions, committees and councils–some members complained openly about unresponsive behavior. Complainers even included a member of the Board of Selectmen, which appoints members of the Transportation Board.

Launching a board: Oddly enough, the Transportation Board had been launched as a reform against arrogance, or so some people said at the time. Since the emergence of motor vehicles in the early twentieth century, Brookline struggled with regulation. Under Chapter 40, Section 22, of the General Laws, town meetings may enact bylaws and boards of selectmen may adopt “rules and orders” concerning traffic and parking.

The workload of regulating motor vehicles soon became too much for the Board of Selectmen in Brookline. During the 1920s, it delegated work to a Traffic Committee consisting of four department heads and the chairs of the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board. A surge in automobiles after World War II challenged that approach.

A 1968 town meeting scrapped the Traffic Committee and a later commission, seeking so-called “home rule” legislation to create a Department of Traffic and Parking, headed by a full-time director, and a volunteer Traffic Appeals Board. That approach also failed. A wave of neighborhood protests over traffic and parking grew stronger, fueled with accusations of arrogant behavior by the full-time “traffic czar.”

The fall town meeting of 1973 again petitioned for legislation: this time to create a Transportation Department–more recently the Transportation Division in the Department of Public Works–and a volunteer Transportation Board. So far, the arrangements under a 1974 law have held. Under that law, the Board of Selectmen acts as an appeals board, and appeals have been rare. One could be coming soon, though.

Building a peninsula: The intersection where Buckminster and Clinton Rds. join just west of the High School has often been seen as a safety issue. Drivers may careen through without seeming to look and sometimes without stopping at the single stop sign, found when coming into the intersection from Clinton Rd. Heading the other way, downhill on Clinton Rd., drivers can easily exceed the posted 30 mph speed limit.

One classic method to slow the speeds is a traffic island, making drivers dodge around. More modern, so-called “traffic calming” might use a raised intersection, “speed bumps” or “curb bulbs.” Apparently, none had looked to Brookline’s current engineers like the right approach. Instead, they had sold the Transportation Board a giant peninsula, blooming out the sidewalk from the northeast sides of Clinton and Buckminster Rds. at the junction. Daniel Martin, a Brookline engineer, called it a “curb extension”–clearly a highly extensible phrase.

Of course, any change to a residential street is also a change to someone’s home. The home nearest the giant peninsula is 79 Buckminster Rd. Its owners are not pleased, to say the least. From their viewpoint, the huge peninsula would leave their lot “landlocked” without street frontage. It might work technically only because they now have a garage beneath the back of the house, reached by a driveway shared with their neighbors at 3 Clinton Rd. Were they to install a conventional driveway, somehow it would have to invade the peninsula.

Good intents, cloudy results: As the rehearing on the peninsula plan Thursday, May 21, went on for more than an hour and a half, neighbors recalled street changes with bad side-effects. In a winter with heavy snow like the last one, parts of streets narrowed to calm traffic became dangerous or impassible. Judy Meyers, a Precinct 12 town meeting member who lives downhill at 75 Clinton Rd., said she was “very sympathetic” to the owners of 79 Buckminster. However, “Clinton Rd. has been a speedway…[and] I don’t love speed bumps.”

Compared with alternatives, the peninsula plan looks like costly efforts invested for cloudy results. Several years ago, similarly costly measures on Winchester St. slowed speeding only within around a hundred feet from obstacles. Unless something more is done, Ms. Meyers, who lives quite a bit farther than that from the intersection at issue, is not likely to see much improvement.

In the past, Transportation sometimes waxed less bureaucratic and became more effective. Instead of seeing roadblocks in its path–claiming you can’t do this and you can’t do that–it did the impossible anyway. In North Brookline, an alert observer can find 25 mph posted speed limits and intersections with stop signs on the wider street rather than the narrower one. Those were inexpensive, practical solutions to vexing problems.

On May 21, however, certifiable experts certified nothing more could be done, and the vote went 2 to 4 against reconsidering the peninsula plan. Only board members Ali Tali and Pamela Zelnick voted in favor. At other places and in other times, such events became subjects of land damage lawsuits, but Brookline offers a further course: administrative appeal.

If the owners of 79 Buckminster Rd. carry an appeal, they will be dealing with the Board of Selectmen. Its newly chosen chair, Neil Wishinsky, recently told another group, “My political thinking is to stay away from parking.” For much of the last 90 years, Mr. Wishinsky would have found kindred spirits on his board, but now such duties come with the job.

Taxi rules: After negotiations with taxi owners, Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, brought in a substantially revised draft of new rules. The changes tend to lower the added costs to taxi companies but will also provide lower standards of service. A key point of dispute has been new requirements for vehicles with ramps for people who use wheelchairs.

The revised draft has vague and inconsistent language. In some places, it speaks of “ramped taxicabs,” saying they might also provide a “lift.” In others, it refers to “WAV taxicabs”–never defining that but apparently meaning “wheelchair-accessible vehicle.” It’s unclear whether a “ramped taxicab” will necessarily be a “WAV taxicab” or vice-versa. Possibly the regulations did not undergo legal reviews.

As first proposed, the rules required one “ramped taxicab” for every ten licensed vehicles. Operators objected to the extra costs, some saying they got no requests for such vehicles in as much as ten years and probably would never get any. Members of the Commission for the Disabled have called that a self-fulfilling prophecy, since word had gotten around that there were no such Brookline taxis.

Mr. Kirrane stated that Boston now has a standard of one “WAV taxicab” for every 18 licensed vehicles. In Brookline, the revised draft called for one “ramped taxicab” for every 25 licensed vehicles. Saralynn Allaire, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and a member of the Commission for the Disabled, asked how the rule would be implemented. Mr. Kirrane said the rule would come into effect July 1 of next year and would not apply to a company with fewer than 25 licensed vehicles.

The board reviewed a perennial controversy: a limit on the number of licensed taxis. At least two members of the board–Joshua Safer, the chair, and Ali Tali–seemed to favor what one called a “market system,” with no limit. The revised draft proposed a limit of two licensed taxis per 1,000 Brookline residents. Brookline’s population map, based on the 2010 federal census, shows 58,732 residents–indicating 117 taxi licenses.

Board member Christopher Dempsey criticized the limit, saying it was “picked out of the air” and that “a population metric is not a very effective one.” He offered no other approach. His motion to strike the metric failed on a 1-4-1 vote, with board member Scott Englander abstaining. The board adopted the revised taxi rules, effective July 1, by a unanimous vote. After the meeting, Joe Bethoney, owner of Bay State Taxi, Brookline’s largest company, confirmed that he planned to continue in business under the new rules.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 23, 2015


Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Changing the rules: new taxi regulations, Brookline Beacon, April 6, 2015

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

David J. Barron, Gerald E. Frug and Rick T. Su, Dispelling the myth of home rule, Rappaport Institute (Cambridge, MA), 2003

Craig Bolon, Vehicle parking in Brookline, Brookline Town Meeting Members Association, 2000

Planning Department: a grand plan for Village Square on a diet

Grand plans of 2005 for a “boulevard” along the foot of Washington St. near Brookline Village faded. More recently, instead of Goody, Clancy–the high-prestige Boston architecture and planning firm–Brookline hired Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown–engineers and highway designers. Working at a very slow and mostly quiet pace, they planned a highway renovation for part of Route 9. The project has been coordinated by Public Works and Planning staff, particularly Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning.

Last Wednesday, May 13, Mr. Viola organized a public presentation and hearing on a highway renovation plan, starting at 7 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, recently chosen as chair of the Board of Selectmen, presided over the hearing. No committee of Brookline residents has a role in this project. A committee for the so-called “Gateway East” boulevard project has been inactive since 2006. A committee for a so-called “Walnut St. and Juniper St. Relocation” project has been inactive since 2010.

Background: The foot of Washington St., bending toward Mission Hill in Boston, became the commercial heart of Brookline during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Worcester Turnpike, opened to Natick in 1810, started westward at the bend of Washington St. That road is now Boylston St., part of Massachusetts Route 9, which continues along the foot of Washington St. across the Jamaicaway to Huntington Ave. in Boston.

The Punch Bowl Tavern was Brookline’s best known landmark during the 1700s. It was located across the foot of Washington St. from today’s site of the Village Square fire station, built of brick and limestone in early twentieth century. The area nearby was often called Punch Bowl Village. The 1830s street connecting to Beacon St. through what is now Kenmore Square was originally Punch Bowl Rd. Now it is Brookline Ave.

A railroad courses beside the Village Square area, begun in 1853 as the Charles River Branch Railroad, later the Brookline Branch of the Boston & Albany and now the Riverside (D) branch of the MBTA Green Line. During the 1920s, the bustle of Village Square attracted the Brookline Savings Bank’s handsome new headquarters to the bend of Washington St. Aside from the fire station, that is the only historic building left on the square.

Village Square was almost totally lost to redevelopment, starting in the late 1950s. Patterning its efforts on destruction of the West End in Boston by the Hynes administration, the former Brookline Redevelopment Authority took property by eminent domain for the so-called “Farm Project,” evicted all the former residents and businesses, ripped out the streets and tore down everything south of Route 9 but the fire station.

On the north side of Route 9, the so-called “Marsh Project” ran at a slower pace, but it was about as ruthless. Now there can be no genuine Village Square “boulevard,” because there is no longer a genuine Village Square–an extinct neighborhood–to lend it character. Although Village Square doesn’t yet house a suburban strip mall, like Chestnut Hill, the swath of destruction left a bleak highway junction, being filled in by large-scale new development.

Village Square, from the former site of Brookline Savings Bank

VillageSquareFromBrooklineBank
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

Bicycle bonanza: The first public presentation Mr. Viola scheduled, last December 3, attracted around 50 bicycle promoters from Brookline and Boston. They were nearly all seeking protected bicycle lanes, sometimes called “cycle tracks.” If Brookline’s commercial areas were to be prioritized by amounts of bicycle traffic, Village Square would probably rank low. Today it has little business and only a modest population density nearby. For all but a few Brookline residents, it is neither a destination nor a waypoint.

Instead, what Village Square has is money, thanks to persistent efforts currying state support for highway renovation. It also holds some future promise from the expected 2 Brookline Place development, but bicycle promoters were likely drawn to the project by the scent of money. State money was squandered when renovating Beacon St. a few years ago, installing lots of new paving but little else of community value. Because of neglectful design, a majority of Beacon St. remains unsuitable for even painted bicycle lanes.

The cost of protected bicycle lanes in built-out urban areas runs to as much as $5 million a mile. When installed during roadway renovation, parts of the work will be common to the renovation, and the incremental cost can be less. At the May 13 presentation, a representative of the Massachusetts transportation agency estimated a 7 percent increase in costs for the Village Square project.

Plans: As described by Beth Eisler, an engineer from Toole Design Group in Boston, plans for protected bicycle lanes at Village Square are limited to the foot of Washington St. between the intersection with High St. on the south side and the intersection with Brookline Ave. on the north side. Anything more will await some future project and funding.

The main roadway change is to move the end of Walnut St. eastward, aligning the intersection of Walnut St. on the south side of Washington St. with the intersection of Pearl St. on the north side. Protected bicycle lanes on both sides of the foot of Washington St. extend just two blocks, about one-seventh of a mile.

Design for protected bicycle lanes at Village Square

VillageSquareCycleTracks
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

The proposed designs place bicycle lanes at sidewalk level toward the curbs–the approach used on Vassar St. in Cambridge. At the bus stop near Pearl St., the bicycle lane is to curve away from the street, skirting an island for people entering and leaving a bus. Bicycle lanes are to have a color, texture or both that differs from walkways. No bicycle lane materials, signs or signals were described.

Desires: The May 13 presentation and hearing drew an audience of about 35. Most speakers supported plans but asked for changes in designs. Eric from Jamaica Plain described himself as riding through Village Square frequently. He doubted the proposed designs would draw riders to the area, because of hazardous intersections. Placing a painted bicycle lane in the middle of Washington St., descending from the overpass above the Green Line, would be “terrifying to many,” he said. “People will ride on the sidewalk.”

Mark from Roslindale, speaking for the Boston Cyclists Union, had similar observations. Stacy Thompson, representing the Livable Streets Alliance in Cambridge, had “concerns about a two-stage Washington St. crossing” for pedestrians. The long delays, she said, would provoke jaywalking. Crossing “seven lanes is really intimidating across lower Washington St.”

Scott Englander, a Transportation Board member who co-chairs the Complete Streets Study Committee, said the designs had been “hamstrung by the 2006 planning effort…an obsolete planning philosophy.” They have “weak links at several points,” he said, some of which he described. Much more obvious barriers were created by the 1950s philosophy, turning Village Square into part of a highway complex rather than part of a village network. That is how the foot of Washington St. became seven traffic lanes instead of four.

George Cole, a member of the Building Commission who has also been a spokesperson for Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer of 2 Brookline Place, said the hospital “supports bicycles” and asked about the schedule. Tracy Wu, the project manager at the state transportation agency, said the schedule currently calls for completing designs in September, 2016, and performing construction between the spring and fall of 2017.

According to Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, “we are a multi-modal society,” turning to “sustainable practices.” She asked about bicycle lane signals, pervious pavement and trees. For each item, Ms. Eisler of Toole Design Group said nothing had yet been planned. Laura Costella of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin stated there will be “a significant landscape component to this project…replacing existing elements at least six to one.”

Several speakers sought to extend the designs for protected bicycle lanes to other parts of the streets. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, argued for extending them along Walnut St. to High St. That should not be very costly, he argued, saying, “It’s all new anyway.” Like other Brookline speakers, however, Dr. Vitolo seemed to have little knowledge of actual costs for protected bicycle lanes.

Mr. Viola said the next step for the plans would be to present them to the Transportation Board. Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, indicated that might occur at a June meeting. Given the many responses from Toole Design Group and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin that elements were “not planned yet” or “we’ll look into it,” it was not at all clear that plans were ready for prime time.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2015


Toole Design Group (Boston, MA), Gateway East bicycle facilities, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, May 13, 2015

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Costs for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements, U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2015

Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment, Brookline Beacon, January 23, 2015

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

Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline legacies: Olmsted and coal ash, Brookline Beacon, June 6, 2014

How we voted, costs of business

On Tuesday, May 5, we Brookline voters approved a major tax override, mainly to support our public schools, and we also approved a major school renovation and expansion project. Some had thought higher or lower voter turnout might mean better or worse chances for the override, but the results did not shape up that way.

HowWeVoted2015

How we voted
When the percentages who voted Yes are charted against voter turnouts, by precincts, there are no clear patterns. Statistical regression finds standard probabilities of 70 percent or more association by chance–insignificant patterns by usual standards. However, when the percentages who voted Yes for the Devotion School project are charted against the percentages who voted Yes for the tax override, a strong pattern appears. Statistical regression finds standard probability of less than 0.01 percent association by chance–highly significant.

The results show no linkages between voter turnouts and votes on the ballot questions. Strong linkage between the results from the two questions tends to indicate issue-oriented voting: specifically, voters favoring funding for public schools through property taxes–or not. Overall, at least 60 percent of Brookline voters appear to favor funding schools, even when facing the third-highest override to be approved in Massachusetts during our 34 years with Proposition 2-1/2 limits.

The chart comparing results for the two questions also shows precincts falling into three clusters. Four of them–Precincts 2, 6, 8 and 9–appear at the high end of support for school funding. One of them, Precinct 15, shows a much lower level of support. The other precincts are in a middle group, supporting the tax override by about 60 percent and the Devotion School project by about 80 percent. Precincts 2, 8 and 9 are North Brookline neighborhoods, essentially the Devotion School district. Precinct 6 is well south of Beacon St., clustered around the High School.

Costs of business: marijuana dispensaries
Marijuana dispensaries that mean to make money and stay in business will need to divide their enterprises, as New England Treatment Access (NETA) plans, between retail and production. Jack Healy recently wrote in the New York Times that federal tax laws treat marijuana production and wholesale as ordinary businesses, factoring expenses against revenue. Marijuana retailers are treated like burglars, who cannot legally deduct the costs of getaway cars against the fruits of theft, on federal tax filings.

While burglars probably rarely report undercover incomes and expenses, registered medical marijuana dispensaries are more likely to want to behave like good citizens. They need coping strategies. An obvious one–not reported by Mr. Healy–is to load expenses and incomes onto production and wholesale and to minimize retail operations for tax purposes. That might be possible for a vertically integrated business like NETA, when it might not be for a thinly capitalized retail shop.

At a public meeting in Brookline, NETA representatives said that over three-quarters of their costs of business are expected to be in production. That suggests they have already given the tax situation careful study and might be back-loading their business model. It is not against the law to organize financial affairs so as to reduce taxes. Their local transactions might, for example, be divided into fairly low prices and fairly high fees–routed to the production business. In such a way, high costs NETA claims for production might be offset by high revenues passing from consumer to manufacturer.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 10, 2015


Ballot question results, Brookline town election, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Jack Healy, Legal marijuana faces another federal hurdle: taxes, New York Times, May 10, 2015

Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage

At least half a dozen times since World War II, Coolidge Corner merchants and property owners pestered the town to build them some free parking–free to them, that is. So far, they landed two bonanzas: the Beacon St. median spaces in the 1940s and off-street, open-air parking lots in the 1960s. Brookline took properties by eminent domain and demolished houses to create and enlarge open-air parking. Recently, merchants and owners have been maneuvering again for a free parking garage–free to them, of course.

There are five off-street, open-air public parking lots close to Coolidge Corner: Centre St. east with 143 public spaces, Babcock St. with 65 spaces, Centre St. west with 56 spaces, John St. with 14 spaces and Webster St. with 13 spaces. A professional analysis in 2007 found 1,141 metered public spaces serving the Coolidge Corner business area. There are hundreds more unmetered public spaces on the smaller nearby streets.

Envelope: The only large and obvious location for a parking garage is the Centre St. east lot, behind the S.S. Pierce building, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Arcade building and 1-story buildings along Harvard St. It has a trapezoidal shape with wide connections to Centre St. and one-way connections to Harvard St. at each end. There are five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled spaces each. It is Brookline block 82, lot 14, with 81,912 sq ft, shown on page 16 of the 2010 Brookline Atlas.

S.S. Pierce block, Coolidge Corner

SsPierceBlockCoolidgeCorner
Source: Brookline Assessor’s Atlas

The Centre St. east parking lot is currently zoned G-1.75 (CC), a designation used only in the Coolidge Corner business area. The envelope for parking is set by Table 5.01 and Sections 5.06.4b, 5.21 and 6.02 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw. Stretched to the maximum, these appear to allow a 4-story garage measuring about 395 by 105 ft, positioned over the current, outer parking rows and leaving an open corridor about 50 ft wide at the narrowest, running between the garage and the existing Harvard St. buildings.

This approach uses the approximately triangular area at the end near Beacon St. as open space, counted as such for zoning purposes. The corridor would be eligible for use as open-air parking. At an efficiency of 320 sq ft per stall, typical of medium-size garages, the Centre St. east garage could house about 520 spaces. At 12-foot average intervals, the corridor could house about 30 more spaces, handicapped-accessible. That could provide about 550 public parking spaces in all, compared with the current 143.

One likely construction technique would use long-span girders and decks. At a spacing of about 11 ft per deck, even with a full roof the total height should be less than the 45 ft allowed under zoning. Such a plan would probably not need a zoning variance and might need only a special permit for design review–common at the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. At costs per stall for recent projects in dense, urban areas with union wages, construction might be priced somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million.

4-story parking garage in Boston, Post Office Square, 950 cars, 1954-1988

BostonParkingGarage1955
Source: Boston Redevelopment Authority

Urban blight: Parking garages have become icons of urban blight. The former 4-story garage in Post Office Square endured such a fate. Built by the Hynes administration–which also demolished the entire West End and buried the Muddy River in culverts under Park Drive–the ugly, concrete garage in Post Office Square was razed after less than 35 years and replaced by Leventhal Park.

There is no way to hide such a monster above ground. Make it only two stories or three stories, and it becomes more costly per space and merely a smaller monster. Put it underground, and the cost goes up 40 to 100 percent, depending on ground conditions. The successful sponsor of an urban parking garage is bidding to become a public enemy, loathed and vilified for generations.

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


Neighborhoods: improvements for Coolidge Corner, Brookline Beacon, April 19, 2015

Zoning Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June, 2014

Assessor’s Atlas, Town of Brookline, MA, 2010, page 16

Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Coolidge Corner Transportation Analysis, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2007

Gary Cudney, P.E., Parking structure cost outlook for 2014, Carl Walker, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jeffrey Spivak, From eyesore to icon: new parking garages, Planning 30(5):18-22, 2013

Neighborhood Conservation District Commission: policies and process

The Neighborhood Conservation District Commission met Monday, April 27, in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7:00 pm. The key item on the agenda was a draft of procedures and policies. Greer Hardwicke, a preservation planner who provides staff support, returned after an extended absence to warm welcomes.

With chair Paul Bell absent, commissioner Richard Garver, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, led the meeting. The small audience included Luis DiazGranados, whose property improvement on Perry St. has been the commission’s only full case so far. It took nearly a year to resolve, making Mr. DiazGranados interested in procedures that can simplify and shorten the work.

Public presence: Commissioners reviewed with Ms. Hardwicke descriptions of the commission’s functions on the municipal Web site. As a departmental mission, it is nearly invisible–buried three levels beneath the Planning Department’s main page: under Regulation, then under Preservation. As a commission of volunteers, the commission’s Web page can be found from its listing on the Boards and Commissions page.

In Brookline’s neighborhood conservation approach, each district has a section in Article 5.10 of Brookline’s general bylaws, found under 5.10.3.d “specific districts and guidelines.” Probably only a professional planner or a municipal lawyer could readily understand the complex structure.

There is no guidebook to advise citizens or neighborhoods about how to create or modify a district or how to work with an existing district and its requirements. As he recently did at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen, commissioner Dennis DeWitt suggested the commission develop a menu of options for districts, to make it easier for neighborhoods to create them.

There are currently two districts: Hancock Village, created at the fall, 2011, town meeting, and Greater Toxteth, created at the annual town meeting last year. The commission page on the municipal Web site currently links to a map for Greater Toxteth and to a narrative explaining that district’s background and its requirements for property improvements. There are no links to similar information for the Hancock Village district.

Procedures and policies: A committee has been working with Ms. Hardwicke and other staff of the Planning Department on procedures and policies. The property improvement case on Perry St. taught that neighborhood conservation cases are likely to involve zoning issues. Ms. Hardwicke described two new potential cases, at least one of which involves zoning issues.

Some confusion occurred over the draft procedures and policies, yet to be posted on the municipal Web site. It emerged that there have been multiple versions in circulation, and no one was sure which was the latest. Ms. Hardwicke is going to try to collect the ones developed during her absence and schedule a committee session to review them.

Part of the documentation of the Greater Toxteth district has yet to be completed, including pictures of existing houses and other structures. Ms. Hardwicke said warmer weather was rapidly bringing out leaves on trees and shrubs. She and district resident Larry Koff will try to complete the photography in the next few days–a race against spring!

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 28, 2015


Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Town of Brookline, MA

Neighborhood conservation district study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, September, 2005

Neighborhood Conservation District Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 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

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary

Discounting pleas from around Brookline Village to protect the neighborhoods, a unanimous panel of the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a special permit to New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott. It allows the firm to locate a registered dispensary of medical marijuana on the former site of the Brookline Savings Bank at 160 Washington St. in Brookline Village.

The former bank building enjoys a regal view of historic Village Square, the intersection of Boylston, Washington, High and Walnut Sts. and the former Morss Ave. Built in Beaux Arts style, it has an exterior of gray sandstone and rose marble. The 20-ft high interior features mahogany panels and columns and a glass dome. The bank vaults remain in working condition.

When the Brookline Savings Bank moved in 1922 from its former location at 366 Washington St.–across from the main library–to new headquarters at 160 Washington St., Village Square was the commercial heart of Brookline. Streets were striped with trolley tracks in five directions–up Brookline Ave. into Boston, along the former Worcester Turnpike, now Route 9 connecting Boston with Newton, and up Washington St. through Harvard Sq. of Brookline to Washington Sq. and Brighton and through Coolidge Corner to the Allston Depot of the Boston & Albany Rail Road.

The bank property, as shown in a 1927 atlas, was one lot of 6,509 sq ft, with a few parking spaces in the back–located near what was then the Brookline Branch of the Boston & Albany Rail Road, now the Riverside (D) branch of the MBTA Green Line. Its neighbors were a bustling variety of businesses and residences, as well as industry and culture: Boston Consolidated Gas, Holtzer Cabot Electric, Metropolitan Coal and Lyceum Hall. Now most of that context has been lost to redevelopment. The Colonnade Buildings a block up Washington St. can remind one of a former age.

The hearing began at 7 pm Thursday, April 23, in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were several business representatives and lawyers, plus an audience of around 40. From the outset, opponents of the permit appeared to outnumber supporters. The background had been an election, two town meetings and more than 20 local board and committee hearings and reviews. Other steps remain ahead for the dispensary to operate.

Business plans: NETA was represented by Franklin Stearns from K&L Gates in Boston and by Norton Arbelaez, a lawyer who works with registered dispensaries of medical marijuana. According to Rick Bryant of Stantec in Boston, who advises NETA on transportation issues, the company expects to distribute about 4,000 pounds of marijuana products a year from the Brookline location.

At a typical price of $300 an ounce, reported from states where similar dispensaries now operate, that could provide gross revenue around $20 million a year from a Brookline operation. Company representatives confirmed that the company plans to operate from 10 am to 7 pm every day of the week. That could result in more than $50,000 a day in Brookline-based transactions.

According to Mr. Bryant, estimates derived from a dispensary in Colorado indicate a peak of about 30 customer visits to the site per hour. The former Brookline Savings Bank site now includes an adjacent lot to the north, 3,154 sq ft under common ownership, where a building present in 1927 has been removed. That provides most of the land for 11 parking spaces that were diagrammed in NETA plans. Mr. Bryant predicted peak usage of eight parking spaces, but all those on site are to be reserved for customer use.

NETA also showed two spaces sized for handicapped parking on an adjacent lot to the west, at 19 Boylston St. That property houses a Boston Edison electric substation, owned by a subsidiary of Eversource. According to Mr. Stearns of K&L Gates, NETA will open a production facility in Franklin, MA, and another registered dispensary in Northampton. All deliveries are to depart from the Franklin site, not from Brookline or Northampton.

Amanda Rossitano, a former aide to Brookline state representative Frank Smizik who works for NETA, said the company will have about a dozen employees on site. Jim Segel, a former Brookline state representative now living in Needham, spoke on behalf of NETA, saying that the company “is going to be a leader in doing things right…a good neighbor and citizen. It will enhance the neighborhood.”

Questions: The Appeals panel for this hearing consisted of Jesse Geller, a lawyer who is the board’s chair, Christopher Hussey, an architect, and Avi Liss, a lawyer. Mr. Hussey led questions, asking about security plans. Mr. Arbelaez described procedures and facilities, including a “secure vestibule” for entry to the service facilities, with a security officer and a parking attendant on duty during business hours.

Mr. Liss asked about other potential Brookline locations. Mr. Stearns said several had been investigated, one near the intersection of Beacon St. and Summit Ave. Some property owners, he said, would not lease or sell, while circumstances at other locations proved less suitable. Mr. Hussey asked about apparently recent changes to parking plans. Mr. Stearns said NETA had responded to comments from the Planning Board.

Arguments: When Mr. Geller asked for comments in favor of the permit, other than people known as working with NETA only Deborah Costolloe from Stanton Rd. spoke. “Many people are in favor of this business in the Village,” she said. She contrasted the potential for traffic with the operations of Trader Joe’s in Coolidge Corner. Trader Joe’s does “vastly more business,” she said, while it has only “a small amount of parking.” The real issue for the opponents, said Ms. Costolloe, “is the nature of the business, not parking.”

Over 20 spoke in opposition, many living or working within several blocks of the bank site or representing them. Art Krieger, of Anderson and Krieger in Cambridge, spoke on behalf of nearby business owners–including Puppet Showplace, Inner Space, Groovy Baby Music and Little Children Schoolhouse. Citing general requirements for a special permit, he said the site was not an appropriate location, that the business would adversely affect neighborhoods and that it would create a nuisance.

Mr. Krieger tried to invoke default regulations for a dispensary that apply when a community does not create its own. Brookline, he said, does not set minimum distances from “places where children congregate,” comparable to state defaults. Mr. Liss of the Appeals panel disagreed. “I read it differently,” he said, “because there’s a local bylaw.” Brookline’s bylaw prohibits dispensary locations in the same building as a day-care facility.

Mr. Krieger called reliance on traffic data from a dispensary in Colorado “faith-based permitting.” Parking at the former bank site, he claimed, “will cause safety problems for vehicles and pedestrians…much more traffic throughout the day than the bank.” Issues of traffic and parking were to recur several times in comments from opponents, as predicted by Ms. Costolloe.

Historic site: Merrill Diamond, a former Brookline resident and a real estate developer, took a different direction. Mr. Diamond is well known for historic preservation and adaptive reuse. Among his local projects have been the Chestnut Hill Waterworks and Kendall Crescent–repurposing the historic Sewall School and Town Garage along Cypress, Franklin and Kendall Sts.

Mr. Diamond regretted reuse of the former Brookline Savings Bank site for a dispensary, saying he had tried to start a more creative project combining residential and retail spaces. His bid on the property was rejected, he said, because it did not commit to an early closing date. If the proposed dispensary doesn’t open, he said he will submit another bid.

Betsy Shure Gross of Edgehill Rd., a Precinct 5 town meeting member, had similar outlooks. She recalled the Brookline Village Citizens Revitalization Committee from the 1970s, when parts of the neighborhoods looked bleak. “I voted for medical marijuana,” said Ms. Gross, but what happened “is bait and switch.” She criticized siting a dispensary in a major historical property, saying it will have “adverse and negative impacts.”

Crime: Introducing himself as a member of the criminal justice faculty at Northeastern, Prof. Simon Singer of Davis Ave. allowed he could not prove that a dispensary would increase crime, but he said such a facility “is known to have an adverse effect on crime.” According to Prof. Singer, the Appeals panel should “err on the side of those who are against it.”

George Vien of Davis Ave., a former federal prosecutor, tried last fall to change Brookline’s zoning standards for registered dispensaries of medical marijuana, bringing a petition article to town meeting. He argued vigorously against what he called “violating the schoolyard statute,” distributing marijuana “within 1,000 yards of a playground, school or public housing project.” Town meeting was told the arguments were questionable and that any risks applied to dispensary operators, not to the town. It declined to change zoning standards.

At the permit hearing, Mr. Vien continued his arguments. He described himself as familiar with Brookline’s public housing, saying, “I grew up in public housing…went to old Lincoln School in Brookline Village…You are creating a secondary drug market right in the housing project.” He urged the Appeals panel to deny the permit: “Err on the side of at-risk kids.”

Traffic and parking: Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave., a close ally of Mr. Vien in last fall’s town-meeting effort, spoke about traffic impacts from the proposed dispensary. An estimated “two percent of the population will use medical marijuana,” he said, and “right now there are no other [registered dispensaries] in the state…there will be a much larger increase in traffic than predicted.”

Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., a physician who was also an outspoken dispensary opponent last fall, referred to the state limit on purchases, saying “ten ounces of marijuana is an incredible amount of product, a lot of cash too…10 am to 7 pm seven days a week is completely inappropriate.” With entry to and exit from the bank site’s parking only “going west on Route 9…traffic will be going through our neighborhood.” She urged the Appeals panel to “protect the neighborhood…deny the permit.”

Angela Hyatt of Walnut St., an architect who is a Precinct 5 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, lives about a block from the former bank site. She criticized the plans, particularly plans for parking, as “inaccurate and misleading.” She noted that slope and driveway width do not meet zoning standards. However, parking at the site reflects usage and designs that pre-date Brookline’s zoning requirements, so that they are “grandfathered” unless basic use of the site changes–for example, from retail to residential.

Claire Stampfer of Sargent Crossway, another Precinct 5 town meeting member, also objected to traffic impacts, saying, “The use as a bank is totally different…fewer hours, no holidays and weekends…It is an intrusion into Brookline Village.” NETA. she said, “should sell only by delivery…not on site.”

Virginia LaPlante, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, had similar reactions, calling it a “fantasy talking about cars parking there…We were misled in town meeting. I voted for medical marijuana.” Ms. LaPlante said NETA “could have an office in 2 Brookline Place” (a planned 8-story office building). “I’m sure Children’s Hospital would welcome them there.” At a meeting last year, a NETA representative said Children’s Hospital had rejected the firm as a potential tenant. Hospital physicians announced a policy against prescribing medical marijuana.

Reaching a decision: After more than two hours of discussion, finding no one else wanting to speak, Mr. Geller closed the hearing. The Appeals panel began to weigh the arguments. Mr. Liss said potential security issues were not a matter of zoning but of management. They would need to be reviewed with an application for an operating license, to be heard by the Board of Selectmen. Annual operating reviews would be able to consider problems and revoke a license or add conditions.

Mr. Geller said that when enacting zoning allowing a dispensary, town meeting “passed judgment on the risk level.” Traffic hazards were being mitigated by an approved transportation demand management plan. The site is appropriate, he said, “secure, contained…isolated by surroundings…This building could be used for a better purpose, but that’s not a standard under the [zoning] bylaw.” The panel agreed and approved the permit.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 25, 2015


Brookline Village walking tours: Washington Street at Route 9, High Street Hill Neighborhood Association, Brookline, MA, c. 2005

Atlas of the Town of Brookline, Massachusetts, G.W. Bromley & Co. (Philadelphia, PA), 1927 (71 MB)

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

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

Advisory Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, October 31, 2014

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

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

Neighborhoods: improvements for Coolidge Corner

The North Brookline Neighborhood Association (NBNA) held a public meeting starting at 7 pm Wednesday, April 15, in the Sussman House community room at 50 Pleasant St., focused on improvements for the Coolidge Corner area. Founded in 1972, NBNA is now one of Brookline’s older neighborhood associations. By population it is the largest, serving an area between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and between Winchester and Amory Sts.

The NBNA meeting drew an audience of near 30, more than half of them town meeting members from Precincts 2, 3 and 7-11. After an introduction by Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, Kara Brewton, the economic development director in Brookline’s planning department, made a presentation and led discussion.

Waldo St.: Ms. Brewton described elements of what she called a “5-year plan” for Coolidge Corner improvements, mentioning a customer survey, gardening projects and interest in the future of the Waldo St. area. Waldo St. is a short, dead-end private way extending from Pleasant St. opposite Pelham Hall, the 8-story, 1920s, red brick apartment building at the corner of Beacon and Pleasant Sts.

Not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this particular meeting was the controversy several years ago when a would-be developer proposed to replace the now disused Waldo St. garage with a high-rise hotel. While a hotel might become a good neighbor and a significant source of town revenue, the garage property did not provide a safe site. Street access is constricted, and emergency vehicles might be blocked. Permits were not granted.

Also not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this meeting was current Waldo St. ownership, with the garage at the corner of Pleasant and John Sts. now in the hands of the owners of Hancock Village. They are involved in a protracted dispute with the Brookline Board of Selectmen, after applying to build a large, partly subsidized housing development, trying to override Brookline zoning using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws.

These matters were well known to nearly all present. By skirting them, Ms. Brewton signaled that she preferred to avoid frank discussion of local conflicts. Her presentation was being observed by a member of the Economic Development Advisory Board, for whom she provides staff support. That left a constrained but still sizable clear space for group discussion.

Survey: Ms. Brewton described a 2014 consumer survey in Coolidge Corner, coordinated by the Department of Planning and Community Development. She said the survey had tallied “a few thousand responses,” that it showed who visits the area for what purposes, that a little over half of the respondents lived in Brookline and that their most frequent activity was buying food.

Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, asked whether the survey had investigated lack of parking. Ms. Brewton said, “Customers find it hard to find parking.” She said the survey found about a third of respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and those who did tended to spend more money in the shops.

Ms. Brewton said that current priorities for her division, informed by the customer survey, were focused on three concerns: (1) the mix of business, (2) the public spaces and (3) parking. Asked what she meant by “the mix of business,” she mentioned that there was currently no “ordinary clothing store.” It was not obvious what that meant either, since The Gap has a Coolidge Corner location and several other shops also sell clothing.

Coolidge Corner has lacked a full-service clothing store since the former, 3-story Brown’s, at the corner of Harvard and Green Sts., burned in the 1960s. McDonald’s took over the property, building a one-story shop with distinctive arch windows that became a prototype for the company’s urban expansion. With McDonald’s gone since 2007, the shop with arch windows has been subdivided into spaces occupied by a pizza parlor and a branch bank.

A report from the survey contractor, FinePoint Associates of Brookline, is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site. According to that report, the survey tallied 1,740 responses. Data in the report indicate 29 percent of all respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and 62 percent of all respondents rated parking “average” or better. The report says, “Customers who walked or biked to Coolidge Corner were more likely to be very frequent customers (coming twice per week or more) than [other] customers.” [p. 10]

Parking: Ms. Brewton described plans underway to “improve” Coolidge Corner parking. The two lots on Centre St., she said, “are in bad shape,” with no major maintenance since 1965. That was when Brookline took property by eminent domain and tore down structures to build and enlarge current parking lots located off Centre, Babcock, John and Fuller Sts. David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, mentioned efforts to develop solar power canopies for the Centre St lots.

Her department, Ms. Brewton said, is “trying to get $100,000 for planning” parking improvements. However, alternatives for Centre St. parking lots have already been planned. A comprehensive study was performed for the planning department in 2007 by Traffic Solutions of Boston. An illustrated report is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site.

While she left an impression of some future fund-raising, what Ms. Brewton was talking about turned out to be Item 6 in Article 8 on the warrant for the 2015 annual town meeting, starting May 26. She showed a drawing of what she called a “parking deck” over the northwesterly three-quarters of the large Centre St. parking lot. That currently has five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled parking spaces each.

In the town meeting warrant, the department’s intents are vague, but they are detailed in the FY2016 Financial Plan, where item 10 under the capital improvements section says the $100,000 may be used to design a “decked parking structure” with one to three levels. A “3-level parking deck” is what most people would typically call a “4-story garage.”

A 4-story parking garage would probably become the largest building in the block and the tallest except for the S.S. Pierce clock tower. It would likely be constructed as a wall of masonry along Centre St., a half block from the house at the corner of Shailer St. where Mr. Swartz and his wife live. It could swell public parking off Centre St. from a current total of about 200 spaces to 500 or more spaces.

It is not clear how the Centre St. parking project Ms. Brewton described reconciles with a “5-year plan” dated March 5, 2012, currently available from the Brookline municipal Web site. That plan does not call for any new or expanded parking facilities, nor does it call for a “planning” effort focused on parking. The only parking improvements it anticipates are described as “signage for cultural institutions & parking lots,” a $46,000 estimated cost.

Gardening: Participants at the NBNA meeting were eager to hear about plans for landscaping and gardening. Many felt the area had been neglected in recent years. Unfavorable comparisons were noted with some commercial areas in Boston and Somerville. Ms. Brewton plans to coordinate a “gardening event” from 8 to 10 am on Saturday, May 16. She can be contacted at 617-730-2468.

Some of the town’s attempts at improvements didn’t impress. Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, referred to structures in the small triangle at the intersection of Pleasant and Beacon Sts. as “the volcano,” saying it was easy to trip over masonry edging. Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, was concerned about maintenance of plantings.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, noted some shop or property owners had already set out flowers. She recalled daffodils near the Brookline Bank. Ms. Brewton said there were more near Pelham Hall. Mr. Swartz said lack of water faucets along the street could be a barrier to maintenance. There was mention of a water truck the town has sometimes provided.

Dr. Caro said results by neighbors with landscaping near the Coolidge Corner library were much improved after Public Works installed sprinklers. Carol Caro, also a Precinct 10 town meeting member, said she hoped for improvements to tree wells, mentioning a recently introduced protective material. Linda Olson Pehlke, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, expressed interest in working on the small park spaces along John St.

NBNA activists decided to focus on a small triangle at the northwest end of the large Centre St. parking lot. Currently, it is eroded and mostly barren. Ms. Brewton said she would see if Public Works could harrow and level the ground. Mr. Swartz agreed to coordinate NBNA efforts. Participants began making plans for mulching and planting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 19, 2015


FinePoint Associates (Brookline, MA), Coolidge Corner Consumer Survey, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2014 (3 MB)

Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Transportation Analysis for Coolidge Corner, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, March 22, 2007 (9 MB)

Item 6, Article 8, 2015 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, Town of Brookline, MA

Item 10, FY2016-2021 CIP Project Descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

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

Irene Sege, In Brookline, McDonald’s was their kind of place, Boston Globe, February 3, 2007

Linda Olson Pehlke, Coolidge Corner’s future, Brookline Perspective, January 22, 2007

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods

The Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation met at 6:00 pm on Thursday, April 9, in the third-floor employees’ room at Town Hall. All the current subcommittee members were on hand: Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2, the chair, Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Steven Kanes of Carlton St., not a town meeting member, and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. The agenda was resolution articles about changing Chapter 40B standards for housing projects [Article 17 in the spring warrant] and about a study of acquiring land for park and recreation uses in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline [Article 18].

The subcommittee was unable to complete a review of Article 17 and will convene again after petitioners–led by Nancy Heller of Precinct 8, a former School Committee member and a candidate for Board of Selectmen–meet with members of the Housing Advisory Board about strategy for the topic. Article 18 was explored at length with its petitioners–led by Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member–and with town staff.

Article 18: Ms. Frawley and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, made the case for Article 18. Responding to questions were Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, Gary McCabe, the chief assessor, and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director. The hearing attracted an audience of about ten, including Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Rebecca Plaut Mautner of Precinct 11, Fred Levitan of Precinct 14, Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, Stephen Chiumenti of Precinct 16, and Brookline residents Barbara Sherman, Perry Stoll and Jim Salverson.

Article 18 proposes a resolution asking the Board of Selectmen to conduct a study about acquiring so-called “buffer” parts of Hancock Village, in south Brookline, by eminent domain for park and recreation uses. Those are strips of land about 30 to 80 ft wide, bordering single-family houses mostly along Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. They were configured when Hancock Village was rezoned and designed in the mid-1940s.

As Ms. Frawley described, Brookline has previously acquired park land by eminent domain, starting in 1871 with Cypress Playground, as it is known today. More recently, in the 1970s, Brookline acquired Hall’s Pond and an adjacent parcel off Amory St. by eminent domain, for conservation purposes. In between, there were other additions to the town’s open space–by bequest, agreement, purchase and eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley argued, there is little public open space. During the 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. She reviewed the current public open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be eligible.

Hancock Village buffer in winter

HancockVillageBufferInWinter
Source: Brookline Advisory subcommittee on planning & regulation

Hancock Village buffers: The buffers can be identified from a Brookline atlas or zoning map as located in a single-family rather than a multiple-apartment zone. Brookline’s town meeting, following a 1946 zoning agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. and the Town of Brookline, rezoned adjacent areas toward the southwest, now built as garden-village style housing, to multifamily 4C and left the buffers zoned as single-family 7D, the same as the adjacent house lots along Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd.

Ms. Frawley argued that buffer zoning became nominal with the development of Hancock Village, because the buffers were not designed to be built on. She cited an article from the Brookline Chronicle-Citizen of August 29, 1946, saying that the Planning Board had approved a plan providing for the buffers to contain “a natural screen of small trees and other shrubbery.”

In 1962, Brookline changed from its classic to its modern zoning identifiers, making 7D into S-7 and making 4C at Hancock Village into M-0.5, with about the same restrictions. Before then and since, there have been actual and attempted incursions into Hancock Village buffers. The Russett-side buffer is penetrated by Thornton Rd., connecting with Grassmere Rd. Its northern tip skirts three houses addressed on Independence Dr., reducing the minimum width there to about 30 ft.

In the 1950s the John Hancock Co. applied to build parking lots on the buffers, and in the 1960s a subsequent owner, the Niles Co., applied similarly. Those would have been variance uses, not allowed under single-family zoning, and both were denied by Brookline’s Board of Zoning Appeals on grounds that a hardship to the owners had not been shown, as required by state law. Records of decision for those cases do not mention the 1946 zoning agreement, and that agreement does not mention the buffers.

Town-meeting proposal: Putting on their finance hats, subcommittee members asked about the potential cost to acquire the Hancock Village buffers. Mr. McCabe, the chief assessor, described a process for determining value, but the only number he could cite was the average land value currently assessed for all of Hancock Village, about $1.15 million per acre.

The 1946 agreement specified that Hancock Village is restricted to “high-grade garden village type” housing. How much more of such housing could be built on the buffers, if there were no other restrictions, is not known. That might provide an upper limit on their land value. Garden-village apartments at Hancock Village are arranged in spacious chains, with views of landscaping.

It is not clear whether any such housing could be situated in the relatively narrow buffers. Their land value could be minimal. Perhaps the town might do the owners of the land a favor by taking it off their hands, since they would not have to mow the grass any more. The subcommittee was favorably inclined to a study of the issues and voted unanimously to recommend approval of Article 18.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 10, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

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

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

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

Brookline Assessor’s Atlas, page 108 (Russett-side buffer), 2010

Brookline Assessor’s Atlas, page 109 (Beverly-side buffer), 2010

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, March 31, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–conducting FY2016 budget reviews for Legal Services and for Planning and Community Development. This time, the committee turned more skeptical about needs for added spending than at previous meetings this year.

Missing records of meetings: The Advisory Committee and its subcommittees are established organizations in Brookline’s government. As such, under state and local open meeting laws they have duties to hold meetings in public, to post advance notices of meetings on Brookline’s municipal Web site, to record minutes of meetings and to make minutes and other records available to the public. Since last July, the municipal Web site has provided a central archive of meetings on an Agendas and Minutes page. The Board of Selectmen maintains a separate archive that includes additional records for their meetings, called “packets.”

Typically, the Advisory Committee turns in exemplary performance at holding public meetings and posting meeting notices in advance. It has not done nearly as well with meeting records. Many minutes are missing for Advisory Committee and subcommittee meetings. During the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site showed eight full Advisory Committee meetings (one for subcommittee chairs), but as of April 2 it provided minutes for only five of those meetings.

For the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site shows four meetings for the administration & finance subcommittee, seven for capital, five for human services, two for personnel, two for planning & regulation and three for public safety. As of April 2, no minutes were available on the site of any of the 23 subcommittee meetings announced for January through March. That risks being seen as a disaster for public information, since it is usually Advisory subcommittees who review budget and warrant article issues in depth.

Subcommittees often describe their investigations on paper at full Advisory Committee meetings, and copies are usually made available to the public then. In at least some cases, they could serve as subcommittee meeting minutes. However, they have not appeared this year on Advisory Committee pages of the municipal Web site or in meeting records on the Agendas and Minutes page.

Budget for legal services: Committee member Angela Hyatt and Town Counsel Joslin Murphy described a proposed fiscal 2016 budget, starting in July, for Legal Services. The Office of Town Counsel provides most legal services for Brookline agencies and departments, excepting matters related to personnel and public school students. Ms. Murphy said the proposed budget was 1.1 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining.

Committee member Christine Westphal asked if the proposed budget includes funds for an assistant town counsel, although a glance at page IV-27 of the FY2016 Program Budget would have shown it does. The position was created after Ms. Murphy was promoted from associate town counsel to town counsel last year. It has gone vacant for about nine months now. A more revealing question might have explored needs for an associate town counsel 1 (grade T-14), an associate town counsel 2 (grade D-5) and a first assistant town counsel (grade T-15).

Questions from committee member Alisa Jonas brought out a disclosure that the proposed Legal Services budget does not provide funds for the Nstar property tax lawsuit now underway, for two lawsuits involving the proposed Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village or for some widely publicized employee grievances. About the frequent uses of outside counsel, Ms. Murphy said, “It’s the [Board of Selectmen's] decision to seek outside counsel.”

The lawsuit recently filed by the Board of Selectmen against members of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) sparked several comments and questions. Ms. Jonas said spending for people “who worked with ZBA” had been a “waste of money.” The ZBA was advised by Edith Netter of Waltham and by Kathy Murphy and Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein. Money came from reserve fund transfers approved by the Advisory Committee last year.

Apparently unknown to some Advisory Committee members, at a meeting on Thursday, March 26, the ZBA voted to request funds to hire defense counsel. Committee member Lee Selwyn, who had obviously found out, said that the town was “turning the heat and the air conditioning on at the same time.”

Committee member Fred Levitan asked the basis for suing ZBA members. Ms. Murphy said that, although the ZBA issued a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village 40B project with “70 conditions,” members of the Board of Selectmen believe the action was “arbitrary and capricious,” in view of the “integrity of the site” and a 1946 zoning agreement between the Town of Brookline and the John Hancock Co., which built Hancock Village.

Committee members were clearly wary that unbudgeted legal expenses lay ahead. In the end, however, they voted to recommend the proposed Legal Services budget to town meeting without change.

Budget for planning: Ms. Hyatt, Mr. Selwyn and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, presented a proposed fiscal 2016 budget for Planning and Community Development. Ms. Hyatt mentioned a “full room at the subcommittee hearing on this budget.” The occasion was to promote an increase in preservation planning. The subcommittee recommended an increase from the current 1.8 to 3.0 staff positions.

Ms. Steinfeld confirmed that early in the budget cycle she had asked for an increase to 2.0 staff positions in preservation planning, but she said Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, had not agreed. The FY2016 budget request for her department is 1.9 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining. No changes were proposed in personnel, as shown on page IV-42 of the FY2016 Program Budget.

Several Advisory Committee members spoke skeptically about the need for a relatively large and rapid increase in staff for preservation planning. Christine Westphal said, “It makes a lot of sense to do 2.0, maybe not 3.0 [staff positions] right now.” Mr. Selwyn resisted, describing “tension between the Preservation Commission and the [planning] department.” The commission has begun meeting twice a month to cope with an increase in cases.

Committee member Stanley Spiegel said some neighborhoods have been hiring their own preservation planners, citing a recent report about a proposed Crowninshield historic district. Such an expense, said Dr. Spiegel, is “a luxury that not all significant neighborhoods can afford.”

After about an hour, the committee amended the subcommittee’s approach, supporting an increase in preservation planning staff from 1.8 to 2.0 positions with a split vote: 13 in favor and 9 opposed. The amended approach increases funding by about $14,000 plus some amount for employee benefits. It won approval by a vote of 20 to 2.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 2, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Agendas and Minutes, Town of Brookline, MA

FY2016 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

FY2015 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B, Brookline Beacon, December 2, 2014

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Jenkins v. Brookline, case 1:2013-cv-11347, United States District Court for Massachusetts, filed 2013

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: $0.17 million to fight employee actions, Brookline Beacon, February 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district

The Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation met at 7:00 pm Tuesday, March 30, in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. There was a large turnout for an Advisory subcommittee, 25 members of the public and two town staff: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, and Jean Innamorati, a planning consultant and former Brookline preservation planner.

The topic was Article 11 for the annual town meeting starting May 26: a Crowninshield local historic district. Four of the five subcommittee members were on hand: Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2, the new chair, Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Steven Kanes, not a town meeting member, and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. Although submitted by the Preservation Commission, the article represents a neighborhood initiative. Dr. Spiegel called on John Sherman, a resident of Adams St.

Stimulus for preservation: Mr. Sherman explained, to no one’s surprise, that while a local historic district for the Crowninshield neighborhood had been talked about for years, the stimulus leading to action was an application late last year to demolish the house at 21 Crowninshield Rd., followed by stories that the new owners wanted to build multifamily housing, despite single-family zoning.

The map for the proposed local historic district includes all houses fronting on Crowninshield Rd. and on Adams, Elba and Copley Sts. except multifamily housing recently built over the former St. Aidan’s Church parking lot, at the corner of Crowninshield Rd. and Pleasant St.

Map of proposed Crowninshield Local Historic District

CrowninshieldHistoricDistrict
Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

Background: Ms. Innamorati and David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, described the historical background of the neighborhood. Once part of the large Sears estate, by mid-nineteenth century the area was owned by the Crowninshield family. In 1899, after the death of the last immediate family owner, it was subdivided into house lots.

The current houses were designed by several architects and built between about 1900 and 1930. Except for the nineteenth-century Crowninshield mansion, the original houses in the district remain intact. Several of them feature the “craftsman style” that was new to the U.S. and popular in the early twentieth century. The scales and setbacks of most houses are similar, despite the variety of styles, designers and builders.

Neighborhood support: Mr. Sherman said neighborhood organizers for the historic district had tried to contact every property owner in the proposed district by telephone, e-mail and first class mail and had found no opposition. There are 61 single-family and two 2-family houses. Residents from seven properties had not yet responded, he said, while of those responding all but the residents of three properties–that is, the residents of 53 properties–joined in a petition to establish the district. The residents not joining said they do not oppose the plan. Dr. Spiegel polled the audience and found no one opposed to the historic district.

The developers proposing multifamily housing at 21 Crowninshield Rd. are a local group calling themselves “21 Crown” and including Robert W. Basile, a Precinct 14 town meeting member. Using powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, they expect to override Brookline zoning. No one from that group came to the Advisory hearing. So far, the developers have not publicly opposed the historic district.

Review: Subcommittee members asked about the effect of a local historic district on a Chapter 40B proposal. Ms. Steinfeld advised that the proposed district would not block such a development when it is considered by Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals. However, Kate Poverman, an Adams St. resident, said “town feedback suggests” the development was “not likely” to go ahead.

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member, described herself as an Adams St. resident for 46 years. When she came, “it was a vulnerable neighborhood,” she said–zoned SC-7, allowing conversion by right to 2-family houses. At the neighborhood’s initiative, it was rezoned S-7, allowing only single-family houses. Recently, she said, “there have been houses bought by investors who are not living there.”

Subcommittee member Angela Hyatt, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, said it was “hard to imagine a better case for a local historic district” (LHD). Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13 said “the LHD approach has become more and more important in Brookline.” He mentioned needs for “enough staff in the Planning Department…to enforce” historic district regulations. Dr. Spiegel recommended a renewed effort to contact residents in the seven properties not yet heard from. The subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend approval.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 31, 2015


Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 30, 2015

Application letter for 21 Crowninshield Road 40B project, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, March, 2015

Response to 21 Crowninshield Road application, Brookline Board of Selectmen, April 1, 2015 (8 MB)

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 24, started at 6:55 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed a partly subsidized housing development at 21 Crowninshield Rd., which proposes to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws to override the single-family zoning.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, described a report and request for reimbursement under the 2014 state-funded road program, authorized through Chapter 90 of the General Laws. Brookline is eligible for about $1.24 million; the board approved. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a youth program. Alan Balsam, the health director, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a low-income nutrition program, cooperating with the Brookline Food Pantry.

Mr. O’Leary also received approval to replace a traffic supervisor who is retiring. Dr. Balsam got approval to replace a program coordinator who is leaving to become assistant health director in Belmont. As to both, Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office and the diversity department.

New 40B project: The board considered a recent proposal to develop partly subsidized housing at 21 Crowinshield Rd. in North Brookline. A response to a Mass. Housing agency application had apparently been drafted by Maria Morelli, recently hired as a planner, who as a consultant had coordinated the town’s professional efforts reviewing the proposed 40B project at Hancock Village.

The developers are a local group calling themselves “21 Crown” and including Robert W. Basile, a Precinct 14 town meeting member. Last year they bought the single-family house at 21 Crowninshield Rd. and an adjacent, undeveloped lot to the north. Then they cut down almost all the trees and plantings that had grown over about a century, leaving the house isolated and exposing to Crowninshield Rd. residents a stark view of the back of the Arbour-HRI Hospital, on Babcock St.

House21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

Instead of fireproof construction, the “21 Crown” developers are proposing a “4-decker” wood-frame building divided into 20 apartments with an elevator. Two are called “three bedroom” and the rest “one bedroom” units, but all would be fairly small–around a thousand square feet. The design recalls a “suburban hamster cage” concept that was previously seen in Cambridgeport starting in the 1960s.

FourDeck21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

No representative for the developers appeared at this meeting of the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Morelli said comments from reviewers had called the proposal “inappropriate for the site.” Developers, she said, “tried to cast the context as Commonwealth Avenue business.” Mr. Basile owns nearby property along Commonwealth Avenue now housing Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Firestone and Sullivan Tire.

Kate Poverman, a neighbor on Adams St., called attention to the large “concentration of affordable housing in our area” but said, “We’ll work with the developer.” Barbara Scotto, a member of the School Committee who lives diagonally opposite the site, described hazards, saying, “Traffic is already backed up frequently at Pleasant and Adams.” The board approved the response to be sent to Mass. Housing, with several revisions.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed proposed budgets presented by Patrick J. Ward, the town clerk, for the town clerk’s office, by Mr. O’Leary for the Police Department and by Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, for the Department of Public Works. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, has proposed defunding one patrolman position in the Police budget, currently vacant. Mr. O’Leary said the Police Department would continue to function without the position if necessary.

The board reviewed two warrant articles for the spring town meeting: 4. Close-out of special appropriations and 12. Snow bylaw amendments. There are currently no special appropriations eligible for close-out. The bylaw changes had been drafted on behalf of the Board of Selectmen. They raise fines for failure to clear snow from sidewalks, specify new violations and fines, and eliminate a requirement to notify on a first offense instead of citing and fining. The public works commissioner would have increased discretion.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 30, 2015


Application letter for 21 Crowninshield Road 40B project, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, March, 2015

Response to 21 Crowninshield Road application, Brookline Board of Selectmen, April 1, 2015 (8 MB)

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

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

Public Works: snow removal

Since the first of four large snow storms during the 2015 winter, Public Works has been actively removing snow, first in commercial areas, then along major streets and later along some of the narrower and more heavily used residential streets. Early in the morning of Monday, March 9, a crew came to work on blocks of Fuller St. between Harvard St. and Commonwealth Ave.

Equipment: The key equipment for snow removal is industrial snow blowers, much larger and more powerful than those sold for home and commercial use. Brookline has been using models D65 and D60 from JA Larue of Quebec. They clear paths about 9 ft wide through snow banks up to about 4 ft and 6 ft high, respectively, powered by 200 to 400 hp diesel engines.

The blowers have been mounted on 4-wheel front-loaders from Volvo Construction Equipment, of about the L120 class, with tires over 4 ft in diameter. Large 10-wheel and 14-wheel dump trucks, with capacities about 10 to 16 cu yd, move along with the blowers, catch snow and cart it to disposal sites. Brookline has been storing snow near the waste transfer station off Newton St. and in some of the larger parks, including Emerson Garden.

Cost and productivity: On Fuller St., staffed with one blower, five trucks and a supervisor, the crew took about an hour to clear a 4 to 5-ft wide snow berm on the northeast side, 3 to 6 ft high, from the 800-ft block between Gibbs and Clarence Sts. At a nominal $150 per hour for each item of major equipment, that operation might have cost about $1,000–around $6,000 per mile.

Productivity was reduced by waiting for trucks, with the blower left idle about half the time. However, cost per mile was dominated by trucking and could not have been reduced by much. The supervisor and two of the trucks were Brookline-marked vehicles. The other trucks and possibly the blower were from D’Allessandro of Avon, the main contractor for snow clearance during the winter of 2015.

At a meeting of the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, March 10, Public Works is seeking a $1.5 million increase in the D’Allessandro contract. If board members are on their toes, we can expect to hear how much Brookline has spent for the season. The reported season snow total of 8-1/2 feet, so far, is way beyond the 3-1/2 feet of snow assumed for this year’s budget, and the snowfall concentration over less than three weeks, early in the season, led to much more snow removal than usual.

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


Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 3, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Prior to the public session, the board held a closed session about “litigation.”

Hancock Village lawsuit: As reported in the Brookline Beacon, the Board of Selectmen have an aggressive lawsuit in progress opposing a large, partly subsidized housing project proposed for Hancock Village in south Brookline. As part of this effort, they have been working with a group of south Brookline neighbors. The property owner and manager, Chestnut Hill Realty, has been trying to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts general laws to override Brookline zoning and has been trying to bypass a 1946 zoning agreement with Brookline.

About two weeks ago, after more than a year of reviews and hearings, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village project, with several conditions. During their closed session on March 3, confirmed through south Brookline participants, the Board of Selectmen voted to file a new lawsuit, contesting the decision of Zoning Board of Appeals members Jesse Geller, Jonathan Book and Christopher Hussey, whom the Board of Selectmen appointed. The proposed project, they claim, “is poorly designed [and] will destroy the historical integrity of Hancock Village….”

Brookline, like most other Massachusetts towns, does not maintain legal expertise in the specialized area of Chapter 40B projects. The Board of Selectmen is considering “hiring outside counsel to pursue the appeal.” According to south Brookline participants, Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead has made contributions to the current lawsuit opposing the project, known as Brookline v. Mass. Development, which is pending in the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to transfer $0.08 million from salaries to contractual services. Her office has an unfilled position and has been employing “outside counsel” on several cases since July. During a budget review, Ms. Murphy said she was confident about being able to hire a “talented attorney” into a T-15 slot, but she has already gone eight months without hiring anyone.

Melissa Goff, who recently advanced to the job of deputy town administrator, reviewed the budget for the offices of town administrator and board of selectmen. There is little change from the current year. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, would like to spend an extra $0.01 million to join an association of Massachusetts mayors, even though he is not a mayor. He won’t spend it unless Brookline voters pass a tax override this May.

The board approved a policy change for spending allocated from the “Boston Marathon fund,” contributed by the Boston Athletic Association in compensation for Brookline’s expenses on Marathon Day. The new policy is less restrictive, allowing spending for “community purposes…including youth and recreation.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 4, 2015


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

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Financing Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits

The Zoning Board of Appeals held hearings on Thursday, February 26, for two complex property improvement cases involving off-street parking. Assigned to the hearings were board members Mark Zuroff, a lawyer serving as chair, Christopher Hussey, an architect, and Avi Liss, a lawyer.

Alley conflict: A proposed 4-car garage behind 1471 Beacon St. had wound through two Planning Board hearings and a previous Appeals hearing. The apartment building suffered a major fire a few years ago and has now been largely rebuilt. Previously it had only informal parking on an alley in the back. The developer, who is selling units as condominiums, wanted to create deeded parking in a small garage, adjacent to the alley.

He had originally proposed five spaces, but tight spacing and access led to criticism at Planning and Appeals, and he returned with a proposal for four spaces. Neighbors along Beacon St. seemed satisfied with the changes. Neighbors behind on Griggs Terrace–a private way–were definitely not happy, and they spoke in opposition.

The legal alley access is from the narrow, sloping Intervale Crosscut, connecting Beacon St. with Griggs Rd. about a tenth of a mile toward the west. Neighbors claimed the alley will often be blocked, and vehicles will trespass on drives connecting to Griggs Terrace.

Land adjacent to the row of apartments near 1471 Beacon forms a steep slope in back, descending around ten feet to about the elevation of Griggs Park. The terrain was created in late-nineteenth century as a part of historic Beacon St. apartment development. Dense vegetation, including large trees, has helped to control storm run-off and restrain the slope from erosion.

The developer proposed to excavate a wedge-shaped segment of the steep slope and install a concrete garage structure with thick supporting and retaining walls and a buried drywell to manage storm water. On top, he proposed to create a landscaped terrace, to compensate for removing trees. The floor of the garage was to be level with the alley.

The developer needed special permits for smaller setbacks than standard zoning and for design review of a structure along Beacon St. With four rather than five cars, the dimensions did not need a variance–usually much harder to justify. That such a complex and costly plan appeared practical indicates the high prices being paid for parking in urban areas of Brookline.

Neighbors said they had been alienated by the developer’s conduct during about three years of construction. The alley is a composite of small parcels, with mutual rights-of-way deeded to and used by many of the owners of adjacent property. During construction, they said, equipment and materials had been stationed in the alley, trespassing on their property and that of others and interfering with access.

Neighbors asked for an enforceable permit condition specifying that the alley would not be blocked again. After about an hour and a half of testimony and wrangling among board members, the Appeals panel voted to grant the permits needed for the garage, attaching several conditions, including provisions intended to help neighbors stop potential obstruction of the alley in the future.

Neighborhood conservation: Renovation and expansion of a house at 66 Perry St. has involved a wide range of issues, including parking. This has been the first Brookline property improvement proposed in a neighborhood conservation district, and the Appeals board is not the last stop on the line. By the time the case is finished, reviews will probably total almost a year.

After a six-year study, Brookline created its first neighborhood conservation district in the fall of 2011, for Hancock Village in south Brookline. So far, that has not generated any cases. In spring, 2014, another district was approved at town meeting, involving parts of Toxteth St., Perry St. and Aspinwall Ave. These districts are intended to extend property regulation beyond traditional zoning to help maintain neighborhood characteristics more complex than property uses and dimensions.

Boston enacted an “architectural conservation district” in 1975. Cambridge created its first “neighborhood conservation district” in 1984 and now has five districts. Other Massachusetts communities with similar regulation include North Andover, Amesbury, Lexington, Lincoln and Wellesley. There is no Massachusetts enabling law for this type of regulation. Each community using it has created its own ordinances or bylaws, justified under the general “police power” of cities and towns. Brookline’s approach creates a separate bylaw for each district.

Without an enabling law and an accumulation of case law, communities have to develop their own standards and procedures. One reason reviews of the proposed property improvements at 66 Perry St. have taken so long is that the boards involved have been working out the process–more or less on-the-fly. It looks likely to be a typical case in that both zoning and neighborhood conservation regulations apply.

The Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, established in the 1920s, review the zoning issues, while a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission reviews issues for which it is named. There is considerable potential for overlap; that occurred with 66 Perry St. So far, the commission held two hearings, the Planning Board two and Zoning Board of Appeals one.

First commission case: After the property owner had settled on a design, following commission review, the Planning Board urged changes. The owner made those changes in plans and went to the Appeals board, seeking special permits for setbacks smaller than standard zoning. The need for the permits had been driven partly by trying to keep expansions from intruding into the front yard, in order to satisfy Neighborhood Conservation.

The Appeals board voted to approve the special permits, but now the owner must return to the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission. The plans approved by Planning and Appeals differ from those previously approved by the commission. With luck, that will be the last stop. Thanks to a cooperative owner, this project looks likely to reach a successful outcome.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 27, 2015


Neighborhood conservation district study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, September, 2005

Hancock Village: development pressures

Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager of Hancock Village in south Brookline and West Roxbury, has been pushing in recent years to build new, partly subsidized housing on currently unoccupied parts of the property that are located in Brookline–using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning. It has not sought similar development on parts of the property in West Roxbury.

Since more than 10 percent of Boston’s housing units qualify as “affordable” under 40B standards, Chestnut Hill Realty cannot force a 40B development on West Roxbury. However, it would be less likely to want to, since the potential value of Brookline apartments is greater because of the draw of Brookline public schools. The company is also trying to raise the value of existing apartments with major renovations.

Potential evictions: From appearances, Chestnut Hill Realty might be trying to replace older residents at Hancock Village with younger ones. Several long-term residents have received lease-cancellation notices delivered by constables, and some are terrified of being evicted.

One of the notices from Chestnut Hill Realty said that “you occupy one of [the] original type apartments we will be renovating…this is to inform you that our office will not be renewing your lease at the end of the current term, and that it our intent to terminate your tenancy…you are required to vacate the apartment…on or before June 30….”

The company offered the tenants who stand at risk of being evicted “a $1000 relocation benefit” and “special rental pricing” if they “sign a new contract [by] April 30,” and it also offered them “special financial incentives…to move out earlier.”

Capturing value: The drift of Chestnut Hill Realty’s management is to capture value for the company from Brookline’s support of public schools. If the occupancy of the currently proposed 40B development were to mirror Brookline’s average, the development might add around 50 students in Brookline schools. However, Chestnut Hill Realty has been targeting rental marketing to foreigners with school-age children.

Neighborhood residents fear the 40B development might bring in 200 or more students. Because many of them might have little English proficiency, they could also be unusually costly to educate. During the Board of Appeals hearings over the proposed 40B development, Chestnut Hill Realty did back away from some components of its plans, including lofts in low-rise units, but the plans still include many apartments with 3 and 4 bedrooms.

Meeting responsibilities: A longstanding complaint from residents of south Brookline, echoed by members of the Board of Selectmen and other town boards, is that Chestnut Hill Realty has been trying to bypass responsibilities under an agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Town of Brookline, shortly before the 1946 annual town meeting, which enacted zoning to allow Hancock Village.

The agreement was a critical element in persuading Brookline to change its zoning. If is reproduced in full in the 1946 town meeting records. John Hancock Co. agreed that any development would be “high-grade garden village type,” that no buildings would be over 2-1/2 stories, that the land area occupied by buildings would not be over 20 percent of the total and that no more than 25 percent of the housing units would be “horizontally divided.” The company agreed that those restrictions would become binding on “successors and assigns,” of which Chestnut Hill Realty and subsidiaries are the most recent.

With support from abutters and neighbors, in November, 2013, the Town of Brookline filed a lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court, seeking a declaration that the Mass. Development Finance Agency had failed to follow state laws and regulations in certifying eligibility of the proposed development and also seeking a declaration that the restrictions of the 1946 agreement apply to the project.

Overcoming objections: The defendants in the 2013 superior court suit, Mass. Development and Residences of South Brookline, objected that Brookline had failed to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial review and that the 1946 agreement was a “deed restriction,” expiring after 30 years under Chapter 183, Section 23, of the General Laws.

Judge Patrick F. Brady of Norfolk Superior Court dismissed the 2013 lawsuit on both grounds in September, 2014. Although he provided only a bare outline of reasons, he relied on an obsolete case, Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, in evaluating administrative remedies, and he did not appear to consider two recent cases in evaluating the 1946 contract: Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans. (All cases before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals)

In November, 2014, Brookline and the neighborhood parties filed in the Court of Appeals, seeking to reverse the dismissal on both its grounds. [case 2014-P-1817] The neighborhood participants include Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, who has appeared at many government meetings and volunteered as a contact.

The Town of Brookline and neighborhood participants argue that in 2008, after the Marion decision in 2007, the state changed its regulations for Chapter 40B developments, providing no administrative review after a project is found eligible. They also argue that the Killorin and Samuelson cases establish that restrictions resulting from zoning actions are not deed restrictions and do not expire under Chapter 183 in 30 years.

Going forward: Briefs from both sides have been filed for the Court of Appeals case, as of February 12, 2015, and the case looks ready for motions and arguments. However, as of February 21 it had not appeared on a docket. If the Court of Appeals reverses the dismissal of the original case, that case will be reactivated in Norfolk Superior Court for arguments on its merits.

Meanwhile, as expected for many weeks, the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals has granted a comprehensive permit for the proposed Hancock Village Chapter 40B development, filed with the town clerk February 20. At its most recent meeting, the Board of Selectmen suggested that they may challenge that permit, saying they will be considering it at their meeting on Tuesday, February 24. An executive session has been proposed for 5:30 pm on the agenda, about “litigation.”

Given the high potential values and costs involved, it is possible that the case may wind through more stages of review in court, no matter what the next outcome. If the 1946 agreement remains effective, then its land coverage restrictions are likely to be of much interest. Current zoning, enacted in 1962, allows a maximum floor-area ratio of 0.50 in the Hancock Village M-0.5 apartment zone and 0.35 in the S-7 “greenbelt” area near Russett and Beverly Rds.

The 1946 agreement’s restrictions–written before Brookline’s zoning bylaw regulated by floor-area ratio–may be equivalent to a maximum floor-area ratio lower than current Brookline zoning for Hancock Village. However, there appears to be no recent, systematic analysis of as-built dimensions in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village and no systematic comparison with the 1946 restrictions.

A so-called “density analysis” sent to Jesse Geller of the Zoning Board of Appeals in October last year by Alison Steinfeld, the director of planning and community development, uses an antiquated measure, “dwelling units per acre,” that does not accurately reflect town or neighborhood impacts and does not correspond either with current Brookline zoning or with restrictions contained in the 1946 agreement.

In a presentation to the Board of Appeals made in January, 2014, the Hancock Village developer claimed, “The current Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is only 0.29.” [p. 20 of 76] That document did not describe the basis for its claim. If the 1946 agreement is upheld, then no more development might be possible in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 22, 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)

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Financing Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2013-P-1418, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, decided July 2, 2014

Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2010-P-1655, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 655, decided May 5, 2011

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2005-P-1848, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, decided February 12, 2007

Hancock Village 1946 Agreement, Article 23, Annual Town Meeting, March 19, 1946, from Brookline, MA, 1946 Annual Town Report, pp. 32-34

Hancock Village 40B project eligibility application, PreserveBrookline and South Brookline Neighborhood Association, August 28, 2013

Alison C. Steinfeld to Jesse Geller, Density analysis, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals Presentation, The Residences of South Brookline, January 16, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO, Brookline Beacon, September 17, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Setting the record straight: claims related to the development of Hancock Village, PreserveBrookline, undated

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 17, started at 7:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda focused on the town administrator’s financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B project: In public comment, Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, questioned the board’s commitment to resisting a large, partly subsidized housing development proposed at Hancock Village in south Brookline by subsidiaries of Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager.

It has been obvious for weeks that the Zoning Board of Appeals will the allow the development, with a decision expected to be recorded in days. “Will you be appealing this terrible ZBA decision?” asked Ms. Leichtner. “Will you be hiring outside counsel with experience litigating 40B? What action will you be pursuing to…protect historic property?”

Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, said that the board “will be discussing [litigation] next week in executive session…we have time…we are aware of the deadline.” Left unsaid: for a Board of Selectmen to sue the Board of Appeals that it appointed would appear to put the community in conflict with itself–a house divided.

Contracts, personnel and finances: David Geanakakis, the chief procurement officer, received approval for a $0.38 million lease-purchase agreement with TD Bank. It will fund a set of DPW equipment anticipated in the current capital improvement plan. Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, got the board to certify expected operating life of at least 10 years for a new fire engine, a bonding issue.

Licenses and permits:Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and the proposed new manager of Genki Ya restaurant at 398 Harvard St., spoke for applications to transfer licenses held by the current manager. Mr. Chen seemed unprepared for some of the board’s questions. He had not sought out training provided by the Police Department on managing alcoholic beverage sales under the Brookline regulations. The board opted to hold the applications and reconsider them at a later date. Board records contain several misspellings of names.

Haim Cohen of Brookline received a license for a restaurant he plans to open on the former site of Beauty Supply, at 326 Harvard St. To be called Pure Cold Press, it was described as a “juice and salad bar.” He has a major shortfall of parking under Brookline zoning and will also need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Financial plan: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, presented a financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July, assisted by Sean Cronin, the outgoing deputy town administrator, and by his replacement in the position, Melissa Goff. The main outlines do not include revenue from a tax override of $7.665 million per year that the board proposed on February 10. However, Mr. Kleckner’s plan shows how municipal agencies would use a share of those funds, if voters approve the override.

Without funds from the proposed override, Mr. Kleckner had to propose substantial cutbacks in the municipal programs and agencies. Rental assistance from the Council on Aging would suffer a 25 percent cut, as would part-time Library assistants. Vacant positions in the Police Department and Fire Department would go unfilled. Park ranger, gardener and laborer positions in Public Works would be eliminated, reducing services. Several older vehicles would not be replaced. The Health Department would lose its day-care center inspectors and trim its contribution to Brookline Mental Health by 25 percent.

If voters approve the proposed tax override next May, these cuts would be restored, costing an estimated $0.682 million per year from the proposed $7.665 million per year in override funding. Left unsaid: Public Schools of Brookline has a more difficult problem to solve. If voters reject the proposed override, there will be $6.983 million per year less in funding that could support school programs and departments.

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


Brookline municipal agency and program reductions, FY2016, without tax override, February 17, 2015

Melvin Kleckner, Summary of Brookline FY2016 financial plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February 17, 2015

Financial Plan, FY2016, Town of Brookline, MA (15 MB)

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Judith Leichtner, Comments to Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals on proposed chapter 40B development at Hancock Village, September 8, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 24, 2013

Transportation Board: Brookline Place parking and permit moratorium

A regular meeting of the Transportation Board on Tuesday, January 20, started at 7:00 pm in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall, with all board members except Ali Tali present. The board reviewed plans for taxi stands and for parking on Pearl St. and River Rd, near the forthcoming Brookline Place redevelopment, and it affirmed town-wide restrictions on special parking permits.

At this fairly well attended meeting were Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, chair Linda Hamlin and member Mark Zarrillo of the Planning Board, chair Cynthia Snow and member John Dempsey of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, John Bassett, Antonia Bellavista, Edith Brickman and Arlene Mattison, members of the Brookline Place design advisory team, Capt. Michael Gropman of the Police Department, and several residents and business owners near the Brookline Place area.

Parking near Brookline Place: George Cole of Stantec Consulting presented parking proposals for the Brookline Place Redevelopment on behalf of Boston Children’s Hospital, the developer. He was assisted by Robert “Robbie” Burgess of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown, transportation consultants, by Timothy “Tim” Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects and by Brian Chou of Mikyoung Kim Design, landscape designers.

The project developers have proposed a parking reconfiguration that moves a taxi stand near the bend of Pearl St., opposite the Brookline Village Green Line stop, across the street and adjacent to the stop, leaving the part of the street that will be adjacent to a lawn unobstructed. To compensate for loss of spaces, they propose so-called “reverse angle parking” along part of Pearl St.–an unusual approach, backing in to park. They cited a few examples, the closest on Bow St. near Union Sq. in Somerville.

Some board members had not kept up with the development and were surprised at the proposal. Gustaaf Driessen asked, “We don’t get taxi space back as parking?” Yes, that’s right. However, Mr. Cole conceded, “The reaction to angle parking has not been wholly positive.” Mr. Burgess explained the “reverse angle parking” scheme, and board members asked whether Pearl St. would need to become one-way, like Bow St. in Somerville. The consensus seemed to be that Pearl St. should remain two-way.

The discussion veered into bicycle facilities. Some in the audience, including Ann Lusk of Hart St., called for a “cycle track” through the area–meaning a pair of fully separated bicycle paths. No cost was cited, but those can run more than a million dollars per roadway mile. Mr. Burgess said Pearl St. was not wide enough. One board member doubted the contribution to a transportation network, since Pearl St. is a loop that does not form part of a thoroughfare.

Capt. Gropman said the proposed plan for Pearl St. amounted to reducing on-street parking from 55 to 41 spaces and was likely to create problems. He asked about moving the taxi stand to Station St., on the other side of the MBTA stop. Mr. Kirrane objected that much of the demand for taxis would be coming from the new development. Ms. Hamlin said the Planning Board and its design advisory team favored the developer’s plan for the taxi stand, noting that the development’s new parking garage would offer short-term spaces to the public.

There was extended discussion about locations of stops for the three MBTA bus routes–Nos. 60, 65 and 66–that pass through the intersection of Route 9-Washington St. with Pearl St. Passengers of buses westbound on Route 9 have good access to the area from the bus stop just west of Pearl St. next to 10 Brookline Place, formerly Hearthstone Plaza. Passengers going the other direction encounter problems, especially for the No. 66 bus continuing onto Huntington Ave. The other two buses travel on Brookline Ave. There were no resolutions to the issues; the board took no votes.

River Road, bicycles and parking: Running about 40 minutes late, the board took up the topic of a bicycle path parallel to the Riverway Bridge across Route 9 at the Boston and Brookline border. Mr. Kirrane and Ms. Snow described the plan. It would connect paths in Riverway Park to the north, along the Muddy River, and in Olmsted Park to the south, toward Leverett Pond. Bicyclists must now cross at intersections with poor visibility and signage and with heavy traffic.

Board chair Joshua Safer noted that the plan was “rejiggering our priorities,” apparently meaning in favor of parkway bicycle paths instead of street-oriented bicycle lanes. Mr. Kirrane described a target of opportunity, saying that Erin Gallentine, Brookline’s director of parks and open space, “got a $1 million grant from DCR (the state Department of Conservation and Recreation) that includes the project this year, to construct it this summer.” Left unsaid: with a change from the Patrick to the Baker administration, the grant might be withdrawn if it were not promptly applied.

As submitted to DCR, the plan reconfigures some existing bicycle paths and some Riverway access ramps, adding colored bands marking bicycle crossings. A point of contention is that a bicycle path needs to be built along the southeast side of River Rd., where there is not enough space near the intersection with the Riverway access ramps. Mr. Kirrane said part of the River Road right-of-way was needed, removing up to ten parking spaces.

Neighbors and nearby business operators objected. Ms. Lusk of Hart St. was “bothered by the ‘fast track’ process, omitting public comment” and by “dangerous crossings across…ramps.” The owner of Brookline Foreign Motors said, “Our customers need the spaces.” Ashley Goodwin, the owner of Shambala Center on River Rd., said, “Parking is a struggle for all of us on that little island.”

Ms. Mattison of the Brookline Place design advisory team supported the plan, saying it was “reclaiming the area to the Emerald Necklace“–referring to a phrase from landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, Sr., for the 1,100-acre Boston park system bordering the Charles River and Muddy River. After extended discussion, the board voted to create a five-space no-parking zone on River Rd. to accommodate the proposed new bicycle path.

Parking permit moratorium: Revisiting special parking permits for School Department employees and programs, the Transportation Board affirmed a moratorium. Long-simmering controversies over the impacts on neighborhoods reignited after a recent application for about 50 new permits to be used near Temples Ohabei Shalom and Emeth by pre-kindergarten teachers, administrators and support staff.

The board voted to approve letters to be sent by the chair, Dr. Safer, to the chairs of the School Committee, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, advising them of Transportation Board policy. Permits now in effect will continue through the current school year.

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


Sustainable parking and permit moratorium, Brookline Transportation Board, January 30, 2015

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment, Brookline Beacon, January 23, 2015

Pre-kindergarten: parking disputes, Brookline Beacon, December 31, 2014

Reverse angle parking on Bow St., City of Somerville, MA, 2012

Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot, Map, Park System from Common to Franklin Park, City of Boston, MA, 1894

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

Pre-kindergarten: parking disputes

Brookline has provided pre-kindergarten classes in much the current forms since the school year starting in 2001, on a voluntary basis. Although administered by Public Schools of Brookline, those classes are mainly paid for by parents through tuitions. Enrollment grew in stages from school and fiscal years 2002 through 2006. During school and fiscal years 2007 through 2015, enrollment has remained in a range of 250 to 280 students aged about 3 and 4.

BrooklinePreSchoolCensus2001to2015

Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Ordinary enrollment in Brookline public schools is far larger. The current total for kindergarten through third grade is 2,635, as reported to the state last October 1. On average, only about 20 percent of those students could have attended Brookline’s pre-kindergarten classes for two years. The Brookline Early Education Program (sometimes abbreviated as BEEP) publishes no reference information online about student populations, such as proportions of students attending for one year or for two years.

Sites and trends: Pre-kindergarten has operated at twelve sites in Brookline, of which seven are currently active. There were never more than ten sites active during any one year. Of the twelve, eight are Brookline’s elementary schools, two are other public buildings and two are synagogues. During the Walsh administration, in 2001, the current era of Brookline pre-kindergarten began at eight elementary schools.

Small student populations at each school made 2001-2002 operations inefficient and hard to manage. For the next year, classes were consolidated into four elementary schools. Subsequently, other sites were gradually opened or reopened. Rooms at Brookline High School and at the Lynch Recreation Center–the historic Winthrop School–began to be used in 2003 and continue in use today. By 2006-2007, pre-kindergarten grew to about its current number of students and operated from ten sites, including eight elementary schools.

Brookline pre-kindergarten census, October 1, by fiscal years and sites

Site 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Total 36 210 207 208 242 253 260 249 255 262 277 276 259 264
Baker 7 45 17 15 17 16 16 14 16 15 16 16 0 0
Devotion 2 0 0 0 16 16 16 16 14 16 17 0 0 0
Driscoll 9 60 34 38 32 41 37 37 40 39 42 37 35 16
Heath 4 0 15 16 18 14 15 15 17 16 17 30 32 31
Lawrence 2 0 0 14 33 29 31 30 29 16 15 0 0 0
Lincoln 5 53 38 32 31 31 33 33 33 31 31 18 0 0
Pierce 2 0 0 0 0 15 16 13 14 16 17 17 0 0
Runkle 5 52 22 20 16 17 16 16 14 13 13 15 16 14
High School 0 0 15 11 15 15 16 17 16 34 31 34 30 14
Lynch 0 0 66 62 64 59 64 58 62 66 78 68 66 63
Beacon 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 41 52 62
Putterham 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 28 64

Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Responding to the need for school space, because of steadily growing student populations, starting in 2012 Public Schools of Brookline began to move pre-kindergarten classes out of elementary schools and into leased space–first at Temple Ohabei Shalom on Beacon St. (the “Beacon” site) and then in 2013 at Temple Emeth on Grove St. (the “Putterham” site). Pre-kindergarten classes no longer operate at Baker, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Pierce Schools.

Parking permits: At its December 22 meeting, the Transportation Board considered a request from Brookline Early Education Program for about 50 special parking permits to be used near Temples Ohabei Shalom and Emeth by pre-kindergarten teachers, administrators and support staff. Two-thirds of those were for the Putterham site, where BEEP administrators and support staff have been relocated. That proved controversial.

Led by precinct 16 town meeting member Regina Frawley, residents living near Putterham Circle (also called Ryan Circle) protested the heavy daytime concentration of parking around the site. It emerged that seven permits had already been issued by Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, without public notice or board approval. There had been no notice to town meeting members and no neighborhood review meetings.

Despite widely touted commitments to public transportation and to so-called “transportation demand management,” neither the Transportation Board nor Public Schools of Brookline had prepared plans to reduce parking demand through uses of public transportation, ride-sharing or shuttle services. Residents near the Beacon St. and Kent St. intersection were also incensed. There is an MBTA Green Line stop adjacent to Temple Ohabei Shalom.

By a majority vote, Transportation Board members approved permits on what they called a “trial” basis, to be reviewed when the permits expire next July. Board members Scott Englander and Pamela Zelnick were opposed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 31, 2014


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

Brookline school census reports for fiscal years 1994 through 2015, Massachusetts Department of Education, 2014

Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?

Article 12 at the November town meeting sought to exclude more Brookline territory from becoming sites for medical marijuana dispensaries, but the town meeting rejected all motions under that article. Zoning continues unchanged from a plan voted in November, 2013, and no new studies were authorized. As required under state laws, Brookline has left a few areas of the town outside its exclusion zones, providing potentially eligible sites under local laws.

BrooklineExclusionZones

Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

On the map, Brookline’s eligible areas in general business zones are colored black. There is also an industrial zone, shown as hatched, near the waste transfer station off Newton St. The map prepared by the planning staff marks excluded areas, within 500 feet of both public and private schools. They are colored gray.

Since Brookline has met its obligations through zoning, state regulations do not apply. However, the federal government, acting through district attorneys, may step in. In some of the later discussions over Article 12, proponents claimed the federal government would impose 1,000-foot exclusion zones around parks, playgrounds and public housing sites. The map shows a circle as an example, with a radius equivalent to 1,000 feet.

The only mention of those arguments in town meeting documents was a brief statement from the Advisory Committee in the final warrant report. [Article 12, supplement 1, pp. 5-6] It drew no conclusions and cited no documentation, describing federal regulations as a business risk for dispensary operators.

New exclusion zones: If the federal government were to act as the Article 12 proponents appear to hope it will, 1,000-foot exclusion zones might block all eligible sites under current Brookline zoning:

1. The zone along Commonwealth Ave. near St. Paul St. might be blocked from Knyvet Square, the Egmont St. veterans housing and Trustman Apartments.

2. The Coolidge Corner zone along Beacon and Harvard Sts. might be blocked from the Devotion School and its playgrounds, the Beth Zion Hebrew school, Griggs Park and St. Mark’s Park.

3. The Brookline Village zone along Washington and Boylston Sts. might be blocked from the old Lincoln School, Lynch Recreation Center, Emerson Park, Boylston St. Playground, Juniper St. Playground and Walnut St. Apartments.

4. The zone along Boylston and Hammond Sts. might be blocked from the Soule Recreation Center, Brimmer and May School, Beaver Country Day School and Pine Manor College.

5. The industrial zone near the waste transfer station might be blocked from Skyline Park and the Lost Pond Reservation.

Federal exclusions: As noted in a recent Boston Globe article, federal powers in these matters are exercised by the U.S. Department of Justice, acting through district attorneys. On August 29, 2013, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a “guidance” memorandum to U.S. attorneys.

When there is a “tightly regulated market in which revenues are tracked,” wrote Mr. Cole, “state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies” should govern. Where state laws authorized medical marijuana, “it was likely not an efficient use of federal resources to focus enforcement efforts on seriously ill individuals or on their individual caregivers.”

“The primary question in all cases,” Mr. Cole stated, is to evaluate federal “enforcement priorities.” They aim at preventing:
• distribution of marijuana to minors
• revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises….
• diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal…to other states
• state-authorized…activity from being used [to] cover…illegal activity
• violence and the use of firearms….
• drugged driving and…other adverse public health consequences….
• growing of marijuana on public lands….
• marijuana possession or use on federal property.

Contrary to impressions left by Article 12 proponents, the 2013 “guidance” memorandum does not cite or refer to a so-called “schoolyard statute” or any other specific federal law, and it does not recommend any type of exclusion zone. Instead, it says jurisdictions with “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems” may “affirmatively address…priorities.”

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


Shelley Murphy, Kay Lazar and Andrew Ba Tran, U.S. asked to block cannabis clinics near Massachusetts schools, Boston Globe, November 21, 2014

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

Warrant report, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

James M. Cole, Memorandum for all United States attorneys, U.S. Department of Justice, August 29, 2013

Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, December 1, over 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 sessions, it took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. At this session, the board did not invite or hear comments from the public.

Ready to approve: After negotiating about a ten percent reduction from a previously proposed amount of parking, the three regular Appeals board members–Jesse Geller, Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book–indicated they were ready to approve the project. Alternate member Mark Zuroff continued to oppose it. Another session scheduled for 7 pm at Town Hall on Monday, December 8, could become the final one.

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, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, again reviewed fire safety, repeating some of his previous concerns. He said Brookline could not provide “full first alarm” service to the project within eight minutes, as specified by national standards. At this session, he also focused on time needed to disengage equipment, in order to answer other calls. He said he still hoped to see a connection to VFW Parkway.

According to Mr. Ford, access to the proposed large building at an extension of Asheville Rd. is marginal but acceptable. However, without further changes, he said, it would still be difficult to disengage equipment from parts of the so-called “east side” of Hancock Village, between Independence Drive and VFW Parkway. Fire trucks would have to be backed out of blind locations near the proposed large building and some of the smaller new buildings. With access to VFW Parkway, Mr. Ford said, his concerns would be reduced.

The developer’s representatives agreed to improve access near an extension of Grassmere Rd. onto Thornton Rd., now interrupted by curbing. They will connect the roads, add a service gate and add a lane connecting with one of the new parking lots to the west of Russett Rd. Brookline firefighters will be able to open the service gate. They also committed to “work with the town” to obtain vehicle access to VFW Parkway west of Russett Rd.

According to Mr. Ford, commitments by the developer to install sprinklers in all the new buildings will help. Asked about safety in existing Hancock Village buildings, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said Brookline could not require changes unless those buildings were directly involved in a major construction or renovation project. Simply being adjacent to a major development would not trigger reviews.

Parking: Board members Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book continued to object to 323 new parking spaces, proposed at the previous session, as “excessive.” Mr. Hussey continued to favor an average of 1.5 new parking spaces per new apartment in the area to be accessed via Asheville Rd. He said that would reduce new parking by 21 spaces.

Mr. Book sought to apply the 1.5 ratio to the entire project. He said that would reduce new parking by 57 spaces. Speaking for the developer, Mr. Geller of Stantec objected that reducing on-site parking would impact nearby neighborhoods, saying, “Cars will find other places to go.” Mr. Levin continued to object that providing less new parking than anticipated new demand could compromise the project. He said board members did not seem to have considered about 25 spaces to be reserved for visitors and about 15 spaces for disability access.

Mr. Levin said parking appropriate in urban Brookline, with its Green Line rapid transit, did not suit the suburban areas around Hancock Village. Mr. Schwartz said the proposed amount of new parking was in line with Brookline’s zoning requirements. (It was actually somewhat less.) He recalled that a town meeting last year had considered reducing zoning standards for parking but rejected the proposal.

Negotiations ensued among Appeals board members and between them and the developer’s representatives. During the discussion, Mr. Hussey again voiced resistance to retaining any of the fourth floor of apartments in the proposed large building, but then he backed away, saying, “My brothers have squeezed me in.” Mr. Book continued to press for reduction of new parking by more than 21 spaces.

Making a deal: After about an hour and a half of discussion, Mr. Book proposed a further reduction of 10 more spaces, beyond the 21 sought by Mr. Hussey, with a condition that those spaces could be included in the project if the developer obtained full access to VFW Parkway. After a few minutes more discussion, the developer’s representatives agreed to that change.

Mr. Schwartz said Chestnut Hill Realty would return to the next session with a full plan for 12 new buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 292 new parking spaces. This session of the Appeals hearing gave no consideration to numbers of new residents or potential impacts on town services–particularly 200 or more added students atttending Brookline schools.

With a recently reported 824 students, the nearby Baker School now has the largest population of Brookline’s elementary schools and is well beyond rated capacity. Brookline has no plan to cope with 200 or more added students coming from Hancock Village. Among its few obvious options might be a major addition to Baker School or some use of the former Baldwin School or its ten unrestricted acres of grounds on Heath St. at Woodland Rd.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 2, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

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

2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting

The 2014 fall town meeting held four electronic votes: two at the first session November 18 and two at the second and final session November 19. Problems previously cropped up at the 2014 annual town meeting in May and June. There were more discrepancies in records from the 2014 fall town meeting in November.

This time there were no attempts to use the voting system for “informal” counting. However, despite commitments to provide results the day following a session, no results were posted on Brookline’s municipal Web site until the afternoon of November 24, five days after the second and final session.

Comparisons of records: Electronic voting results were displayed at town meeting on a large projection screen. They were captured on video recordings of both the first session and second session by Brookline Interactive Group, along with declarations of results for official records by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. The video recordings are available to the public from the Web site of Brookline Interactive.

At the first session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a referral motion proposed under Article 12: 65 yes and 138 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 65 yes and 141 no.

At the first session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a zoning change proposed under Article 12 (the main motion): 60 yes and 146 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 60 yes and 147 no.

At the second session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on a resolution proposed under Article 15: 110 yes and 83 no, agreeing with totals displayed to town meeting on the large projection screen. The totals from results posted on the municipal Web site were instead: 111 yes and 83 no.

At the second session, Mr. Gadsby declared the vote on an alternative resolution proposed by the Advisory Committee under Article 19: 20 yes and 145 no. So far, records of this vote have not appeared on the municipal Web site at all.

Article and motion As it was Declared As it was Posted
  Yes No Yes No
Article 12, referral 65 138 65 141
Article 12, main vote 60 146 60 147
Article 15, resolution 110 83 111 83
Article 19, alternative 20 145 unknown unknown

Unreliable results: After practice with the current electronic voting system at four previous town meetings, at the 2014 fall town meeting Brookline again failed to achieve reliable results. Discrepancies are clear on each of the three electronic votes reported. Unexplained changes to records had apparently been made, after town meeting, in computer files purporting to represent town meeting results. Those might have been connected with unexplained delays of five and six days in posting records on the municipal Web site.

None of the discrepancies was large enough to affect an action at the recent town meeting. That may be luck. Close votes at past town meetings could have been clouded. At a town meeting in 1972, for example, the late Sumner Kaplan–a former chair of the Board of Selectmen, state representative and district judge–proposed to combine the police and fire departments into a public safety department. The controversial proposal failed on a tie vote. A single-vote discrepancy could have clouded that result.

If Brookline had a reliable electronic voting system, allowing town meeting members to change recorded positions after a vote has been declared would be a highly dubious practice. It opens an avenue through which town meeting results can become clouded after a town meeting is over, with potentials for protracted disputes or lawsuits over close votes. Brookline does not have a reliable electronic voting system. A week after the 2014 fall town meeting, one of the four electronic votes has not even been reported, and the results for the three reported votes disagree with the moderator’s declarations at town meeting.

Votes shown as “absent”: Of 744 individual votes tallied, 115 were “absent.” Some could be town meeting members who had checked in but did not cast votes. The average number of “absent” votes was about 7 per precinct. Absentees were most prevalent in Precinct 14, with 13 “absent” votes, and in Precinct 15, with 16 “absent” votes.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 27, 2014


Town of Brookline, November 18, 2014, electronic vote results, dated November 24, 2014

Brookline Interactive Group, 2014 fall town meeting, second session, November 19, 2014

Brookline Interactive Group, 2014 fall town meeting, first session, November 18, 2014

Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby, Brookline Beacon, November 20, 2014

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

2014 annual town meeting: electronic voting issues, Brookline Beacon, June 17, 2014


Brookline 2014 fall town meeting, electronic votes posted as of November 24, 2014

Vote Day Article Question voted
1 11/18 12 Zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, referral
2 11/18 12 Zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, restrict eligible areas
3 11/19 15 Repeal of taxi medallions, adopt resolution instead

Y yes, N no, P present, A absent

Pct. Given name Family name Street address 1 2 3
01 Cathleen Cavell 27 Monmouth Ct A N Y
01 Ernest Cook 4 Euston St A A A
01 Jonathan Cutler 12 Churchill St A A A
01 Elijah Ercolino 2 Euston St N N Y
01 James Franco 126 Amory St N N N
01 Richard Garver 23 Monmouth Ct N N Y
01 Neil Gordon 87 Ivy St N N Y
01 Helen Herman 1126 Beacon St Y N Y
01 Carol Hillman 287 Kent St N N Y
01 Sean Lynn-Jones 53 Monmouth St Y N N
01 Alexandra Metral 42 Beech Rd Y Y Y
01 Paul Moghtader 16 Chilton St A A A
01 Bettina Neuefeind 20 Amory St Y Y N
01 Robert Schram 47 Monmouth St N N N
01 Katharine Silbaugh 68 Amory St Y Y N
02 Livia Kahl 200 Saint Paul St A Y A
02 Judith Kidd 76 Parkman St N N Y
02 Lisa Liss 74 Parkman St N N Y
02 Rita McNally 230 Saint Paul St N N A
02 Adam Mitchell 87 Browne St N N Y
02 Barbara O’Brien 81 Egmont St P A A
02 Gwen Ossenfort 87 Browne St N N N
02 Linda Pehlke 48 Browne St N N Y
02 Susan Roberts 69 Green St Y Y N
02 Diana Spiegel 39 Stetson St N N N
02 Stanley Spiegel 39 Stetson St N N N
02 Eunice White 135 Pleasant St N N Y
02 Bruce Wolff 50 Pleasant St N Y N
02 Ana Vera Wynne 60 Browne St Y Y Y
02 Richard Wynne 60 Browne St Y N Y
03 Harry Bohrs 97 Toxteth St N N N
03 Patricia Connors 80 Francis St N N Y
03 Mary Dewart 90 Toxteth St Y P Y
03 Murray Dewart 90 Toxteth St Y Y Y
03 Dennis Doughty 57 Perry St N N Y
03 Kathe Geist 551 Brookline Ave N Y Y
03 Jane Gilman 140A Sewall Ave Y Y Y
03 Heather Hamilton 75 Longwood Ave A A Y
03 Gary Jones 70 Francis St N N A
03 Laurence Koff 20 Harrison St Y N N
03 Donald Leka 140A Sewall Ave N N Y
03 Kathleen Scanlon 71 Francis St N Y N
03 Frank Steinfield 160 Aspiwall Ave N N N
03 Rebecca Stone 71 Toxteth St N N N
03 Jean Stringham 50 Longwood Ave Y Y Y
04 Sarah Axelrod 41 Bowker St N N Y
04 Eric Berke 77 Pond Ave Y N Y
04 Edith Brickman 33 Pond Ave N N A
04 Alan Christ 117 Kent St N N N
04 Ingrid Cooper 30 Brook St N N P
04 Anne Covert 33 Pond Ave N N N
04 Frank Farlow 8 Bowker St N N Y
04 Martha Farlow 8 Bowker St N N Y
04 Nadine Gerdts 56 Linden Pl Y Y Y
04 John Mulhane 45 Brook St N N N
04 Mariah Nobrega 33 Bowker St Y Y Y
04 Joseph Robinson 41 Brook St N N Y
04 Marjorie Siegel 59 Linden St Y Y P
04 Virginia Smith 12 Linden St N N Y
04 Robert Volk 45 Linden St N N Y
05 Richard Allen 158 Cypress St N Y N
05 Robert Daves 9 Upland Rd N N Y
05 Dennis DeWitt 94 Upland Rd N N Y
05 Michael Gunnuscio 302 Walnut St N N Y
05 Angela Hyatt 87 Walnut St Y Y Y
05 David Knight 5 Maple St Y Y N
05 Hugh Mattison 209 Pond Ave A N Y
05 Puja Mehta 50 Jamaica Rd Y N P
05 Randolph Meiklejohn 161 Cypress St Y Y A
05 Phyllis O’Leary 16 Jamaica Rd A A A
05 Andrew Olins 242 Walnut St Y Y A
05 William Reyelt 121 Chestnut St N N Y
05 Betsy Shure Gross 25 Edgehill Rd Y Y A
05 Claire Stampfer 50 Sargent Crossway Y Y Y
05 Lenore von Krusenstiern 302 Walnut St A A Y
06 Catherine Anderson 106 Davis Ave N N N
06 John Bassett 26 Searle Ave N N N
06 Jocina Becker 18 Elm St N N Y
06 Christopher Dempsey 43 Brington Rd N N Y
06 Brian Hochleutner 35 Elm St Y Y N
06 Sytske Humphrey 46 Gardner Rd N N N
06 Virginia LaPlante 58 Welland Rd N N Y
06 Merelice 22 White Pl Y Y Y
06 Ian Polumbaum 17 Blake Rd N N Y
06 Clinton Richmond 3 Greenough Cir N N Y
06 Ian Roffman 20 Searle Ave Y Y Y
06 Kim Smith 22 Brington Rd Y N Y
06 Ruthann Sneider 30 Perry St Y Y Y
06 Robert Sperber 21 Lowell Rd N N N
06 Thomas Vitolo 153 University Rd N N Y
07 Ellen Ball 441 Washington St A A A
07 Susan Cohen 23 Littell Rd Y Y Y
07 Susan Ellis 431 Washington St N N N
07 Ernest Frey 423 Washington St N N N
07 Phyllis Giller 69 Park St N N A
07 Elizabeth Goldstein 1501 Beacon St N N Y
07 Mark Gray 31 Harris St N N Y
07 Bernard Greene 25 Alton Ct N N N
07 Kelly Hardebeck 18 Littell Rd A A A
07 Jonathan Lewis 104 Harvard St N N A
07 Jonathan Margolis 49 Harvard Ave Y N Y
07 Christopher Oates 42 Saint Paul St N N Y
07 Sloan Sable 50 Harris St N N A
07 Rita Shon-Baker 10 Alton Ct Y Y Y
07 James Slayton 4 Auburn St N N N
08 Lauren Bernard 20 John St N Y A
08 Abigail Cox 18 Osborne Rd P N Y
08 Gina Crandell 117 Stedman St N N A
08 Franklin Friedman 71 Crowninshield Rd N N Y
08 David-Marc Goldstein 22 Osborne Rd N N Y
08 John Harris 41 Osborne Rd Y Y Y
08 Nancy Heller 40 Abbottsford Rd N N N
08 Anita Johnson 41 Osborne Rd N N Y
08 Edward Loechler 106 Beals St Y N Y
08 Jeanne Mansfield 43 Beals St N N Y
08 Robert Miller 19 Copley St N N Y
08 Barbara Scotto 26 Crowninshield Rd N N N
08 Lisamarie Sears 137 Fuller St N N N
08 Sara Stock 19 Abbottsford Rd A A A
08 Maura Toomey 102 Crowninshield Rd N N Y
09 Liza Brooks 36 Russell St N N A
09 Joseph Geller 221 Winchester St A A N
09 Paul Harris 111-B Centre St N P Y
09 Nathaniel Hinchey 19 Winchester St N N Y
09 Barr Jozwicki 183 Winchester St N N N
09 Joyce Jozwicki 183 Winchester St N N N
09 Pamela Katz 29 Columbia St N N Y
09 Julius Levine 40 Williams St A A A
09 Stanley Rabinovitz 117 Thorndike St Y N Y
09 Harriet Rosenstein 53 Centre St N N A
09 Martin Rosenthal 62 Columbia St N N Y
09 Charles Swartz 69 Centre St N N N
09 Dwaign Tyndal 60 Columbia St A A P
09 Judith Vanderkay 16 Columbia St N N Y
09 George White 143 Winchester St N N N
10 Carol Caro 1264 Beacon St N N Y
10 Francis Caro 1264 Beacon St N N Y
10 Sumner Chertok 80 Park St N N A
10 Jonathan Davis 125 Park St Y N Y
10 Linda Davis 125 Park St Y Y Y
10 Holly Deak 124 Park St N Y N
10 Stephan Gaehde 7 Griggs Ter A Y Y
10 Beth Jones 24 Griggs Rd A A A
10 David Micley 675 Washington St N N Y
10 Sharon Sandalow 1272 Beacon St N N N
10 Rachel Sandalow-Ash 1272 Beacon St A A A
10 Stanley Shuman 80 Park St N N N
10 Finn Skagestad 24 Griggs Ter A A Y
10 Alexandra Spingarn 40 Griggs Ter A A N
10 Naomi Sweitzer 14 Griggs Ter N N Y
11 Carrie Benedon 32 Summit Ave P P Y
11 Joseph Ditkoff 145 Mason Ter Y N Y
11 Shira Fischer 50 Summit Ave A A Y
11 Shanna Giora-Gorfajn 66 Winchester St Y N N
11 Jennifer Goldsmith 148 Jordan Rd Y Y N
11 Martha Gray 113 Summit Ave N N Y
11 Bobbie Knable 243 Mason Ter N N A
11 David Lescohier 50 Winchester St Y N N
11 Kenneth Lewis 232 Summit Ave Y N N
11 David Lowe 177 Mason Ter N N Y
11 Rebecca Mautner 12 York Ter Y Y A
11 Maryellen Moran 100 Winchester St N Y A
11 Carol Oldham 1496 Beacon St Y N Y
11 Brian Sheehan 296 Mason Ter Y Y Y
11 Karen Wenc 84 Summit Ave N N Y
12 Michael Burstein 50 Garrison Rd N N Y
12 Bruce Cohen 289 Tappan St N N Y
12 Lee Cooke-Childs 136 Rawson Rd N N Y
12 Chad Ellis 26 Chesham Rd Y Y Y
12 Harry Friedman 27 Claflin Rd Y Y Y
12 Jonathan Grand 120 Beaconsfield Rd N N N
12 Stefanie Greenfield 154 University Rd Y N N
12 Casey Hatchett 84 University Rd Y Y A
12 Amy Hummel 226 Clark Rd Y Y N
12 Jonathan Karon 124 Winthrop Rd A A A
12 David Klafter 63 Winthrop Rd N N Y
12 Mark Lowenstein 158 Winthrop Rd N N Y
12 Judy Meyers 75 Clinton Rd Y Y N
12 William Slotnick 118 Gardner Rd Y P A
12 Donald Weitzman 123 Buckminster Rd N N Y
13 Joanna Baker 1824 Beacon St Y N Y
13 Carla Benka 26 Circuit Rd N N N
13 Roger Blood 69 Cleveland Rd Y Y Y
13 Chris Chanyasulkit 16 Corey Rd A A P
13 John Doggett 8 Penniman Rd N N N
13 Jonathan Fine 57 Willow Cres N N Y
13 Andrew Fischer 21 Bartlett Cres N N Y
13 John Freeman 530 Clinton Rd N N Y
13 Francis Hoy 295 Reservoir Rd N N N
13 Ruth Kaplan 24 Spooner Rd A A A
13 Werner Lohe 25 Salisbury Rd N N Y
13 Paul Saner 462 Chestnut Hill Ave A A N
13 Lee Selwyn 285 Reservoir Rd N Y N
13 Barbara Senecal 345 Clinton Rd Y Y N
13 John VanScoyoc 307 Reservoir Rd N N N
14 Robert Basile 333 Heath St A A A
14 Clifford Brown 9 Hyslop Rd N N N
14 Linda Carlisle 233 Fisher Ave Y Y N
14 Gill Fishman 79 Holland Rd N Y A
14 Paula Friedman 170 Hyslop Rd N Y N
14 Deborah Goldberg 37 Hyslop Rd A A N
14 Georgia Johnson 80 Seaver St A A A
14 Fred Levitan 1731 Beacon St N N N
14 Roger Lipson 622 Chestnut Hill Ave A N N
14 Pamela Lodish 195 Fisher Ave N N N
14 Shaari Mittel 309 Buckminster Rd N N N
14 Kathleen O’Connell 59 Ackers Ave N N Y
14 Benjamin Rich 130 Buckminster Rd A A A
14 Lynda Roseman 49 Ackers Ave N N N
14 Sharon Schoffmann 6 Eliot St N N Y
15 Edwin Alexanderian 945 Hammond St A A A
15 Mariela Ames 25 Whitney St N Y A
15 Eileen Berger 112 Wolcott Rd Y Y Y
15 Michael Berger 112 Wolcott Rd N Y Y
15 Abby Coffin 255 Woodland Rd A A N
15 Jane Flanagan 854 Hammond St N N N
15 John Hall 85 Sears Rd A A A
15 Benedicte Hallowell 96 Sears Rd A A A
15 Janice Kahn 63 Craftsland Rd Y Y N
15 Ira Krepchin 63 Craftsland Rd N N N
15 Richard Nangle 854 Hammond St N Y A
15 David Pearlman 25 Goddard Cir N Y Y
15 James Rourke 679 Hammond St A A A
15 Ab Sadeghi-Nejad 125 Arlington Rd N N N
15 Cornelia van der Ziel 100 Wolcott Rd N N N
16 Saralynn Allaire 157 Bellingham Rd N Y Y
16 Robert Allen 296 Russett Rd N N N
16 Beverly Basile 902 W Roxbury Pkwy Y P A
16 John Basile 1040 W Roxdbury Pkwy A A A
16 Stephen Chiumenti 262 Russett Rd Y P N
16 Regina Frawley 366 Russett Rd N Y Y
16 Thomas Gallitano 146 Bonad Rd Y Y N
16 Scott Gladstone 383 Russett Rd N N N
16 Alisa Jonas 333 Russett Rd P Y Y
16 Judith Leichtner 121 Beverly Rd Y P N
16 William Pu 249 Beverly Rd N Y N
16 Joshua Safer 223 Bonad Rd Y Y N
16 Irene Scharf 250 Russett Rd N N A
16 Arthur Sneider 223 Beverly Rd N N N
16 Joyce Stavis-Zak 44 Intervale Rd Y N Y
AL Nancy Daly 161 Rawson Rd Y N N
AL Betsy DeWitt 94 Upland Rd N N N
AL Benjamin Franco 275 Cypress St N N Y
AL Edward Gadsby 60 Glen Rd P P P
AL Kenneth Goldstein 111 Holland Rd N N N
AL Hon. Frank Smizik 42 Russell St N N A
AL Patrick Ward 12 Edwin St P P P
AL Neil Wishinsky 20 Henry St N N N
             
      Yes 65 60 111
      No 141 147 83
      Present 6 9 7
      Absent 36 32 47

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, November 24, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. An audience of around 20 came to this session, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Best and final plan: The developer presented what appeared to be a best and final plan. As compared to the plan of November 12, it removes three units from the fourth floor of apartments of the proposed large apartment building, making it look like a somewhat bulky 3-story building when viewed from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. As revised, the large building would have 99 apartments.

The total proposed development becomes one large and eleven smaller buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 323 new parking spaces. There are no longer any lofts. Board member Christopher Hussey, an architect, repeated his previous objections to the amount of new parking. Grouping the large building with two smaller ones at the southeast extreme of the development, Mr. Hussey counted 209 parking spaces and 125 apartments to be reached via Asheville Rd.

Too much development: Mr. Hussey said that the amount of new development was too much to be accessed by Asheville Rd., but he did not compare it with the current site. Around 65 of the Hancock Village apartments built in the 1940s are now usually reached via Asheville Rd. The plan presented at the Monday session would nearly triple that number of dwellings and would more than triple the number of parking spaces serving them.

Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, cited an informal study presented to a 2010 town meeting, estimating that Hancock Village has about 1.1 parking spaces per apartment. [Article explanations, November 16, 2010, town meeting, p. 20] He called the proposed ratio of 2.0 for new development excessive, saying it will increase costs and reduce open space. The Appeals board, he said, should set a maximum on parking spaces as a permit condition.

Street and fire safety: Ben Franco, a member of the Board of Selectmen, recalled testimony at the previous session by Paul Ford, the fire chief, saying the development will “exacerbate emergency response problems.” According to Maria Morelli, the Planning Department’s consultant for the project, Mr. Ford will be sending in a written evaluation. Deborah Kilday, an Ogden Rd. resident, said current traffic on the streets crossed by Asheville Rd. was already a major hazard. She said children “can’t walk to school safely on a normal day.”

Precinct 16 town meeting member Scott Gladstone, a neighbor of the proposed development who lives on Russett Rd., contended that adequate traffic and fire safety for the dense, southeast part of the project will need street access from VFW Parkway, which runs along the south side of Hancock Village. Several nearby Brookline streets laid out in the 1930s intersect VFW Parkway, including South St. and Bonad and Russett Rds.

Only South St. has two-way access. The others connect with westbound lanes of the parkway, going toward Dedham, which would be favorable for Brookline fire trucks. The developer would likely encounter resistance trying to get approval for a street connection. VFW Parkway was formerly a segment of U.S. Route 1, although the highway designation was discontinued toward the end of the last Dukakis administration. The parkway is now under supervision of the highway-hostile Department of Conservation and Recreation. The incoming Baker administration might make some changes to this insular agency.

With no one else wanting to comment after about a half hour, the board engaged in discussion for the next hour and a half. Much discussion this time concerned parking and traffic. Their legal counsel, Ms. Netter and Ms. Murphy, advised the board that school crowding and loads on other public services were not eligible concerns with a 40B project but safety issues were. A discussion about street and fire safety ensued.

Parking standards: Board chair Jesse Geller objected to “arbitrary” standards for parking. Board members had trouble recalling the development of Brookline’s zoning requirements but were aware that minimum parking had been increased since residential parking was first required in 1949, with 1.0 spaces per apartment in 1964.

By 1980, Brookline parking requirements varied according to type of zone, with 1.3 spaces per apartment for the M-0.5 zone of Hancock Village. In 2000, town meeting made parking requirements nearly uniform across types of zones, raising them to 2.0 spaces per dwelling unit in most cases. In multiple-apartment zones, like Hancock Village, 2.3 spaces per apartment were required for 3-bedroom and larger apartments. Recent town meetings rejected reducing the parking standards (Article 10 at the November 16, 2010, town meeting, referred to a study committee, and Article 10 at the November 19, 2013, town meeting, defeated).

Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty claimed that the current project plan follows Brookline zoning requirements for parking, but it clearly does not. The plan includes about 45 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom units. Zoning would require about 15 more parking spaces than the plan presented November 24, calling for 369 spaces. Mr. Hussey’s interest in less parking is not supported by access to rapid transit, like recent projects around Brookline Village and recent proposals along Beacon St.

Shrinking a project: The latest plan, at 161 apartments, is significantly smaller than the original proposal for 192 apartments about a year ago. That, in turn, was far smaller than a plan for 466 units described in 2010 but never taken through the 40B permitting process. Since 2010, Edward Zuker, head of Chestnut Hill Realty, has kept a distance, sending Mr. Levin to represent the firm’s interests in the current project.

Additional hearing sessions were scheduled for December 1, 8 and 15–also starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Mr. Levin committed to supply a set of detailed plans and descriptions by December 8. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said his department could review the plans for departures from zoning in a few days. The Appeals board is inviting the fire chief to return on December 1. The board is expected to settle its decision at the December 15 session.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 25, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

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

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Perry Stoll, Portable modular classrooms at Baker School, Driscoll Action, November 24, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 18, 2013

Andreae Downs, Housing plan would get major review, Boston Globe, October 6, 2010

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Wednesday, November 12, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin and by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Key topics for this session were construction safety and fire safety, drawing a large audience of around 70, including several town officials and staff. At the most recent session on November 3, the developer jousted with the board over numbers of units in the project and visibility of the top floor of a large building proposed at an extension of Asheville Rd.

Plan changes: At this session, the developer was widely expected to present a best and final plan. What Mr. Levin described, however, were two minor changes to the previous configuration. A smaller building near Beverly Rd. was reduced to four rather than eight units, but three units were added to the fourth floor of the large building, which was reconfigured with sloping sides to give the impression of a hat-shaped roof from a distance.

The board did not seem much impressed by these changes. They leave the large building and 11 smaller buildings totalling 165 dwelling units, 338 bedrooms and 331 parking spaces. In discussions near the end of the meeting, members asked the developer to return with plans such that the large building’s fourth floor, if retained, is not visible from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. The next session is November 24.

Blasting: Brookline brought in a consultant on blasting, Andrew McKown of Beverly, a registered civil engineer. The plan for the large building places it over an outcrop of Roxbury puddingstone, of which the developer proposes to excavate up to about 20 feet by blasting. Mr. McKown said that could be carried out safely but made recommendations, including a review of plans, a 400-foot survey zone and crack-age monitoring for nearby structures. Mr. Levin said Chestnut Hill Realty would accept the recommendations.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, reviewed fire safety concerns. He has already worked with the developer on roadway access for fire apparatus but remains concerned about the large building. Brookline does not have a ladder truck at a nearby station. The closest one, he said, is nearly four miles away. He said access from VFW Parkway, discussed at previous sessions, would be important for fire safety at the large building.

Robert Niso, a transportation consultant for the developer, would not commit to VFW Parkway access and claimed that the large building could be serviced by a ladder truck at a Boston station about a mile and a half away. Mr. Ford said the main issue was rapid response; Boston equipment would be called in only as backup. Brookline has not previously needed a ladder truck in the area because it currently has no tall buildings.

Opposition: The Appeals board opened the hearing to public comment, probably the last such opportunity, which went on for about an hour and a half. On September 16, the Board of Selectmen sent a letter opposing the project, and three of its members spoke up. Echoing the letter, board member Betsy DeWitt said, “The development is poorly conceived,” threatening the historic integrity of Hancock Village. Nancy Daly spoke to the need for fire access. Neil Wishinsky urged the Appeals board to challenge the developer’s assertions that reducing the large building to three floors of apartments would make the project infeasible.

James Batchelor, an architect who chairs the Preservation Commission, described development of Hancock Village in the 1940s. “It is historic,” he said. “The layout of the buildings and open space are carefully planned around the roadways. The current plan is turning that inside out.” Vehicles, he explained, “being fed in from the back…on small roads.” Emily England, a Bonad Rd. resident and president of Baker School PTO, agreed. “This is the worst year ever,” she said. “Cars are backed up ten and twenty on these little residential roads.”

Regulations: Precinct 16 town meeting members Stephen Chiumenti and William Pu reviewed the state’s comprehensive permit regulations for Chapter 40B projects, which were revised in 2008. They emphasized “local concerns” as decision criteria: “the need to protect the health or safety of the occupants of a proposed project or of the residents of the municipality, to protect the natural environment, to promote better site and building design in relation to the surroundings and municipal and regional planning, or to preserve open spaces.” [760 CMR 56.02]

A project application can be denied if the Appeals board shows that “local concerns” outweigh “housing need,” meaning “the regional need for low and moderate income housing considered with the number of low-income persons in the municipality affected.” [760 CMR 56.07] Mr. Chiumenti argued that Brookline has a relatively small number of such persons, most already living in publicly assisted housing. Mr. Pu argued that the developer is proposing to build on sites “needed to preserve open space…communal space in a natural setting.”

Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead represented several neighborhood residents at the Appeals session. “One area where towns have had success” in opposing 40B projects, he told the board, “is with respect to fire safety.” He urged the board to demand reductions in project scale and challenge resistance. “You can’t get there unless you ask for it,” he said. “You don’t get a second chance at it.”

Neighborhood concerns: Several neighbors of Hancock Village expressed concerns that blasting would damage gas or sewer pipes. William M. Varrell, III, of Asheville Rd., a structural engineer, described effects he had found during other construction projects. There are, he said, “utilities that go right through the parking lots,” but the project design “has ignored them.”

Alisa Jonas, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, seemed to express sentiments of the neighborhood, judging from the hearty applause. She told the board, “We feel that you are accommodating…an unworthy project…There is a beautiful green space…[It's] a breach of trust…I really would like you to think of us in the neighborhood…This is a ridiculous proposal!”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 13, 2014


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

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Important neighborhood meeting, South Brookline Neighborhood Association, January 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes

Members of the Board of Selectmen attending a hearing on a proposed Hancock Village 40B housing development seemed subject to “buyers remorse.” Was it a bright idea to put the Zoning Board of Appeals in the hands of real-estate lawyers, as they did? Their board has strongly opposed the 40B proposal.

An Appeals meeting Monday, November 3, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall, seemed to be a watershed for the proposal. It looks likely to go forward with Appeals consent, and it looks unlikely to get much smaller than now proposed.

Of the five Appeals members hearing the case, chair Jesse Geller and alternate Avi Liss appeared to favor the project. Regular Jonathan Book and alternate Mark Zuroff questioned but did not oppose it. All are lawyers who work, in part, with real estate. Regular member Christopher Hussey, an architect, had sharp questions at the previous session on Wednesday, October 29.

At the November 3 session, developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin and by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant. An audience of around 40 included several town staff and elected officials.

Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty proposed removing the fifth floor once shown for the large building on the site and six apartments on the fourth floor of that building but adding four apartments to a smaller building near Beverly Rd. He said the changes would make the project 166 apartments with 346 bedrooms, no lofts and 333 parking spaces, as compared with 192 apartments with 402 bedrooms and 22 lofts as proposed last spring.

A perspective rendering of the large building that Mr. Levin showed, as seen from the property line across Asheville Rd. at Russett Rd., had articulated sections with four different colors and textures–dominated by red brick at mid-height. While showing a few views around the front of the building, toward the east, Mr. Levin described the other textures as gray stucco on the first floor and some bays and as asphalt shingles on the fourth floor, stepped back from Asheville Rd. on the north side. The large building’s footprint remained the same.

In a meandering discussion about appearance and density, Mr. Hussey and Mr. Zuroff said they favored cutting back the large building to three floors of apartments and one floor of parking. That would reduce the overall height by about 20 feet and the number of apartments by another 23. At that juncture, Appeals began to sound like local boys up against city slickers. Ms. Netter said to the board, “You’re asking about economics.”

Mr. Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs finally said, “It’s not feasible…the density is extremely important to us.” Mr. Levin agreed to “look at” removing two more apartments on the fourth floor of the large building and four proposed for the smaller building near Beverly Rd. After that, Mr. Hussey and Mr. Book backed away from more drastic changes. With changes outlined by Mr. Levin and Mr. Schwartz, the project would apparently become 160 apartments with about 334 bedrooms, no lofts and about 320 parking spaces.

If the occupancy were to mirror Brookline’s average, the development would add around 50 students in Brookline schools. Because Chestnut Hill Realty has been targeting its rental marketing to foreigners with school-age children, neighborhood residents fear it will bring in 200 or more students. So far there has been no Appeals board discussion of conditions on marketing the units.

The Appeals board took no public comment but said it would do so at a continued hearing Wednesday, November 12, when it will also hear from a blasting consultant and from Brookline’s fire chief. That session looks likely to see Chestnut Hill Realty’s best and final version of the proposal, starting at 7:00 pm in the same location.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 4, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In an earlier session, closed to the public, the board had agreed on a contract with the Teamsters local representing the police and fire dispatchers. There were two major reports about ongoing issues. There were public comments, reviews and recommendations for ten of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18. An ambitious agenda produced a session lasting nearly until midnight.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 29, November 9 and December 4 at Baker and Devotion schools and at the Health Center. The first day for a winter farmers market in the Arcade Building at 318 Harvard St. is Sunday, November 2, starting at 2 pm.

On Wednesday, November 12, the Brookline Neighborhood Association and League of Women Voters host a forum for the November 18 town meeting. It begins at 7 pm in community television studios on the third floor at 46 Tappan St., the Unified Arts Building of Brookline High School. Topics are for Articles 8, 12, 13, 15 and 16: revising the disorderly conduct bylaw, restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and managing taxi medallions (that is, permanent licenses).

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the duration of a contract with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown for design of a road improvement project for lower Washington St. Planning began about nine years ago as part of a so-called “Gateway East” effort. Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to add $0.015 million to a masonry repair project at the Old Burying Ground on Walnut St., using funds already appropriated.

The board interviewed candidates for appointments: one for Tree Planting, one for Economic Development and one for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission. Twelve commissioners are authorized but none appointed yet, with some positions still awaiting applicants according to board member Nancy Daly. The board also decided to appoint a Noise Control Bylaw Committee, to be charged with proposing revisions to related town laws.

Projects, licenses and permits At the request of Ms. Gallentine and the Dukakis Recognition Committee, established in 2011 through a town meeting resolution, the board approved a plaque dedicating the Riverway Park to Brookline residents Michael and Kitty Dukakis, the former 3-term governor and his wife. It will be stationed near the Longwood stop on the D branch of the Green Line, where Mr. Dukakis often boards.

Hsiu-Lan Chang, who operates Fast Frame on Beacon St. in Washington Square, asked for permission to install a plaque on the Washington Sq. clock–a donation to the town about 20 years ago from Washington Sq. merchants–in honor of William T. Bonomi, a key supporter of efforts to install and maintain the clock. The board approved. A major maintenance effort is expected before year’s end by Electric Time of Medford, funded by area merchants.

The board reviewed and approved alternate managers for alcoholic beverage sales at two locations, temporary licenses for two events and a 10 am Sunday starting hour for alcoholic beverage sales at six locations. The last, according to board member Betsy DeWitt, is an obligation under a recent state law when a license-holder requests it.

Chen-Hui Chi of Chelmsford appeared to apply for a food vendor (take-out) license to continue operations for Hong Kong Cafe at 1391 Beacon St., which currently has a different owner. He was represented by a bilingual lawyer who translated the board’s questions to Chinese. The board wanted to make sure the applicant understood that the license did not authorize table service. Board members were satisfied and approved.

Managers of Herb Chambers appeared for continued review of an inflammables permit for the Audi dealership at 308 Boylston St. A review on August 29 had left several matters to be settled. As before, the organization was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Mr. Allen told the board that the waste oil storage tank had been moved to a different location and would no longer be serviced via East Milton Rd., a previous source of neighborhood opposition. He said former underground tanks have been removed. KPA Environmental and Safety of Colorado is now overseeing environmental compliance. Mark Jefferson, deputy chief of the Fire Department, confirmed the progress but said the new tank installation was not finished. This time, despite some neighborhood objections, the board was satisfied that Herb Chambers was on track for a safe workplace and granted an annually renewed permit.

Representatives of the VFW and American Legion post on Washington St. appeared again, seeking a club license for alcoholic beverages. They were represented by Roger Lipson, a Brookline-based lawyer and Precinct 14 town meeting member. The post held such a license from 1977 through 2010 but let it lapse by mistake, when a manager became ill. About two years ago, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, took over as post manager.

Mr. Hendrickson has been successful in building a clientele who use the post for events, including weddings and other celebrations, but this has caused friction with neighbors–evident at a previous hearing October 2 on the license application. This time, both Mr. Hendrickson and the board were more prepared. The board wanted some firm conditions on the license, to which Mr. Hendrickson agreed.

There will be police details for events with over 50 participants, and there will be four post members on hand for events: two for service and two for security. The club will not operate past 11 pm. Video cameras and sound meters have been installed and will be monitored during events. Doors near abutters will be used during events only for emergencies. The parking lot will be used only by caterers. With these and other conditions, the board approved a new club license for the post, to be reviewed annually.

Muddy River project: The board heard a report on the Muddy River Restoration Project from Thomas Brady, the conservation director, and Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. The project began after a major storm in October, 1996, flooded the Kenmore Sq. transit station and many houses and buildings in Brookline and Boston. A disastrous 1958 decision by the Hynes administration in Boston to divert the river into relatively small culverts is now being reversed by excavation and by construction of large channels under Park Drive and Brookline Avenue crossings, near the former Sears now called Landmark Center.

As Mr. Brady and Mr. Pappastergion explained, the current effort will correct only one blockage to river flow, although it is probably the worst one. A century-long buildup of silt and invasive plants obstructs many other parts of the riverway, from Ward’s Pond through the Fenway area. They said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, manager of the current project, is now willing to extend the project–provided it receives a Presidential order and Congressional funding.

Board member Ben Franco said the Muddy River project was what got him involved in town government. Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, urged pressure on Congress for funding. “If we don’t maintain this river,” she said, “it will continue to be a significant threat.” The board agreed to participate in a campaign of letters from Boston, Brookline and several organizations. They will send a letter to the President.

School construction: The board entertained a long report from Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani on the need for school construction. Mr. Modigliani felt that the needs were overstated, and he brought along a spreadsheet report trying to show why. According to his report, for kindergarten through eighth grade, the Brookline schools have, by different criteria, between about 600 and 850 unfilled seats. Class sizes this year range from 17 to 26 (Baker seventh grade).

As has become well known, while school enrollments rose over the past several years, so did class sizes. William Lupini, the school superintendent, made similar points in a presentation to the board on October 7. However, Dr. Lupini’s view appears to be that maintaining high-quality schools is going to take more space, perhaps another elementary school plus some kind of high-school expansion.

Mr. Modigliani, an architect, sought to discourage the board from supporting that approach, claiming that the unfilled seats in elementary schools will make more space unnecessary for at least several more years. However, he could not explain how to make use of the capacity, which is scattered through all eight schools and across all nine elementary grades, except by ordering students to transfer abruptly from one school to another.

Board members seemed skeptical. Betsy DeWitt pointed out that several current classrooms have been squeezed into small spaces, labeled “suboptimal.” Mr. Modigliani agreed that was possible but said he had not been able to inspect any of them. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, challenged Mr. Modigliani’s approach, saying it would force schools to split siblings between schools.

Board member Nancy Daly recalled events of years ago, saying, “My son was in a first grade of 27 kids. He didn’t learn how to read. That’s what catapulted me into town politics.” Mr. Modigliani seemed to focus on counting noses. The value of a seat in a classroom, he claimed, was about $100,000, but it turned out that he meant only costs of construction. He did not seem to have given much attention to the effects of increasing class sizes on the quality of teaching and learning.

Warrant articles: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 1, unpaid bills, since there are none. For Article 2, collective bargaining, the board voted to recommend approval of the collective bargaining agreements reached with police officers earlier and with dispatchers the same evening. For Article 3, budget amendments, the board voted to recommend the Advisory Committee’s plan to use about 60 percent of an additional $0.04 million in state aid for the new diversity department, as proposed by Advisory member Stanley Spiegel and agreed to by the School Committee.

The board voted to recommend approval of Article 7, bylaw amendments prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education. The board had worked through these topics last August 29 with the participation of citizen petitioners for the article.

As negotiated with the petitioner for Article 9, noise control bylaw amendments, the board voted to recommend referral to the Noise Control Bylaw Committee it will be appointing. For Article 10, commercial recycling, the board expressed support. However, board member Nancy Daly observed, “The business community is pretty unaware of this.” She asked petitioner Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, “Have you reached out to them?” Apparently unsatisfied with the answers, the board decided to wait for an analysis by the town administrator, Mel Kleckner, and did not vote a recommendation.

The board gave the petitioners for Article 12, restrictions on locating marijuana dispensaries, another big bite of the apple, after spending almost two hours on the topic at a previous meeting. Not much was new. The issues had been hashed over the previous evening, at a meeting of the Zoning Bylaw Committee. Once again, George Vien of Davis Ave. tried to scare board members with vague threats of federal prosecution.

Mr. Goldstein wasn’t buying any of that, saying, “I don’t think the federal government is going to hold the Board of Selectmen liable for voting no-action on a warrant article.” He then moved to recommend no action on Article 12. Board member Neil Wishinsky agreed, saying, “We can handle the concerns that people have through the licensing and appeals process.” The board voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

For Article 13, zoning appeals notices to town meeting members, the board also voted to recommend no action, after the Planning Department instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners. For resolution articles 18 and 19, support for domestic workers and opposition to a gas pipeline, the board voted to recommend approval, with amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 29, 2014


Jana Kasperkevic, Medical marijuana in New York: barriers high for small businesses, Manchester Guardian (UK), October 29, 2014

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

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Zoning Bylaw Committee met to review proposed new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries Monday, October 27, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Article 12 for the November 18 town meeting proposes to exclude these facilities within five hundred feet of day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” The committee had held a public hearing on the article September 22.

Proponents: In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning amendments to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. The use requires a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, the property boundary must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property and the building may not contain a day-care center. Section 4.12 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw contains several other general restrictions and some procedural requirements.

Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argue that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for the specifics of their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, presumably meaning 105 CMR 725, titled “Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.”

At the committee’s hearing and at several other recent meetings, Mr. Bennett claimed Brookline should have followed regulations from the state’s public health department–adding exclusion zones around day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” However, the petitioners for Article 12 quote selectively from state regulations.

Crumbling claims: The state regulation at issue, 105 CMR 725.110(A)(14), can be found in a section titled “Security Requirements.” It provides (in full):

“An RMD [registered marijuana dispensary] shall comply with all local requirements regarding siting, provided however that if no local requirements exist, an RMD shall not be sited within a radius of 50 feet [sic] of a school, daycare center or any facility in which children commonly congregate. The 500 foot distance [sic] under this section is measured in a straight line from the nearest point of the facility in question to the nearest point of the proposed RMD.”

The regulation is only a default. It applies “if no local requirements exist.” Last year, Brookline enacted its own local requirements in Section 4.12 of its zoning bylaw. The regulation does not apply to Brookline. Since it was the keystone of Mr. Bennett’s claims, they appear to crumble. He and the other petitioners for Article 12 are left with general arguments about “protecting children” but not with the hard-edged specifics such as a “radius of 50 feet” or a “500 foot distance.”

Opponents: The petitioners for Article 12 claimed that in Colorado half the prescriptions for medical marijuana had been written by a dozen physicians. One of the petitioners, Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., showed how that might happen. Ironically, the statement from Dr. Childs, a physician, became an argument in opposition.

Dr. Childs said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana. That is likely to leave a small number of independent physicians as sole resources for patients interested in treatment. As in Colorado, a small number of physicians is then likely to write a large fraction of prescriptions, because of rigid attitudes adopted by other physicians.

Eddie Benjamin of Brookline objected that petitioners for Article 12 wanted to ban marijuana dispensaries by leaving no place for one to locate. Maps prepared by the Planning Department confirmed that locations of parks, playgrounds and child-care facilities in Brookline were so numerous and widely dispersed that no part of a general business, office or industrial zone would remain as an eligible site.

New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes to use the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. Mr. Vered argued that it is one of the few suitable sites in Brookline: an isolated, single-use building in a general business zone, on a state highway with on-site parking, close to a transit stop on Station St.

According to Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, the Brookline Bank location is an eligible site under current zoning, and NETA has filed a plot plan that freezes the zoning for its site. Under those conditions, even if town meeting were to pass Article 12 as submitted, NETA would be able to use the site as long as it began operations within three years from filing the plot plan.

Review: Committee members found claims advanced for Article 12 unconvincing. Linda Hamlin, who chairs the Planning Board, said there was “no evidence day cares are put in jeopardy.” Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the committee and the Board of Selectmen, said, “Voters in Brookline have spoken clearly…The bank is about as good a location as we could find in this town.” The committee voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 28, 2014


Marijuana dispensary zoning, currently allowed, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

Marijuana dispensary zoning, proposed Article 12, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

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)

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

Zoning bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: bicycles, warrant articles, neighborhood issues

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 30, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations, but the unusually busy meeting ran almost five hours. There were reviews and hearings for five of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: This coming Sunday, October 5, the National Park Service is guiding a “Walk along the Emerald Necklace,” visiting sites of Brookline and Boston parks developed in the late 1800s by Brookline resident Frederick Olmsted, Sr. If interested, call 617-566-1689 ext 221. The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center.

Contracts and programs: Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.1 million for geotechnical analysis at Lawrence School, a $3.1 million project to add four classrooms. That is likely to be about a quarter of the contingency budget, although Mr. Guigli did not say. He said levels of contamination, mainly ash, proved low enough that most of the problem soil could be reused on-site.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got contract approval for the fifth major round of bicycle markings on Brookline streets, totaling $0.06 million. This round will install new markings on Cypress and School Sts. near Town Hall and replace or install markings along all of Beacon St. Mr. Ditto was not able to describe the standards that will govern the formats of these markings. In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, he said Brookline was not planning any fully separated bicycle lanes, sometimes called “cycle tracks.”

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the current contract with the state transportation department for a bicycle sharing program known as Hubway. About 60 percent of $0.11 million in state funding has been spent, mostly on equipment and installation. The program operator is apparently still losing money. The board approved a 3-year sponsorship agreement with New Balance of Boston to brand bicycles stationed in Brookline, in return for $0.03 million to support program expansion to more locations.

Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, got approval to accept three state and federal grants totaling $0.06 million. The smallest of them, $0.01 million for a program to combat underage drinking and drunk driving, started a long discussion that recalled public disturbances earlier this year–a topic revisited later in the evening, when the board heard a liquor license application for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St.

Personnel and diversity: Candidates for the Conservation Commission and Commission on Women appeared for interviews. The Board approved three Climate Action appointments: Precinct 15 town meeting member Michael Berger of Wolcott Rd., Crystal Johnson of Harvard Ave. and Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier of Winchester St.

Several hirings were approved to replace former employees at the library and in the Public Works Department. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office.

In an item not on the original agenda, the board questioned Sandra DeBow, director of the Human Resources Office, and Lloyd Gellineau, human relations and human services director, about efforts to increase diversity of the work force. Ms. DeBow said that, when posting job openings, her office had begun to employ a variety of social media popular among minority groups. Dr. Gellineau described what he called a “blueprint” for outreach. The two said they expected to report survey results next summer.

Warrant articles: During review of Article 2 for the fall town meeting, about collective bargaining agreements, Ms. DeBow announced a long-awaited, multi-year agreement with police officers. She and Mr. O’Leary said the agreement would replace police captains with deputy superintendents who will be non-union and exempt from civil service. That will evidently reduce the department’s roster of sworn officers. Mr. O’Leary said the new agreement will couple educational requirements with senior ranks. The board supported the agreement.

Although the board had announced hearings on warrant articles, only three members of the public spoke, fairly briefly–all town meeting members. The board’s review of Articles 4, 5 and 6, related to development of the former Cleveland Circle Cinema site, turned up no controversy. However, the board questioned Mr. O’Leary at length over Article 8, which he had submitted, seeking to revise Brookline’s bylaw on disorderly behavior.

The disorderly behavior law is an inheritance from colonial times. The version enacted in 1922 and effective until a change last year said, “No person shall behave in a rude, disorderly, insolent or insulting manner, or…shall use any indecent, profane, insolent or insulting language…in any public way” or near any dwelling. Civil liberties challenges to such laws began to accumulate in the 1960s. Mr. O’Leary has been trying to reconcile the law with court rulings. A key problem is distinguishing between free speech and abusive speech.

Mr. Goldstein, a lawyer, recalled the citation about “shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” that paraphrases an historic opinion of former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in 1919, holding that speaking in opposition to the draft during World War I was not constitutionally protected. While memorable, it addresses few of the disturbances to which police are called.

Town meeting member Rita McNally of Precinct 2 objected to proposed deletion of provisions against threats and offensive language in public places. Town meeting member Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 noted that abuse of women and of older people included intimidation–not covered by either the current or the proposed law. Mr. O’Leary argued that under case law, police need a witness. “Our word is not good enough,” he said. Members of the board turned wary. They decided to continue the hearing and ask town counsel to advise them.

Licenses and permits: Most common victualler (restaurant), alcoholic beverage service and package-store licenses turned up little controversy. However, a proposed restaurant called Society of Grownups at 1653 Beacon St. drew sharp questions. That was the site of B&D Deli from 1927 to 2005 and then, for short times, of Jimmy’s Italian and Starbucks. Board member Betsy DeWitt noted that Society was a subsidiary of Mass Mutual. She asked about the relationship between a restaurant and a financial services organization.

Nondini Naqui, the manager for Society, accompanied by a lawyer for Mass Mutual, said the purpose of Society was “financial literacy and education” for young adults; food service was ancillary. Ms. DeWitt said she was concerned about potential for deception and asked “how much of Mass Mutual’s services” will be sold at the location. Douglas Moran, the chief financial officer of Mass Mutual, responded, “We won’t sell financial products at that location.” He said Mass Mutual “will not try to hide the relationship.” The board approved a restaurant license for Society.

Neighborhood issues: An application to replace a lapsed liquor service license for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St. was clouded by controversies. According to neighbors, last spring saw problems with noise from events at the post and apparently drunken participants nearby. Board member Nancy Daly recalled “inebriated people outside the hall.” About 15 interested residents came to the hearing.

John Tynan, post commander and a former Brookline fire lieutenant, spoke for the post, saying there had been a “disconcerting” delay of nine months since submitting an application. “We’re trying to get this place up and running.” Ms. DeWitt noted that under the club type of application pending, service can only be provided to club members.

The post manager, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, responded, “Every time we have an event, we apply for a one-day license.” The club license is intended for the post’s routine operation to serve members and not for events. Problems noted by neighbors had occurred during events. Mr. Hendrickson said the post has installed surveillance cameras and begun monitoring events.

A neighbor on School St. described “concerns with noise in front of the building.” She said, “We need a direct number to the manager…a schedule of events. We don’t want to call the police.” Another neighbor said there had been “problems with commercial exploitation…two disturbances in last six months: loud music, screaming, marijuana, urinating in public, cigarette butts.”

Ms. Daly noted that Mr. O’Leary, the chief of police, advised “that you do call the police, let them work on this for you.” Mr. Goldstein said the post “may need police details for events.” He said there also needed to be “standards for the size of events.” The neighbor who described disturbances asked the board to limit club license operations to 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays and 10 pm other nights. The board decided to hold the application for further investigation.

An application for a permit to store flammables at the Audi dealership on Boylston St, recently taken over by Herb Chambers, also brought controversies. Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the dealership. He said it had a permit issued in 1948, which it proposed to replace with a conventional, annually renewed permit.

As at the review last month of the dealership’s transfer of ownership, neighbors raised concerns. A resident of East Milton Rd. objected to the dealership’s using it, when hauling used motor oil, for about the past year and said that some employees have been parking on the private way. Another neighbor, who said he had lived on East Milton Rd. for 60 years, made similar objections.

For Marcus Quigley, chair of the Conservation Commission, who lives nearby on Walnut St., fire protection was a major issue. He said used motor oil was being stored close to neighboring properties and asked for a setback of 20 feet to reduce hazards. Responding to a question from Mr. Goldstein, he said he did not know whether used motor oil was a worse hazard than fuel oil.

Mr. Allen contended that “other properties have similar licenses without big controversies.” However, the need to hire a hazardous waste handler indicates used motor oil is not a benign substance. Board members considered whether to require conditions on a flammables permit but concluded they did not have enough information. They decided to continue the hearing to a future date.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2014

Planning Board: opinions on Hancock Village 40B plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Transportation Board: Coolidge Corner jitney to Boston and Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: anti-discrimination law, auto dealer transfer

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 26, started at 5:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Board member Betsy DeWitt was in contact by telephone. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Alex Coleman, a member of the Human Relations Commission, supported an article for the fall town meeting in November, from town counsel. It follows a resolution Dr. Coleman proposed as Article 31 at this year’s annual town meeting, affirming support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.

When town meeting approved Article 31, it added an amendment proposed by the Advisory Committee and endorsed by the Board of Selectmen, asking Brookline’s legal staff to review the town’s bylaws and propose changes at the next town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of the resolution. That is what the new article is intended to do. Several parts of town bylaws would change, adding “gender identity and gender expression” to categories of prohibited discrimination.

The new article is being proposed to town meeting by the Board of Selectmen. Chair Kenneth Goldstein asked Dr. Coleman if he and other petitioners for the previous article wanted to join as co-sponsors of the new one; they do. Dr. Coleman explained that addressing discrimination in public accommodations will be particularly helpful, because of gaps in state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The article will be filed by joint sponsors.

Audi of Brookline, at 308 Boylston St., is the town’s last remaining dealer in new automobiles, after departure or closure–over the past forty years–of former Cadillac, Ford, Buick, Oldsmobile, AMC/Jeep, Volvo, Saab and Volkswagen operations on Commonwealth Ave., Beacon St., Harvard St., Boylston St. and Hammond St. The Audi dealership was recently bought by the Herb Chambers company, which applied for transfer of a license to sell used vehicles at the site.

Boston’s and Brookline’s former automobile row on Commonwealth Ave., starting at the B.U. Bridge and proceeding west, is entirely gone. From about 1910 through 1990, most U.S. and major foreign automobiles could be found along both sides of this three-quarter mile of street. The only reminders now are Herb Chambers operations up Brighton Ave. and past the bend at Packard Corner on Commonwealth Ave.–selling and servicing over 30 makes.

The Herb Chambers company was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, by Brad Gomes and Steve O’Neill, general managers for Herb Chambers, and by Antonio Bruno, designated manager of the Audi division in Brookline.

The board questioned Capt. Michael Gropman of the Brookline Police Department about incidents on Lawton St., involving vehicles connected with the nearby Herb Chambers operations, parked on the street and dropped off at night by tow trucks. After Brookline police intervened about six months ago, Capt. Gropman said, Herb Chambers managers stopped those problems, and apparently they have not recurred.

Problems have also been reported in the past on East Milton Rd., a short street off Cypress St. that ends at the back of the Brookline Audi property fronting on Boylston St. One resident of the street spoke about recent pickup and dropoff of materials via East Milton Rd. and about continuing use of the street by vehicles being repaired. There is something going on making lots of noise and fumes, he said, maybe work on wheels.

Mr. O’Neill of the Herb Chambers company said the work was wheel refinishing, done within company premises by a contractor who uses state-approved equipment. The neighborhood resident said the Brookline Health Department had found the operation lacked proper filters, allowing fumes to escape. Mr. O’Neill denied that there had been a citation. He also said a vendor comes by about every two weeks to pick up waste motor oil at the East Milton Rd. access, because an oil storage tank had recently been moved there during a renovation.

According to statements, car dealerships have operated at the site since the 1930s. There are many departures from current zoning, but they can continue as long as they are not worsened. Mr. Allen said that under Herb Chambers management there would be no expansions of uses and buildings. He said an “Audi image program will force beautifying the premises.” The board approved the license transfer, subject to several health and safety conditions, including all the current conditions.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 29, 2014

Brookline Place project: convening a design advisory team

Under Brookline’s “design review” zoning begun in 1971–amended several times since–reviews by a design advisory team are required for “major impact” projects, involving 16 or more new residential units or 25,000 square feet or more of new non-residential space. A team consists of one or more Planning Board members, one or more design professionals and one or more neighborhood representatives.

From committee to team: The Planning Board has yet to appoint a design advisory team for Brookline Place, and there has been no public notice about appointing a team, as required in the zoning bylaw. However, a 12-member Brookline Place Advisory Committee was appointed by the Board of Selectmen in October, 2013. The committee submitted Article 15 to the 2014 annual town meeting, proposing zoning changes to support the now ongoing Brookline Place project. Those changes passed by 170 to 9, in an electronically recorded vote on June 2.

Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning, attended the August 26 meeting along with seven members of the selectmen’s committee: Mark Zarrillo and Linda Hamlin, chair and member of the Planning Board, Cynthia Gunadi and Steve Lacker, architects, John Bassett and Edith Brickman, nearby town meeting members, and Arlene Mattison, an environmental advocate who lives about three blocks from the site.

They were joined by Antonia Bellalta of Bellalta3, landscape designers currently on contract with the town for redesign of Hickey Triangle in the heart of Brookline Village. Ms. Bellalta had been named in an August 26 memorandum from Ms. Selkoe to the Planning Board as a candidate for the Brookline Place team.

Mr. Lacker asked, “What is [the design review team] charged with? Ms. Selkoe said it should “report to the Planning Board” on issues found–not including traffic–and “give the board updates as it goes along.” She said there will also be meetings of department heads, unannounced and closed to the public. If a quarter of the design advisory team consists of Planning Board members, the board should get plenty of ongoing information from the team.

Concept plans: Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer, was represented by Charles Weinstein, their architect Elkus Manfredi by Sam Norod and Tim Talun, and their landscape designer Mikyoung Kim by Bill Madden. The Children’s design team also includes civil engineers at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, traffic engineers at Howard/Stein-Hudson and environmental consultants at Sanborn Head. George Cole, a Children’s consultant, coordinated presentations.

An agenda for the August 26 meeting had not been announced to the public, despite Massachusetts open meeting requirements that a meeting notice describe topics. The business consisted of presentations by the Children’s Hospital design team and of committee discussions about concepts: designing building outlines, relating buildings to contexts, organizing open spaces and considering potentials for public, outdoor uses.

The selectmen’s committee had presented a detailed report to town meeting, tailoring zoning around fairly concrete plans for new offices and a new parking garage, so there were not likely to be surprises. The Children’s Hospital design team presented concept plans similar to what the selectmen’s committee reported. However, a sketch exhibited last spring showed new offices in an 8-story rectangular tower.

Elements of the design: At the August 26 meeting, representatives of Children’s distributed copies of concept plans for two new office buildings and a new garage, adding 325 more parking spaces. One of the new buildings was shown sited near the corner of Washington and Pearl Sts., eight stories as expected. The other was shown expanding existing 6-story offices toward the southwest. Both have curved outer walls, together forming a trumpet bell onto Washington St.

View of Brookline Place development looking northwest

A small, landscaped interior plaza, linked by wide walkways to Washington St. on one side and to Pearl St. on the other, opposite the Green Line stop, looks smaller in a perspective rendering than one might have expected. The addition to the existing office buildings seems to crowd the plaza and to create a canyon into the project from Washington St., almost entirely hiding views across the site that might include Station St.

Previous drawings the selectmen’s committee used to illustrate their proposals had suggested there could be a larger interior plaza and less constricted views across the site. A local comparison of sorts–Winchester St. approaching Beacon St.–shows a similar canyon effect, running to the 13-story tower at 1371 Beacon. That was unanticipated by nearby neighborhoods when the tower was allowed, replacing a church under former, much higher density zoning for the Coolidge Corner area.

Design issues: As he had promised, Mr. Cole kept presentations brief, but closer to twenty than to five minutes. Everything mentioned appeared to be contained in a 73-page document he circulated, which becomes a part of the public record. Right away, Mr. Zarrillo, the Planning Board chair, called for “a list of amenities that were to going be provided,” as negotiated with the selectmen’s committee.

About the amenities, Mr. Cole said, “We have not done that yet.” Mr. Zarrillo responded, “I would say that you should do that.” There was a bit of discussion about how the project might integrate with the long planned, so-called “Gateway East” project along Route 9, between the Riverway and the old Brookline Bank. No one knew when any action could be expected from the state’s transportation department, the key agency.

Ms. Brickman complained, “I don’t see any grass. Where’s the grass?” Mr. Cole and Mr. Madden, the landscape designer, ruffled through their cache of computerized slides and came up with a couple showing patches of green. However, those looked hardly sufficient to meet what the zoning changes passed by town meeting in June require, “Hard-surfaced walks and plazas may not exceed 55 percent of the total…open space.”

Landscaped versus paved space took up a good fraction of time at the meeting. Ms. Mattison said “it was really important to protect the triangle of green. The thing that saved Brook House was green around it.” Committee members proved resistant to mere decorations suggesting the project was somehow related to nearby Brookline Village. Ms. Bellalta said, “The development should have its own character.”

A suburban design: Some committee members seemed absorbed in discussions about amounts and locations of landscaped space, but not Mr. Zarrillo. He said that the project “needs a better design. It’s pretty pedestrian…one of those California outdoor malls.” Mr. Lacker seemed to agree, saying, “There’s something that feels corporate suburban right now.”

Mr. Lacker said he “would like to see something where there wasn’t a glass…curvy appearance…What’s urban in this context is really important.” Mr. Bassett sounded skeptical, “You’re suggesting pavement instead of grass in the plaza?” Apparently, not quite. Mr. Lacker said he “never liked Gateway East,” mainly a highway project with a touch of landscaping.

Mr. Bassett wanted to “take advantage of the old buildings on Station St.” At one point, Mr. Cole asked, rhetorically, “How do you make this feel like part of Brookline Village?” It sounded “all hat and no cattle.” None of the views in Mr. Cole’s document showed Station St. in the background, looking outward. Instead, they looked into the project from Washington St. or looked west along Route 9 or looked toward and away from the Brook House.

The group plans to meet about every two weeks, apparently on Tuesdays–the most crowded day of the week for meetings, including the Board of Selectmen and School Committee. The next meeting was tentatively set for 7:30 pm Tuesday, September 16, at Town Hall.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 27, 2014

Planning Board: a house trying to eat a hill

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, August 21, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of five property improvement applications were scheduled. A proposal to convert a single-family house at 227 Tappan St. to a two-family house drew strong neighborhood opposition.

SC districts: Many properties near the peak and on the south and east sides of Addington Hill are in types of zoning called SC-7 and SC-10. SC zoning was introduced in the early 1960s, when Brookline made its first major revisions to zoning since 1922. Single-family houses in SC districts can be converted to two-family with special permits approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The single-family property at 227 Tappan was bought by a developer this year, who applied for a conversion permit. Several such conversions have not aroused much controversy, because owners maintained the outlines of houses and added inconspicuous second entrances. In this case, however, the developer plans to add a large extension onto the rear of a two-story house, more than doubling the floor area.

House on a hill: Slopes along the south side of Addington Hill are among the steepest in Brookline. No cross street connects Tappan St. to Rawson Rd. uphill from it except Garrison Rd., in relatively flat territory near Beacon St. Several properties along the middle section of Tappan St., including the one at 227, have deep lots with steep, heavily forested slopes in back.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the developer–who also brought along an architect and a landscape designer. Comments from members of the Planning Board indicated they saw skilled and professional efforts to plan construction on the steep rear slopes, while largely maintaining current appearances from Tappan St.

It was just those factors that most alarmed neighbors. They presented a memorandum of objections, and several spoke out about their concerns. Construction plans call for a large excavation, probably scooping out several hundred cubic yards of Addington Hill and uprooting or disturbing mature trees. Big, deeply set retaining walls would be needed. The scale of land disturbance is rare except for major buildings and highways.

Objections: Next-door neighbors were upset about the potential for “shifting of the ground,” as one put it. “We’re going to end up with a cracked foundation,” he predicted. Drainage from Addington Hill onto Tappan St. has “a 50-foot head…[it] will flow onto adjacent properties” and may flood them. For those Tappan St. residents, it was “not a question of aesthetics but a serious structural problem.”

Other neighbors were concerned about a concentration of automobiles opposite the intersection of Tappan St. with Beaconsfield Rd. Based on parking designs, there can be five to seven instead of only one, they said. The neighbors said current driveways are hazards for children, especially during snow season, but the proposed one would be much worse. because of its location and the number of cars there.

Lee Cooke-Childs, a Precinct 12 town meeting member who lives on Rawson Rd., directly behind the Tappan St. property, objected to disturbing trees. It’s “a climax forest,” she said, asking whether “their excavation is going to threaten the roots of my trees.” Another resident, a few doors away on Tappan St., observed that “60 percent of the lot is flat…[yet] the plan will tunnel into the hill.”

Alex Coleman, a member of the Human Relations Commission who lives on the other side of of Tappan St., said neighbors were at work on a proposed zoning change for part of the SC-10 district. However, Dr. Coleman conceded such a change would come too late to prevent the development proposed for 227 Tappan St., if it were allowed by the Appeals board.

A skeptical board: After hearing from the neighborhood, Planning Board members began to express skepticism about the proposal. However, board member Steve Heikin said Brookline did not have much leverage over dimensions, since the plan observes Brookline limits for floor area and setbacks. He recalled a recent, large Toxteth St. development that needed no special permits, saying it had inspired a neighborhood conservation district enacted at the 2014 annual town meeting.

Board member Robert Cook was probably the most direct. “It’s way too big,” he said. Board member Linda Hamlin said she didn’t “think it meets community standards…asking for too much.” Board member Sergio Modigliani, an architect, said the plan was “a big reach, as much as possible inside that envelope.” Mark Zarrillo, the board’s chair and a landscape architect, summed up. “I can’t support this,” he said, “The project is too big.”

Faced with little or no support from Planning Board members, Mr. Allen looked for an alternative. “Maybe we could return on September 4,” he said, “Maybe we could come back with something like” what amounted to around a 20 percent smaller house. Mr. Zarrillo recommended the developer and his architect look into “extra height to avoid a larger footprint.”

The developer said he “would be willing to engage…if it was worthwhile.” Mr. Zarrillo responded, “You need to talk to the neighbors.” The developer said, “I’ve tried to have that conversation…only one person showed up.” Tentatively, the Planning Board scheduled another review for September 18 and continued the case without voting a recommendation.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 22, 2014

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: Brookline Place, MBTA 51 bus

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Tuesday, August 19, started at 7:00 pm in the third-floor conference room at Town Hall, with four committee members present. The committee is planning a survey focused on neighborhoods that might be affected by changing parts of the route of the MBTA no. 51 bus that run through south Brookline.

Brookline Place: A “draft” transportation demand management (TDM) plan for the proposed Brookline Place development surfaced at the meeting. It had been prepared by Howard/Stein-Hudson of Boston, a consultant to Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer of the parcel, which is adjacent to the Brookline Village transit stop on the D branch of the MBTA Green Line between Station and Pearl Sts.

Although dated January 16 of this year and although addressing a hotly controversial topic, the proposed plan has not received much public attention. Under Article 15, the 2014 annual town meeting changed special zoning devised for just this one parcel of land to allow a new above-ground parking garage with a maximum of 683 spaces, replacing the current above-ground garage that has 377 spaces.

In partial compensation for adding parking and for not requiring that parking be underground, the developer is required to implement a TDM plan. Against Brookline’s traditions of citizen government, no approval of a TDM plan was required from any public board. Instead, the developer needs only approval from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director. Those two town employees are not subject to the Open Meeting Law or any other detailed requirements for public notice or accountability.

The “draft” TDM plan reviewed by the committee was spartan, just over one printed page. Committee members reacted to provisions intended to promote transit use by employees at the site. Linda Jason criticized “50 percent transit subsidies,” saying that in major Boston developments full subsidies of MBTA transit had been required. The committee is to continue its TDM review at a future meeting.

MBTA 51 bus: The committee began planning processes for public input on proposals to change the route of the MBTA 51 bus in south Brookline. Unlike the most recent three committee meetings, no MBTA representative came to this one. However, at this meeting the committee focused on process rather than on any specifics for potential changes to the 51 bus route. This bus goes from Cleveland Circle through south Brookline, West Roxbury and Roslindale to Forest Hills, returning along the same route.

Proposed changes previously discussed affect MBTA 51 bus route segments between Chestnut Hill Ave.–at the intersection with Boylston St. (Route 9)–and Independence Drive running through Hancock Village. Instead of operating via Lee St., Clyde St., Newton St. and Grove St., a modified route would operate via Boylston St., Hammond St. and one of two options to connect with Independence Drive.

The purpose is to increase MBTA bus ridership, operating through more densely populated neighborhoods in south Brookline. One of the two options would use the partly parallel roads West Roxbury Pkwy. (NE side) and Newton St. (SW side) between Horace James Circle and Putterham (Ryan) Circle, then southwest on Grove St. The other option would use Lagrange St. and Beverly Rd. between Horace James Circle and Grove St., which is renamed Independence Drive near Gerry Rd. and southward.

The committee wants to see whether there is substantial support for any change and, if there is, which of the two options between Horace James Circle and Grove St. is more attractive. Using West Roxbury Pkwy. might be easier, but that is more remote from residents and offers fewer opportunities for stops. Beverly Rd. runs through more populated neighborhoods but has narrower roadways, particularly at the curve near Baker School.

Online survey: Ms. Jason presented a draft, online-survey questionnaire, developed with software tools. The committee members offered comments and made some edits. Committee member Sherry Flashman noted that either proposed route change would worsen bus access to Larz Anderson Park. Committee chair Abby Swaine noted that either one would improve access to the newer Skyline Park.

Committee member Deborah Dong suggested the questionnaire ask about MBTA 51 bus stops now in Brookline. There are four on the Chestnut Hill Ave. segment connecting to Cleveland Circle, nine on the current segment via Lee St. and Newton St., and four on the Grove St. and Independence Drive segment through Hancock Village into West Roxbury. To get clear descriptions of stops could be a challenge. Some are known by two names, depending on the direction of travel. Also, MBTA does not now accurately distinguish between Grove St. and Independence Drive.

The committee decided to plan its survey for October and November, to try to include a notice of it with the October water-bill mailing and to promote it through schools, shops, south Brookline institutions and local recreation programs. Tentative plans are to hold a public hearing in December and arrive at a recommendation in January, to be presented to the Transportation Board and MBTA.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 20, 2014


Transportation demand management program (draft), Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, January 16, 2014

Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors

Chief Daniel O’Leary of the Brookline Police Department wrote an analysis of bicycle crashes, based on his department’s records for 2013. It shows the highest density of crashes for that year on Harvard St. between Auburn and Verndale Sts. He also provided to the Bicycle Advisory Committee some detailed information about the 53 bicycle crashes police investigated in 2013: on average, about one a week. Several patterns appear.

Patterns: Three-quarters of bicycle crashes occurred from May through October: 40 during the six warmer months, compared with 13 during the six colder months. Few crashes occurred from 8 pm to 8 am–6 reports–compared with 8 am to 8 pm–47 reports. Most crashes occurred during daylight hours in warmer months. A bicycle crash around 10 am in summer was about 20 times as likely as a bicycle crash around 10 pm in winter.

All the police reports from Brookline were for collisions involving motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. Peak hours for bicycle crashes were late morning, 10 am to noon, and late afternoon, 4 pm to 6 pm. None of the police reports from Brookline were for bicycles falling over or colliding with fixed objects. However, a long-time Boston-area bicyclist and observer reports that “most injury-producing bicycle crashes do not involve a motor vehicle at all.”

Circumstances of bicycle crashes are harder to understand. For about two-thirds of Brookline bicycle crashes, bicyclists were transported for medical attention. No fatalities were reported for 2013, but the extents of injuries were not otherwise described. Police reports of primary causes did not appear to follow a uniform system and needed to be categorized. Grouping them into five categories yielded the following:

Motorist struck bicyclist—-18 reports
Collision at vehicle turn—–12 reports
Bicyclist violated signals—-11 reports
Collision with vehicle door—9 reports
All other circumstances——-4 reports

Factors: Lack of attention by both motorists and bicyclists appears to be a strong factor in the reported bicycle crashes. Frequent circumstances were motorists pulling out into traffic, making turns and opening doors. Motorists were considered at fault in 28 reports, bicyclists in 12 reports and pedestrians in 2 reports. Citations were issued to 21 motorists and to 7 bicyclists.

From these reports alone, one cannot tell whether Brookline streets are relatively dangerous or relatively safe for bicyclists. They do not indicate corresponding bicycle and motor vehicle traffic densities. So far, there is little comparable information from elsewhere in the United States. Informal observations find bicyclists in Brookline stopping more often at traffic signals than those in Boston’s terror zone along Commonwealth Ave.

Other communities: Several years ago, New York City published a multiple-year report on bicycle crashes. It focused on fatalities and “serious injuries” but also analyzed “contributing factors.” This report found the two most common factors were “bicyclist crossing into a vehicle path”–reported for 84 percent of crashes–and “driver inattention” or “driver error”–reported for 60 percent of crashes.

Crashes at intersections were reported about ten times as often as crashes in mid-block. Midtown Manhattan and south, down to Union Square, appears to be the terror zone of New York City. Informal observations often find bicyclists in midtown Manhattan weaving through traffic. Neither Boston nor Cambridge has published detailed information online. Occasional incident maps from those communities provide the few clues.

Improving safety: Reducing bicycle crashes remains an art and a goal in the United States, not yet a science or a record. John S. Allen, a veteran urban bicyclist in the Boston area, has described some efforts in Cambridge. His report on a Vassar St. bicycle lane shows how what might have sounded like a good idea, at least to some, yielded perverse results. It is not clear how thoroughly the Brookline Bicycle Advisory Committee has investigated this nearby experiment.

As of summer, 2014, there are no federal standards for enhanced bicycle markings at intersections. Designs have been promoted by organizations, but they have yet to be validated against alternatives through systematic and prolonged testing. Issues can become complex. Mr. Allen described several he encountered while a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee during the 1990s. So far, they do not appear well resolved.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 16, 2014


Daniel C. O’Leary, 2013 bike crashes, Brookline Police Department, February, 2014

Leze Nicaj, et al., Bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries in New York City, NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner and NYC departments, 2006

John S. Allen, About Bicycle Sidepaths, 2010


Note: Readers who examine Mr. Allen’s descriptions will find he disapproves of separated bicycle lanes, which he calls “sidepaths” and “bike paths” rather than “cycle tracks.” Mr. Allen omits to mention that as a long-distance commuter, between Waltham and Cambridge, he tacitly sides with high-speed bicyclists and against low-speed bicyclists. The former try to maintain around 20 to 30 mph–about 7 to 10 times walking speed–as contrasted with around 6 to 9 mph for the latter–about 2 to 3 times walking speed.

That difference has developed over about the last 30 years here. It has become a major distinction between a typical U.S. and Canadian approach to urban bicycles, tending to favor high-speed bicyclists, as compared with a typical Dutch and Danish approach, tending to favor low-speed bicyclists. Loudmouths and pressure groups among domestic bicyclists represent only high-speed riders. Nearby, one often finds those in the Boston terror zone, B.U. neighborhoods of Commonwealth Ave.

An even more violent scene of the same sort can be observed in Watertown and Cambridge segments of the Paul Dudley White bicycle path, mostly on the north side of the Charles River, around 8 to 9 am on a weekday morning. These days, unlike the 1970s, arrogant high-speed bicyclists dominate the scene, recalling classic, hyper-aggressive “Boston drivers” of the 1950s and 1960s.

Zoning Board of Appeals: trying to square a garage “triangle”

The Zoning Appeals Board held a hearing on Thursday, August 14, for the “triangle” zoning case on High Street Hill. Owners of a house on Upland Road, opposite Philbrick Square, applied to restructure a garage in back so as to use an entrance from Walnut Place, a narrow private way, instead of a long driveway from Upland Road. Assigned to the hearing were the board’s chair Jesse Geller, joined by Mark Zuroff and Avi Liss–all lawyers.

Issues: The case involves a proposed garage entrance on a “triangle” created by a flared-out curve of Walnut Place. The twelve owners of houses on Walnut Place oppose the plan, saying it would become a “blind driveway” and would be unreasonably hazardous. What might have been a quiet dispute turned into fireworks, with two of the town’s most experienced property lawyers representing Upland Road applicants for the plan and Walnut Place opponents of it.

A current side of the garage would not ordinarily be used for an entrance, according to Brookline’s zoning bylaw. The outside of the Walnut Place curve flares out along lot lines, one parallel to the side of the garage and perhaps a foot from it. A garage entrance has to be at least 20 feet from a “street.” [Table 5.01, note 1] A “street” means “a public or private way.” [Section 2.21] However, since the Building Department did not cite those issues when reviewing the plan, the Appeals panel was not going to consider them.

The Appeals panel also declined to review an objection from owners of Walnut Place houses that the Upland Road owners have no right of vehicle access to and from Walnut Place. Accepting advice from Brookline’s town counsel and from the Planning Board, Mr. Geller called that a “property dispute” to be settled among the parties or in a court of law.

In favor: Scott Gladstone, a Brookline-based lawyer and a Precinct 16 town meeting member, represented the Upland Road applicants for the garage plan. He said the current garage had been built about 1927, after Brookline enacted zoning but before it had today’s dimensional requirements. He then tried to embroider that bit of history with arguments over access to Walnut Place.

Mr. Gladstone claimed there was a deed “with all rights of access to Walnut Place,” Mr. Geller would have none of that, calling it a “floodgates” type of argument: “the camel’s nose under the tent.” Members of the Appeals panel said they had no jurisdiction over deed rights.

The applicants were going out of their way to preserve historic appearance of the garage, Mr. Gladsone said. It is located in one of Brookline’s historic districts, but the Preservation Commission has found extra effort not required, because the side of the garage is not visible from Walnut St. or any other public way. Mr. Gladstone argued the effort was a “counterbalancing amenity,” helping justify a special zoning permit.

Opposed: Jeffrey Allen, also a Brookline-based lawyer and a former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented Walnut Place owners in opposition. He argued the garage plan called for a “structure” on the Walnut Place “triangle”–namely, a driveway. Part of Walnut Place, now shared property, he said, would become a driveway for “personal use” of the applicants.

In Mr. Allen’s version of the hazard arguments, “Kids will be playing in someone’s driveway [instead of in the 'triangle' as it has been] used by the neighborhood for 40 [or more] years…Walnut Place is narrow; two cars can’t pass…there hasn’t been any safety analysis.” Mr. Allen then invoked several sections of state law and of the Brookline zoning bylaw.

He made a complex claim that the plan would turn the back of the Upland Road property into a second “front yard,” where an “accessory structure” such as a garage is not allowed. Mr. Zuroff asked whether the “triangle” was part of Walnut Place. Mr. Allen replied that he had not “done the research.”

Other views: The Building Department may not have done it either. Michael Yanovitch, the chief building inspector, said that the plan did not call for any improvements on the “triangle,” so it had not been a consideration. The arguments about front yards were not relevant, he said, because the purpose of front yard requirements was to determine whether lots were buildable–not at issue in this case.

One of the Walnut Place owners spoke up, saying they cooperated in “landscaping along this road” and that the proposed garage access would involve “three-point turns [taking] all the ‘triangle’ and some of the way.” The plan, he said, treats Walnut Place owners “as second-class citizens…we’re entitled to equal protection.”

In rebuttal, Mr. Gladstone said there was no plan to alter the “triangle.” All its current uses could continue, he said, except perhaps “guest parking” that would block the proposed garage entrance. One reason for the plan was the difficulty of clearing snow on the current, 100-foot driveway. The applicants, he said, are “not the spring chickens they were.” One of them spoke from the audience, saying they would provide “another pair of hands” to help with Walnut Place in the future.

Reaching a decision: Concerning one of Mr. Allen’s issues, general requirements for a special permit in Section 9.05 of the zoning bylaw, Mr. Yanovitch said, “We don’t know.” Those matters involve judgment calls. The Zoning Board of Appeals functions as a local judicial body to make them. Members of the panel focused on two of the requirements:

• The use as developed will not adversely affect the neighborhood.
• There will be no nuisance or serious hazard to vehicles or pedestrians.

Panel members decided to continue the case. They plan to visit the site at 8 am on Thursday, September 4, then reconvene at 7 pm in Town Hall to discuss the issues and reach a decision.

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


Correction: Thanks to a reader for pointing out that Walnut Place owners were represented by Jeffrey Allen, not another well-known Mr. Allen who is also experienced with Brookline property cases.

Board of Selectmen: celebrations, personnel, programs, licenses

A triweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 12, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. Meetings of the board have slipped from weekly to biweekly to triweekly during high summer.

Announcements: There will be no meeting Tuesday, August 19, or probably Tuesday, August 26. The latter might be scheduled if needed. Notices appear on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site. There would be a notice by close of business Friday, August 22.

Weekly meetings of the Board of Selectmen resume Tuesday, September 2. A fall, 2014, town meeting is scheduled to begin Tuesday, November 18, at 7 pm in the High School Auditorium. The warrant opened Thursday, August 7, and it closes at noon Thursday, September 4.

Board member Neil Wishinsky will be Brookline’s representative to the Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee. The board appointed a building committee for renovations and improvements to fire stations 5 on Babcock St. and 6 on Hammond St.: board member Ben Franco, Building Commissioners Janet Fierman, George Cole and Ken Kaplan, Fire Chief Paul Ford and Deputy Chiefs Robert Ward and Mark Jefferson.

Board member Betsy DeWitt announced a neighborhood meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 20, in the Harrison St., Kent St., Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. area about a proposed 400-seat pavilion for Parson’s field. If interested, call the Brookline Planning Department for information, 617-730-2130.

Ken Goldstein, the chair, responded to a Boston Globe story saying that Kevin Fisher, the applicant for a medical marijuana dispensary in the Brookline Bank building at the corner of Washington and Boylston Sts., had falsely claimed on a state permit application to be a graduate of Youngstown State University in Ohio. Mr. Goldstein read a statement and said Brookline would conduct a thorough review of the local applications.

Celebrations and donations: The board celebrated the hundredth birthdays of Brookline resident Ethel Weiss of Harvard St. and former Brookline resident Roslyn London. Apparently the board did not know that Mrs. London had died just a day earlier.

Ethel Weiss has operated Irving’s Toy and Card Shop since 1938. She continues to tend the shop every weekday. She came to the meeting with Nancy Heller, one of her Precinct 8 town meeting members. Ms. Weiss thanked the board for good wishes. She said, “I’ve always found the people in this town to be helpful and kind.”

Ruthann Dobek, director of the Senior Center, said the number of centarians in Brookline is growing. In 2002 there were 26, she said, but the number is “now much larger.” The board accepted a donation of $500 from HC Studio of Station St. to support the Brookline Commission for the Arts.

Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, proposed a use for the Penny Savings Fund, created in 1948 by a former school principal and recently holding around $7,000, but inactive for many years. The purpose of the fund, he said, was to help poor people. Mr. Cirillo said he learned the background from former assistant treasurer and current Precinct 4 town meeting member John Mulhane. He proposed the fund be closed out and its proceeds donated to the safety net fund maintained by the Brookline Community Foundation, for similar purposes. The board agreed.

Personnel: Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, won approval to promote Michael Raskin to sergeant. Mr. Raskin joined the force in 1986, he said, and was formerly a sergeant in the patrol division. He lost the rank when he left in 2009 to join the National Emergency Management Association. He returned after about a year and a half to join the detective division, where he will now serve as a sergeant.

Anne Reed, the assistant library director for administration, got hiring approval to replace a reference librarian who recently died. Mr. Goldstein revived his typical request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates,” saying the library should “work with town personnel staff” on diversity. Mr. Cirillo received hiring approval to replace an office assistant who had taken a position in another town office. Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, got approval to hire a replacement for a recreation teacher who left for a job elsewhere.

Programs and contracts: Ms. Dobek and Gary McCabe, Brookline’s chief assessor, asked to raise the income limit on Brookline’s tax relief program for older property owners from $40.0 to $47.5 thousand. Participants can get up to $1,000 per year in tax reductions in return for up to 125 hours per year of work in town offices. The board agreed. A new program, funded by a $5,000 grant from Hamilton Realty, is to offer similar temporary employment to older residents who rent. The board approved.

Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, received final authorization to process agreements for this year’s federal Community Development Block Grant, the federal FY2014 and the local FY2015 program. Brookline receives about $1.3 million as a legacy from the activities of the former Brookline Redevelopment Authority between 1958 and 1985.

Using block grant funds, the board also approved agreements for $0.05 million in Senior Center and $0.35 million in Housing Authority programs. The biggest elements in those are the Elder Taxi program and health and safety projects for public housing. Owing to sharp cutbacks in federal housing support, Brookline’s federal block grant has become a mainstay of Housing Authority maintenance.

The largest of several contracts up for review was $3.11 million with GVW of East Boston, to add classrooms at Lawrence School. The board approved the contract. According to the attorney general’s office, in 2009 George V. Wattendorf, the owner of GVW, was sentenced to fines, restitutions and probation for violating prevailing wage laws during school and public safety projects in Haverhill, Reading, Lunenberg, Lynn, Amesbury and Natick. GVW was barred for one year from working on public construction in the state.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval to increase contracts with Touloukian of Boston and Edith Netter of Waltham related to reviews of the proposed Hancock Village 40B housing development. Little of what Ms. Netter did is on the public record, but so far it cost about $40,000. Ms. Steinfeld said it was “helpful,” and the board approved a request for $26,000 from the Reserve Fund, sent to the Advisory Committee. A budget showed $0.25 million allocated for outside services so far, with $0.026 million reimbursed by the developer.

Chief O’Leary received approval to accept a state grant of $0.02 million for computer storage upgrades. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval of $0.14 million for contract road repairs and for $0.12 million in reimbursement requests to the state. Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.013 million to correct concealed drainage defects as part of the Town Hall garage renovation. The board approved an agreement with Patrick Farmer, a Shady Hill School teacher and Meredith Ruhl, a Simmons instructor, to occupy the historic Widow Harris house on Newton St. in return for rent, housekeeping and educational programs.

With little comment and no apparent consultation with the Climate Action Committee, the board approved agreements with Cadmus Group of Waltham and BlueWave Capital of Boston, related to potential solar electricity projects. Those firms had been promoted to Brookline town departments by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which previously promoted the now-shuttered Broadway Electric solar division. Luckily, Brookline did not try to do business with Broadway.

Jennifer Gilbert, former town counsel and a special counsel for Cleveland Circle Cinema redevelopment, proposed warrant articles for the fall town meeting to discontinue easements for long unused sewer connections that run through the site. The board voted to file one of these. As at a program review in July, Ms. Gilbert apparently sent documents late the same day, and copies of the article in the form being filed were not distributed to the public at the meeting.

Appointments: The board interviewed Anthony Schlaff for reappointment to the Advisory Council on Public Health. Responding to a question from board member Ben Franco, Dr. Schlaff said substance abuse remains a significant problem in Brookline and a concern of the council.

Nancy O’Connor, vice chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, was also interviewed for reappointment. She started saying by she didn’t “have anything exciting to talk about,” but the board became engaged. Ms. DeWitt asked about the recent design for the Ward Playground on Brook St. Ms. O’Connor described it as a “creative use of a very small space,” where the commission had to “hold back” on what to install. Mr. Wishinsky complimented the commission on “spectacular success” with the recently renovated Clark Playground on Cypress St. Ms. O’Connor said a key ingredient was balance, “It’s a dance.”

Permits and licenses: Haim Cohen applied for a common victualler (restaurant) license to open The Place Next Door on Harvard St. His family has run Rami’s, where he works now, for over 24 years, and the vacant, former Beauty Supply is what they called the place next door. He said he plans a kosher dairy restaurant–a rare bird outside New York City–where the menu is vegetarian. Mysteriously, he said it will be “glatt kosher.” As far as we’ve heard, ordinary vegetables don’t have glands. The project will take new construction and equipment. The board approved.

Rafael Pieretti of Newton applied for license transfers to operate Olea Cafe on Washington St. He plans modern Italian fare, with several varieties of bruschetta, panini and pasta plus wines and beers. There will be quite a bit of renovation. The board was skeptical that the proposed liquor manager had no previous experience, but she described the training she had taken and readily answered questions about procedures. The board approved.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 13, 2014

Bicycle Advisory Committee: street markings, safety and priorities

Brookline’s Bicycle Advisory Committee met Monday, August 11, at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall. It focused on priorities for bicycle facilities next year, drawing several visitors. The committee did not meet at Devotion School, as before. Meeting dates, times, places and agendas can be found on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site.

Committee members appeared to expect an allocation for bicycle facilities in Brookline’s capital improvement program. However, the current program shows only $30,000 for this fiscal year and nothing for future years, under the heading “public works infrastructure.” The committee worked with a large paper map of the town’s bicycle facilities. A corresponding map could not be found on Brookline’s municipal Web site, where most bicycle documents appear stale, the latest bicycle map is from 2011 and no link appears to the Web site operated by the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Bicycle markings: The committee considered whether to propose a “bike box” for next year. To the committee, that means painted markings at or near a street intersection–not a bicycle carrying case. The U.S. Department of Transportation does not currently provide a standard for augmenting bicycle markings at street intersections in its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Brookline currently has no such markings. Boston has some augmented markings at a few Commonwealth Ave. intersections in B.U. neighborhoods but currently lacks evidence about whether they improve safety.

The committee also considered which streets to propose for new lane markings. The committee maintains a Green Routes Bicycle Network Plan that began with Beacon St. and has expanded to Harvard, Washington and other streets in urban Brookline and to Clyde, Lee and other streets in suburban Brookline. There is a path for pedestrians and bicycles in Riverway Park, but there are no physically separated lanes on streets.

For visitor Anne Lusk, that was a critical issue. She urged the committee to propose at least one separated bicycle lane, calling it a “cycle track.” She also proposed a bicycle training area to be constructed at Robinson Playground on Cypress St. Cynthia Snow, the chair, said she would to put the items on the agenda for a meeting this fall.

Safety and priorities: There was discussion of safety impacts of bicycle lanes. So far there has not been a detailed analysis, but the committee has a police report of bicycle crashes for 2013 and some data for earlier years. For 2013, on the two miles of Beacon St. there were 15 reported incidents. At a rate of about 7 incidents per mile per year, Beacon St. might be safer than B.U. neighborhoods of Commonwealth Ave., where the Boston Globe recently found about 30 incidents per mile per year. Amounts of bicycle traffic on the two streets have not been reported.

As proposed by committee member Tommy Vitolo, the committee decided to request four bicycle improvements for next year: (1) some route to connect bicycle lanes on Clyde St. to Larz Anderson Park, (2) one or more “bike box” markings at street intersections, (3) a bicycle lane on St. Paul St. between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and (4) one or more additional bicycle racks.

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


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

Bicycle lanes and paths, map, Brookline Information Technology Department, 2011

Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods

Writing in the Boston Globe of Saturday, August 2, Martine Powers reported that bicycle signs and painted street markings in B.U. neighborhoods have failed to prevent fatal crashes. She reviewed police reports for Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner, where Commonwealth Ave. bends and Brighton Ave. begins. Along most of this part of Commonwealth Ave., Brookline takes up on the inbound side of the street at the building doors, so the street is part of Brookline as well as Boston neighborhoods.

That segment of Commonwealth Ave. has elaborate bicycle markings, including signs, green-painted lanes and many safety warnings. A showcase for the late Menino administration, it may be the most developed example of a major, bicycle-oriented urban street in New England. However, it has no physical barriers between bicycles and motor vehicles, it has no traffic signals for bicycles and there is little enforcement of bicycle laws.

According to Ms. Powers, over the three years from 2010 through 2012, on just that 3/4 mile of Commonwealth Ave., 68 bicycle crashes were reported to Boston police–including a fatal incident in 2012. Ms. Powers does not seem to know much about the neighborhoods. If she did, she might have heard about one of our fellow bicyclists who was run over at the same location in nearly the same way forty years earlier–before there was a Paul Dudley White bicycle path and long before almost anyone in New England heard of bicycle markings. Although in the hospital for weeks, our friend survived.

A typically disjointed Boston administration is now about to reconstruct that stretch of Commonwealth Ave., according to the Globe. That part of the street was recently repaved, got new sidewalks and trees and is just fine, but the Walsh administration apparently has federal money burning a hole in its pocket and no better use for it. A pressure group called Boston Cyclists Union decided to campaign for physically separated bicycle lanes.

As Bill Smith of Brookline’s Engineering staff found out several years ago, when planning a Beacon St. reconstruction, even a more spacious street with a generous center median has only a finite amount of width in which to fit pedestrians, trolleys, trees, shrubs, motor vehicles, parking and bicycles. In the end, Mr. Smith did not design physically separated bicycle lanes for Beacon St.

Eventually Transportation staff added a few bicycle markings–more recently amended with green-painted lanes and signs. Some markings were in place a few years ago but failed to prevent a fatal incident on Beacon St., similar to the Boston incident of 2012, in which a bicyclist was run over by a truck making a turn.

The Commonwealth Ave. design is being rushed to beat a grant deadline. It’s easy to see the Walsh administration making an even bigger mess than the myopic Menino administration–in each of three major projects over about 20 years. Like Brookline on Beacon St., Boston is brushing off bicycle riders, recently suggesting special signals for them. Nearly all of today’s bicyclists on Commonwealth Ave. ignore the traffic signals they already have.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 3, 2014


Martine Powers, Bicycle advocates seek safety changes for Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue, Boston Globe, August 2, 2014

Bicycle facilities and the manual on uniform traffic control devices, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2014

Brookline Planning Board: pavilion for Parsons Field

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, July 24, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of four property improvement applications were scheduled. A proposed change to Parsons Field–as it has been called since 1969–proved controversial and took most of the meeting. It was where legendary Kent St. resident George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr., sometimes practiced in the early twentieth century.

Parsons Field: Northeastern University has owned Parsons Field since 1930 and uses it as a sports stadium. The largest use, for the former Huskies football team, ended when Northeastern disbanded the team early in 2010. The major university uses now are baseball and soccer. Brookline High School has used the field in many prior years, though not recently, for home football games.

The 5-1/2 acre field extends between Kent and Harrison Sts. and takes up much of the block from Aspinwall Ave. to Kent Sq. Houses along Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. abut the field, as do one each on Kent St. and on Harrison St. Other dwellings are directly across Kent and Harrison Sts. The field and most of the houses are in a T-5 two-family zone. Dwellings east of Kent St. are in an M-1.0 low-rise apartment zone. In some places, one finds “7 acres” quoted for the field size, but that seems to include parts of abutting land.

Plans for a pavilion: Last winter, Northeastern began plans to build a pavilion for its baseball diamond, with home plate near the southeast corner of the field, toward Kent St. and Aspinwall Ave. Current specifications show 409 seats, about 100 more than provided now in metal bleachers.

There are also nearly 1,800 seats in metal bleachers along the northern edge of the field, toward Kent Sq. Those are to remain for use during soccer games. A field house bordering Kent St., used for both baseball and soccer, will also remain. Parsons is a fairly compact field for baseball. Fly balls and foul balls sometimes reach neighboring houses, and outfielders risk colliding with soccer bleachers.

The field once had about 7,000 seats in open stands. Over the past 50 years, there have been four prior renovations. In a somewhat controversial renovation of 1972, Northeastern installed artificial turf, moved the baseball home plate from the northeast to the southeast corner and reduced seating. The field house was renovated in 1992. The most recent renovation replaced older artificial turf with FieldTurf.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented Northeastern–which also sent two administrators and two representatives from its architect. Mr. Allen said Northeastern would welcome Brookline High School’s football team again. He said there would be extended netting to catch more stray baseballs and claimed the pavilion would “improve the streetscape along Kent St.”

Board member Steven Heikin later took exception, saying the “back side [of the pavilion] is pretty industrial.” Mark Zarrillo, the board’s chair, asked about lighting. A Northeastern representative said field lighting had been replaced this year. All except two fixtures operated in common, and those two would stay on about 30 minutes after the others went off. Mr. Zarrillo questioned whether that provided adequate security.

Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said that the planning review had been triggered by expansion of seating area. As a nonprofit educational institution, Northeastern has a right to use the field for educational purposes, but Brookline has rights related to dimensions of structures, public safety and nuisance control.

Concerns and objections: Many residents attended the Planning Board meeting to express concerns. The most frequent were about traffic and parking during events. Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen, said, “Traffic and parking are serious concerns…streets are narrow…buses obstruct traffic.” She was “glad to hear Brookline’s team can play there again.”

Capt. Michael Gropman, who heads the Brookline Police traffic division, said he had many concerns and complained that he and Transportation Director Todd Kirrane “found out about this only six days ago.” The Northeastern management held a well advertised meeting for neighborhood residents in mid-spring, but there had apparently been no similar effort to contact Brookline departments.

Marla Engle, a Harrison St. resident, said that parking has been inadequate for events, that use means both frequency and intensity, and that the overall impact is increasing. Another Harrison St. resident complained about noise. Some of the worst, he said, is extremely loud music during practice sessions.

Responding to questions from board members Robert Cook and Steven Heikin, Northeastern representatives said that use for soccer was stable but use for baseball was increasing. They made vague statements about noise. Mr. Cook asked, “In terms of good neighbor relations, can it be confined?” There was no clear answer.

The board found too many unresolved issues to reach a decision and will reconsider the case at a meeting scheduled for August 14. Northeastern representatives said they will work with Capt. Gropman and Mr. Kirrane on traffic plans.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 25, 2014


Parsons Field to debut new surface this weekend, Northeastern University, August 18, 2010, with some recent history of the field

Planning Board: a garage “triangle”

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, July 17, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of five property improvement applications were scheduled. The first of them proved controversial. Owners of a High Street Hill house opposite Philbrick Square want to reorient the entrance to their garage and expand the garage somewhat so that two cars will fit.

If that were all, the case might have taken only a few minutes, even though it involves a property in a local historic district. The complication is that the garage is currently reached by a driveway from Upland Road, but the applicants now propose to use a little over fifteen feet of exposure in back, to narrow Walnut Place, for a garage entrance. Owners of other properties on Walnut Place were not happy, to say the least, and they turned out in opposition. The case involves some of Brookline’s political “royalty” on both sides: a current member of the Board of Selectmen, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen, a former chair of the School Committee and a former chair of the Preservation Commission.

One side of the current garage is adjacent to Walnut Place, a few inches behind a fence. Walnut Place makes a sharp bend there. The inside of the bend is a curve, but the outside is flared out to the adjacent lot lines–one parallel to the side of the garage and perhaps a foot from it, the other perpendicular and the two meeting at a point. Under ordinary circumstances, the adjacent side of the garage would not be used for an entrance. According to Brookline zoning, a garage entrance has to be at least 20 feet from a “street.” [Table 5.01, note 1]

However, Walnut Place is a private way. Applicants claimed the usual rules don’t apply. Maybe, or maybe not, since Brookline zoning defines “street” as “a public or private way.” [Section 2.21] On advice from Town Counsel, Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said the Planning Board should probably leave the access issue to negotiations among the owners along Walnut Place or, if necessary, to a court of law.

The other owners said the “triangle” at the flared-out corner has been a critical feature of Walnut Place, providing a place for delivery trucks to turn around, a place to deposit excess snow in the winter and an occasional play area for children. They showed photos of all these situations. Trying to use it for a garage entrance, they said, would create a “blind driveway” and would be unreasonably hazardous, since there was already satisfactory access to the garage from Upland Road.

The lawyer representing the applicants tried to ridicule opponents, saying they were behaving like a private club where “we don’t want any more members.” Arguments back and forth did not seem to have much effect on members of the Planning Board. They took Ms. Selkoe’s advice and didn’t try to judge the issue of access to Walnut Place. Other issues, they felt, were minor. They unanimously recommended the Zoning Board of Appeals allow the application when it is heard August 14.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 18, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village

The Zoning Appeals Board held a continued hearing on Thursday, June 19, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Putterham neighborhood of south Brookline. Hancock Village began as a model development built just after World War II, originally for returning veterans, by the John Hancock Insurance Company under an agreement with the Town of Brookline.

Renamed Westbrook Village in the 1960s, after it was sold to a division of Niles Realty, the spacious, garden apartment development has since been renamed Hancock Village and is owned by Chestnut Hill Realty of 300 Independence Drive in West Roxbury. Partly in Brookline and partly in West Roxbury, Hancock Village has become Brookline’s lowest-density multiple apartment district–the sole application of what is currently called M-0.5 zoning. Chestnut Hill Realty’s most recent proposal is the Chapter 40B plan of June 5, 2014.

As illustrated on a site view available from the Planning Department, the current proposal has a C-shaped, 5-story apartment building, about 450 x 200 ft on diagonals, located from about 300 to about 750 ft west of Russett Rd., and nine 3-story structures, each about 83 x 46 ft, chocked into current greensward behind houses along Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. The large building is to sit at the end of a relocated private way extending Asheville Rd. beside 284 Russett Rd. into the property. Plans are said to total 184 new units but fail to list how many units each new building is to contain.

Participants: Board members at this hearing were Jesse Geller, the board’s chair, Christopher Hussey, Jonathan Book, Mark Zuroff and Avi Liss. Board member Johanna Schneider was not at the hearing. Also present with the board were Samuel Nagler, legal counsel, and Edith Netter, consultant. Theodore Touloukian, principal in Touloukian and Touloukian, architects of Boston, presented a design review prepared on contract to the board. Last year his firm was responsible for renovation of a building housing Foodie’s Market in the South End, formerly American Nut.

Steven Schwartz, a lawyer from Goulston & Storrs, and Joseph Geller, a landscape architect and former member of the Board of Selectmen, represented Chestnut Hill Realty. Maria Morelli, a consultant for the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, helped organize the hearing. Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, attended the hearing but did not participate in an official capacity.

The Planning Board sent no representative. There is nothing to keep it from appointing a design advisory team with neighborhood representation, as it has done for many other proposals including the recent, controversial Brookline Place. However, it did not do that, and so far it has taken a low-profile public role in recent reviews.

Without a background of well structured citizen participation, the appeals board had obvious difficulties managing an adequate process. The hearing floundered. Participants failed to identify themselves and spoke in erratic succession, some in code-words. It may well have confused members of the public and proved less useful than it might have to the appeals board.

Plans or no plans: There was a discussion about what kind of plans the Board of Appeals needs for its review and what Chestnut Hill Realty is willing to provide. Mr. Touloukian said the June 5 proposal has major changes to “building footprints…and elevations.” Mr. Hussey of the board, also an architect, said a physical model was the best way to convey the proposed development in the context of its surroundings. Polly Selkoe, from the Planning Department, commented that Brookline’s zoning bylaw requires such a model.

Mr. Schwartz, the lawyer representing Chestnut Hill Realty, acknowledged that Mr. Touloukian had asked for a model and said a “digital” model–that is, one displayed by a computer program–would be made available. Mr. Joseph Geller, the landscape architect representing Chestnut Hill Realty, said it would “update the information” from the previous proposal.

Chestnut Hill Realty’s model must be viewed by using an Autodesk software product called “3ds Max,” priced at $3,675 for the basic version, plus support fees. Mr. Touloukian said that was an acceptable approach for him. Mr. Schwartz urged speedy action by the board, saying, “We feel we’ve submitted everything required by 760 CMR”–referring to state regulations for a Chapter 40B project.

Professional “peer review”: Mr. Touloukian said his review was not finished, because Chestnut Hill’s architects had not yet sent him the revised model. He told the board he had no commitment about when it would be available. Illustrating with recent photos of proposed development sites within Hancock Village, he described the process for his review.

Mr. Touloukian said he will aim at (1) understanding land use guidelines, (2) integrating site access into the neighborhood, (3) respecting natural resources, (4) screening parking areas, (5) buffering edges, (6) blending with existing development patterns, (7) relating scale and proportion to the project’s context and (8) reviewing architectural detail.

Voices from the public: Mr. Jesse Geller of the appeals board asked for public questions and comments. Alisa Jonas, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, asked about consideration of historic preservation and of the neighborhood conservation district enacted in 2011. Ms. Netter said developers can seek overrides of town laws.

Stephen Chiumenti, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and an abutter to Hancock Village who lives on Russett Rd., insisted Mr. Touloukian’s “land use guidelines” not be restricted to zoning but also include the Hancock Village Neighborhood Conservation District and the 1940s agreements to build Hancock Village. Mr. Nagler described the Chapter 40B process as a “balancing test,” saying that “local rules” will be considered.

Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, asked about impact of a National Historic Register listing for Hancock Village. Ms. Netter said that issue was “not within Zoning Board of Appeals jurisdiction.” Ms. DeWitt pressed on, saying, “Someone needs to request a Section 106 review.” Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties. Brookline’s appeals board is clearly not a federal agency.

William Pu, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, objected, saying, “None of us have the software to view the plan.” He stated that “time pressure is self-imposed.” Mr. Hussey asked the developer representatives about illustrating the proposed development in its context, “Can’t you take snapshots?” He asked the audience, “Can someone from the neighborhood indicate what views you would like to see?”

Vague views: There was no direct response. Mr. Hussey had previously said he was “not sure we need such a complete set of drawings as the first submission.” Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, expressed concern that, regardless of the approach, whatever emerged “won’t be seen until a meeting at the end of July.” Mr. Joseph Geller, representing Chestnut Hill Realty, said, “We’ll get it as soon as we can get it done.” However, he conceded he does “not know how to distribute” the results. Apparently no town department uses 3ds Max software.

Discussion lurched back and forth among members of the board, representatives of Chestnut Hill Realty and audience participants. There were mentions of a “site walkthrough,” of “staking the site” and of stringing up balloons to suggest building elevations. Mr. Hussey spoke last, saying it was “really the massing of the buildings that matters” but not saying how he could describe that.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 20, 2014


Andreae Downs, Brookline town meeting makes Hancock Village the town’s first neighborhood conservation district, Boston Globe, November 16, 2011

Board of Selectmen: school programs, electronic voting and permits

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 17, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Board member Neil Wishinsky did not attend. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: The Brookline Farmers Market opens for the season on June 19. Hours are Thursday from 1:30 to 8:00 pm at the municipal parking lot on the west side of Centre St. just north of Beacon St. This year Carr’s Ciderhouse of Hadley, MA, has a permit to sell hard ciders in addition to cider vinegars and cider syrups. The Olmsted House, a historical site at 99 Warren St. operated by the National Park Service, opens for summer visitors June 25. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm.

Planning school programs: Helen Charlupski, a School Committee member, and Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent of schools, sought approval of a $100,000 contract with Symmes Miana & McKee of Cambridge for planning services at Brookline High School. As Mr. Rowe explained it, this is not for architectural planning but instead for planning school programs. The Building Commission is listed as the agency in charge of the contract, as would normally occur for architecture or construction, but no member of the Building Commission addressed this topic.

Funding may be from item 59 under Article 8 as approved at the 2014 annual town meeting, but there was no description of the source of funds. Members of the board approved the $100,000 contract in a unanimous vote, without asking questions about contents of the project or qualifications of the contractor. Little engagement with the substance of some topics produced such a speedy meeting that the board paused twice, for a total of about 30 minutes, because it ran far faster than scheduled.

Electronic voting records: Town Administrator Mel Kleckner was granted a request to transfer $3,000 from an insurance account to the account for town meeting expenses, to pay overtime so employees of the Information Technology Office can attend town meetings. They will assist with the recent electronic voting system that has produced records inconsistent with votes as called by Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator. None of the other officials usually responsible for town meeting appeared: the moderator, the town clerk or the chair of the Advisory Committee.

Appointments: In contrast with its speedy approval of $100,000 for the purposes of Public Schools of Brookline, the board took a relaxed pace interviewing applicants for committees and commissions: two for Martin Luther King, one for Park and Recreation, one for Building and one for Information Technology. Dan Lyons, applying for a fourth term of three years on Park and Recreation, engaged in conversations with Kenneth Goldstein, chair of the board, over plans for the municipal golf course. Mr. Lyons said he favors building a driving range using part of the first fairway, reducing it from par-5 to par-4.

Permits: The board speedily approved several permit items: three events at Larz Anderson, a name change for a restaurant at 1009 Beacon St., a change in company officers for Trader Joe’s in Coolidge Corner and one hour earlier opening on Sundays for Sunset Cantina at 916 Commonwealth Ave. Mark Berkowitz was the applicant for extended hours; he appeared on friendly terms with some members of the board.

Annual review of open-air parking lots hit a snag. Board members Betsy DeWitt and Nancy Daly spoke of several complaints about operation of a lot near the intersection of Washington St. with Bartlett Crescent, northwest of Washington Square and just before Corey Rd. The lot appears operated in conjunction with U.S. Petroleum, at the corner of Corey Rd. on Boston land. Since it took over the location a little over 20 years ago, the gas station has been regarded by its Brookline neighbors as an eyesore and sometimes a nuisance. The board held that permit for investigation and approved the others.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 18, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

Town meetings seem to behave, in part, like musical theatre. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t carry an argument. Alas, some of today’s would-be performers come across–politically speaking–as tone deaf. However, there still remain quite a few sparks of life.

May 27: Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6 flagged conditions the Advisory Committee had tried to attach to special appropriations item 41 under Article 8: $50,000 to study Beacon Street traffic signals, aiding MBTA Green Line trains. Dr. Vitolo said the proposed conditions amounted to an invalid attempt to bind actions of a future town meeting and moved to delete them. No Advisory Committee member stood up to respond. Town meeting members agreed by a show of hands, with only two people counted as opposed.

Joyce Jozwicki of Precinct 9 sounded more than a little cross about special appropriations item 40 in Article 8: $30,000 for “bicycle access improvement.” She contended it “should be preceded by enforcement of the rules for bicyclists.” Over the fan noise, no response could be heard from the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Driscoll School: In the debate over a Driscoll School feasibility study, School Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff admitted what had long been clear to close observers: despite nearly religious objections, the School Department has already increased class sizes, “on average 1-1/2 students per class,” she said.

That almost cancels Brookline costs to support METCO and “materials fees” students. If standards for class size rise from about 25 to about 27 students, then the current students from outside Brookline will all have been absorbed by the current staff within the current buildings–responding to historic promises that those students occupy “available seats.”

Concerning special appropriations item 51 under Article 8, George White of Precinct 9 asked: Where’s the plan for light-emitting-diode (LED) street lights? For once the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, sounded flustered, saying that should be in the warrant report. It is not. He brushed off Mr. White, telling him to go ask the Department of Public Works–whose commissioner was standing on town-meeting floor, looking ready to answer the question. After all, LED street lights are Mr. Pappastergion’s signature project of the year.

School funding: In the debate over school funding, Jonathan Davis of Precinct 10 asked about costs of “carts” for computers: “Is that much money really needed?” He never got a clear answer. School superintendent William Lupini launched his “so” “right” dialect–a local curiosity at School Committee meetings–as in, “So…they’re for the computers we’re purchasing…Right?” Yes, indeed. “Exactly what it says on the tin.”

More items from Ms. Ditkoff of the School Committee: “The cost per student has been absolutely flat for the last five years…We’ve added more than 50 classrooms out of our current spaces.” Without explanation, the latter sounded like “space magic.” Apparently a School Committee insider violated current town-meeting protocol–a Gadsby invention–distributing rogue handouts on town-meeting floor. It caught Mr. Gadsby’s attention and drew a reproach, but then he relented, saying it “has my retroactive approval.” Humph! Issues of free speech went unmentioned–even with Martin “Marty” Rosenthal, Karen Wenc and Harry Friedman on hand.

Somebody might have asked but didn’t: since Public Schools of Brookline already spends around $17,000 per year per student, if computers are so important and the ones PSB prefers cost only $330 each, why not get a computer for every student and forego the fancy carts and projectors PSB wouldn’t need?

Police Department topics: Harry Friedman of Precinct 12 objected to investigating criminal backgrounds of construction workers, during debate about the police budget. Joslin Murphy, recently appointed as town counsel, said Massachusetts law now requires checking national Criminal Offender Record Information if workers have unsupervised contact with school children. That might be an issue, for example, in the upcoming Lawrence School project. Mr. Friedman was dissatisfied, saying, “People in these jobs often have criminal records” but need employment to regain a place in society. He called the practice “heartless and vindictive.” However, workers on town jobs are usually going to be union members–unlikely to get those particular jobs fresh out of prison.

Mr. Friedman also objected to police seeking out a “Groton man”–apparently not a graduate of Groton School–who answered a fake “personal” ad Brookline police placed online. Outside a putative “hands off” stance, Moderator Gadsby asked Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, about the “purpose of entrapment policies.” Not satisfied at Mr. O’Leary’s responses, Mr. Friedman said, “From a moral or ethical point of view [the incident] really…crosses over the line…. If the Brookline police want to be the protectors of eastern Massachusetts…they can go into Boston and patrol the streets there.”

Advisory chair Harry Bohrs confirmed the once touted Galaxy WiFi services are dead and gone, although many antennas still hang from street-light brackets. He said Brookline is equipping some employees with wireless Internet, to the tune of $50 per device per month.

May 29, human relations: Article 10 proposed to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. It also designates a new “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Klecker and reduces the new commission’s duties and powers, compared with the 1970 commission. Nancy Daly led the effort to write Article 10 and spoke for the Board of Selectmen. She said it would “not give the [new] commission the quasi-judicial authority to hear and act on…complaints.”

Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, spoke for the current commission and against Article 10. She said it “will take away any direct role or oversight on complaints brought to the [chief diversity officer] by employees…[and] take away the commission’s authority for developing…equal opportunity and affirmative action. It will give the commission about eighteen tasks…but appropriates no money for them.”

Speaking about a chief diversity officer, Ms. Ames said, “What good does that do if we’re going to ask this person to do precisely what was wrong by his predecessor? Only this time, we put it in writing: that is, handle complaints privately, have sole discretion whether to share information with the commission, have no oversight and no accountability…in essence, get paid hundreds of thousands to do…what exactly? Keep the lid on?”

Stature as a department head: It must have been a troubling moment for Ms. Daly and other members of the “diversity committee.” However, one of them, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9, had joined with Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 in proposing an amendment to this year’s Article 10: designating a new chief diversity officer as a “senior administrator/department head”–the same language used in Brookline bylaws for the head of the Human Resources office, which was created by town meeting in 2000.

A motion to close debate after nearly an hour proved premature; it failed to get a two-thirds vote. Arguments continued. While Mr. Rosenthal and Dr. Spiegel had offered spirited sallies for their amendment, it was likely Joanna Baker of Precinct 13 who sailed it over the net.

Ms. Baker recounted experiences as a recruiter, helping to employ and advance people of color. “People hate change,” she said. “Change makes people uncomfortable.” According to Ms. Baker, the stature of being a department head will matter. In order to be effective, she said, a chief diversity officer will have to be “shrewd, discerning, sophisticated, gutsy.” In a recorded vote, town meeting adopted the Rosenthal-Spiegel amendment by a margin of 107 to 95. The main motion also got a recorded vote: approved 185 to 16.

Noise control: In Article 12, changes to Brookline’s noise-control bylaw were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member–to provide what he claimed would be better standards for regulating noise. He proposed a new standard for estimating background noise at night: make measurements during the day and subtract 10 decibels. That’s not helpful if your neighborhood tends to be fairly noisy by day but quiet at night. Selectmen missed the problem, but they managed to flag a provision to regulate some of the leafblowers while exempting others–large ones mounted on wheeled carts.

Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad and transplant from Precinct 1–challenged the proposed standard for night-time noise at town meeting. Dr. Vitolo carved away pseudoscience from the proposal, saying, “This warrant article is bad news. The most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

For the supporters of the article, including a majority on the Board of Selectmen and a unanimous Advisory Committee, there was no recovery. In a show of hands, Moderator Gadsby found zero raised in support and declared unanimous rejection of the article–an extremely rare event. He asked officials gathered at tables just past the auditorium’s stage, “Have we no courage in the front of town meeting?”

Mavens of precinct politics–towns don’t have wards–may recall that Mr. Lebow was among a wave of Precinct 1 conservatives who infiltrated, years ago, a moderate delegation. Dr. Vitolo was involved with a second, progressive wave, who eclipsed the first wave a few years later. The waves more often involve galleries of mostly incumbents, promoting themselves as friendly “neighbors.” Controversies at the time roiled over whether or not to support renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge. Was that really a convenience to the neighborhoods, or would it instead become a crossway for criminals, slinking in from Boston? We shall see.

Down-zoning: Two quietly successful articles carried on a trend: adapting Brookline’s land use regulations to neighborhoods. It had taken root at a heated, 4-night town meeting held in December, 1973. Like that previous effort, both recent ones were organized by neighborhood residents. Unlike that previous effort, both got help and support from town boards and agencies, and both aroused little controversy.

Article 11 proposed a neighborhood conservation district for Toxteth St. between Aspinwall Ave. and Francis St., plus adjacent parts of Perry St., Harrison Ave., Aspinwall Ave and Francis St. It was built out starting in the late nineteenth century–before Brookline adopted zoning–on a more spacious scale than the current T-5 two-family zoning requires. Ann Turner of Precinct 3 said the recent effort was prompted by an obnoxious project built to the maximum under zoning limits and requiring no special town review.

Article 21 proposed a new S-4 type of single-family zone for parts of Buttonwood, near Meadowbrook Rd., also currently zoned T-5 two-family. Neighborhood resident Diane Gold told town meeting she and her neighbors were motivated by a developer who took advantage of current zoning to replace one modest, single-family house with a pair of “huge, 4-story, 2-family luxury condos…Green space was paved over to create ten parking spaces.” She recalled, “We were told they can do this by right…If you don’t like it, change the zoning.” With help from Polly Selkoe of the Planning Department and with town meeting’s approval, that is what residents did.

Zoning changes rejected: The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all took it on the chin with two other zoning changes proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 revived the long-running disputes over self-service gasoline stations–proposing to allow them in business districts when combined with so-called “convenience stores.” As proposed, those stores could be up to 3,000 square feet–far larger than many current retail stores.

Judith Vanderkay of Precinct 9 recalled, “Twenty years ago…my neighborhood rallied to prevent a giant, highway rest-stop-type gas station.” She said Article 22 looked “like something from ALEC being proposed in the guise of an innocuous regulation”–referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that has been promoting pro-business, anti-labor laws, mostly in state legislatures. The proposal failed on a recorded vote of 109 to 62, below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

In S-40 single-family districts–Brookline’s lowest zoning density–Article 23 proposed to disallow new, detached accessory dwellings to be occupied by employees or their family members. Last November, town meeting disallowed them in single-family districts with smaller lot sizes. Steve Heikin spoke for the Planning Board, saying that accessory dwellings are a “loophole” allowing permanent construction for a temporary use.

Town meeting members Anita Johnson of Precinct 8, Rebecca Mautner of Precinct 11 and Jane Gilman of Precinct 3 denounced the Planning Board proposal–partly as an attack on “affordable housing.” Ms. Johnson cited an approach used by Portland, OR. “They put a size limit on accessory units…825 square feet.” She said Portland’s regulation “has been totally successful, and everyone agrees with it.” Article 23 failed on a recorded vote of 106 to 56, again below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

Renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge, strongly controversial a decade ago, returned to town meeting in Article 24. The now-dilapidated bridge was built in the 1890s to serve a whistle-stop on the former Boston and Albany commuter rail service between Needham and Boston. It has been closed since fall, 1975. Article 24 proposed accepting a grant in easement from MBTA to accommodate wheelchair ramps. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt said Brookline would “apply for a state [Transportation Improvement Program] grant, up to 90 percent” of funds already set aside. In a quiet surprise, town meeting voted unanimous approval.

Retirement Board pay: Stipends for Retirement Board members–a perennial–returned to town meeting in Article 25. As on previous occasions, board member James C. “Chet” Riley asked for town meeting’s support. “We have the ability right now to invest your $245 million,” he said. “We are the deciding body.” According to Mr. Riley, the board’s work has become “a lot more daunting, a lot more challenging.” That did not sway Advisory. Committee member Karen Wenc of Precinct 11 said, “The substance of this article [came] before town meeting in the May, 2012, session–with no demonstration that the Retirement Board’s efforts are [now] measurably greater” than they were then. “There is no compelling reason for change.”

The Board of Selectmen reversed former opposition–by a margin of 3 to 2. Speaking as one of the three in favor, Nancy Daly said the “vast majority [of neighboring communities] do provide a stipend…Boston, Newton, Cambridge….” Town meeting members would likely notice that the few communities Ms. Daly named–unlike Brookline–are all cities. In a personal appeal, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9 stated, “Nobody’s done more for the town of Brookline than Chet Riley.” Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 took a financial approach, saying, “This is one of the few boards that actually has the final say over large quantities of money. They’re volunteers, but they deserve the sort of minimal compensation that this article proposes.” Article 25 proposed a stipend of $3,000 per year for each of the five board members.

Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 did not agree. “[This is] at least the fourth time in fourteen years” with the proposal, she said. “They’ve been waiting for the right town meeting, the right Board of Selectmen…It’s a town. This is a volunteer [effort], and if they don’t want to do it they shouldn’t volunteer.” Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice said, “I’ve been in the financial services industry,” and asked, “Do [board members] get the advice and counsel of licensed [financial] planners?” Mr. Riley of the Retirement Board responded, saying, “We hire and fire consultants and money managers.” What may have sounded like posturing did not sit well with town meeting members, who rejected Article 25 in a recorded vote, 47 to 100.

June 2, Brookline Place: The final session of the 2014 annual town meeting began with the postponed Articles 15 through 19, concerning proposed redevelopment for Brookline Place. Moderator Gadsby’s stagework in positioning those articles to begin a session provided a showplace for Children’s Hospital–the landowner and developer–and for the town officials, boards and committees who became sponsors and supporters of the project. The block bounded by Washington St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. is part of the former Marsh Project–involved in redevelopment efforts for nearly 50 years.

Town meeting members who declared partial opposition had proposed alternative zoning in Article 16. As compared with Article 15, the official zoning proposal, Article 16 would have restricted new on-site parking for over 180,000 square feet of added office space. Supporters of Article 16 claimed that the adjacent MBTA Green Line trolley stop and the nearby bus stops for MBTA routes 60, 65 and 66, traveling via Route 9, should make any added parking unnecessary. Management of Children’s Hospital have contended that more parking is needed for financially viable development and that costs of removing contaminated soil would make it too expensive to place that parking underground, as normally required by Brookline’s zoning.

In an apparent response, the Planning Board and their Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to reduce added parking from about 465 to about 325 spaces–negotiated with the management of Children’s Hospital. The change apparently undercut support for Article 16. Submitters of that article opted not to offer a motion for it. Town meeting passed over the article without a vote. Fifty years ago and earlier, weak opposition would have been squelched: maybe allowed a speaker and then switched off. Brookline’s traditions have changed. The debate over the Brookline Place articles included many speakers and took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice spoke forthrightly. “Let’s start with admitting the reality that Children’s Hospital has us over a barrel,” she said. Children’s had acquired 6-story offices the former Harvard Community Health Plan built on the eastern part of the Brookline Place block during the 1990s. More recently, Children’s bought the western part of the block, occupied by two low-rise buildings dating from early twentieth century. The literal “Brookline Place” is a narrow, little used way running north from Washington St. between the larger low-rise building and the 6-story offices.

Referring to a former attempt at redeveloping Brookline Place, Merelice commented, “Town meeting members ten years ago lost sight of the fact that they were voting for zoning.” The controversial project–never carried out–anticipated biotechnology laboratories. A key problem with the site has been soil that is badly contaminated from nearly a century of use by a former gas works. Merelice continued, “When Children’s bought, they knew full well the soil was contaminated. Nevertheless, they proceeded to buy up all the adjacent parcels. Now they’re asking the town to feel sorry for them, because it would be ‘too expensive’ to remove the soil. Their answer is a huge garage with no underground parking.”

Treating Article 16 as though it posed a real threat to the Brookline Place project, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 recalled, “Fifty years ago…[with the] Chestnut Hill shopping center, [which] straddles the line between Brookline and Newton, Brookline did not want any retail development because of concerns about congestion and traffic…All the retail establishments were built on the Newton side of the line; Brookline got the parking lot. Newton got the abundance of taxes; Brookline lost millions in tax revenue.”

Dr. Spiegel described an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s to build a hotel replacing the former Boston Cadillac, located opposite the B.U. Bridge. Brookline Place, he said, offers the town “$2 million in taxes…[That] means more classroom teachers…support for METCO…[and] the Coolidge Corner Library…With all the good that it has, will it be built?”

Moderator Gadsby held a recorded vote on Article 15 for zoning changes. Town meeting approved 170 to 9, he announced, with 20 abstaining. Mr. Gadsby then passed over Article 16 without a vote. Articles 17 and 18 were approved by voice votes. Article 19 was approved by a show of hands, declared unanimous.

Taxi medallions: Town meeting member John Harris of Precinct 8 filed Article 26, proposing that Brookline ask the General Court to repeal laws it had passed, at town meeting’s request, authorizing Brookline to sell taxi medallions. The Transportation Board and Board of Selectmen, both committed to the medallions since they were proposed in 2007, proved much exercised over the attack from Mr. Harris. Robert Volk of Precinct 4 proposed referring Article 26 to a special committee to be appointed by Moderator Gadsby.

Mr. Harris said his “intention [was] to begin the debate…the town should have had in 2008.” He asserted that “medallions establish an artificial quota on the number of taxis allowed to operate,” leading to evil consequences. Jonathan Karon of Precinct 12 agreed, describing his experience representing a person who had been injured during an incident involving a taxi in Boston, which uses medallions. If you are injured in such a way, Mr. Karon said, you will find the “medallion is mortgaged…insurance [is] at the legal minimum…[and the] medallion owner will disclaim responsibility,” saying the taxi driver is an “independent contractor.”

Advisory Committee member Michael Sandman, a former Transportation Board chair, responded for the committee, saying “nearly every premise that Mr. Harris spoke of is wrong.” He showed three pages of items. About a claim that “medallions establish an artificial quota,” Mr. Sandman said Brookline has actually “had a closed system for decades, with a fixed number of licenses.” Joshua Safer of Precinct 16, the current Transportation Board chair, agreed. He said, “The current system is a closed system…There is scarcity by design…We have no logical way to bring newcomers into the industry.”

Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9 asked, “How would a Brookline [medallion] system be different from Boston? He got a fairly opaque answer from Richard La Capra, who has been employed by the Transportation Department as a consultant on taxi regulation since 2010. Mr. La Capra stated that a “Brookline [taxi medallion] system will be different [from Boston]…because it is handled at the regulatory level in a…different fashion.”

Chad Ellis of Precinct 12 said he had prepared a financial model, checked out with Mr. La Capra, finding that a 10 percent fall in taxi fare revenues would produce at least a 50 percent contraction in medallion values. He supported the article filed by Mr. Harris.

Moderator Gadsby called for a vote on Mr. Volk’s motion to refer the article rather than approve or reject it. Unable to decide from a show of hands, Mr. Gadsby held an electronic vote. Town meeting approved referral, he announced, 96 to 91. Mr. Gadsby asked for volunteers to serve on a moderator’s committee and said he plans to appoint a committee within three weeks.

Resolutions: Article 27 was filed by Neil Gordon of Precinct 1, who described himself at town meeting as a veteran of the Vietnam War. It asked for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved in a unanimous voice vote.

Article 28, filed by Frank Caro of Precinct 10, did not get such a swift hearing. It proposed a resolution saying that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen, supported by the Advisory Committee, proposed referring Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner–to address it using a “task force.”

However, the same problem had been taken to at least three previous town meetings. Each referred an article to a moderator’s committee, yet the problem remained unsolved. Dennis Doughty of Precinct 3 presented some graphics showing snow-removal complaints logged since December, 2011, by the Brookonline Web page. They indicated several chronic problem spots, targets of repeated complaints.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., of Precinct 16, a lawyer with quite a few local business clients, had already voiced a related argument, saying there were a few chronic problems but that nevertheless “the goal should not be to fine and to warn” business owners. Lea Cohen, an Advisory Committee member at large, spoke as the outgoing chair of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. She objected that “the existing bylaw has some very tight time-frames.” She asked town meeting not to “make another gesture that singles out our merchants with uneven enforcement policies.”

Joshua Safer, of Precinct 16, disagreed with trying a “partnership” tactic again. He noted that “the last moderator’s committee on sidewalk snow removal suggested exactly [what Article 28 proposed], across the entire town.” Mr. Safer stated, “The police force seems comfortable that they would have the resources to undertake this particular effort.” Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, a member of the Commission for the Disabled, turned adamant, “It’s time,” Dr. Allaire said, “to take serious action on this problem, instead of just kicking it down the road yet again.” By a show of hands, a large majority of town meeting rejected referral of Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Nearly all approved the resolution.

Local First: Article 29, a resolution urging support for local business, was submitted on behalf of an organization called Brookline Local First. Issues developed at town meeting and in several earlier reviews over what “local” might mean in that context. The Board of Selectmen proposed that town meeting refer the article to the Economic Development Advisory Board, which they appoint, rather than accept or reject it.

Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner with his wife Christina “Christy” Timon of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., made the arguments for Article 29. The two have run Clear Flour since 1982, live in Brookline and brought up a family here, he said. “Vibrancy of Brookline’s economy,” Mr. Faber stated, “stems from its independent businesses.” Comparing them with what he called “formula businesses”–franchises and chain stores–he said, “Independent businesses hire a greater proportion of local employees [and] pay them higher wages…Cities and towns benefit most…from…independent…rather than formula businesses.”

The arguments rang false to Hsiu-Lan Chang, also a Brookline resident. She introduced herself to town meeting as owner of Fast Frame, a franchise located on Beacon St. in Washington Square. She described her background as a trustee of the Brookline Community Foundation, a founder of the Washington Square Association and a supporter of several local civic and charitable groups. Her sons David and Leo, she said, are graduates of Brookline public schools. “Article 29,” she stated, “left…[an] impression that I’m not a part of this community.” She urged town meeting to reject the article, saying, “The imposition of an arbitrary definition on the word ‘local’…is exclusionary, divisive and simply wrong.”

Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt suggested proponents of the article might be seeking more than the town could do. She mentioned requirements of “state procurement law to solicit broadly, without discrimination among suppliers in purchasing practices.” Ms. DeWitt stated, “While well intentioned, this resolution is flawed. We must have a fair, broad and inclusive definition of local business.”

Speaking for the Economic Development Advisory Board, Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 said EDAB would give the article careful consideration if it were referred to them but cautioned, “Brookline businesses should focus outward and on expanding the local economy.” A show of hands on the motion to refer proved too close to call for Moderator Gadsby. He conducted an electronic count. Town meeting approved referral 99 to 76, he announced, with 3 abstentions.

Article 31 proposed a resolution affirming “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.” Alex Coleman, a clinical psychologist and a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, submitted the article and made the main arguments for it. He said he had lived in Brookline more than 30 years, bringing up a son who is a Brookline High graduate, and described his recollections of making public a trans-sexual identity, over 20 years ago, as being a “horrific experience.”

Dr. Coleman said that attitudes have begun to change: “There are now students in the Brookline schools who identify as being gender-nonconforming,…[However], people…[with] a different gender identity…or expression…don’t have the same protections as everybody else.” Frequent problems he noted are “harassment in places of public accommodation…[and being] denied equal treatment by a government agency or official.”

Leonard “Len” Weiss spoke for the Advisory Committee, supported by the Board of Selectmen. The committee proposed an amendment asking Brookline’s legal staff to review Brookline’s bylaws and propose changes at next fall’s town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of Article 31. Town meeting approved the resolution as amended.

Article 32, submitted by Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, proposed a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. That calls for state pension funds to divest from “fossil fuel companies” but does not specify what the term means. Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, the chairman, cited that issue, claiming the “bill does not support its own goals in a meaningfully effective way.” Karen Wenc of Precinct 11, an Advisory member, said as an energy consumer she “would feel hypocritical and insincere in voting for this resolution.”

Arguing in favor of the resolution, Edward “Ed” Loechler of Precinct 8 acknowledged, “When you hear the word ‘divestment’ you think, ‘well, we’ll lose too much money’.” Dr. Loechler said, “Profits are not the same as returns on investment.” It is the latter, he contended, that matters for pension-fund portfolios. He cited an independent review of returns on investment for around 3,000 U.S. public stocks over many years, claiming that the difference between performance with and without including about 200 “fossil fuel companies” proved “statistically insignificant.” However, Dr. Loechler argued, even if that were not so, “It’s time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it…Making money from the destruction of the planet is wrong…as wrong as making money from slavery was in the 1850s.”

For the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly spoke of a “very tangible financial hazard to not addressing climate change.” Town meeting members asked for a recorded vote on the article. They approved the resolution 126 to 20, with 7 abstaining–the last action during a long and complicated town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 7, 2014


Correction, June 8, 2014. In the discussion of Article 23, the phrase “family members or employees” was corrected to read “employees or their family members.” Thanks to Stanley Spiegel for spotting the mistake.


John Hilliard, Brookline taxi consultant contract signed, Brookline TAB, December 3, 2010

City of Boston, Taxi Consultant Report, Nelson Nygaard, October, 2013

Public Works: question time and complaints

Brookline’s Department of Public Works (DPW) held a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall. At least 30 town meeting members attended, along with quite a few other Brookline residents.

Since at least the 1940s and likely since open town meetings before 1916, questions and complaints about town services dominated town-meeting debates on the former highway, sanitation and water budgets and, after the early 1960s consolidation, on the public works budget. By the 1970s, problems with potholes, water leaks, street cleaning, litter, burnt-out lights, missing signs and crumbling sidewalks and paths would often take most of an evening’s town-meeting session.

“Question time” began in the 1980s, in hope of reducing the town-meeting schedule and solving rather than just airing some problems. DPW has now made a tradition of the event, held shortly before an annual town meeting. Commissioner Andrew Pappastergion, former chief of the water division, led this year’s “question time.” Division directors were on hand: Kevin Johnson for Highway and Sanitation, Fred Russell for Water and Sewer, Erin Gallentine for Parks and Open Space, and Peter Ditto for Engineering and Transportation. Some of the senior managers were also present: Thomas Brady for Forestry and Conservation, Edward Gilbert for Solid Waste and Recycling, and Todd Kirrane for Transportation.

Mr. Pappastergion said DPW has Brookline’s second-largest expenditure, after schools: for fiscal 2015 about $42 million in total spending. Much of that pays for MWRA water and sewer, but the rest would still leave DPW as the third largest budget, between Police and Fire. In the budget tables–which account separately for pay changes, health care and other employee benefits–DPW is now proposed for near-level funding in fiscal 2015.

Parks and Open Space is allocated a 4-percent cut, about $137 thousand, while other divisions are getting increases. However, Parks and Open Space has the second largest share of the Capital Improvement Program, after schools. In the warrant report for the 2014 annual town meeting, neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Advisory Committee explains cutting the operating budget for parks.

Mr. Pappastergion’s “flashiest” program for the next fiscal year is starting to install light-emitting-diode (LED) lamps for street lighting, a 4-year program. Brookline maintains its street lights rather than pay a flat fee to Northeast Utilities (before that Boston Edison, then Nstar). Energy savings and extended lamp lifetime from LED rather than high-pressure sodium-vapor lamps can save money when costs of replacing lamps are high, as with street poles. Recent drops in LED prices combine with a state incentive program to result in estimated payback periods under ten years. When the new lamps are lit, residents will see more balanced white rather than pink color.

The first question came from Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member. He asked when the town would address deterioration of Claflin Path, on Addington Hill. He said flooding has become more severe and more frequent, and a path light has failed. Before it failed, neighbors replaced the bulbs. Several neighbors detailed problems, including Amy Hummel, also a Precinct 12 town meeting member, who said flooding has occurred often for at least ten years.

Mr. Ditto of Engineering promised Claflin Path will inspected soon, and a plan will be drawn up to correct problems. That could involve larger drains and catch basins; if so, it might take some time. The failed light fixture is attached to a house, and Mr. Ditto did not know who owned it.

Carol Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, complained about “tree wells,” as she called them, around street trees in commercial areas. Without protective grates, edges of brick or pavement around tree bases are increasingly exposed as soil compacts or erodes. Ms. Caro tripped on one and suffered injuries.

During the 1960s, a small “first wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted without much protection for either trees or pedestrians, mostly in lower-density areas. As soils compacted or eroded, mulch was sometimes added, with little concern about sidewalk appearance. Over time many of those trees died, but several still survive. Higher-density areas, notably Coolidge Corner, were left bare, as they had been since Brookline began to pave streets shortly after 1910.

When a “second wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted during the 1970s and 1980s, in a program galvanized by former Brookline business-owner and resident Anita Belt, higher-density commercial areas got trees, including Coolidge Corner. In some places, brick edging was installed along curbs and around trees, with heavy metal grates spanning spaces between brick or pavement edges and tree trunks.

As tree trunks and roots grew, grates began to shift and warp. Many have now been removed, exposing the “tree wells” about which Ms. Caro complained. Mr. Brady of Forestry knew about the issue and sympathized, but he did not appear to have a solution ready. He said Brookline plans to try polymer bricks set into soil around trees, as already done in parts of Boston. He did not say how trees will survive without ample rainwater.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, reported fewer newspaper boxes, with the remaining boxes in better condition. When she coordinated a survey over a year ago, more than 150 boxes were found, with about three-fourths in what she called “poor condition.” A recent survey found only 33 boxes, all in “good condition.” While more neatness may please some people, it may not help others. For example, the Brookline TAB used to distribute newspapers from a box in front of the Arcade Building at 316 Harvard St. Now that box is gone; there are no longer any TAB newspaper boxes in Brookline.

Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, complained of several problems, including snow clearance violations near her house, street lights extinguished and fluorescent lamps left out with refuse for collection. Mr. Gilbert described the town’s recent expansion of hazardous waste collection, from once or twice a year to Thursdays from May through October. Fluorescent lamps are accepted at the South Brookline transfer station between 7:30 am and 12:30 pm and at the Health Center dropoff between 8 am and 5 pm.

Several people described problems they reported via the Brookonline Web page deployed in fall, 2011. While it lacks a distinctive site address, or URL, people said it has been effective–with problems often cleared a few days after being reported. However, some people have reported problems that remain unaddressed. One is rainwater accumulating in recycling bins. An unidentified resident said she found them too heavy to empty.

Ruthann Sneider, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked whether there is a program in Brookline to survey and correct gas leaks, citing reports of thousands of leaks found in Boston. Actually, the survey she likely read about also found many leaks in parts of Brookline too, near Coolidge Corner and toward B.U. Mr. Brady of Forestry described a survey to locate leaks near street trees, where soil is exposed.

In response to a report from Virginia LaPlante, also a Precinct 6 town meeting member, about a recent, strong gas odor near Welland Rd. at Tappan St., Mr. Brady said that sounded like an emergency situation: if noticed again, call 911.

Clint Richmond, another Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked about new street-marking materials that appear to be plastic. Mr. Pappastergion said DPW is trying out several materials for durability and contrast. He said one of the more successful trials had been crosswalks in service for about three years at the busy intersection of Beacon and Harvard Streets.

A South Brookline person asked about plans for trash metering. Mr. Pappastergion and Mr. Gilbert described proposed automation for solid waste collection, after the town’s current disposal contract expires at the end of June. That includes an element of trash metering but not the typical “pay as you throw” adopted mostly by low-density communities.

Instead, Brookline would continue to charge a fixed fee, paying for collection and disposal of one standard-size, marked refuse bin per household per week. Additional refuse would be collected when left out in marked plastic bags, Mr. Pappastergion said. Under the recent proposal, the town would supply marked bins to the 13,200 households using the town’s refuse service–around half the households in Brookline.

The new refuse bins would be compatible with automated handling, similar to what now occurs when recycling bins are emptied into collection trucks. However, Mr. Pappastergion said, the likely capacity of new refuse bins is 35 gallons, about half the capacity of current recycling bins. Marked plastic bags for additional refuse would be sold at grocery and convenience stores, at prices based on costs of collection and disposal.

Mr. Pappastergion said under the proposal Brookline would operate waste collection using its own trucks, with conditions still being negotiated with the union representing workers. No one asked, but apparently Brookline would no longer take bulky items, such as mattresses and tables, that won’t fit in plastic bags. If that were so, a likely result would be accumulation of discards along sidewalks in some residential areas.

Participants raised several other issues, although many of them have been widely reported. The atmosphere contrasted with what might have been found forty or fifty years earlier: little of the “us and them” attitudes once common. Instead, even though far fewer Brookline employees live in the town today, on all sides it was mostly “we,” “us” and “our problems.”

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


Beth Daley, Boston riddled with natural gas leaks, Boston University study finds, Boston Globe, November 19, 2012

Planning Board: house improvements and a common driveway

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, May 1, started at 7:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics were four applications to the Board of Appeals for exceptions from zoning requirements. This was a typical working session for the Planning Board and Department, who sometimes act as mediators in issues involving Brookline real estate.

When a property owner or an architect, a contractor or a landscaper working for one wants to build, demolish or make changes on a Brookline property, a first effort is often to seek a building permit. The Building Department checks proposed plans against the town’s regulations. When there is a zoning, neighborhood conservation, environmental conservation or historic preservation issue, an applicant will get a referral to the Planning Department, the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, the Conservation Commission or the Preservation Commission. There are occasionally proposals involving more than one review.

The four proposals reviewed on May 1 were to build a porch, replace a garage, add a new entry way and install a common driveway for more than one dwelling, Each proposal needs approval for some exception to zoning requirements and should soon go to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The appeals board looks to the Planning Board and Department to evaluate a proposal and sometimes to negotiate a satisfactory approach.

At 45 School St., the applicant seeks to build a new back porch, but there is an issue with minimum depth of the rear yard–a so-called “setback” requirement for the T-6 two-family zone. The Planning Board found the proposal reasonable in light of circumstances and is recommending approval to the appeals board.

At 87 Colchester St., a homeowner wants to replace an existing garage but proposes the new one be attached to the adjacent house rather than free-standing. That means the replacement will not be “grandfathered” under zoning, because it is considered a different type of structure having different “setback” requirements within the S-10 single-family zone. However, the new garage is designed to match the appearance of the house, with stucco rather than metal sides and with tile coping around its roof.

Several neighbors came to the hearing to support the proposal. Those included Fred Lebow, a former Massachusetts general contractor, former Brookline town meeting member and former resident of Colchester St., who said he traveled from New Hampshire to speak in favor of the proposal. The Planning Board is recommending approval to the appeals board. However, the property is located in an area of historical interest, listed on the National Register. An application to demolish the existing garage will need to be submitted to the Preservation Commission, and there could be a delay of up to 18 months.

At 17 Baker Circle, a homeowner wants to add a new entry way and extend the room above it. The small amount of added floor space would make the “floor area ratio” to the lot area become 0.36, as compared with a maximum of 0.35 for the S-7 single-family zone. The Planning Board found the proposal reasonable in light of circumstances and is recommending approval to the appeals board.

To the south of houses at 21 and 39 Sears Rd. is an expanse of unbuilt land that belongs to owners of the houses. The total lot area of about 621,000 square feet–where there are now two houses–could be enough to satisfy land area requirements for about 15 detached, single-family houses, even though the S-40 single-family zoning district has Brookline’s lowest residential density.

A developer seeks to install a common driveway that could serve five additional houses. It was not clear how much of the land the developer is including in sites to build housing and how much of that is actually eligible for the use. Parts of the area appear to be wetlands and may be subject to conservation restrictions. Questions from the Planning Board brought out that the land has not yet been “replatted”–subdivided into lots for houses. It was not known whether requirements of the Massachusetts subdivision control law would apply–Sections 81K through 81GG in Chapter 41 of the General Laws.

If the developer goes ahead with the proposal, it might require subdivision of land into at least five new lots, each enough for a detached, single-family house. The developer might otherwise invoke so-called “cluster zoning” to build attached or semi-detached houses–Section 5.11 in Brookline’s Zoning Bylaw. An appropriate configuration for a common driveway could depend on the approach chosen.

Planning Board members seemed puzzled at lack of project definition, but their questions were oblique. Polly Selkoe, the department’s assistant director for regulatory planning, was more direct, saying, “It doesn’t make sense to put a common driveway in an area that’s not yet a subdivision.”

Neighbors were clearly unhappy. Joseph Freeman of Lee St. compared the proposal with what he called “pork-chop development” outside Brookline. He said the proposal “does not meet requirements for the special permit” and called to the Planning Board’s attention a special permit application “denied ten years ago because of lack of appropriate access.”

Robert Allen, Jr., a Brookline lawyer, represented some abutters. Mr. Allen said that the application “should trigger subdivision control laws” and that “problems with conservation zoning have not been resolved.” Like others, he criticized vague plans, saying Brookline has never allowed a common driveway “without knowing where that drive is going.”

Mr. Allen and several neighbors said no meetings had been organized by the developer about the proposal in the neighborhood. Mark Zarrillo, an architect who chairs the Planning Board, announced that the review would continue at a future meeting. He recommended the developer meet with neighbors about the proposal.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 2, 2014

Hazards of rail transport

When we encounter news of railroad crashes involving oil and fuel tankers–such as the disaster last summer that took the lives of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec–we probably don’t imagine anything like that in Brookline. We don’t even have freight rail here.

However, we once did. In the early 1850s, the former Charles River Branch Railroad was built from Needham through Newton and Brookline to Boston. For about twenty years it hauled millions of tons of gravel and sand to fill the largest parts of the Charles River’s former saltwater mudflats. Those once extended from what is now the east edge of the Public Garden to what is now the Charlesgate channel of the Muddy River and westward to what is now Kenmore Square. Since the mid-twentieth century, such a massive project probably would not happen. No one could likely get environmental waivers or permits today.

The former freight railroad is now the Riverside or D branch of the MBTA Green Line, since 1959, and the filled parts of Boston are the Back Bay neighborhoods. Unlike the rest of the Green Line, the Riverside branch was a first-class, heavy-duty railroad–a twin-track with fully separated crossings. After days of hauling gravel ended, the former Boston & Albany bought it to run a commuter-rail service into Boston. Passenger carriages were originally pulled by coal-fired steam locomotives, standard for the day.

A long-running controversy about the so-called Carlton St. Footbridge–passing over tracks of the former Charles River Branch Railroad and connecting Colchester St. and Carlton St. with the Riverway and Olmsted Park–has origins in the 1890s, when Longwood-area residents asked selectmen to install it as a convenience. It served a whistle-stop on the former B&A commuter-rail branch between Needham and Boston.

Unlike handsome stone bridges designed during park construction under Mr. Olmsted, Sr.–whose son chaired Brookline’s first Planning Board–the Carlton St. bridge was a makeshift. Brookline highway workers assembled it from steel shards, beams and fasteners. Under Article 5, a special town meeting November 17, 2009, appropriated $1.4 million, using a rare roll-call vote, to rehabilitate the rusted-out relic, which has been closed to public access as a safety hazard since fall, 1975. So far, the project has not been completed.

The city of Revere is not so fortunate as Brookline to be distant from its freight-rail history. Branches of the former Boston & Maine–some transporting freight under successor Pan Am Railways–provide a potential corridor connecting interstate rail to large oil depots along banks of the Chelsea River. In 2011, Global Partners, owner of the largest tank complex, proposed to bring grain alcohol from the Midwest into Revere and East Boston, using rail tankers. Revere residents and city officials became alarmed.

Most rail tankers in widespread use today to carry flammable liquids were designed in the 1950s, as much for capacity as safety. Of more than 100,000 type DOT-111 tank cars built, over sixty years around a third have been involved in rail crashes. Even when traveling at low speeds, hundreds have split open, starting massive fires. These tankers carry about 30,000 gallons each, or about three times the fuel carried by each of the jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Global of Revere proposed to bring in one to three trains a week, typically 60 cars each–a total that could reach around 200 million gallons a year of fuel-grade ethanol to be blended into gasoline. That would probably travel through eastern Massachusetts at night along the route of the MBTA Fitchburg Line commuter rail–through Lowell, Cambridge, Chelsea and other communities. Global has been shipping ethanol by rail from the Midwest to Providence and then by barge from Providence to its tanks in Revere. Eliminating barge shipping could save money.

Revere residents approved a ballot question opposing rail shipment of ethanol. They joined with people from several other communities, pressuring the state legislature. Considering potential hazards from multiple perspectives, the General Court attached “outside section” 81 to H. 3538 of 2013, the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill. It likely matters that Robert A. DeLeo, the House speaker, represents Revere and has his district office there.

Section 81 did not attack rail transport of ethanol. Instead it would have altered Chapter 91 of the General Laws, regulating waterways, by blocking new licenses for facilities that store or blend large amounts of ethanol when located within a mile of a census tract with a population density above 4,000 residents per square mile. As soon as its current licenses expire, that might have put Global out of business in Revere. At best, the company could blend ethanol elsewhere and bring in pre-blended gasoline, raising costs.

Governor Patrick used a so-called “line-item veto” against Section 81. Mr. Patrick, a former corporate lawyer who is not a candidate for re-election this fall, proposed that the General Court instead forbid using rail tankers to bring ethanol into Revere or East Boston before August, 2015. He promised to have the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency develop a “comprehensive ethanol transport response plan.” However, a few days earlier Global had announced it was suspending plans to transport ethanol by rail.

Gov. Patrick issued, at best, a disingenuous statement. Unlike many among the public, he and concerned state legislators would have been well aware that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had just published an “Ethanol Safety Study.” In Chapter 4, Report Findings, it frankly states that “movement of [ethanol or other hazardous materials] is regulated at a federal level, and it cannot be regulated in any manner at the state or local level.” By acting to force Global of Revere to change its plans, close or relocate, the General Court was exercising powers it does have to head off potential disasters.

Rail tankers do not seem likely to become much safer very soon. There is a somewhat sturdier design approved as a Canadian standard, in the wake of Lac-Mégantic: type CPC-1232. However, that design might not be enough. Recently another rail tanker crash occurred in downtown Lynchburg, VA. Three tank cars loaded with petroleum split open and ignited, but no one was reported injured. Associated Press news writers stated that the National Transportation Safety Board knows of “several accidents in which cars built to the new standards ruptured.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 1, 2014


Dave Riehle, Runaway Quebec train, source of so much heartache, began its journey toward disaster years ago, Workday Minnesota, July 24, 2013

John Laidler, Ethanol transport raising concerns, Boston Globe, August 4, 2011

Seth Daniel, Screeching halt: backed into corner, Global withdraws ethanol train plan, Chelsea Record, July 4, 2013

Alan Suderman and Michael Felberbaum, Associated Press, Rail tankers carrying oil derail and catch fire in Virginia, New York Times, May 1, 2014

Advisory Committee: neighborhoods, snow, human relations

A regular meeting of the Advisory Committee on Tuesday, April 29, started at 7:00 pm in the southern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The committee has been reviewing articles on the warrant for the 2014 annual town meeting to be held in May. It voted recommendations on articles for a neighborhood conservation district, a resolution about snow clearance and a new “diversity” commission to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission.

A Greater Toxteth neighborhood conservation district has been proposed in Article 11 by about 85 percent of residents of Toxteth St. and nearby. They say that no one in the area has announced opposition. This type of district, with regulations that go beyond zoning but are less strict than a local historic district authorized by Massachusetts under Chapter 40C of the General Laws, was invented by retiring Selectman Richard Benka to mitigate potential disruptions from the proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village. Greater Toxteth would become the first more-or-less ordinary designation.

A neighborhood conservation district can designate characteristics of concern to a particular neighborhood. Unlike zoning districts, those are expected to differ from one neighborhood to another. For example, Greater Toxteth calls attention to front porches common in the area. A special review would be required to enclose a front porch for living space. So would alterations that add living space encroaching on current front yards. However, other additions that increase living space less than 15 percent would not need special reviews.

As article 11 was considered, committee chair Harry Bohrs stepped aside, and Carla Benka led the committee. Mr. Bohrs is one of the petitioners for Greater Toxteth. Ms. Benka chairs the subcommittee that investigated the article. Paul Bell, Ann Turner and other members of the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission (NCDC) said they support Greater Toxteth.

However, committee member Christine Westphal seemed skeptical. She asked, “Why freeze the neighborhood?” and said the district was “problematic…It wouldn’t work on Brook St.” Dennis DeWitt, an architect and member of the NCDC who lives on High St. Hill, responded that distinctions between “public and private spaces” were being respected in the proposal. The committee voted to recommend favorable action, 18 in favor, 1 opposed and 2 abstaining–with Mr. Bohrs counted as recused.

Frank Caro, a member of the Age Friendly Cities Committee, led a group of petitioners under Article 28 for a resolution that seeks prompt enforcement of the town’s snow clearance bylaw in commercial areas. Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, said manpower is limited. Last winter Brookline issued over 500 citations for failure to clear snow in a timely way. Fines can range up to $100 per day.

Committee member Lee Selwyn pointed out that increased revenue from fines might well cover the cost of prompt enforcement. Carla Benka said that the town had not been “aggressive with enforcement” and questioned whether times allowed to clear snow in the current bylaw are realistic. They range from a few hours in commercial districts to a day in low-density residential ones. The committee voted unanimously to recommend referral of the article to a committee organized by Town Administrator Mel Kleckner.

Finally, the committee took up this season’s most contentious topic. Article 10 would abolish the Human Relations Youth Resources (HRYR) Commission and create a new “Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations (DICR) Commission.” The committee heard from Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who headed a selectmen-appointed committee proposing the change, and from Mariela Ames, who chairs the HRYR Commission. Several other current and former town officials were present, and some offered comments.

Michael Sandman, who chairs a special subcommittee that investigated the article, offered a motion with many amendments to the article as proposed. However, they do not much affect the article’s main points. Responsibilities of a new commission would become far smaller than those of the current commission, and the new commission would have no staff assigned to support its work.

Ms. Daly defended a wordy “mission” statement that begins a proposed new bylaw for the DICR commission. No other town board has such a statement in its bylaw. She said, “Historically, there have been problems finding enough people to serve as commissioners.” However, over the past few months the Board of Selectmen made many appointments and brought the HRYR Commission to its full 15 members. Several new members appear to have been appointed to provide representation for minorities.

Ms. Ames said that when commissioners look at what the bylaw now asks, “they find they don’t have powers to do the tasks.” The original Human Relations Commission was created by town meeting in 1970. It had a rocky start. Richard Fischer, an African-American who was the first staff director, resigned after less than a year, accusing Brookline of “tokenism.”

The town did not provide the Human Relations Commission with authorization under Massachusetts laws that would have been needed to investigate complaints and town hiring practices. As reported in the former Chronicle-Citizen, it also never provided Mr. Fischer with a commission office or even a desk. Within a few months, the late Rev. George Blackman, who had chaired the commission, also resigned.

In the 1970s, the town had no Human Resources office and no consistent procedure to investigate civil rights complaints. Nevertheless, even when Human Relations was merged with Youth Resources in 1974, Brookline did nothing to empower its commission. Current commission members found that in 42 years after Mr. Fischer’s departure the town never hired or promoted another minority person to be among its department heads, who now number 26. That proved an embarrassment to a whole generation of selectmen and town executives.

As at a subcommittee investigation of Article 10, there was discussion over whether a new organization should be called a “department,” a “division” or an “office” and of whether a new commission should be of variable rather than fixed size. Committee member Stanley Spiegel spoke up for a department, because of “stature.” However, Sandra DeBow, the town’s Human Resources director, observed that an “office” such as she runs may be more appropriate, since it will have town-wide duties.

As marked up by the Advisory Committee, the proposed new bylaw radically reduces the scope of the commission and the corresponding office. The new commission would be excluded from any direct role in affirmative action and from any direct role in handling discrimination complaints when they involve Brookline employees. No new role is added; roles are only taken away.

Everything that would be authorized for the new commission is already authorized for the current one. The new commission would be on its own. No staff is authorized. The proposed new bylaw provides only for a “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Members of the current HRYR Commission will need to apply to the Board of Selectmen if they want to become members of a new DICR Commission.

Current members of the HRYR commission have been excluded from reviews of their commission. They were rudely treated–privately advised not to attend reviews. Except for Mariela Ames, who currently chairs the HRYR commission, no current commissioners came to reviews held by the Advisory Committee and the Committee on Town Organization and Structure.

After a long discussion, committee member Amy Hummel proposed to amend Mr. Sandman’s motion by substituting a commission of variable size, 11 to 15, as the selectmen-appointed committee proposing the article asks. That was defeated, 7 in favor and 13 opposed. Then Mr. Sandman’s motion, with a couple of technical changes, was unanimously approved, recommending the new commission to town meeting.

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


Diane Hinchcliffe, Fischer to resign, Brookline Chronicle-Citizen 99(5):1,6, February 3, 1972

Recycling makes more progress without trash metering

A look at recycling reports from Massachusetts communities provides no support for using trash metering in Brookline–so-called “pay as you throw.” It has not been a particularly helpful approach for largely urban, high-income communities. Instead, metered trash fees became common mostly in middle-income communities, far suburbs and rural areas.

A survey for calendar 2012 is the most recent available. It is far from complete. Of 352 cities and towns involved, 131 failed to report, and nine filed obviously faulty information–a compliance rate of only 60 percent. Many scofflaws are small towns, but scofflaws also include Amherst, Harvard, Hull, Medford, Nantucket, Norwood, Pittsfield, Salisbury, Springfield, Topsfield, Wakefield, Watertown, Wellesley, Winthrop and Worcester.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection calculates a so-called “recycling rate” that turns out to be misleading. It is supposed to be annual tonnage recycled, divided by annual tonnage collected. However, that metric has been badly distorted by including “electronic waste” and “yard waste” within the tonnages.

The problem with “electronic waste” is that a few communities housing businesses involved in electronics disposal report huge amounts: Ashland, Melrose, Milford, Revere and Saugus. The problem with “yard waste” is the great variation in community customs. Some communities don’t handle yard waste at all and report none. Others operate popular services with large composting pits and report enormous amounts.

A straightforward way to put communities on an even footing is to exclude “electronic waste” and “yard waste” in figuring rates. When we do that, real recycling rates of Massachusetts cities and towns reporting for 2012 averaged 23 percent. Brookline achieved 37 percent, and the town ranked 37th out of 212 reporting communities in the state. The more highly ranked communities usually have small populations or had only a small fraction of households using community-operated trash services.

A more representative comparison with Brookline can be found by looking at communities with large numbers of households using community-operated trash services. Of the 50 largest community services, according to the number of households served, Brookline ranked fourth in real recycling rate. Only Barnstable, Lexington and Cambridge were ahead.

A scan over communities with large numbers of participating households quickly shows that richer communities tended to achieve high recycling rates and poorer communities tended to achieve low ones. At the foot of the 50-community list were Lowell, Fall River and Lawrence–with rates of 13, 11 and 7 percent.

Trash metering–so-called “pay as you throw”–is often advertised by people who seem to be proselytizing or promoting their careers–such as the mayor of Gloucester, who was recently written up in the Boston Globe. Out in the wider world where most people live, trash metering has not become a popular topic.

Changes for Massachusetts communities in real recycling rates (not counting yard waste) show no evidence that trash metering works better than other ways to encourage recycling. Following are records of real recycling rates for the top five Massachusetts communities, among the 50 communities with the most households using community-operated trash services, plus the record for city of Gloucester:

Massachusetts Real rate Trash
community 2008 2012 metering
Barnstable 13% 52% no
Lexington 39% 42% no
Cambridge 28% 39% no
Brookline 31% 37% no
Newton 13% 37% no
Gloucester 21% 30% yes

All top-five communities substantially improved their real recycling rates. Barnstable and Newton far outperformed Gloucester, yet none of the top-five communities used trash metering. There are likely to be good opportunities for Brookline to continue improving its recycling rate. More outreach to neighborhood associations and school programs might help. It can be really irritating to be nagged by your neighbors or your children. Trash metering, on the other hand, looks like a distraction.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 11, 2014