Category Archives: Projects

town and private projects

Bugle Taps for “West Station”

A so-called “West Station” project has looked to be the last spray of transit sparkle from the former Patrick administration. The state transportation project list still shows a huge “sleeper” project. Like many other state Web sites, that one is also fouled with mold: years out of date. It estimates a total project cost of about $434 million.

The most recent online data for DOT project no. 606475, from the spring of 2011, called for “replacement of the elevated viaduct, realignment of I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), reconstruction of (the Allston) interchange and connecting ramps, reconstruction of Cambridge Street, reconstruction of Beacon Park Yard to accommodate an MBTA commuter rail layover facility and construction of West Station.”

Flack work: As recently as the fall of 2014, state publicity flacks were blaring trumpets. Nicole Dungca, a press-release parakeet for the Boston Globe, wrote, “A $25 million transit station…is meant to help overhaul the huge swath of land near the Allston-Brighton tolls…nimble, self-propelled cars…would mimic trolley or subway service.” The first time we heard Buddliners called “nimble.” However, her story cautioned, “There is currently no timeline….” She might have added, “There is also no money.”

In the spring of 2014. a more experienced Globe reporter, Martine Powers, had written, “A MassDOT official announced that the cost of constructing a new rail station would not be part of the $260 million budget” for the Allston interchange project. Other than canning a “$25 million” rail station, there has still been no news saying how a “$434 million” project in 2011 might cost only “$260 million” in 2014. Big Dig in reverse gear?

Contacts at the transportation department continue to say that plans for an Allston rail station remain on the dead-letter heap. According to a report from December, 2015, “Toll revenues can not be used” for such a station. No other funds are cited. What happened to a project feature claimed to “transform” the Allston area?

Intervening opportunities: For many decades, the Cambridge Street and Lincoln Street part of Allston has been industrial and low-rent residential: some two-family houses and three-story brick apartments, a couple of auto repair shops, a rail yard, a bearing distributor and a warehouse for used furniture. A steel warehouse gave way to a speculative Internet connection hub–never finished and now vacant 15 years. Seemingly perennial Allston Food & Sprits–home of “frog legs”–has flipped since 2007. No more venison, geese or frog legs.

Brighton on the south side of the Turnpike is a different scene, more like rags to riches. New Balance, hero of that story, tore down the former Honeywell factory on Life Street, built a new headquarters office and is replacing dilapidated warehouses with new office buildings, housing and retail shops. New Balance is also paying the whole tab for a new station on the former main line of the Boston & Albany Railroad, now the MBTA Worcester commuter-rail line. Most Allston neighborhoods are closer to that station–adjacent to the Everett Street overpass–than to the rear of the former rail yard. No funding problems. Now a so-called “West Station”–less than a mile to the east–no longer matters.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 14, 2016


Peter B. Kingman, Buddliner awaiting disposal next to Fitchburg Line in Cambridge, New England Railroad Photo Archive, 1989

Mass. Highway project no. 606475, in online descriptions of state projects, last update 2011

Martine Powers, Allston rail station plan scrapped for now, Boston Globe, May 26, 2014

Nicole Dungca, New transit station could transform Allston area, Boston Globe, September 30, 2014

Jessica Geller, New Balance opens new world headquarters at Boston Landing. Boston Globe, September 17, 2015

I-90 Allston Interchange, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, December, 2015 (8 MB)

Nicole Dungca, New Balance, MBTA break ground on Allston-Brighton station, Boston Globe, May 12, 2016

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

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 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

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

Brookline finances: big promises, little performance

Often flush with self-promotion about its civic virtues, Brookline’s modern government remains about as laggard in civic performance, measured against other communities, as nineteenth-century predecessors. A recent example of claims versus realities comes from a meager source of online fiscal data found on the recently revised municipal Web site.

Tools for data: With conversion of its municipal site in early summer, 2014, to hosting by CivicPlus of Manhattan, KS, Brookline also provided an online component of Munis management software, from Tyler Technologies of Plano, TX.

A blurb on the Brookline site about “Open Checkbook” claims that the underlying software, Tyler Citizen Transparency, “…provides financial transparency to the public with easy access to the Town of Brookline’s expenditure information….” It you find both Brookline’s claims and its data pass a smell test, you might also regard unfiltered muck from the Charles River basin as “transparent.”

PIRG ratings: A little over two years ago, Governing States and Localities, a trade journal published in Washington, DC, called attention to a trend of junk data. Data editor Mike Maciag described a survey of online data portals performed by U.S. PIRG, the Public Interest Research Group founded by Ralph Nader. Governing Magazine reproduced the PIRG service rankings and grades for 30 large U.S. cities. The closest and most relevant to Brookline was Boston.

PIRG awarded grades of A to New York City and Chicago for transparency. In contrast, Boston got a grade of D- from PIRG and placed seventh from the bottom in ratings. Boston provides a wrapper, “Checkbook Explorer,” linking to data retrieval similar to what Brookline offers. Lacking the wrapper, Brookline’s service rating would probably be worse; its portal is harder to use.

In terms of software technology, Brookline’s data access suggests a dinosaur. PIRG classifies similar levels of service, in general, as “Transparency 1.0–Incomplete.” It offers the following description of such unhelpful municipal data portals that its staff surveyed:

“Residents have access to only limited information about public expenditures. Information about contracts, subsidies or tax expenditures is not disclosed online and often not collected at all. Determined residents who visit numerous agency Web sites or make public record requests may be able to gather information on government expenditures.”

Vendors: One of the ways in which mostly unhelpful financial data retrieval can sometimes be useful is searching by “vendor.” In the arcane language of municipal finance, that word does not have an ordinary meaning. Instead it means, “Who got paid?” One of the better paid people at Town Hall is the town administrator, Mel Kleckner. Searching fiscal 2015 by vendor for “kleckner” gets a span of items, including:

MELISSA LO…$1,695
MELVIN A KLECKNER…$1,427
MERCHANT CONSULTING GROUP LLC…$1,849

Expanding the MELVIN A KLECKNER item displays a table with three payments:

Payment Date…Account…Category
…Department…Fund…Vendor Payments

10/15/2014…EDUCATION/TRAINING/CONFERENCES…Other Expenses
…SELECTMEN…GENERAL FUND…$828

05/13/2015…SELECTMEN’S CONTINGENCY……Other Expenses
…UNCLASSIFIED…GENERAL FUND…$489

06/10/2015…SELECTMEN’S CONTINGENCY……Other Expenses
…UNCLASSIFIED…GENERAL FUND…$110

There is no more information underneath any data. In particular, one cannot find out what the “education, training or conferences” were about or when and where that took place. There is no explanation about what “other expenses” might actually have paid for.

The huge gap in junk data here is total omission of all major payments to MELVIN A KLECKNER. Brookline’s FY2015 municipal budget shows, on page IV-4, a budget for account 510101, “Permanent Full Time Salaries,” that includes an item for “Town Administrator…$179,099″ in the fiscal year just ended June 30. The town’s confusing budget omits most employee benefits from such displays.

Mr. Kleckner was also supposed to have an employment contract. If he did, it was not shown anywhere in the online municipal finance information. This information has a separate Payroll page, but that did not help either. As of July 11, it showed payments to KLECKNER, MELVIN A of only $3,500 during fiscal 2015, which ended June 30.

Big bucks: In Brookline’s financial picture, the big bucks are often going to contractors on town projects. A long-running one, just about to end, has been renovation of Warren Field. A major contractor has been New England Landscape and Masonry (NELM) of Massachusetts. This company did not turn up when searching by vendors under either “nelm” or “new england.”

A common issue with junk data is use of variant and cute names, known to local staff perhaps but not known to the public. NELM has its business office in Carver, MA, but the Brookline municipal Web site does not provide any way to search by a vendor other by name. There is also no way to search among the contractors that have been working on some specific project.

An obscure feature of the Vendors search page is the ability to sort vendors by total recorded payments. Click on the Vendor Payments heading at the top of the tabular display. Let the display settle, and click again. Vendors will be sorted in declining order of total payments. As of July 11, 2015, there were eight so-called “vendors” with total fiscal 2015 payments shown at more than $1 million, as follows:

BROOKLINE RETIREMENT SYSTEM…$21,740,098
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS…$12,616,236
US BANK…$9,389,800
TRANSCANADA POWER MARKETING LTD…$1,339,493
D’ALLESSANDRO CORP…$1,337,420
EVERSOURCE…$1,186,978
YCN TRANSPORTATION, INC…$1,076,504
WASTE MANAGEMENT OF MASSACHUSETTS INC…$1,049,912

Some of the so-called “vendors” such as U.S. Bank don’t even match the convention of “Who got paid?” The bank likely got cash deposits and not what most people would call “payments.” The biggest conventional vendors selling ordinary services to Brookline were D’Allessandro of Avon, the main contractor for snow clearance last winter, and two electricity suppliers, Eversource and TransCanada.

There are likely to have been service contracts with these large vendors. No contract information of any kind could be found on the fiscal data pages of Brookline’s municipal Web site.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 11, 2015


Benjamin Davis, Phineas Baxandall and Ryan Pierannunzi, Transparency in municipal spending, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), 2013 (2 MB)

Mike Maciag, Report grades cities’ spending transparency Web sites, Governing States and Localities (Washington, DC), January 25, 2013

Departmental budgets, FY2015 Financial Plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February, 2014 (5 MB)

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering, Brookline Beacon, June 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public Works: snow removal, Brookline Beacon, March 9, 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

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 23, started at 6:50 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Frederick Russell, the director of the Public Works water and sewer division, to present a proposal for revising fees. Unlike practices of years ago, the board did not announce or conduct a hearing.

Public affairs: Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, announced another agreement with a nonprofit organization for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). It is with Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist organization at 303 Boylston St. Mr. Cirillo noted that it is the twentieth PILOT agreement he has negotiated, starting in 2006. The board approved.

Water and sewer fees: Mr. Russell’s proposal was presented with a computer display that, as of noon the following day, had not been made available to the public on the municipal Web site. According to him, the average bill will increase 4.6 percent, starting in July–far in excess of general inflation. Compared with other eastern Massachusetts communities, Brookline’s water and sewer fees are already high.

It was obvious to many that some of Mr. Russell’s data could not stand scrutiny. Board member Nancy Daly said that a back calculation indicated an average residential bill of over $9,000. The claim for average increase in dollars, divided by the claim for average increase in percent, shown on Mr. Russell’s displays, indicated an average quarterly bill of about $2,200. Mr. Russell could not explain clearly.

A severe problem with Brookline’s water and sewer fees has long been known. It stems from failure to adjust for the number of dwelling units served by a water line and meter. Brookline has mostly multifamily housing. Fewer than 20 percent of households are found in single-family houses.

Brookline has had information about numbers of dwelling units for decades. It has been available from computer databases for over 20 years. Mr. Russell said his division’s failure to bill on a fair and equitable basis was lessened by a scheme of base rates and block rates, but data he displayed showed substantial inequity.

Members of the public led by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, came with information showing that Brookline was practicing unfair billing. Although the Board of Selectmen often accepts comments on public affairs topics at ordinary meetings, not just hearings, Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair and a former Advisory Committee member, pointedly snubbed Mr. Lescohier and his allies. The board approved the proposed fee changes after only brief discussion.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Ray Masak, a building project administrator, asked for approval of a $2.61 million contract with Contractors Network of East Providence, RI. It will rebuild and repair large parts of the 16-year-old municipal service center at 870 Hammond St. Design errors have led to expensive corrections, rivalled only by the Pierce School disasters of the early 1970s. Most members of the board seemed oblivious to Brookline’s costly history of mistakes. They approved the contract.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, won approval for two major contracts that begin a project to enlarge and renovate Devotion School. HMFH Architects of Cambridge gets $8.13 million for final plans, specifications and design coordination. Shawmut Design and Construction of Boston gets $10.55 million for its services as general contractor. The entire project has been costed at about $120 million–by far the most expensive in Brookline’s history.

Mr. Guigli also won approval for two much smaller contracts to complete school repairs. GWV of East Boston gets a $0.04 million change order, most of it to replace the main sewer connection at Lawrence School. Lambrian of Westwood gets $0.02 million more to complete work at old Lincoln School. Ms. Daly asked about science room casework removed by mistake. Mr. Guigli said that the change order included an adjustment for damages.

Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, won approval of $1.22 milllion for the first year of a five-year contract with Casella Waste Systems of Peabody, to collect and process recycled materials. A five-year contract with Waste Management of Houston, TX, which began Brookline’s single-stream recycling, is ending. Casella submitted a more favorable bid. The cost is significantly higher than the current contract. Mr. Pappastergion won approval for a $0.2 million reserve fund request, to be heard by Advisory on July 7.

Casella already operates solid waste transfer from the Brookline transfer station off Newton St. It takes town refuse collections, street sweepings and catch basin cleanings to a sanitary landfill in Southbridge that recovers methane and uses it to generate electricity. The company will take recycle collections to a largely automated separation plant in Charlestown. Unlike Waste Management, Casella does not plan to incinerate any materials but will bundle and sell them for reuse.

Licenses and permits: A representative for Teleport Communications applied for a permit to install an in-street conduit on Hammond St. Traffic in the area has been disturbed recently by work on gas mains. Teleport estimated five days for its job, committed to all-hours access for residents and promised to notify residents a week before commencing work. The board approved.

Two liquor license holders were brought in for revocation hearings. Vernissage, a restaurant in Washington Square, and GPS Wines and Spirits, across Boylston St. from the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, have closed. Both were given about five more months to reactivate businesses or transfer licenses.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 24, 2015


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

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 9, started at 7:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, to present plans for a trash metering system, replacing Brookline’s partly unstructured, fixed-fee approach to collecting solid waste from households and businesses.

Some board members had attended a “visioning” session conducted at Town Hall the previous evening for the Economic Development Advisory Committee. According to Neil Wishinsky, the chair, it focused on “medium-scale commercial parcels.” Board member Nancy Daly commented that “most projects would require rezoning.” Zoning changes take two-thirds votes at town meetings and have become difficult to achieve. Ms. Daly said there would need to be “neighborhood involvement and dialog.” So far there has been none of either.

Public affairs: Andy Martineau, an economic development planner, reported on the Brookline Village Street Fair, a new event to occur on Harvard St. from noon to 4 pm Sunday, June 14 (not June 15 as in the meeting agenda). Best known among similar events nearby may be the annual Allston Village Street Fair, usually held on a September Sunday. Mr. Martineau’s plans sounded somewhat more commercial, with about 40 merchants involved. Performances are planned by Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys, a favorite of young children, Ten Tumbao, Afro-Latin-Caribbean music, and the Muddy River Ramblers, bluegrass.

Richard Segan, from the Brookline Sister City Project, asked the board to approve a proclamation for Brookline Sister City Week, to be October 18-24. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, and Peter Moyer, a Brookline resident, had visited Quezalguaque, Nicaragua, the third week in May. Drs. van der Ziel and Moyer described their visit and future plans. The board approved the proclamation.

The two Brookline physicians have mainly been concerned with atypical chronic kidney disease, a longstanding and severe problem in Quezalguaque–also common in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Unlike similar maladies in the United States, mainly found in older people, in Central America the disease strikes people as early as their twenties. Every year thousands die. Although environmental and occupational factors are suspected, no cause is known. Those working with the Sister City Project plan to extend epidemiological efforts, hoping to associate the disease with locations, occupations, water supplies, agricultural chemicals and other potential influences.

Trash metering: Andrew Pappastergion, Brookline’s commissioner of public works, presented the first detailed plans for trash metering. Programs known by that trademarked term–coined by WasteZero of Raleigh, NC, a contractor for Brookline–aim to improve on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts through automation, public education and convenience.

The City of Gloucester achieved a 30 percent reduction in waste disposal costs during the first full year of such a program, according to the Gloucester Times of March 7, 2010. However, Gloucester previously had a poor recycling record, while Brookline began curbside recycling in 1973 and has operated an increasingly advanced program since 1990.

Six Massachusetts towns with populations above 30,000 have some form of solid waste limit: Plymouth, Taunton, Amherst, Shrewsbury, Dartmouth and Natick. None of them are among the more urbanized and sophisticated towns Brookline typically regards as peer communities–including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester. There is strong evidence that in urbanized and sophisticated communities public education has been more effective than trash metering at reducing solid waste. Although Brookline has a Solid Waste Advisory Committee, so far its members have been passive, performing no public outreach. Those are hurdles for Mr. Pappastergion’s plans.

Mr. Pappastergion presented a slide show to the board. It included a review of Massachusetts information organized by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. State officials remain focused on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts, so far found mostly in smaller rural or suburban towns.

Mr. Pappastergion presented data unavailable to the public: recycling rates for communities using municipally supplied bins. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has collected recycling rate data since 1997, but after 2008 state officials stopped releasing them to the public. It appeared that no Massachusetts town with a population above 30,000 operates a program comparable to the one Mr. Pappastergion proposes.

Mr. Pappastergion proposes that Brookline supply to each of about 13,000 customers now using municipal refuse services a 35-gallon bin with wheels, similar in construction to the 64-gallon bins already supplied for recycling. Brookline would reduce the number of collection trucks from six to four and equip those trucks with automated bin-handlers like the ones now used for recycling bins.

Households would continue to pay the current $200 per year fee to have one 35-gallon refuse bin and one 64-gallon recycling bin collected each week. Extra refuse bags would be available at stores and town offices. They would have 30-gallon capacity and cost $2.00 each. For fees yet to be stated, Brookline would supply extra bins collected each week. Mr. Pappastergion estimated that 35-gallon bins would hold, on average, 40 lb of refuse, while 30-gallon bags would hold 25 lb.

Based on his estimates, Mr. Pappastergion might be proposing that Brookline violate state law by charging more than the cost of service for refuse bags. He estimated a cost of container and disposal at $1.15, as compared with a $2.00 fee. However, he did not include costs of collection and transfer. He provided no estimates for likely quantities of bags or extra bins.

In the proposed program, current practices for collecting bulky items, yard waste and metals would not change. Combining personnel, supplies, contractual services and capital equipment, Mr. Pappastergion estimated savings of about $0.1 million for fiscal 2017, the first full operating year, rising to about $0.4 million per year for fiscal 2022 and later years–including allowances for inflation.

Members of the board reacted with a diffuse scatter of comments. Mr. Wishinsky said the refuse bin on display looked “awful small” and asked about 48-gallon bins. Mr. Pappastergion said 35-gallon bins were important “to achieve goals of this program.” Board member Bernard Greene, in contrast, said he was “surprised at how large” the 35-gallon bin was. “We’d have room to rent out space.” Ms. Daly asked whether people would use compactors to overstuff the bins. Mr. Pappastergion doubted that would occur.

There were several questions about storage space and handling, to which Mr. Pappastergion responded by citing four years’ experience with the larger, single-stream recycling bins. The introduction of those elements led to increasing Brookline’s recycling rate from 30 to 37 percent, he said, but during the past two years progress has stalled. The department has yet to stimulate recycling through public outreach. It is not clear whether the department has the talent or the willingness to try.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Sara Slymon, the library director, won approval to hire three librarians, turning current interim positions into permanent ones, thanks in part to the tax override passed by voters in May. Mr. Greene and board member Ben Franco asked how the positions would be advertised. Ms. Slymon replied that union contracts restricted the library to internal posting unless a qualified candidate could not be found. She said all the current employees were well qualified for their positions.

Linda Golburgh, the assistant town clerk, asked for approval to hire an administrative assistant. The position is becoming vacant because of a retirement. It marks the third recent change in personnel at a small agency. Ms. Daly remembered that the current employee previously worked in the office of the Board of Selectmen. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Golburgh to seek help from Lloyd Gellineau, the chief diversity officer, and Sandra DeBow, the human resources director, to insure a diverse candidate pool.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, asked for approval of a $0.07 million increase in the contract to renovate Warren Field. The contractor is New England Landscape and Masonry (NELM) of Carver, MA. The board asked whether the project was staying within budget limits. Mr. Ditto said that it was and that the project was about to conclude. The board approved the change order.

Mr. Ditto also asked for approval of a $1.07 million contract with Newport Construction of Nashua, NH, to reconstruct Fisher Ave. It is this year’s largest street project. The other bidder, Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester, which is working on other Brookline projects, proposed a substantially higher price. The board approved the contract.

The board also approved several smaller financial transactions. Among them was accepting a $0.06 million state grant, using federal funds, to hire a transportation coordinator based at the Senior Center on Winchester St. Ruthann Dobek, director for the Council on Aging, described an innovative program aimed at helping older people adjust to living without automobiles. Board members asked how the program would operate in future years.

Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member and a member of the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, responded that such a program had already begun with volunteers and would continue that way if necessary. However, Dr. Caro said, the program needed planning and coordination. Even a year of staffing, he contended, would move the program to better levels of service.

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


Celebrate Brookline Village, The Village Fair, 2015

Cause of CKD epidemic in Sister City remains a mystery, Brookline Sister City Project, 2010

Miguel Almaguer, Raúl Herrera and Carlos M. Orantes, Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in agricultural communities, MEDICC Review 16(2):9-15, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, 2014

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

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

Trash metering, WasteZero (Raleigh, NC), 2010

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 12, started at 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. New members are Bernard Greene, formerly a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and Nancy Heller, formerly a Precinct 8 town meeting member. Both were members of the Advisory Committee until earlier this year. The board chose Neil Wishinsky as chair. He had been elected to the board in 2013.

With retirements of long-serving members Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, the board now has four members who are in their first terms of office. Only Nancy Daly, first elected in 2005, is now a long-serving member. All current board members have Advisory Committee experience, reviving a Brookline tradition. Ms. Heller was previously a member and chair of the School Committee.

Public comment: Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member and a former member of the Advisory Committee and School Committee, offered public comment. This year, she placed third of five candidates for the Board of Selectman. Mystifying many, she had omitted taking a public stand on the tax override ballot question, surely the issue of the year in Brookline, in her town-wide campaign mailing. Ms. Heller and Mr. Greene had supported it, and they won.

After a “contentious” election, Ms. Lodish said, “getting the town back together…is not so simple…[it was] a divisive campaign…[it was] alienating 40 percent of the voters…a campaign fueled by rhetoric and scare factors.” In thinly veiled language, she called members of the Board of Selectmen to account for “lack of transparency…failed leadership…a manufactured crisis.”

The 40 percent Ms. Lodish mentioned clearly alluded to No votes on this year’s Question 1. That can be compared with Question 1A of 2008, a similar tax override. Both questions were actively promoted and vigorously opposed. The No votes went from 37 percent in 2008 to 38 percent this year. Ms. Lodish did not explain why she considered override efforts in 2015 at fault but apparently not those in 2008, when she wasn’t running for office.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian who has been an alternate on the Preservation Commission, was appointed as a regular member. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, got approval to keep Betsy DeWitt, who just retired from the Board of Selectmen, as a member of the Devotion School building subcommittee on selecting a construction manager at risk. Mr. Bennett also won waiver of permit fees, about $0.01 million, for the third floor of 62 Harvard St., where the town plans to site four classrooms to relieve crowding at nearby Pierce School. He estimated about $0.35 million in work.

The board interviewed Nathan Peck of Philbrick Rd. for the Building Commission. A position once held by David Pollack, now a member of the School Committee, has been vacant for some time. Mr. Peck, who trained in civil engineering, has built a career as a building project manager and is currently president of Kaplan Construction on Harvard St. He mentioned that his father-in-law, Kenneth Kaplan, had gotten him interested in serving on the commission, of which Mr. Kaplan has been a member since 2001.

Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, got approval to hire a replacement for a teacher in the early education program at Soule. Ruthann Dobeck, director for the Council on Aging, got approval to hire a replacement for her program’s van driver, based at the Senior Center.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for two contracts with Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester for roadway paving, totaling $0.2 million. Susi was low bidder for a 3-year contract cycle and has worked for Brookline in the past. The board accepted a $0.01 million grant from the Dolphins swim team parent council for swimming pool improvements and a $0.01 million grant from the Brookline Community Foundation to fund summer day-camp scholarships.

Management and town meeting issues: Maria Morelli, a Brookline planner who has worked on the town’s responses to the Chapter 40B housing development proposed at Hancock Village, asked the board to send letters about the proposal to the state’s environmental agency and historical commission. They ask for reviews of potential adverse effects. She said that while the reviews could not block the proposal, they could result in “mitigation.” The board approved.

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2016 Community Development Block Grant program and objectives. After several prior reviews, the $1.35 million program has been loaded with administration at $0.5 million. Otherwise it benefits public and assisted housing most, $0.5 million. Public services are budgeted at $0.2 million and improvements to the Brookline Ave. playground at $0.15 million. No one appeared for the board’s public hearing. Board members approved.

In the wake of the successful tax override ballot proposal, board members were probably relieved not to resume disputes with the Advisory Committee, which had voted to restore about $0.5 million in budget cuts from the “no-override” budget, without ever determining where that money would come from.

The board voted to agree with a recent Advisory recommendation to accept the “override” budget proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, with two small changes. With those revisions, the Planning budget would go up $0.014 million, to give a preservation planner a full-time position, and $0.003 million would be added to the Public Works budget for pavement markings. Deductions would be taken against energy accounts.

The board postponed reconsiderations for Articles 9 and 12 at the annual town meeting that starts May 26, changes to the town-meeting membership and snow-removal bylaws. Mr. Kleckner said he had heard Article 9 might be “withdrawn,” although that is not possible under town meeting procedures. Petitioners led by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, have been described as aiming to provide a town meeting seat for Deborah Goldberg, a former Precinct 14 town meeting member and now state treasurer. In similar past circumstances, there has occasionally been an agreement to offer no motion on an article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 13, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, April 3, 2015

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

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

Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths

A meeting of Brookline’s Complete Streets Study Committee on Monday, May 11, started at 7:10 pm in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall. All the current members except Thomas Vitolo were on hand for the first full review of a policy statement.

Background: The somewhat vague phrase “complete streets” was adopted in 2005 by an eponymous coalition–mostly planners and architects–promoting facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit riders as effective as those for motorists. The national coalition since found some institutional housing inside a group called Smart Growth America based in Washington, DC.

Smart Growth America does not disclose its form of organization, finances or commercial sources of support. It offers consulting services for “policy development,” for “coalition building” and for organizing “specific populations: older adults, children, low-income, people with disabilities.” In Massachusetts, it lists as apparently dues-paying members the Conservation Law Foundation, Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance and Metropolitan Area Planning Council but not any individuals, businesses or trade groups.

Legislation:For the 2013 and 2014 sessions of the General Court, state Sen. Harriette L. Chandler of Worcester, a member of rules, ethics and housing committees recently named majority leader, sponsored S.68, “An act relative to active streets and healthy communities.” It sought to create a “complete streets program” in Massachusetts. Then-Rep. Jason M. Lewis of Winchester sponsored H.3091, a companion bill.

The Massachusetts Public Health Association took a lead role in promoting the bills. Health research had shown for years that people who regularly walk or bicycle enjoy significant health benefits. It was joined by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and by advocacy groups representing bicyclists and pedestrians.

Sen. Chandler’s bill defined “complete streets” to mean “streets that provide accommodations for users of all transportation modes, including but not limited to walking, cycling, public transportation, automobiles and freight.” S.68 died in the Ways and Means Committee, but Sen. Chandler prevailed on March 6, 2014, with a floor amendment to the transportation finance bill, then S.2023.

The S.2023 bill was carried into H.4046 and enacted April 18 as C. 79 of the Acts of 2014. That created Chapter 90I of the General Laws, “Complete streets program.” Its definitions are the same as those in Sen. Chandler’s original bill. The April 18, 2014, law provided $5.5 million in earmarked funds and $50 million in competitive grant funds.

Progress: On May 8, 2014, Mayor Curtatone and the Somerville Board of Aldermen enacted the first municipal Complete Streets program in the state. Other communities–including Framingham, Hudson and Newburyport–had adopted executive policies earlier. Since 2011, the Massachusetts Municipal Association has offered a model policy for such uses to its member communities, which include Brookline.

At least 20 Massachusetts communities have now enacted Complete Streets programs, following Somerville’s lead, and many others have adopted executive policies. A policy need not be complex. For example, last September the Transportation Commission for the City of Waltham adopted a policy consisting of only 207 words that fits on half a sheet of paper.

Brookline activity: In Brookline, a Complete Streets effort has been led by Scott Englander, a mechanical and energy engineer and a member of the Transportation Board. The approach he developed was to set up a committee to consider and propose a Complete Streets policy to a future town meeting. Implementation of the policy would be carried out mainly by the Transportation Board and Department.

The Board of Selectmen approved a charge to a new Complete Streets Study Committee on September 30, 2014, and appointed members of the committee on December 17. Board member Neil Wishinsky became liaison to the committee, and he and Mr. Englander serve as co-chairs.

In a few places, the committee has been called a “task force,” but unlike a typical task force it includes no members of town staff, and it has duties that continue beyond developing a policy. Those include confirming a baseline inventory of pedestrian and bicycle facilities, developing procedures for town projects involving streets and reviewing town standards for private development.

Policy proposal: At the Monday meeting, members reviewed a draft apparently prepared by Mr. Englander along with at least committee members Mitch Heineman and John Bowman. Several other members were said to have made changes through comments. The draft had been conveyed to the Board of Selectmen on March 31. Paper copies were available at the Monday meeting, but the document has not yet appeared on the municipal Web site.

In contrast to the 207-word Waltham policy, the Brookline draft was, as of Monday, five pages of single-spaced fine print, probably around 3,000 words. Committee members went through its six sections, one by one. The flavor might be suggested by one of the nine proposed “design guidance” elements from Section 4 (as numbered on May 11).

“B. Pedestrian requirements must be fully considered in the design of intersections, including taking into consideration the following concerns: crossings and pedestrian curb-cut ramp locations, minimizing curb radius at corners (or equivalent design to slow turning vehicles at intersections), walking speed, pedestrian flow capacity, crossing wait times, vehicle speeds, traffic control and yielding.”

Along with several other ideas, Waltham includes that idea in a short sentence: “All project proposals [must] make the existing street network safer and better for all motorists, transit users, bicyclists and pedestrians, regardless of age or abilities.”

The strongest dispute heard at the meeting concerned whether Brookline’s policy should include more specifics for implementation. Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke said it should. “If we don’t lay out a vision of how it can be implemented,” she said, there’s “no motivation to put it into practice.” Member Seth Rubin said, while he wanted “to have some stronger statements…the more specific stuff you put in, the more targets [there are for town meeting members] to shoot down.”

Mr. Wishinsky, representing the Board of Selectmen, observed, “My political thinking is to stay away from parking.” As to the many directives and prescriptions in the draft, he said that the “document needs to recognize some realities…each one of those things is quite an involved task.” The committee is to send comments to Mr. Englander and meet again in a week.

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


Technical assistance for communities putting prevention to work, National Complete Streets Coalition, 2014

Advance health equity through transportation policy, Massachusetts Public Health Association, 2014

Fact sheet: An act relative to active streets and healthy communities, Massachusetts Public Health Association, 2013

Acts of 2014, C. 79, An act financing improvements to the Commonwealth’s transportation systems: in S. 2A $50,000,000 for grants under the C. 90I complete streets program

First Complete Streets ordinance in Massachusetts, City of Somerville, May 19, 2014

Complete Streets Policy, City of Waltham Transportation Commission, September 18, 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

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

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 31, started at 6:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed personnel changes, policies and budgets proposed for the fiscal year starting in July.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Rowe, the deputy school superintendent for administration and finance, who will retire at the end of June, asked the board to submit a “statement of interest” to the state School Building Authority for expansion of Brookline High School. Such a project could easily dwarf spending on Devotion School expansion and renovation, recently estimated at up to $120 million. Board member Ben Franco mentioned “trying to keep the price tag down.” Then the board approved the submission.

As requested by Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, the board approved a reallocation of sources for the $0.65 million in support it approved last November 25 for the Beals St. subsidized housing project being carried out in collaboration with Pine St. Inn of Boston. About $0.03 million more will be spent from federal Community Development funds and correspondingly less from local Housing Trust funds. Brookline has yet to publish on its Web site a comprehensive description and full cost analysis for this project.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, presented three candidates for promotions. Long-serving Deputy Chief Mark Jefferson recently retired. Kyle McEachern was promoted from captain to deputy chief. Stephen Nelson was promoted from temporary captain to captain. Michael Kelleher was promoted from temporary lieutenant to lieutenant.

Melissa Battite, the assistant recreation director, got approval to hire for business manager replacing Jesse Myott, who took a new job. The Recreation Department recently activated a partly dysfunctional Web site, pointed to by but not integrated with the municipal site, that is costing taxpayers extra money while making it difficult or impossible to find information about personnel and internal operations.

Interviews and policies: The board interviewed Kathleen Scanlon for Climate Action, Frank Caro for Cable TV and Jennifer Goldsmith for Commission on Women. Scott Englander, who co-chairs “Complete Streets” with board member Neil Wishinsky, presented a draft policy and work plan. So far, the documents are unavailable on the municipal Web site.

As applied to Brookline, the cute catchphrase “Complete Streets” looks to mean, essentially, streets with bicycle paths. Brookline currently has none. It has only painted pavement markings and a few signs. The town blew away its biggest opportunity to install some when spending millions of dollars to reconstruct Beacon St. several years ago. Boston recently promoted bicycle paths when proposing to reconstruct Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner. No price tags, sources of funds or schedules have yet been disclosed.

Licenses and permits: Taverna DeHaro, on Beacon St., and Washington St. Tavern got board approval for alternate managers of alcoholic beverage sales. As is now usual board procedure, neither sent a representative to the board meeting.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed budgets proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, for the Health Department, the new Diversity Department, Veterans’ Services and the Council on Aging. At the budget reviews so far, the board has been asking few questions about finances. The current Board of Selectmen has struck some as lacking interest in financial matters. Instead, community values and priorities have been emerging largely from the Advisory Committee.

Brookline Interactive continues to record meetings of the board on video, but the recordings may not appear on the Web until two or more weeks later. As of April 3, the most recent one available was from March 10. The Brookline channel, whose studios moved from privately owned space on Amory St. to the former Manual Training Building at the high school, now behaves as though it were an organ of the school dept. It currently features seven so-called “forums” with the superintendent that are more recent than the latest Board of Selectmen video.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 3, 2015


Scott Englander, Brookline Complete Streets Policy Development Overview, Complete Streets Study Committee, draft of March 23, 2015 Found as scans in a hidden file from the Board of Selectmen and converted to a text document.

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

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

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

Craig Bolon, Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 17, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board began reviews of budgets and warrant articles for the 2015 annual town meeting in May. They will continue at least through April.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval for a $0.01 million contract with Public Archaeology Laboratory of Pawtucket, RI, to complete a National Historic Register application for Hancock Village in south Brookline. If approved, Hancock Village would become the largest National Register site in Brookline.

A National Register application for Hancock Village has been under discussion for several years. Last summer, board member Betsy DeWitt said it should become an urgent priority, at a hearing of the Zoning Board of Appeals about a proposed housing development under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, which can override zoning.

Lara Curtis Hayes, from the Department of Planning and Community Development, got authorization to apply for $0.25 million in state “green community” funding for energy-saving improvements. Most projects eligible are for town-owned buildings. Solar photovoltaic facilities and new vehicles are not eligible. Grant planning sounded murky at best. No description of Brookline’s projects had been released, yet the application deadline was only three days away.

In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, Ms. Steinfeld said that Brookline’s ongoing program of installing LED street lighting could be an eligible activity. Board members Neil Wishinsky and Betsy DeWitt did not seem to gave read information distributed in advance and asked about solar photovoltaics and new vehicles.

Licenses and permits: Frank Shear of Framingham, former operator of Benny’s Crepes in Boston and Cambridge, applied for restaurant and entertainment licenses to operate Brick Wall Kitchen at 224 Cypress St., formerly Rita’s Cafe. Mr. Shear had operated the crepe cafe from a food truck. He said there were no plans to resume such a business and said that Brick Wall Kitchen will provide take-out service but not delivery. The board granted the licenses.

Owners of Holiday Inn at 1200 Beacon St. got board approval for a change in manager under their alcoholic beverage license. Stephen Bowman, operator of Fairsted Kitchen at 1704 Beacon St., spoke on behalf of an application for longer operating hours, closing at 2 am instead of 1 am Mondays through Thursdays. Board member Nancy Daly asked about outdoor service. Mr. Bowman said there would be no late-night service outdoors. The board allowed the extensions of hours.

Lisa and Daniel Wisel of Brookline, operators of Vine Ripe Grill at the Putterham Meadows public golf course, had applied for a seasonal license to serve alcoholic beverages, but neither was present at the meeting to support the application. Nevertheless, after waiting about 20 minutes, followed by cursory discussion, the board approved a license for the 2015 season.

Warrant articles: The board voted to approve and publish a warrant with 20 articles for the annual town meeting to start Tuesday, May 26. About half are routine each year. Others have been submitted by boards or through petitions, which require signatures of ten or more registered voters. The board also began reviewing the warrant articles and the budget appropriations for fiscal 2016, under Article 8.

Submitters usually include explanations for articles, published separately. At least two weeks before a town meeting, the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee will distribute a combined report with the text and explanations of articles plus their recommendations to the town meeting. Warrant article reviews, including budget reviews, are docketed as public hearings; members of the public are invited to comment.

Budget reviews: The board began reviewing so-called “base budgets” for fiscal 2016, starting in July. Prepared by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and his staff, those budgets apply if voters do not approve a tax override proposed at the May 5 town election. They include cuts to be restored if the override passes.

The board reviewed a budget for the Fire Department as described by Paul Ford, the fire chief. Mr. Kleckner has proposed to defund one firefighter position, currently vacant. Ms. Daly asked how the department would cope. Mr. Ford said minimum manning requirements would lead to increased overtime, probably costing around a quarter of what would be spent on a full-time firefighter position.

In his few years as fire chief, Mr. Ford has led an initiative in training, increasing the number of fire personnel certifications from around ten to nearly a hundred. In addition to the familiar emergency medical technician certificates, those include firefighting specialties such as rescue and chemical fires. Ten members of the department have also qualified as instructors, allowing them to train others without outside expenses.

Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, who chairs the Board of Library Trustees, described a budget for town libraries. In that budget, Mr. Kleckner proposed to defund a part-time librarian. Ms. Slymon said there were no vacant positions, so that someone would have to be dismissed. She described library services as “dangerously understaffed,” down from 50 positions several years ago to 40 now, spread among the main library and the branch libraries at Coolidge Corner and Putterham Circle.

Planning and Community Development: Ms. Steinfeld described a budget for the Department of Planning and Community Development. It now serves many standing boards, including the Planning Board, Preservation Commission, Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, Zoning Bylaw Committee, Economic Development Advisory Board, Housing Advisory Board, Community Development Block Grant Committee and Climate Action Committee. Fifty years ago, it served only the Planning Board, established in 1922.

Mr. Kleckner had not proposed any reduction in the Planning budget. Board member Betsy DeWitt spoke up for an increase, saying responsibilities for preservation planning have escalated in recent years, overloading current staff. She proposed to raise funding from 1.8 to 2.0 positions. James Batchelor, who chaired the Preservation Commission for six years, spoke in support, saying, “People in Brookline care about preservation…We have to stand up and give it more support.”

Bruce Genest of the Department of Planning and Community Development, who is president of AFSCME Local 1358, spoke about what he called a “staffing issue,” saying that in 2011 the department “eliminated a financial position.” Mr. Kleckner said the issue was “being litigated.” Mr. Genest said the town “took union work [and] distributed [it] to management people.” Otherwise, the background of the dispute was not clear.

The board did not vote recommendations on any of the budgets. Included on its agenda was an application from Christopher Hussey, an architect, for reappointment to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the board did not act on it. The Board of Selectmen is suing the Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to overturn a comprehensive permit the latter recently granted for a partially subsidized, Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 20, 2015


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: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

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

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

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans

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

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

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

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

Site plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSitePlan2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

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

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

Landscape plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolLandscape2015
Source: Carol Johnson Landscape Architects for Town of Brookline

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

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

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

First floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolFirstFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

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

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

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

Second floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSecondFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Devotion School Building Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

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

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

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

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

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs

A regular meeting of the Housing Advisory Board started at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, October 29, in the fourth floor conference room at Town Hall. The board supervises the town’s housing trust fund and monitors Brookline’s inventory of assisted housing.

Beals Street: This year the board has been helping to develop Beals St. townhouses as assisted lodging, in partnership with Pine Street Inn of Boston, whose representatives were on hand to present plans. The property was bought from a private owner about a year ago, but the project was delayed because construction bids exceeded available funds. After scaling back requirements, Pine Street Inn was looking for an additional $0.65 million commitment to complete renovations.

Brookline previously contributed $1.29 million toward the project. The board agreed to allocate an additional $0.23 million from the housing trust, $0.25 million from the town’s federal community development block grant and $0.17 million from the town’s allocation of federal HOME funds.

The units will count toward the town’s quota of 10 percent of its housing stock assisted for the benefit of low-income and moderate-income residents, needed to become exempt from Chapter 40B projects like the one now proposed at Hancock Village. At a cost in town funds so far of about $63 thousand per unit, Beals St. units represent a significant addition to the assisted housing stock and a very efficient use of funds.

Dummer Street: Patrick Dober, executive director of the Brookline Housing Authority, presented an update on this year’s other major addition to the assisted housing stock: the Dummer St. project begun this summer, as yet unnamed. It will add 32 public housing units occupying the space of former ground-level parking adjacent to Trustman Apartments on Amory, Egmont and St. Paul Sts., which is being moved underground.

DummerStHousing20141017


New housing site beside Dummer St. looking west
Source: Brookline Housing Authority, October 17, 2014

So far, Brookline has contributed about $2.0 million in housing trust funds and $2.3 million from federal funds toward the Dummer St. project. The investment of about $134 thousand per unit leverages nearly twice as much in other funding, also a significant addition to the assisted housing stock and an efficient use of town funds.

Losses: Offsetting additions to Brookline’s assisted housing are impending losses from expirations of 1970s agreements and federal programs. The board reviewed both of the investor-owned projects that will be affected: 307 units known as The Village at Brookline–at 99 Kent St. and on Village Way nearby–and 80 units at Beacon Park–1371 Beacon St., opposite the foot of Winchester St.

Privatization is expected to be spread over up to 13 years. Preliminary agreements with owners are expected to keep up to 116 of the expiring units under assistance for up to 17 more years. However it may be difficult for Brookline to add assisted units fast enough to compensate. The 63 new assisted units expected next year are an unusual event. During the past 15 years, Brookline added an average of about 12 assisted units per year.

Projections: With assistance for 387 units expiring over about 30 years, after deducting the 63 new units opening next year, Brookline needs to add an average of about 11 assisted units per year just to hold the current inventory level. To achieve its Chapter 40B quota, Brookline needs hundreds of more assisted units. So far, no one has identified a source of funding anywhere near what would be required to get them.

Housing in conventional Chapter 40B projects can be an extremely expensive way to add assisted units. The project now proposed at Hancock Village would add about 32 assisted units in a project of about 160 total units, according to discussions at the most recent hearing session at the Zoning Board of Appeals. If that were a condominium project, it would add a net of only 16 assisted units counting toward Brookline’s 40B quota, while Brookline will have to provide public services for residents in ten times as many units.

However, according to Virginia Bullock, Brookline’s housing project planner, when a project provides rental housing, the state is currently counting all the units–assisted and market-rate–toward a community’s 40B quota. Ms. Bullock said that the state’s current rules will delay subtraction of units from Brookline’s 40B quota until 2044 for Village at Brookline and until 2028 for Beacon Park–provided the projects continue as rentals.

Ms. Bullock said Brookline currently needs 488 more assisted units to gain exemption from Chapter 40B: that is, Brookline needs for the qualifying assisted units to become 10 percent of total housing units. If Hancock Village were to come in at 160 units–plus counting the Beals St. and Dummer St. units–then Brookline’s 40B deficit would fall to 287 units. Brookline could eventually achieve its 40B quota by continuing to assist buying or building small numbers of qualifying units. However, at its recent rate, that could take more than 50 years, during which Village at Brookline and Beacon Park units would both drop out of the inventory counted toward the 40B quota.

Brookline might accelerate progress toward achieving its 40B quota by inviting so-called “friendly 40B” projects that agree to provide permanently assisted units and permanent rental housing. It did a “friendly 40B” several years ago at St. Aidan’s, on the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts., but market-rate units there have been sold as condominiums that do not count toward the 40B quota. Considering its high costs of providing services, especially in public schools, it might be less expensive for Brookline to raise funds, assist purchase of at least 287 units or assist construction of at least 319 units, and qualify them. Several years ago, Lincoln carried out such a project.

– Beacon staff, November 6, 2014


Inventory of assisted housing, Brookline Planning Department, August, 2013

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

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

Lincoln Housing Plan, Town of Lincoln, MA, 2014

Massachusetts bridges: getting there from here

Massachusetts highway bridges, sometimes reported as worst in the U.S. during the 1980s, have been improving slowly. About 10 percent are now reported structurally deficient, compared with an average of about 11 percent for states across the country. Pennsylvania has become the most problem-ridden state, with about 23 percent of its bridges structurally deficient.

Trends: Massachusetts bridge improvements have been a bipartisan effort. Progress occurred during the Weld, Cellucci, Swift, Romney and Patrick administrations. The number of bridges rated structurally deficient has dropped from around 800 in the late 1980s to a little over 400 now. The state’s Executive Office of Transportation publishes information for 1996 through 2013 on its Web site.

MassachusettsDeficientBridgeCounts1996to2013

Most improvements before the Patrick administration occurred on the cheap, renovating many smaller and simpler bridges but deferring work on bigger, more complicated ones: the Tobin, Longfellow, Fore River and Braga. One of the few ambitious efforts from 1991 through 2006 was renovation of the double-deck O’Reilly Bridge over the Merrimack River on I-495 in Lawrence and North Andover, multiple projects lasting about 8 years at a cost of over $50 million.

A leap forward: In 2008, the Patrick administration launched an 8-year “accelerated bridge replacement” program, with $3 billion authorized in bond funding. Through first quarter, 2014, about $2.3 billion in contracts was completed, awarded or advertised. The Patrick administration addressed several very large projects that the previous four Republican administrations dodged. They include these major bridges:

Mega-projects Number Location Cost Completion
Whittier 601096 Amesbury $292 million 2016-Q3
Longfellow 604361 Cambridge $255 milliion 2016-Q3
Fore River 604382 Weymouth $245 million 2017-Q1
Braga 605223 Fall River $197 million 2017-Q2
Quinsigamond 604729 Worcester $89 million 2016-Q1
I-93 north 606255 Medford $74 million 2012-Q3

A few of the recent bridge projects have used so-called “rapid bridge replacement” technology–notably 14 bridges along I-93 in Medford, all replaced in the summer of 2012. Unfortunately, no such technology is now available for the Tobin or most other steel-truss bridges. Antique bridges, built before Interstate standards of the late 1960s, are often budget-busters and projects that seem to take “forever.”

Among the rare exceptions to scandalous costs of antique bridge renovation was the 1888-1891 Harvard Bridge for Massachusetts Route 2A across the Charles River, Massachusetts Ave. between Boston and Cambridge. In the 1980s, a major renovation project cost about $16 million, on-time and on-budget. As compared with other renovations of antique bridges, the advantage–around tenfold in cost for the size of the bridge–was robust engineering and reliable construction, both when built and when renovated.

Restoring a fragile antique: The Longfellow Bridge was structurally deficient the day it opened. That’s what often happens with public works primarily designed by architects rather than engineers. The pretentious ten granite piers and eleven steel-arch spans, extending for 1,800 feet, were designed around 1897 to carry trains as well as horse-drawn vehicles and emerging motor vehicles. The four cigar-stub towers were never anything but fake Victorian ornaments.

At the time, although the Back Bay had been filled, the lower Charles River had tidal mudflats and garbage dumps. Shortly after the bridge opened in 1907, what is now known as the Science Park dam turned this part of the river into a catch basin for raw municipal sewage and industrial waste. Near the bridge, a bed of infectious and toxic river-bottom sludge has accumulated, up to six feet thick. However, the greatest misfortune of the Longfellow was that the complex, badly engineered structure came under custody of the former Metropolitan District Commission.

The MDC proved an even worse steward of the Longfellow than the Port Authority became of the Tobin. Unlike the Harvard Bridge, the Longfellow had not been designed to withstand careless management. In 1959, the bridge got a first overhaul under the MDC, by then a patronage-ridden agency in decline. The job was botched, failing to address complexities of the structure, and after several years the Longfellow again fell into severe disrepair.

The Longfellow was an obvious candidate for demolition and replacement. However, in 2003, the Longfellow went to an unprepared Department of Conservation and Recreation. The DCR had been taken over by antiquarians, who became determined to preserve not only the shapes of the elements but also the structurally inadequate, badly corroded and fractured original materials. Haggling over design added ten years of delay to a project only starting in 2013. A new bridge, perhaps a modern design like the Zakim, might have cost half as much and would be likely to last at least twice as long.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 24, 2014


Chris Palmer, Report lists Pennsylvania with most unsound bridges in U.S., Philadelphia Inquirer, April 26, 2014

Katheleen Conti, State’s bridges deemed deficient, Boston Globe, June 26, 2013

Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation, Massachusetts Highway Department, 2013

Sean P. Murphy, Big Dig’s red ink engulfs state, Boston Globe, July 17, 2008

O’Reilly Bridge on I-495, Boston Roads, 2006

Longfellow Bridge rehabilitation, Massachusetts Highway Department, 2006

Robert F. Breault, Kevin R. Reisig, Lora K. Barlow and Peter K. Weiskel, Distribution and potential for adverse biological effects of inorganic elements and organic compounds in bottom sediment, lower Charles River, Massachusetts, Report 00-4180, U.S. Geological Survey, 2000, figures with searchable but not copyable text from Hathi Trust Digital Library

Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone

Springtime came in 2005. Today, a once ambitious “Gateway East” project has an odor of stale cabbage. The idle, pie-in-the-sky program aimed to turn traffic-ridden Route 9, near the Brookline border with a poverty-stricken Mission Hill area of Boston, into a so-called “gateway.”

Nearly forgotten dreams called for the foot of Washington St. to become a “boulevard.” A launch plan compared it with Commonwealth Ave. in the Back Bay and with Brattle St. in Cambridge. Imagine. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 3]

Route9BrooklineGasStation

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

Actually, the area looks like a highway. It sounds like a highway, and it smells like a highway. It is a 6-lane state highway. The businesses actually located on the foot of Washington St.–then and now–consist of a Gulf station and a vacant restaurant, formerly Skipjack’s.

Even the name of the project begged a question: to what might the industrial foot of Washington St. be a gateway? To a gas station? To a Boston ghetto? Not to a fish restaurant. Skipjack’s sagged with the dot-com boom, and the once lively Brookline site closed, soon followed by nearby, former Village Fish.

Scarce goods: Ingredients for success went missing from the start and were never found: the “why” and the “what.” The launch plan merely outlined an area–centered on the segment of Route 9 along the foot of Washington St. It connects with a dilapidated stretch of Huntington Ave. in Boston, past the Riverway.

In April of 2005, a citizen committee was assembled by a former town administrator, Richard Kelliher, and a former all-male Board of Selectmen–Robert Allen, Jr., Joseph Geller, Gilbert Hoy, Michael Merrill and Michael Sher. According to Brookline’s municipal Web site, the committee is still on the books, but it has no spot on the Agendas and Minutes page, covering meetings during 2010 through 2014.

If wishes were horses: The committee set up for the project always looked somewhat like an advertisement, because the launch plan vested all actions in government employees: Jeff Levine and Catherine Cagle in the Planning Department–no longer with the town–plus administrators and staff in Public Works. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 15]

Lacking a “why” and a “what,” the launch plan focused on “how”–that is, on meeting after meeting:
• Initial meeting
• Follow-up meeting
• Interdepartmental meeting
• Meetings with regional stakeholders
• Public meetings
• Committee meetings
• and more meetings
[Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 14]

Time rolls on: With miracles in short supply, a practical Engineering division of Public Works eventually reverted the project to core elements: repaving a quarter mile of Route 9 and intersections, adding a touch of landscaping, building concrete traffic islands and modernizing signals and controls with pedestrian buttons, vehicle detection and emergency pre-emption. It’s a road plan, with no bicycles currently in view.

As prepared by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown and submitted to the state highway department January 18, 2012, project 605110 is strictly highway-issue. Travel lanes are mostly 11 feet, sidewalks are 6 feet, There is granite curbing and a little brick edging. An “existing pedestrian bridge” is called out, to be “removed by others.” Site-edge improvements in the Pearl St. vicinity are called out, to be “redevelopment by others.” Other than a couple of benches perhaps, there is no “boulevard” currently in view.

Declare victory: Owing nothing to “gateway” dreams, Planning staff soldiered on with practical aims too, and fortune was with them. Children’s Hospital had bought out the 1990s Pearl St. development put up by Harvard Pilgrim and was interested in building offices next door.

Brookline had sought developers since the 1960s, but the area to the north of the foot of Washington St. did not gel. Hearthstone Plaza went up in the early 1970s, then 1 Brookline Place in the middle 1990s, leaving a gap between, in Brookline’s former industrial zone. Learning of Children’s interest, the Board of Selectmen set up a Brookline Place Advisory Committee in October, 2013, and this time pieces began to fall into place.

After the Brookline Place committee negotiated a scale of development and helped enact zoning at this year’s annual town meeting, the Planning Board recruited committee members for a design advisory team, following Brookline’s zoning process for design review. The team started work with the developers in August.

Developers for 2 Brookline Place / Children’s Hospital have been making steady progress. Several objectives sought with the now-antiquated “gateway” plan will be achieved by the combination of the office development at 2 Brookline Place and the highway plan for Route 9:
• Completion of the 1960s Marsh Project with 2 Brookline Place
• Removal of a hazardous Route 9 pedestrian overpass, closed since 1978
• Improvements to the Pearl St. public infrastructure
• A public pathway across the new Brookline Place development
• Improved traffic management for Route 9 and its intersections
• A demand-cycled pedestrian crossing on Route 9 near Pearl St.
Beautification, bicycles and a “boulevard” will have to wait.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 17, 2014


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

Robert Duffy, Jeff Levine, Catherine Cagle and Donald Giard, Creating Gateway East, Goody Clancy, April, 2005

Gateway East Committee, Brookline Gateway East Final Plan, Von Grossman, October, 2006

Massachusetts Highway Division, Project 605110, Intersection improvement project for Washington St. (Route 9) and Walnut St. in the town of Brookline, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, January, 2012 (13 MB)

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

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

Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school

On Friday, September 26, the Devotion School Building Committee reviewed options to renovate and expand the school at a meeting held in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 8 am. All but one of the 20 committee members were present, and about 15 Brookline residents attended, including members of the School Committee and Advisory Committee.

Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, chaired the meeting. Committee member Helen Charlupski, a member of the School Committee, participated by telephone. Under that circumstance, the state’s Open Meeting Law calls for roll-call votes. Anthony Guigli, designated as Brookline’s project manager, took notes and recorded votes but did not cast a vote himself.

Options: At a public hearing on September 10 at Devotion School, the committee’s architects, HMFH of Cambridge, had described three design options to an audience of about 150. The same staff from HMFH returned for the final review: George Metzger. assisted by Deborah Collins and Andrea Yoder. This time, there was more discussion of construction scheduling and of some preliminary cost estimates.

Option 1 is similar to current buildings, replacing the current north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. However, a proposed new north wing extends 148 feet eastward down Stedman St., compared with the current one. A new south wing would be wider, shrinking the outdoor area near Babcock St.

Devotion School Option 1

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.

Community views: At the September 10 hearing, it appeared that none of the three options was acceptable to much of the communities of Devotion parents and North Brookline neighborhoods. There was strong opposition to option 2 and option 3, seizing most or all of the field behind the Devotion School today and even some of the community spaces beyond them. It is not necessary to do that in order to add the amount of new space the school is said to need.

After the hearing, Ms. Dewitt and others said, parents and neighborhood residents sent in over 50 letters, many voicing similar objections. Several in the audience at Town Hall September 26 wanted to speak, but Ms. DeWitt said views had been aired, and this was a meeting for the committee to discuss the options and decide.

Committee review: At the September 26 meeting, option 3 was subdivided into a version retaining the current central wing, opened in 1915, or else, in “option 3A,” demolishing it to add “play space.” Committee member Sergio Modigliani, an architect and Planning Board member, said the option to “mothball” the current central building was an “insult to the community” and moved to “take it off the table.” He did not seem interested in preserving an historic building, but he does not live in North Brookline neighborhoods.

Town Administrator Mel Kleckner supported Mr. Modigliani, saying that it would be “too disruptive to leave a building on-site” and that the option 3 school “would not be located in the right place.” However, committee member Jim Batchelor, also an architect, who is a North Brookline resident and chair of the Preservation Commission, contended that option 3 was unsatisfactory either way. He moved to amend, taking both versions of option 3 off the table.

Committee member Sean Cronin, the assistant town administrator, said he favored option 3 but it “was not going to get more than…two votes.” Committee members seemed to get themselves into a tangle over what the motion and amendment really meant. In the end, Mr. Batchelor’s amendment was accepted by a vote of 10 to 8, and the amended motion passed by a vote of 12 to 6, eliminating option 3.

Moving a wing: Committee member Linda Leary, representing the Brookline Historical Society, spoke in favor of moving the new north wing of option 1 closer to Harvard St. and pulling it out of the rear field. She asked the architects whether that was feasible. Deborah Collins, speaking for architects HMFH, said it had been considered. Although it made grade-level clustering more difficult, she said, it was possible.

Dr. William Lupini, the school superintendent, said he preferred option 1 and would favor the change. Committee member Sadhna Brown, a Devotion parent, agreed. Ms. DeWitt cautioned that the change might involve an increase in building height but seemed to favor it.

Weighing option 1 versus option 2, each committee member spoke briefly. Dr. Joseph Connelly, interim principal for Devotion, spoke up for option 1, saying it “maximizes the play space and gives the greatest potential to cluster the grade levels.” All but one of the school and municipal employees on the committee wound up in agreement with Dr. Connelly, including Dr. Lupini and Mr. Kleckner.

Committee member Pam Roberts, a Devotion parent, preferred option 2, saying she likes “having everybody [closer] together” in a building with a smaller footprint. Committee member Sadhna Brown, also a Devotion parent, disagreed, saying the “quality of green space” is better with option 1 and that “meeting in hallways promotes interaction [among students], not [meeting] in stairwells.” Ms. DeWitt supported Ms. Brown’s views.

A recommendation: By a vote of 13 to 5, the committee endorsed option 1 as Brookline’s preferred approach. The proposal will be transmitted to the state School Building Authority by October 2, and the SBA is scheduled to review it on October 19. If approved, the architects will begin to develop plans for option 1. The committee agreed to meet next on Monday, November 17, at 8 am, place to be announced.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 26, 2014


HMFH Architects, Presentation to the committee on 3 options, September 22, 2014

HMFH Architects, Presentation to the committee on 4 options, September 26, 2014

PM&C Cost Estimating (Hingham, MA), Preliminary cost estimates for Devotion School, September 19, 2014

A.M. Fogarty & Associates (Hingham, MA), Preliminary cost estimates for Devotion School, September 19, 2014

Craig Bolon, Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community, Brookline Beacon, September 14, 2014

Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community

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. There was little enthusiasm for any of the three design options that the architects showed, and there was outrage from some quarters.

Options 1-2-3: Option 1 enlarges current building outlines, replacing the north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St. taking over a quadrant of the field in back of the school and making it impossible to maintain a baseball diamond.

Option 2 demolishes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the 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, taking over almost the entire school field in back.

Those three options are all unsatisfactory. Options 2 and 3 make hardly any sense, costing large sums of money to get only a little new educational value, while destroying open space. Option 1 is now misconfigured, failing to make productive use of existing buildings and failing to conserve key outdoor spaces. We can do better.

DevotionSchoolWithThreeAdditions

Option 0: The survey of existing conditions indicates that the current south wing, opened in 1955, and the current north wing, opened in 1976, are reasonable candidates for renovation. All segments of the community are vehement about conserving outdoor spaces, currently outlined by those buildings.

An obvious way to expand classroom space, conserve outdoor space and get effective reuse is to renovate and extend rather than to demolish and replace buildings. That is what we are doing now at Lawrence School and what has been planned at Driscoll School.

Option 0” has zero impact on key outdoor areas, full provision for new classroom space and effective reuse of building space. It is clearly possible to add around 37,000 square feet of gross floor area, more than the current design goal for capacity expansion.

Option 0” would renovate all current buildings and (1) extend the ground, first and second floors of the north wing west over the front plaza, (2) extend the first and second floors of the north wing east over the rear walk and (3) extend the first and second floors of the south wing east over the rear blacktop area.

Addition (1) 21,000 sf
Addition (2)  4,000 sf
Addition (3) 12,000 sf
————————————
Total added 37,000 sf

There need be no intrusions into fields in back of the school or into playground and community green spaces in front of the school. The Devotion House and the fronts of the altered north and south wings of Devotion School would all be set back around 80 ft from the Harvard St. sidewalk, maintaining the streetscape.

The best alternative at this point is to take Option 1, as advertised, and adjust it during “schematic design” by renovating and extending rather than demolishing and replacing the north and south wings of the school.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 14, 2014


Option 0, Devotion School with three additions (aerial photo), September 14, 2014

Options 1-2-3, Devotion School Building Committee (drawings), September 10, 2014

Survey of existing conditions, Devotion School Preliminary Design Program, Vol. 1 (12 MB), March, 2014, see pp. 112-128

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

Housing Authority: renovations, programs and project development

The Brookline Housing Authority board met Tuesday, July 15, at 4:30 pm in the community room at 55 Egmont St. Commissioners David Trietsch, chair, Barbara Dugan and Joanne Sullivan joined director Patrick Dober and other staff. BHA currently operates 893 public housing units, administers about 580 federal voucher units and provides 31 rooms for special needs housing, separately administered.

Maintenance and renovation: Mr. Dober reported some repair and renovation projects complete, including safety curbs and trees at several sites, accessibility improvements at Col. Floyd and masonry repairs and low-flow toilet installations at High St. Veterans. With renovations recently completed at Morse and Kickham, he said, the only large, near-term project remaining is at Sussman.

George Lalli, the maintenance director, reported start of construction for an apartment building on the Trustman parking lot, including three meetings so far with Trustman residents about concerns during the project. There will be 32 units at 86 Dummer St., between St. Paul and Amory Sts. The last BHA development on a similar scale was Kickham, 39 units at 190 Harvard St., built with federal funds and opened in 1978.

Management issues: There was discussion about conversion of subsidized units at the Village in Brookline development to market rate. It is Brookline’s last large Chapter 121A project from the first half of the 1970s. Mr. Dober said the town negotiated for 100 of the 307 units to remain permanently available to low-income and moderate-income tenants. Brookline will lose 207 units from its “affordable units inventory,” bringing the total that can be estimated for the fall of next year to about 1,830–only about seven percent of the housing stock.

There was also discussion about the housing bill pending in the General Court. Mr. Dober said the governor’s plan announced last year–to replace all local housing authorities with six state authorities–would not be included. He recounted some problems in Chelsea and Quincy that factored in the proposal.

Community Foundation programs: A presentation from the Brookline Community Foundation was led by Jenny Amory, its director, and by Frank Steinfield, the board chair. They were introduced by commissioner Joanne Sullivan, who is a board member. The foundation’s major focus, Mr. Steinfield said, was “alleviating poverty.” It is involved in the Next Steps program at BHA, helping low-income residents find employment and providing “financial education.”

The foundation also operates a “safety net” that has assisted BHA tenants. Ms. Amory said the budget for this year was $120,000. Mr. Dober said a “big goal” for BHA was keeping tenants, who sometimes struggle to pay rents. David Trietsch, chair of the commissioners, thanked representatives of the foundation, saying it has been a major help to BHA tenants.

Finances: Mr. Dober described “rooftop leasing” to provide sites for commercial communications facilities. He said SteepleCom of Ashby, MA, has been designated as program manager. BHA is limited by regulations to 3-year contracts, as compared with 30-year contracts common in the industry, but Mr. Dober said SteepleCom agreed to work with BHA. Their agreement includes provisions for liability insurance and for roof repairs in case of damage.

No accounting for 86 Dummer St. could be found on the Web site for the Housing Authority or on the municipal Web site. However, minutes of the Board of Selectmen show substantial town contributions. Toward $12.3 million in estimated construction costs, Brookline committed about $3.2 million from its Affordable Housing Trust. In October, 2013, Brookline waived about $0.24 million in permit fees. So far, Brookline has also committed about $1.1 million from federal allocations. There may have been exchanges between the Affordable Housing Trust funds and federal allocations not shown in minutes of the Board of Selectmen. Brookline loaned BHA about $0.54 million to support planning and design.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 11, 2014


Sean P. Murphy, Governor Patrick plans ambitious overhaul of state’s troubled public housing, Boston Globe, January 9, 2013

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for April 26, 2011, $1.7 million for 86 Dummer St.

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for February 11, 2014, $2.6 million for 86 Dummer St.

Brookline Board of Selectmen, Minutes for June 24, 2014, $1.1 million federal for 86 Dummer St.

Board of Selectmen: vacation, town meeting, personnel, contracts, licenses and trash metering

A biweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 22, started at 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: There will be no meetings of the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, July 29, or Tuesday, August 5. The next meeting scheduled is Tuesday, August 12, but that might be cancelled. Weekly meetings 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 for the fall town meeting opens at the start of business Thursday, August 7, and closes at noon Thursday, September 4.

Town meeting articles require signatures of ten registered Brookline voters and must be submitted with written explanations, for the explanations to be published in the warrant report. Originals of articles with signatures are to be filed and time-stamped at the office of the Board of Selectmen, from which they will be forwarded to the town clerk to check signatures. Hearings on articles will be held by the Board of Selectmen, by subcommittees of the Advisory Committee and potentially by other town organizations.

Public comment: During the public comment period, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member and a Human Relations commissioner, asked the board to appoint members to that commission, replacing ones who have resigned, so it can assemble a quorum for meetings. He sought an expedited process for current commissioners to join a new Diversity Commission that is expected to replace the Human Relations Commission in the fall. He asked Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, when telling department heads to seek a “diverse pool of candidates” for new hires, also to say they should consult the human relations and human services administrator about practices to promote diversity.

The new commission will be set up when approval is received from the attorney general for actions of the 2014 annual town meeting. Neither Town Administrator Mel Kleckner nor any member of the board seemed to know that a letter from the attorney general, on file with the town clerk, says reviews will be completed September 28. Board member Nancy Daly observed that nine commissioners had been interviewed this year, and they might not need another interview. Current commissioners who want to join the new commission should indicate interest, she said, by filing the usual applications to join a board, commission or committee.

Personnel: The board interviewed Sara Slymon, recently hired as library director to replace Charles Flaherty. Ms. Slymon described a background of innovation but also said, “Our bread and butter is still books.” Asked about potential future projects, she declined to speculate. Over the past 25 years, Ms. Slymon has held ten positions in library services for durations of one to four years, most recently as library director in Randolph.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, got approval to hire for four vacant firefighter positions. Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, got approval to hire another assistant engineer, in addition to one authorized June 24, because of a resignation. Mr. Goldstein omitted what had become his usual request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates.” Despite Mr. Frey’s plea, he said nothing on consulting the human relations and human services administrator about practices to promote diversity.

Contracts: Jennifer Gilbert, former town counsel and a special counsel for Cleveland Circle Cinema redevelopment, presented an amendment to Brookline’s agreement with First General Realty, the proposed developer. Copies were not supplied to the public in information packets distributed at board meetings but are supposed to be available later. Ms. Gilbert said First General needs a utility easement, expected to be sought at the fall, 2014, town meeting. The project will be described in a forthcoming Beacon article.

Mr. Ford, the fire chief, won approval to accept a federal grant of about $0.10 million to train staff as fire instructors. Once certified, they will train other staff of Brookline’s department in advanced techniques and may train staff from other communities. Brookline will have to come up with about $0.01 million in matching funds. Mr. Ford said he expects to find that within his department’s current budget.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval to increase a contract with Beta Group of Norwood to review traffic and stormwater plans for a proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village. Costs are being reimbursed by the developer.

Mr. Pappastergion, the public works director, got approval for a series of contract changes to complete the long-running sewer-separation project on lower Beacon St, between St. Mary’s St. and Pleasant St. Most costs of the $25 million project are being reimbursed by the state Water Resources Authority. However, about $0.1 million of ineligible costs was incurred because of failure to observe MWRA limits for engineering services. Mr. Pappastergion said he expects to cover those costs within his department’s current budget.

Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to reduce by about $0.06 million a contract with Quirk Construction of Georgetown to reconstruct Waldstein Playground, off Dean Rd. Town staff will do more of the project, including fencing, and it may take longer than planned to finish. Peter Ditto, director of engineering, got approval for an increase of about $0.01 million in a contract to repair the 55-year-old floor at Brookline’s transfer station. He said the original survey missed areas covered by refuse during the winter.

Ms. Gallentine also got approval for a contract with Touloukian & Touloukian of Boston, about $0.02 million to develop specifications to renovate doors and windows of the historic Fisher Hill Reservoir gatehouse. So far, the town has allocated $0.58 million for the project and has received a state grant of $0.04 million. Kenneth Goldstein, the chair, expressed reservation about the costly project, saying no use for the building has been identified, but he voted for the contract with the Touloukian firm.

Permits and licenses: A representative of Nstar sought permits for street work on Copley and Pleasant Streets to replace underground circuits. Mark Zarrillo of Copley St., chair of the Planning Board, asked the selectmen to delay the project so as to allow neighborhood review of plans. The area has a mix of underground and above-ground circuits, the latter recently upgraded from 4 to 14 kV. Mr. Zarrillo said that with the large amount of work in prospect, Nstar should be able to put all the circuits underground. The board agreed to a delay and will reconsider the project at a future meeting.

Michael Maynard asked for an exception to rules so that Coolidge Corner Theatre could serve more than one drink to a customer, including beer and wine. He said that a recent rule caused disruption in the theatre environment. According to Mr. Maynard, since the theatre started serving beer and wine four years ago, there have been only two incidents with “inebriated patrons,” both resolved without needing to call police. The board agreed that recent rules had been designed for a restaurant environment and allowed the exception.

Approval to transfer the common victualler (restaurant), liquor and entertainment licenses for Chef Chow’s at 230 Harvard St. was sought because of a change in management. Health, Building and Police reports were positive. There had been no citations for violations, and there was no opposition. The board approved. Colleen Suhanosky asked to add Sunday hours, 9 am to 4 pm, for Rifrullo Cafe at 149 Cypress St. There was no opposition, and the board approved.

David Iknaian sought a new common victualler license for Panelli’s Pizza, to be located at 415 Harvard St. Health, Building and Police reports were positive, and there was no opposition. The board approved, subject to conditions recommended by the Health Department.

Jenny Yu, a Winchester St. resident, sought new common victualler, wine and malt beverage, and entertainment licenses for Shanghai Jade, to be located at 1374 Beacon St. Health, Building and Police reports were positive, and there was no opposition. The board approved, subject to review of outside seating by the Department of Public Works.

Appointments: As often happens, the board slowed its pace when interviewing candidates for boards and committees: one for Climate Action and two for Solid Waste Advisory. Greg O’Brien, a recent law graduate, said he wants to work through Climate Action on solar power for condominiums and apartments. John Dempsey, chair of Solid Waste Advisory, said the town is currently “stuck” at about 9,000 tons of refuse a year, down from about 12,500 tons in 2007. Amie Lindenboim, also seeking reappointment to Solid Waste Advisory, said she agreed with Mr. Dempsey’s concerns.

Trash metering: On June 10, a plan to increase recycling through trash metering had been described to the board by Mr. Pappastergion, the public works director. He also described the plan at the annual public works “question time” on May 14. It involves town-issued 35-gallon refuse bins, one per household, collected under the current program of fees, plus added fees for extra refuse collection. At this meeting, board member Neil Wishinsky said changes needed to be publicized.

Mr. Dempsey said his committee’s role is “educational” and calls trash metering “pay as you throw.” The name as well as the concepts are hung over from rural and far suburban towns, where residents still take trash to town dumps and throw it into piles. That does not seem likely to educate or help Brookline, where public dumps closed and municipal refuse collection began more than a century ago.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 23, 2014


Brookline Town Counsel, General guidelines to drafting warrant articles, August, 2006

Brookline’s solar power: slow progress and a stalled program

So far, Brookline ranks as a small player in the Massachusetts solar panel derby. Over the past four years, the state’s “carve-out” program of state solar power credits shows only 58 installations in Brookline–all but one residential and all but one rated at a modest 0.002 to 0.01 MW, peak. Total capacity shown for the town in this 4-year program is 0.36 MW, peak–an average of about 6 peak watts per Brookline resident. By comparison, the whole state of Massachusetts shows installed solar capacity of 660 MW, peak–an average of about 100 peak watts per state resident.

Brookline has two municipal installations: an array of 120 panels installed in 2007 on the roof of the Health Department building and an array of about 40 panels installed in 2010 on the roof of the Putterham branch library. Both were funded by government grants and private donations. So far, the town of Brookline has made no substantial investments. Charles “Charlie” Simmons, Brookline’s director of public buildings, did not know the rated electrical capacity of two facilities, but from the number of panels it is likely to be around 0.04 MW, peak.

Unlike large wind turbines, solar power is relatively friendly. It does not generate noise or flicker and does not tower over a landscape. Several other towns in the state have authorized or sponsored large solar installations. There are now 27 operating solar farms rated at 4 to 6 MW, peak, in Massachusetts. Most are commercial, but Barnstable, Bolton, Dartmouth and Lancaster have municipal facilities in this power range.

A town meeting action in the fall of 2012 tried to stimulate progress. Article 15, filed by Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo and passed unanimously, advocated “solar ready” roofs on Brookline’s buildings. The Board of Selectmen organized a Solar Roof Study Committee, which met three times from April through June of last year. Broadway Electric of Boston submitted proposals for six projects, ranging from 0.06 MW, peak, for the roof of the municipal swimming pool to 0.2 MW, peak, for the roof of the main High School complex.

Fortunately, in this case, Brookline was slow to act. According to news reports, Broadway Electric is being shuttered. Several Cape and Vineyard towns and towns in western Massachusetts were stuck with unfinished projects and may have missed deadlines to get state energy credits. Broadway Electric had been promoted to Brookline by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Although it is not clear that MAPC has any engineering or financial expertise with solar energy, Mr. Simmons said town staff are meeting again today with an MAPC representative, hoping to revive a stalled program.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 14, 2014


Clarence Fanto, Broadway Electric’s struggles may leave Lenox, Lee solar plans in the dark, Berkshire Eagle, February 3, 2014

Metropolitan Area Planning Council, MAPC selects regional solar developer, February 26, 2013

School Committee: planning for a general tax override

A special meeting of the School Committee on Tuesday, July 8, started at 4:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Special guests were Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and Town Counsel Joslin Murphy. All committee members except chair Susan Ditkoff attended, with Barbara Scotto chairing the meeting.

The School Committee has begun preparations to support a general tax override, also called an “operating” tax override. On May 6, 2008, Brookline voters approved a general override of 4-1/2 percent–added to an increase of 2-1/2 percent allowed without voter approval, for a total tax increase of 7 percent. Voters also approved a general override in 1994. General overrides become permanent elements of a community’s taxes. Regardless of initial purposes, later a community can use added revenues for other purposes.

According to committee member Rebecca Stone, a report from the selectmen’s Override Study Committee is being assembled by a subcommittee of five, whom she did not name. That committee scheduled meetings for the next two evenings, although it later cancelled the second one. According to Ms. Stone, there proved to be “no appetite” for dropping or reducing the METCO program. She did not mention the program for students from families of town employees living elsewhere, who pay so-called “materials fees.”

Private speculation about potential tax increases had ranged as high as 14 percent. Ms. Stone hazarded a guess that the Override Study Committee might recommend a general override of around 5 percent–for a total 7-1/2 percent tax increase. However, depending on decisions about a school-building program, voters could also be presented with a debt override proposal.

A debt override allows debt-service spending above the normal limits for a specific project and a term of years. That could pay for school renovations and expansions. There were previous debt overrides to renovate Brookline High School and to build the new Lincoln School. In his budget message of February, 2014, Mr. Kleckner included $110 million for Devotion School, $51 million for the High School, $28 million for Driscoll School and $2 million for other school buildings.

In its 2014 budget report, the Advisory Committee stated that it anticipated a debt override to provide about $77 million toward Devotion School renovation and expansion. The town’s FY2015 financial plan projects debt service charges for the project rising to about $5.6 million per year over about 25 years. According to that plan, debt exclusion for Devotion School would add about 3 percent to current taxes, but the largest part of the added taxes would not be levied until July of 2018.

Mr. Kleckner reviewed the override process and the potential schedule. Regardless of its purpose, he said, an override has to be proposed by the Board of Selectmen. Questions can be put to voters at regular or special elections. In past years, Brookline has preferred the annual elections for town offices in the spring. Mr. Kleckner said he will propose that the Board of Selectmen vote January 13 of next year on ballot questions for an election to be held May 5.

Mr. Kleckner’s schedule would allow 16 weeks for what he called a “private campaign.” Mr. Kleckner, who started his work for the town in September, 2010, would not be familiar with any of the previous Brookline overrides. However, he seemed aware that members of the School Committee and Board of Selectmen would likely campaign for an override–as they did during the previous efforts.

Ms. Murphy, the town counsel, emphasized that elected officials must rely on private funding and privately organized efforts when campaigning for an override. About the only government element allowed in such a campaign would be statements of positions and answers to questions on the town’s Web sites. Using private resources, she said, elected officials are free to organize, advocate, raise funds, hold meetings, distribute information, appear on broadcast media, identify themselves and behave as they might in any other political campaign. Municipal employees, she said, are more restricted. Generally they have to be evenhanded.

William Lupini, the school superintendent, said opposition could be expected, recalling what he called “fact police” at forums organized during the 2008 override efforts. Dr. Lupini mentioned that work is underway on a revised Web site for Public Schools of Brookline, expected next September. Compared with the recently revised municipal Web site, the school Web site lacks critical information. For example, it provides no access to detailed financial plans for either the current fiscal year or any prior years.

Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 12, 2014

Board of Selectmen: contracts, personnel and appointments

A biweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 8, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: A design advisory team will start meeting soon for Brookline Place. It was not clear whether that meant the Brookline Place Advisory Committee. The first meeting is to be Wednesday, July 16, 7:00 pm, at the Latvian Lutheran Church, 58 Irving St.

Contracts and personnel: The board reviewed a proposed 2-year extension of the agreement for emergency services with Fallon. Brookline houses two ambulances full-time and links Fallon with emergency communications. Fallon staffs the ambulances full-time and gives priority to services in Brookline. No money is exchanged. Paul Ford, the fire chief, made a strong pitch for extending the agreement, saying that services have been satisfactory and that Fallon has provided emergency medicine training for Brookline firefighters. The board agreed to extend the agreement.

Several public works contracts were presented, briefly reviewed and approved. The largest amounts were three contracts totaling $1.53 million for street and traffic signal repairs, a $0.58 million contract to repair the historic Fisher Hill Reservoir gatehouse, $0.25 million for grounds maintenance, $0.14 million for repairs to the historic Burial Ground and $0.03 million to complete sewer and drain projects.

Costs of the gatehouse project, adjacent to the new Fisher Hill Park, are partly offset by a grant of $0.04 million from the state’s Historic Commission. Costs for sewer and drain projects are reimbursed by MWRA. A check for $0.14 million was accepted from Claremont Companies, building a hotel at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., to fund public improvements in the vicinity.

Proceeding at a rapid pace, the board approved budget transfers already allowed by Advisory the previous evening, and it approved hirings to fill vacancies–a sergeant in the Police Department, a recreation leader and a health inspector–all created by retirements. Kenneth Goldstein, the chairman, made his usual requests to seek a “diverse pool of candidates.” However, no town organization currently monitors the effectiveness of such efforts.

Appointments: As often happens, the board slowed its pace when interviewing candidates for boards and committees: one for Martin Luther King, one for Norfolk County Advisory, one for Transportation and one for Zoning Appeals.

Elizabeth Childs, a new candidate for the Norfolk County board, is a former School Committee member and a former Massachusetts commissioner of mental health. Her strongest concern, she said, was whether Brookline was “getting a fair return on our tax contributions” to the county. The assessment for the current fiscal year is $0.79 million. There are no visible county services.

Board member Betsy DeWitt asked about abolishing country government, as has already happened in eight of the 14 counties. She did not seem to know that county abolition in western Massachusetts was a pre-emptive strike by legislators who wanted to derail competition for their offices. Mr. Goldstein said he knew of three current efforts in the General Court, but he said “none have traction now.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 10, 2014

Board of Selectmen: cell-phone antennas, personnel and appointments

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 24, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: Groundbreaking for 32 new public housing units was held in the morning at 86 Dummer St., near the B.U. West segment of Commonwealth Ave. and adjacent to Trustman Apartments. There will be no board meeting Tuesday, July 1. There are to be biweekly meetings during July and August.

Cell-phone antennas: In an item of new business not detailed on the agenda, Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, proposed sending letters to members of the General Court representing Brookline, urging them to oppose S. 2183 and Sections 74 and 75 in H. 4181. He had found out about these bills from messages sent by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, to which Brookline belongs. The board agreed.

The bills would have undercut local regulation of cell-phone antennas. Section 1 of S. 2183 proposed to add the following to Chapter 40A of the General Laws: “No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit, regulate or restrict collocation of wireless facilities on existing structures….” Cities and towns would be unable to regulate placement of antennas on buildings.

S. 2183 came from the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and was sent to Senate Ways and Means. No hearing appears to have been held. More recently, H. 4165 has been replaced with the text of S. 2231, which came from Senate Ways and Means. That is an omnibus economic development bill and does not contain the obnoxious “wireless facilities” provisions. It appears on the July 1 calendar for the House.

Contracts and personnel: Alison Steinfeld, the town’s planning director, got approval to hire Tod McGrath of the MIT Center for Real Estate as a financial consultant to review the recently revised 40B housing proposal at Hancock Village. Patrick Ward, the town clerk, got approval to fill two senior clerk vacancies, one replacing a 20-year employee who was recently discharged.

Kevin Stokes, the director of information technology, got approval to hire a network engineer, replacing services formerly outsourced. Andrew Pappastergion, the DPW director, got approval to fill eight vacant positions. Because of unfavorable bids for solid waste collection in February, the service will not be outsourced.

Complete Streets: Scott Englander, a member of the Transportation Board, sought and received the board’s support for a resolution endorsing “Complete Streets”–promoted since 2005 by an eponymous private organization. The Massachusetts Municipal Association became a promoter in 2011, but the state Department of Transportation has yet to sign up.

Appointments: As it did the previous week, the board took a relaxed pace interviewing applicants for boards, commissions and committees: one for Assessors, one for Conservation, one for Zoning Appeals, one for Women, one for Martin Luther King and two for Naming. Carla Benka, seeking reappointment to the Naming Committee, described it as “a quiet committee…reactive rather than proactive.” She said she expects that an article for this fall’s town meeting will seek to rename Cypress Playground as Henessey Field.

Christine Fitzgerald of Fuller St., a new candidate for the Commission on Women, described her background growing up in difficult circumstances when her father died while she was in high school. She became the first in her family to earn a college degree and went on to law school, becoming a law firm partner and litigator working mostly with technology and financial firms. Now, she said, “I don’t have to prove things any more.” Board members Nancy Daly and Betsy DeWitt seemed won over. Ms. Daly commented, “It’s a great story.”

Permits: An open-air parking lot near the intersection of Washington St. with Bartlett Crescent, northwest of Washington Square and just before Corey Rd., became an object of controversy the previous week and had been held over. After further review, its permit was approved.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 1, 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

Annual town meeting: budgets and a larger Driscoll school

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its first session Tuesday, May 27. More sessions are scheduled for Thursday, May 29, and Monday, June 2. The agenda is not that long: 33 articles. However the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, said he expected extended reviews of several issues–probably needing a fourth session, to be scheduled on Monday.

The session addressed the first 9 articles, including the entire budget for fiscal year 2015, starting in July. Unlike some odd procedures used several years ago, articles were considered in the order listed in the warrant report. A summary of actions, by article:

1, Wood and bark measurers (traditional)–approved
2. Collective bargaining agreements–no action needed
3. Compensating balance agreements–approved
4. Closing out special appropriations–no action needed
5. Unpaid bills of prior years–no action needed
6. Adopting local option, property tax exemptions–approved
7. Fiscal 2014 budget amendments, Lawrence School funds–approved
8. Fiscal 2015 appropriations–approved with an amendment for Driscoll School
9. Adopting local option, senior property tax deferral–amended and approved

An effort to enlarge Lawrence School using modular classrooms had gone nowhere. The sole bidder’s price was in the range for conventional classrooms. Under Article 7, the town meeting agreed to an extra $1.5 million for more durable construction. Four added classrooms are expected to be available in the fall of 2015. Students will not need to be relocated during this round of construction.

Debate over a feasibility study for expanding and renovating Driscoll School took about an hour. It was just one section of around a hundred in the budget under Article 8, yet controversial after parents of Driscoll students became agitated over building a larger school. Driscoll, Heath, Lincoln and Runkle each have about 500 to 550 students, while Devotion, Pierce, Baker and Lawrence each have about 650 to 850. Of the smaller schools, Driscoll has been the fastest growing.

After switching position, first supporting then opposing the feasibility study, the Advisory Committee had most recently proposed to delay spending until after a town meeting next fall. However, town meeting members appeared mostly absorbed–not about timing or spending–but about whether Driscoll was going to become a larger school. The tone of the debate and size of the vote told a story.

By law, Advisory proposes the budget. Harry Bohrs, the committee chair and a Precinct 3 town meeting member, led off debate, saying budgets “communicate our choices…values and aspirations.” One choice was clear: “municipal” expenditures $68 million, up 2 percent, “education” expenditures $87 million, up 5 percent. Advisory proposed a sizable boost in school spending at the expense of almost everything else.

Mr. Bohrs proved about as anodyne as most Advisory chairs over the years. His speech featured acronyms and insider language. Probably a fraction of town meeting members did understand all he said, speaking in that mode, but with so many details few would likely remember it all for long. However, almost everything had been public since the warrant report appeared on Brookline’s municipal Web site two weeks earlier.

Discrepancies turned up, anyway. For example, the school department will have 1,218 “full-time-equivalent” employees, according to the warrant report, versus 1,285 that Mr. Bohrs claimed at town meeting. According to the warrant report, municipal departments will have 679 FTE employees. A couple of minutes later, Mr. Bohrs said for fiscal 2015 there would be 1,374 municipal and 1,671 school employees. Taken at face value, that would apparently mean the average municipal worker is employed about half-time. Really?

Mr. Bohrs faithfully echoed longstanding concerns of Advisory that are now entrenched in town policy: full funding of pension obligations and full anticipation of capital spending for buildings and major equipment, both gaining momentum in the 1970s. He said the current plan for pensions intends to achieve full funding by 2030. If that happens, that goal will have taken about 60 years to reach.

In closing remarks, Mr. Bohrs became more engaged. “Our educational institutions are suffering from system stress,” he said, because of “an unprecedented and sustained surge in our school enrollment.” Predicting a sea change in the community, he said “schools of 500 students are likely a thing of the past.”

Describing the proposed school budget as “unsustainable,” Mr. Bohrs said budgets will be “constrained and tempered by the levels of our resources…[Next year] we will likely be considering an override [to Proposition 2-1/2] in the spring…It’s a decision that will define Brookline.”

Newly elected chair Kenneth Goldstein responded for the Board of Selectmen–patronizing authors of what he called an “award-winning financial plan.” He emphasized “new growth” but focused only on new revenue, omitting to mention any new costs–particularly when “new growth” brings more students to public schools. Most of his speech repeated what Mr. Bohrs had already said but lacked the forward-looking cautions Mr. Bohrs had noted.

Mr. Goldstein’s strongest contribution was to describe investigations by the B-SPACE committee about school expansion, on which he served–leading to what he called an “expand-in-place” plan. That mainly targets Devotion, Lawrence and Driscoll Schools. Of those, only Devotion has a fairly generous campus. The Driscoll campus is small, while the Lawrence campus is hedged by conservation restrictions on adjacent parkland.

Proposed funds for a Driscoll feasibility study produced one of those classic town-meeting debates about bigger issues than what shows on the agenda. Precinct 14 town meeting member Pam Lodish, an Advisory Committee member and former School Committee member, spoke for a delay in spending for a Driscoll feasibility study, saying “we don’t want to disenfranchise significant groups of our community.” She was joined by Werner Lohe from Precinct 13 and by Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent.

Rebecca Stone, a Precinct 3 town meeting member and current School Committee member, urged town meeting to press ahead, saying, “We know how to run successful, beloved schools with the larger numbers.” She was joined by Betsy DeWitt, speaking for the Board of Selectmen, and by Casey Hatchett, a Driscoll parent. As debate churned on, applause for those points of view grew louder.

Mr. Gadsby held a recorded vote. Using an electronic system, introduced in spring, 2013, it took only about a minute instead of 15 to 20 minutes for the first roll-call votes at town meeting, in 1970. The outcome was 176 in favor of funding without delay versus 43 in favor of delay and 5 abstaining. Town meeting appears to have made up its mind: Driscoll parents must accept a larger school.

On the balance of the budget article, there were several questions, but only at-large Advisory Committee member Leonard Weiss spoke at length. He said it was time for school management “to demonstrate leadership on affordability.” Town meeting passed almost the entire fiscal 2015 budget unanimously, except that Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 asked to be recorded as opposing the operating budget for Public Schools of Brookline.

Article 9, submitted by former Precinct 6 town meeting member Arthur W. Conquest, III, and by Brooks Ames, a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, sought adoption of a state law allowing a higher income-limit for senior residents seeking property-tax deferral. They also proposed a lower interest-rate. Both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee supported the higher income-limit but opposed the lower interest-rate. That approach passed unanimously.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 29, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 22, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included Driscoll School plans, policy changes, “technology” plans and the state’s PARCC testing.

School expansion plans: Noticeable discord has grown over plans to expand Driscoll School. Some parents are opposed, others skeptical. A Web site appeared to circulate information. The Advisory Committee has reversed its earlier support for a feasibility study, recently recommending that funding for a study be deferred to a fall town meeting.

Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent, was recently quoted in the Boston Globe, saying, “The permanence of a thousand-plus-person school just pulls at my heart; I can’t stand it…As you keep increasing the size of our schools, you pull apart the connection of its community.”

Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said a delay in funding a feasibility study for Driscoll would be likely to have a “domino effect,” interfering with “long, multi-year projects. ” Superintendent Lupini appeared troubled, saying “We don’t have a Plan B.” Committee member Rebecca Stone said she hoped the town “still has a long-term plan in place,” speaking of solidarity with the Board of Selectmen.

To an untutored ear, the reactions might sound a little strong–for a proposal currently said to seek six more classrooms at Driscoll. However, as with many past school projects, what could possibly be a straightforward, frugal expansion of school space can–and maybe it already has–become enmeshed in more complex and costly goals.

The discord has an echo from 1973, during previous planning to renovate Devotion School–with quite a twist. The School Department then called for shrinking school capacity–from about 850 to 650 students. History that was recent at the time had seen Devotion with as many as 950 students. The Sperber administration stood by a consultant study that said falling birthrates and smaller family sizes would reduce demand.

The 1970s Devotion project replaced the northwest wing and renovated the entire center section for around $5 million–or about $30 million today, adjusted for inflation. The community might question why another renovation now would need to cost about three times as much, in real dollars.

Policies for community uses and residency: Committee member Abby Cox announced that discussion and voting on proposed changes to “community use” policy would be delayed, “for more community review.” The proposal has already drawn criticism from organizers of after-school programs. It risks looking hostile toward local organizations that sometimes use school rooms for community meetings, as they learn more about it.

One obvious change is a sentence that now says Public Schools of Brookline will make facilities available to the community “at as low a cost as possible.” As proposed, that would instead read “at reasonable cost.” The current policy took form in the early 1970s, as the Sperber administration was pursuing renovations to Pierce, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Driscoll Schools.

At the time, Brookline was growing around 20 new neighborhood associations and several advocacy groups. The policy probably helped solidify community support for school renovations–strongly controversial at the time. A 1973 referendum brought against the Devotion appropriation failed to reverse it by a margin of only about 200 votes. It took three tries to overcome opposition to building a new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd., which finally opened in 1994.

Discussion of policy on “instruction” veered into of how parents establish residency, proposed to be required at the start of each school year. Committee member Helen Charlupski, who has served since 1992, recalled that parents formerly “signed a card and sent it in…What now?” Superintendent Lupini said parents must now submit “some form of proof.” He named alternatives, all requiring originals of paper documents. Committee vice chair Barbara Scotto asked, “What will happen to the documents?” The question went unanswered.

Controversy over growth: During “public comment,” Sanford Ostroy, a League of Women Voters board member, urged the committee to examine recent assertions from the Override Study. He cited claims that “minority populations” are the source of student population growth over the past 20 years and that METCO students are “the most expensive to educate.” He questioned both accuracy and pertinence.

In his finance report, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent, had some answers for Dr. Ostroy. It has been a surge of growth in student populations during about the past seven years, not in previous years, that generated pressure for more space and staff. Mr. Rowe presented a table comparing students in each elementary school at the start of school years in 2004 and 2013.

For years 2004 to 2013: Baker 629 to 754, Devotion 701 to 840, Driscoll 366 to 551, Heath 378 to 518, Lawrence 440 to 658, Lincoln 398 to 565, Pierce 548 to 782, Runkle 426 to 560. Total students grew from 3,886 to 5,228–a difference of 1,324 students or 35 percent. Of those, Mr. Rowe said, no added students came from METCO, and about 40 added students came from town employees through the “materials fee” program.

Plans for “technology”: Dr. Lupini presented his plans for more “technology,” focusing on elementary schools in fiscal 2015–startinng in July–through fiscal 2019. He frankly called it “plumbing,” not “transformational technology.” It is hardware-heavy: more classroom computers, more network support, more digital projectors. Next year has an added $30 thousand for “professional development.”

Goals of the effort, as presented, were all stated in general and vague terms. There were no specifics about what the hardware would used to do, and there were few real-life examples. Although Dr. Lupini expressed concern that current resources are not available outside classrooms, the only concrete proposal that could be found to address that limitation was to put some computers in school libraries.

Testing regimes: Superintendent Lupini announced plans to switch to the state’s new PARCC series of tests in the next school year for most grades. However, he would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. That would put 9th grade science tests, which have proven the most difficult for Brookline students, into the PARCC camp.

Dr. Lupini said the PARCC regime will allow extra time for special education students and students with limited English proficiency. However, apparently it will otherwise remain strictly timed. That is likely to affect minority students in Brookline, because they probably will not qualify for “accommodations.”

Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. School Committee members sounded distant about risks for Latino and African-American students to perform poorly. However, Dr. Lupini clearly sees his proposal could become a “hot potato.” He intends a public hearing on it June 5–time and place to be announced–followed by another School Committee review June 22.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 27, 2014


Jaclyn Reiss, Full plate at Brookline Town Meeting: development, Driscoll School work, Boston Globe, May 25, 2014


METCO communities, spring 2014
Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for fiscal 2014

METCO now has 37 participating communities, organized into 37 partly overlapping school districts. Among the districts, Brookline has the second largest number of students. However, when districts are considered according to METCO students per thousand residents, Brookline is only slightly above average–with 5 METCO students per thousand residents compared to an average of 4. Relative to population, Weston, Lincoln and Wayland make far stronger commitments to METCO than Brookline.

District Students Grant Per student Pop., 2010 Student/1000
Arlington 72 $382,028 $5,306 42,844 1.7
Bedford 97 $556,137 $5,733 13,320 7.3
Belmont 120 $542,300 $4,519 24,729 4.9
Braintree 31 $221,152 $7,134 35,744 0.9
Brookline 296 $1,336,196 $4,514 58,732 5.0
Cohasset 45 $255,195 $5,671 7,542 6.0
Concord 101 $486,746 $4,819 17,668 5.7
Dover 9 $31,023 $3,447 5,589 1.6
East Longmeadow 52 $260,586 $5,011 15,720 3.3
Foxborough 45 $239,690 $5,326 16,865 2.7
Hingham 32 $191,027 $5,970 22,157 1.4
Lexington 237 $1,342,033 $5,663 31,394 7.5
Lincoln 91 $474,791 $5,217 6,362 14.3
Longmeadow 38 $203,886 $5,365 15,784 2.4
Lynnfield 41 $213,673 $5,212 11,596 3.5
Marblehead 78 $427,516 $5,481 19,808 3.9
Melrose 125 $628,863 $5,031 26,983 4.6
Natick 54 $313,496 $5,805 33,006 1.6
Needham 155 $840,442 $5,422 28,886 5.4
Newton 404 $2,154,051 $5,332 85,146 4.7
Reading 71 $362,137 $5,101 24,747 2.9
Scituate 57 $370,016 $6,492 18,133 3.1
Sharon 70 $406,676 $5,810 17,612 4.0
Sherborn 11 $37,917 $3,447 4,119 2.7
Sudbury 70 $411,849 $5,884 17,659 4.0
Swampscott 70 $386,093 $5,516 13,787 5.1
Wakefield 50 $252,759 $5,055 24,932 2.0
Walpole 49 $277,496 $5,663 24,070 2.0
Wayland 137 $658,361 $4,806 12,994 10.5
Wellesley 157 $815,042 $5,191 27,982 5.6
Weston 181 $891,661 $4,926 11,261 16.1
Westwood 43 $221,859 $5,160 14,618 2.9
Concord Carlisle 64 $369,509 $5,774 22,520 2.8
Dover Sherborn 20 $127,418 $6,371 9,708 2.1
Hampden Wilbraham 27 $140,845 $5,216 19,358 1.4
Lincoln Sudbury 91 $455,410 $5,005 24,021 3.8
Southwick Tolland 20 $127,909 $6,395 9,987 2.0
Totals 3,311 $17,413,788 $5,259 817,383 4.1

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: new services and reviews

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, May 21, started at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with all three current committee members attending plus five members of the public, two representatives of GroupZoom, proposing a new transit service, a Brookline Transportation Board member, a member of MBTA management and two representatives of the MBTA Advisory Board.

Express buses to Cambridge and Boston: Matthew George, founder of GroupZoom, located in Cambridge, described the Bridj transit service his company expects to offer. It plans to provide express-bus service between high-demand locations–featuring Web-based scheduling, electronic payments and on-board amenities, including WiFi. According to business news reports, GroupZoom has received around $3 million in venture funding from a private investor group that includes Scott Griffith, a partner at General Catalyst and former CEO of Zipcar, now an Avis division.

Mr. George said initial plans are for two Brookline-centered routes and two Cambridge-centered routes. He claims routes between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Post Office Square are prime candidates in Greater Boston. Traveling the MBTA Green Line and Red Line between Coolidge Corner, where he lives, and Kendall Square, where he works, Mr. George measured morning rush-hour travel time at around 55 minutes. He says his service will take less than 20 minutes.

Initially, Mr. George expects the Bridj service to provide full-size, 54-passenger buses run by Academy Bus, a charter company operating from Braintree. The fare for the Kendall Square route is projected at around $6 each way, or three times the current MBTA Charlie Card fare, in return for saving an estimated 35 minutes each way. Linda Lally, an MBTA system planner at the meeting on other issues, said MBTA supports the proposed Bridj service as a complement to the mass transportation services MBTA provides.

Abigail “Abby” Swaine, committee chair, said GroupZoom would need Brookline Transportation Board authorization to operate a jitney service and would need approvals for locations it plans to pick up and drop off passengers. The company will probably need similar authorizations from Cambridge and Boston for the routes Mr. George described. Committee members asked about locations of stops. Mr. George said possible locations are near municipal parking lots, particularly ones on Centre Street.

Jerry Lazar of Craftsland Rd. asked whether GroupZoom might provide service from Chestnut Hill. Mr. George was not sure but said Bridj will have zoned fare capability. He said there is also interest in service from Brookline Village. Scott Englander, a Brookline Transportation Board member, asked about sharing data with host communities. Mr. George said GroupZoom would do that, subject to nondisclosure agreements. An inquiry the next morning with Todd Kirrane at the Brookline Transportation Department indicated no applications yet from GroupZoom.

MBTA equipment, more 3-car trains: Richard T. Leary, a former executive secretary to the Board of Selectmen and later Brookline’s first town administrator, presented a report for the MBTA Advisory Board. He has served for many years as Brookline’s representative. He was accompanied by Paul Regan, the board’s executive director. Responding to the committee’s interest in 3-car trains on the Green Line, Mr. Regan said the MBTA has only enough equipment for a few 3-car trains at rush hours.

Running more 3-car trains will also need power upgrades, according to Mr. Regan. Some power substations have been renovated, but trolley wires are up to 80 years old, and overloads and brownouts occur at rush hours, When power upgrades are finished, replacing antique signals will be the next priority. Only those near Kenmore Square, which flooded in 1962 and in 1996, have had recent attention.

The current MBTA capital plan calls for 220 new Green Line cars by some unspecified date. However, the financial tables, out to FY2018, show no such acquisition. The Green Line currently has 114 operable Kinki Sharyo Type 7 cars, now 17 to 28 years old, that are to be renovated. It has 95 operable Breda type 8 low-rise cars, now 6 to 15 years old. They will not need major maintenance soon. No additional 3-car trains can likely be expected before 2022.

Mr. Regan, Mr. Leary and committee members discussed measures to speed up boarding passengers and discourage fare evasion. About two years ago the Green Line stopped opening rear doors when running on the surface. That led to crushes in the fronts of cars, especially at rush hours, so the Green Line resumed opening rear doors during rush hours. Mr. Regan said MBTA will be hiring more transit police but faces high turnover. Officers often leave to take highway, city and town police jobs.

Committee members asked whether MBTA will add more payment kiosks to service Charlie Cards. There are now about 150 of them, but there are none for surface parts of the Green Line except on the Riverside (D) branch. Mr. Regan said there are four payment centers located in Brookline groceries: the two Star markets, one 7-11 store and Bay State Foods. He did not think more payment kiosks or centers would open in the next few years.

Speedier Beacon Street trolleys: Last year the committee supported a $50,000 study of Beacon Street traffic signal improvements, to reduce delays on the Cleveland Circle (C) branch of the Green Line. The 2014 annual town meeting looks set to fund the project. It is included in the Advisory Committee’s budget, under Article 8.

Mr. Regan said MBTA management was “thrilled” about the Beacon Street project, a first for the MBTA Green Line. So far, MBTA has worked on traffic signal improvements for buses and for commuter rail but not for above-ground parts of the Green Line. The Advisory Committee has proposed some conditions on the funding, which committee members had yet to investigate.

MBTA fares and finances: Mr. Leary reviewed MBTA finances. Last year’s Transportation Finance Act, Chapter 46 of the Acts of 2013, adds about $600 million per year to state transportation funding for FY2014 through FY2018. Although MBTA gets a portion, much of that goes toward repairing degraded bridges and roads. MBTA is committed to a “proposition 2-1/2″ approach. It will raise transit fares by about 2-1/2 percent a year: likely about 5 percent every 2 years, starting this July.

However, the agency’s financial problems are far from over. Since 1947, the MBTA and former MTA fares have never paid the full cost of rides. Before 2000, MTA and MBTA got a yearly and much maligned “deficiency budget” from the General Court. In 2000, under so-called “forward funding,” MBTA was instead granted one percentage point of the state sales tax. For a while that worked, because of increasing ridership and sales tax receipts. Then fare revenue flattened after 2005; sales tax receipts flattened after 2008.

For FY2010 through FY2014, the General Court provided $160 million a year in so-called “contract assistance.” That means, in effect, the old MTA and MBTA “deficiency budget” from the past has been revived in a new form–added to the sales-tax earmark. The General Court looks on course to do the same for FY2015.

According to Mr. Leary, those funds, along with management reforms and the 2013 finance act, have brought financial stability to MBTA. MBTA is hiring 63 workers to bring more maintenance in-house plus 180 workers to run late-night service. Employees are on the state’s Group Insurance Commission health plan, which is also helping Brookline cope. Subway trains are being run by single operators. Absentee rates are down. Need for the last two reforms had been reported since at least the 1950s, by the old Boston Herald and by the Boston Globe.

MBTA is to maintain a “recovery ratio” of 33 percent or more–meaning fares are to pay at least one-third the cost of rides. Of its current $1.9 billion budget, Mr. Leary said about $160 million is being paid by “local assessments” on cities and towns in the MBTA operating area. Brookline is paying about $5 million. Similar municipal transit support has occurred since the 1920s, starting with the former Boston Elevated Railway Co.

Committee member Sherry Flashman asked about falling ridership. Mr. Regan said ridership is actually up. That becomes somewhat complicated. MBTA preliminary reports of increased ridership have often proven inconsistent with federally audited reports appearing much later in the National Transit Database. Those showed largely stagnant system ridership after 2002 and falling ridership after 2005. Possibly the years after 2012 may see sustained, verified increases, but it is too early to know.

Less waiting for the next bus: Brookline Transportation Board member Scott Englander presented a quantitative study he carried out to see whether wait times near Cleveland Circle, transferring between MBTA bus routes 51 and 86, could be reduced by schedule shifting. Route 51 extends through south Brookline to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain. Route 86 extends through Allston, Harvard Square and Somerville to Sullivan Square in Charlestown. Combined, they could approximate a so-called “urban ring” long advocated to connect radial transit routes in and out of downtown Boston.

Mr. Englander’s work was assisted by MBTA system planner Linda Lally, who arranged access to real-time records of bus arrivals and departures. Ms. Lally said bus scheduling has been computerized for about three years and now includes “interlining”–meaning drivers may transfer from route to another. Those changes improve efficiency but do not reduce wait times for passenger transfers.

Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of 51 buses relative to 86 buses could reduce average wait times somewhat. However, he said the best case amounted to only several percent of total travel times.

More ridership in south Brookline: For some time, the committee has looked at potential changes to the 51 bus route, in hopes of increasing ridership. According to Mr. Kirrane, the transportation director, one possibility is the segment between the intersection of Chestnut Hill Avenue with Route 9 and Independence Drive southwest of Putterham Circle.

The 51 bus currently follows Lee, Clyde, Newton and Grove Streets. Ridership might increase by instead following Boylston, Hammond and Lagrange Streets and Beverly Road. In the 1970s and before, areas near the latter streets were served by the former 59 bus, but that bus was discontinued in a cost-cutting change. The 59 number is now used for a route between Watertown and Needham. The committee meets next on June 15, also at 7:00 pm.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 24, 2014


Comment, June 10, 2014. Scott Englander, a Transportation Board member, sent a comment about MBTA 51 bus service:

The MBTA has so far only offered Brookline the possibility of shifting Rt. 51 bus schedules uniformly (i.e., shifting all departure times forward or backward by the same amount). Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of Rt. 51 buses uniformly could, at best, reduce passenger layover times at Reservoir by 5%, and even that modest overall improvement would come at a cost of adversely affecting outbound passengers. The analysis did not look at potentially beneficial changes in schedule that don’t involve shifting all schedules by the same amount of time.


Katie Johnston, Data-driven bus service set to roll out, Boston Globe, April 10, 2014

Rafael Mares and Kirstie Pecci, Keeping on Track: Transportation for Massachusetts, Conservation Law Foundation and MassPIRG, March, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, FY2015 transportation plan, Draft, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, The way forward, FY2014 transportation plan, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2013

Board of Selectmen: bonds, licenses and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 21, started at around 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. As happened last week, several people attended who are interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Announcements: Next week, the 2014 annual town meeting starts Tuesday, May 27, at 7:00 pm in the High School auditorium, side entrance at 91 Tappan St. It continues on Thursday, May 29, on Monday, June 2, and for other sessions as needed. This week, the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance is holding a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. According to board member Betsy DeWitt, it will review Articles 8 (budget), 10 (replacement of human relations commission), 11 (Toxteth neighborhood district), 15-19 (Brookline Place development), 21 (small-lot zoning near Meadowbrook Rd.), 26 (repealing sale of taxi medallions) and 28 (prompt snow clearance in business districts).

The Brookline VFW and American Legion post has organized site visits on Memorial Day, May 26. Bus trips leave at 8:30 am near the Veterans Post at 386 Washington St. An outdoor ceremony starts at 11 am near Town Hall, 333 Washington St. An open house will be held at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St., on Friday, May 30, from 3 to 6 pm, showing the new fitness center. A full-length meeting of the Board of Selectmen is not scheduled next week, because of town meeting. However, the Advisory Committee schedules early evenings on town meeting nights, starting at 6:00 pm in Room 208 at Brookline High School. The selectmen will hold a short meeting at the same time Tuesday, May 27, in Room 209–mainly for change orders, budget transfers and other routine business.

Bonds, police, seniors: Treasurer Stephen Cirillo won authorization to sell $8.4 million in municipal bonds. The effective interest rate from the low bidder is 1.8 percent, he said. Most of the money will pay for building and grounds maintenance projects. The largest of those is $3 million for repairs to the former Lincoln School. Sewer maintenance receives $1 million. The town got a favorable interest rate because of its AAA credit rating, Mr. Cirillo said, awarded because of attention to long-term financial planning.

Since the new Lincoln School on Kennard Road opened in 1994, the sturdy, 1930s structure on Route 9 has been used repeatedly for temporary space during renovation of several schools, Town Hall, the health department building and the main library. However, with three schools now being considered for expansion projects, old Lincoln School may not be enough. The Board of Selectmen and the School Committee have each held long executive sessions recently to consider “leases.”

Other, long-term projects are being performed in stages and get only parts of funds from this bond sale. The municipal service center on Hammond St., just 15 years old, gets a major renovation. Its structural design proved inadequate for heavy equipment on an upper floor. Reconfigurations will move equipment to the ground floor, and the upper floor will be repaired.

Construction of Fisher Hill Park gets $1.2 million from these bonds. Brookline bought the 1887 Fisher Hill Reservoir, a project of the former Boston Water Board, from the state in 2008. It had been out of regular service since the 1950s. The new park is a late stage in a complex redevelopment. The reservoir’s historic gatehouse is to be restored.

Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary won authorization for nine student police officers. They will train at Lowell Police Academy, he said, and are expected to begin service in late fall. In a nod to the board’s renewal of concerns about workforce diversity, Mr. O’Leary noted that three of the nine are African-American.

Two of the student police officers, Mr. O’Leary said, are “legacies.” That is a code word for members of several families with long-term backgrounds as Brookline employees. From at least the middle 1800s through the 1960s, those families lived in Brookline and comprised much of the workforce.

Brookline’s Age-Friendly Cities program was reviewed by board member Nancy Daly, who chairs the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, with committee members Ruthann Dobek, the Senior Center director, and Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member. Brookline was the first New England community to cooperate with the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, in starting a program.

According to Mr. Caro, the committee is focused on pedestrians in urban Brookline and wants to reduce bicycle use on sidewalks. In the late 1960s, however, Massachusetts passed a law requiring bicyclists to use sidewalks outside business districts, where they are available.

License reviews: The board heard seven applications for food service, liquor and entertainment licenses. Five proved fairly routine, with no member of the public offering comments or objections.

Juan Carlos Hincapie asked for new food service (“common victualler”) and entertainment (radio, TV) licenses to operate Milky Way cafe on Cypress St. near the corner of Route 9, at the former site of Yobro cafe. Neighbors protested midnight closing hours Monday through Saturday. Mr. Hincape said he was seeking only what Yobro had. It turned out that while Yobro had applied for midnight closing, it was allowed only until 10 pm. The board approved the new licenses, with closing hours of 10 pm Monday through Saturday and 8 pm Sunday.

Lisa Wisel applied for an extension of liquor service hours at VineRipe Grill, housed in the Putterham Meadows golf clubhouse on West Roxbury Pkwy. Several residents of the area sent letters and spoke in opposition to pushing morning hours back to 8 am Tuesday through Sunday and 9 am Monday. Service hours now start at 10 am Monday through Saturday and at noon Sunday.

Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, spoke of “neighborhood concerns,” saying, “If you need a drink at 8 in the morning, you’ve got a problem.” Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, told the board, “10 am is early enough, drinking early in the morning is not a good sign of mental health.” She was seconded by Saralynn Allaire, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and member of the Commission for the Disabled.

Ms. Wisel explained that there had been requests for beer with breakfast, particularly during golf tournaments. Board chair Kenneth Goldstein sounded sympathetic, saying it was “part of the golfer culture.” Board member Neil Wishinsky said it was “not [his] style,” but he was “willing to give it a try.” That didn’t appeal to board member Betsy DeWitt, who said she could not support 8 am. Board members Nancy Daly and Benjamin Franco both said they were “uncomfortable with 8 am on weekdays.”

On a motion by Ms. DeWitt, the board voted to authorize a 10 am starting hour every day, only Mr. Goldstein opposing. That allows a two-hour extension to current hours on Monday. Mr. Goldstein then proposed the hours Ms. Wisel had requested, but that lost by a 3 to 2 vote, attracting support from Mr. Wishinsky.

Human relations: The board again considered Article 10 for next week’s town meeting, on which it was unable to reach consensus the previous week. That seeks replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, and Sandra DeBow, the town’s Human Resources director, spoke about the issues, but most other officials present at last week’s review did not attend this one.

Earlier in the evening the Advisory subcommittee for the article met with the selectmen-appointed “diversity committee” chaired by board member Nancy Daly, which submitted Article 10. Later that evening, the full Advisory Committee reconsidered the article. Ms. Daly summarized what those committees recommended and proposed that the Board of Selectmen join with their views on several items:

  • number of commission members to be 15 rather than variable, 11 to 15
  • quorum to be a majority of members serving, with a minimum of six
  • Board of Selectmen to appoint a non-voting representative
  • chief diversity officer also to be director of the new commission’s “office”
  • chief diversity officer not to be a department head or senior administrator
  • chief diversity officer to report to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner
  • chief diversity officer to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
  • commission also to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
  • commission office to be budgeted and located per the town administrator
  • Brookline schools to be included among concerns of the chief diversity officer

The board spent about an hour on Article 10. Many arguments proved similar to those at previous reviews. Some board members indicated support for changes Ms. Daly described. However, Ms. DeWitt expressed skepticism over the Board of Selectmen appointing one of their number as a representative to the commission, saying it would cause “built-in conflict,” since selectmen are to hear appeals from the commission and chief diversity officer.

Ms. DeWitt noted that selectmen are not involved in the police complaint process because they act as an appeals board. The same applies to the Transportation Board, to which the Board of Selectmen do not send a regular representative. The selectmen did not appear to reach consensus on this issue.

Ms. Ames, the current commission’s chair, contended that the chief diversity officer should be appointed by the Board of Selectmen rather than the town administrator. It is common practice for the board to review and approve senior employees, likely to be followed here too. What can matter more is how and by whom senior employees such as the proposed chief diversity officer are recruited. For example, with Charles Flaherty retiring as director of the Public Library of Brookline, a screening committee was set up by the library trustees to seek and review candidates for a new director.

It has been clear that Ms. Ames and several other current commission members are concerned over a much diminished role for the proposed new commission in reviewing complaints. Ms. Daly, Ms. DeWitt, Mr. Wishinsky and Ms. DeBow all addressed that issue, emphasizing growth in the town’s responsibility for privacy rights since the original Human Relations Commission was established in 1970.

The board voted to support Ms. Daly’s proposals about number of commission members, quorum and inclusion of Brookline schools among concerns. While they voiced some support for proposals concerning a chief diversity officer and functioning of the commission, the vote they took did not explicitly refer to those matters.

Unsatisfied, Ms. Ames asked the board, “Do we now have an equal opportunity policy?” Ms. DeBow conceded, “There is no existing policy…that is, in many ways, how we got to this debate.” After the meeting, Ms. Ames said that proposals for a new commission, so far, would not produce an improvement over the current commission. What was mainly missing, she said, was action on recruitment and promotion of minorities “from the top.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 21, 2014


Corrections, May 24, 2014. Third night of the 2014 annual town meeting is Monday, June 2, not Tuesday, June 3. The selectmen scheduled a short meeting for 6 pm Tuesday, May 27, in a room at the high school.

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy

A regular monthly meeting of the Climate Action Committee on Monday, May 19, started at 6:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall, with 10 of the 15 committee members present, plus five members of the public and Doron Bracha, a Brookline resident giving a featured presentation on “green” schools. Co-chair Keske Toyofuku presided. Next Step Living, a solar energy firm in the Boston seaport district, was to present at this meeting but rescheduled for next month’s meeting.

Mr. Bracha, an architect specializing in energy-efficient school buildings, lives in the Devotion district, where his children attend. He is active in the Green Team at the school. He illustrated design features for school buildings that manage solar flux entering windows, reduce energy consumption with air heat exchangers, capture and store rainwater, and control acoustic reverberation.

Some of these features were illustrated with recent pictures of Wayland High School, where several “green” design elements have been employed. Committee member Dan Bennett asked about a high ceiling, looking to be around 20 feet, over the lunch room. Mr. Bracha acknowledged there had been tradeoffs between prestige appearance and energy efficiency but said some of the upper space was occupied by a mezzanine and balcony.

At Devotion School, Mr. Bracha said he noticed there was little recycling. In particular, the lunch room was discarding disposables and food scraps in refuse bins. He wondered whether other Brookline schools were also missing recycling opportunities. Committee member Benjamin Chang, who also serves on the School Committee, said he did not know but would ask Food Services director Alden Cadwell, who joined the school system at the start of the current school year.

Committee member Werner Lohe, who also serves on the Conservation Commission, said he had read that Boston University recycles both disposables and food scraps. Committee member Don Weitzman said some but not all schools have blue recycling bins supplied by the public works department. Co-chair Neil Wishinsky, who also serves on the Board of Selectmen, cautioned that the department lacks authority to require recycling by Public Schools of Brookline. An audience member recalled Green Teams at elementary schools organized several years ago by Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, saying they had been less engaged recently.

Mr. Bennett asked about the variety of alternative energy systems considered for “green” schools, saying he believes cogeneration gives the most “bang for the buck.” Mr. Bracha replied, “Every project is different,” and “many projects don’t have the budget for environmental enhancements.” Committee members were concerned that could happen with current projects under review for Devotion, Driscoll and Lawernce. Mr. Toyofuku said he hoped Mr. Bracha would come to future meetings to continue the discussion.

The meeting turned to energy efficiency programs, alternative transportation and solar energy installations in Brookline. Mr. Wishinsky called attention to the Hubway bicycle station formerly at Town Hall and now near JFK Crossing, the intersection of Fuller and Harvard Streets. Mr. Lohe said utilization at Town Hall had been low. He hopes to see improvements to traffic signal coordination but realizes it is complex and costly.

Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke expressed concern that if town meeting rejects Article 16, submitted by Precinct 13 town meeting member Andrew Fischer, reducing parking at Brookline Place, it could not be proposed again for two years. The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all recommend Article 15 instead, submitted by the Brookline Place Advisory Committee.

A question from the audience asked about the status of a program guide for solar energy. Lara Curtis Hayes, who provides staff support to the committee, said there is now a first draft and that the agency running the state’s rebate program has received a recent infusion of funds. Massachusetts makes available a comprehensive list of all the state’s subsidized solar energy projects since 2008.

After a slow start, the Massachusetts solar program became very active in 2012 and 2013, spurred by drastic drops in solar panel prices. The state offers rebates of up to $4,250 for a home installation, if the household income is not over $95,420. The federal government offers a 30-percent tax credit. In 2013, there were 4,262 installations of small solar systems in the state, rated at up to 10 kilowatts, peak.

Although small systems were 87 percent of the state’s solar installations for 2013, they provide only 11 percent of their rated power, because several large solar plants were brought online–mostly by cities, towns and utility companies. For 2013, Brookline had 16 solar systems installed, all of them small ones for homes, rated at a total of about 90 kW, peak.

Compared to a statewide average of 33 peak watts per resident, new Brookline systems for 2013 were rated at just 1.5 peak watts per resident. A fairly typical home solar system was rated at about 5 kW, peak, and it cost around $25,000 installed. However, installed system prices reported in Brookline during 2013 ranged from $3.40 to $6.98 per peak watt; they were similar to prices in other places.

For New England, small solar installations rarely realize capacity factors above 12 percent–ratios of average to peak power. Their unsubsidized prices are equivalent to around $40 per average watt. So-called “third generation” nuclear is coming online this year at unsubsidized prices around $8 per average watt. Of course, small solar installations deliver energy to the doorstep, while delivering energy from utility plants adds transportation and distribution costs–quite high in New England.

Committee members strategized about stronger efforts to promote solar energy. Next month’s committee meeting will feature several solar energy installers providing services in Brookline.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 20, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: awards, block grants and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 13, started at around 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. However, the meeting attracted many people who came for the annual awards to police officers and several people interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Leadership: In a brief, afternoon open session before vanishing into a two-hour executive session, the board elected Kenneth Goldstein as chair for the coming year. Mr. Goldstein is a former, long time member of the Planning Board. Newly elected member Benjamin Franco, a former Advisory Committee member, joined the board–replacing Richard Benka, who did not run for another term.

Awards: Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary presented awards to three police officers for distinguished service: a commendation to Noah Brothers, a public service award to John Bradley and an award for police officer of the year to Douglas Dunwoody. Officer Dunwoody was noted for service in several difficult incidents, including one last year near the intersection of Lee St. with Route 9, when the driver of a car transporting illegal drugs was disarmed of a pistol.

Announcements: The Department of Public Works is holding a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. The department also offers an “open house” Tuesday, May 20, from noon to 6 pm, demonstrating its services and equipment at the Public Works Center, 870 Hammond St. The department provides services for parks, roads, sanitation, water and engineering. The Bicycle Advisory Committee will hold an annual bicycle parade Sunday, May 18, starting at noon from Amory Park, near the corner of Amory and Freeman Streets.

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance will hold a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The Driscoll School Council will host a discussion on proposals to renovate the school Friday, May 16, starting at 8:15 am in the school auditorium. The Council on Aging and other organizations host a discussion on “elder care”–home-based services and residential options for older people–Thursday, May 15, starting at 5:30 pm at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St.

Block grants: Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2015 community development block grant program. It will bring in over $1 million in federal funds to serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods. Brookline’s eligibility stems from the former Redevelopment Authority, which carried out two major projects from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s. In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration convinced Congress to replace redevelopment project funding with block grants.

This year’s program has four large elements at around a quarter million dollars each: assisting acquisition of houses on Beals St. for homeless people, a contribution to the town’s housing trust fund used to subsidize housing for low-income and moderate-income residents, demolition of the pedestrian overpass near the corner of Route 9 and Washington St., and grant administration. Several smaller projects fund security systems in public housing, youth employment and training, and other social services. Total funding is $1.334 million.

The pedestrian overpass was built in the early 1970s by the former Redevelopment Authority, connecting its Marsh Project and Farm Project sites, on the north and south sides of Route 9. Poor visibility of pedestrians from below led to assaults and vandalism, and the overpass was blocked off in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s town meeting authorized demolition, but until now that has never been carried out for lack of funds. A development project at Brookline Place is expected to reimburse the cost of demolition, restoring block grant funds for use in other programs. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimous approval of this year’s program.

Construction noise: Representatives for Claremont Companies of Bridgewater, MA, presented a request for a waiver of noise control to demolish the former Red Cab garage at 111 Boylston St., where Claremont plans to build a 130-room hotel. The building abuts tracks of the Riverside branch of the MBTA Green Line. Demolition can only be performed during very late night and very early morning hours, when trolleys are not running. Claremont estimates 40 nights of work spread over two months. They will be operating excavators, front-end loaders, a crane and a Brokk demolition robot but will not operate manual jackhammers or transport debris or heavy equipment at night.

Neighbor Mike Bukhin of 46 White Place described experiences with a recent, much smaller project, restoring a dilapidated exterior wall. After getting a waiver, he tried notifying nearby residents by e-mail, with mixed results. He said erratic MBTA scheduling made the work take far longer than anticipated and predicted similar problems for Claremont. The Board of Selectmen approved a waiver for Claremont for 60 days, Sunday through Thursday nights between 1:15 and 4:45 am, starting in June or July, provided Claremont notifies the town at least ten days before starting and maintains an e-mail list to notify neighbors, day by day.

Human relations: Yet another long discussion ensued over replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Among those present were Harry Bohrs and Michael Sandman, chair and subcommittee chair of the Advisory Committee, Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee and Jean Berg, chair of the Committee on Town Organization and Structure. There were several other members of boards that have become involved in the issue.

The change is being proposed by a selectmen-appointed “diversity committee.” In the fall of 2012, the human relations commission disclosed that the 26 departments reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen lacked even one minority person as a department head and had not had one for over 40 years. The Board of Selectmen reacted by appointing the “diversity committee.” However, rather than investigate hirings and promotions, that committee proposed to abolish the human relations commission. They want to set up a new community relations commission, but it would be unable to investigate complaints involving Brookline personnel.

Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who chairs the “diversity committee,” described its latest revisions, developed after reviews by the other boards. The situation has become an unusually tangled set of disagreements that could lead to six or more competing proposals set before town meeting. The Board of Selectmen was not able to reach consensus and will reconsider the matter next week.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 14, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 8, started at 6:30 pm, mostly held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included committee leadership, new school programs, policy reviews and scores on state tests at Brookline High.

Celebrations: Welcoming celebrations for newly elected committee members and farewells for departing ones were not on the agenda but took about the first 45 minutes. Previous committee chair Alan Morse did not run for re-election, and new leadership was expected this year. To compensate for time spent on celebrations, the committee deferred review of the school technology program to its next meeting. At least 50 members of the public were present during the celebrations, but only four stayed for the rest of the meeting.

Leadership: Following current tradition, the previous vice chair, Susan Wolf Ditkoff, was elected committee chair for a year and can serve for a year beyond that. She is a partner at the investment firm Bain & Co. and has been a committee member since 2008. Barbara Scotto was elected vice chair. She was employed for 25 years as an elementary school teacher in Brookline, joining the committee in 2009 after she retired, and has been a Brookline town meeting member for more than 40 years. Committee votes for the new leaders were unanimous.

For many years, the School Committee has organized standing subcommittees that review ongoing issues. Those now include capital improvements, curriculum, finance, government relations, negotiations and policy. Ms. Ditkoff announced three changes. David Pollak replaces Helen Charlupski chairing capital improvements. Helen Charlupski replaces Barbara Scotto chairing curriculum. Benjamin Chang replaces outgoing committee member Amy Kershaw chairing finance. Rebecca Stone continues chairing government relations and negotiations. Abby Cox continues chairing policy.

Programs and policies: For capital improvements, Helen Charlupski said a proposal to renovate Devotion School has been sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, with an initial response expected by mid-May. She recounted that the capital subcommittee of the Advisory Committee, chaired by Carla Benka, had recommended against funding a feasibility study for Driscoll School. Actually, subcommittee members were unable to achieve a majority on any approach to the issue, a rare event.

However, the full Advisory Committee voted to recommend $1 million to town meeting, under Article 8, Section 25. Ms. Stone asked about the expected number of added classrooms. Dr. William Lupini, the superintendent, said four more classrooms are now expected in a new addition, plus two more classrooms from rearrangements inside current buildings. There is a separate project for Lawrence School pending under Article 7, which has also proved controversial. $1.5 million recommended for Lawrence by the Advisory Committee and Board of Selectmen supplements $2.5 million previously appropriated. The project builds an addition with four more standard-size classrooms. For details, see the warrant report for the 2014 annual town meeting.

For curriculum, Barbara Scotto described a pilot math program at Devotion School managed by the principal, Jennifer Flewelling, using four iPad computers per classroom. She also described new first-grade reading instruction that uses computers, managed by Jillian Starr at Devotion. Currently, she said, not enough computers are available, even for small groups. She described a “child study model” begun at Baker School, using “instructional intervention” in trying to avoid assigning students “who aren’t being successful in the classroom” to special education. The Web site for Public Schools of Brookline currently has nothing about the first two programs and mentions the third only in a 2012 improvement plan for Heath School, under the heading “educational equity.”

For government relations, Rebecca Stone characterized an Advisory Committee approach to a proposed new community relations commission, replacing the current human relations commission, as being “neutral on schools.” Reviews of Article 10 for the May town meeting, proposing the new commission, have turned complex and heated. The Advisory Committee’s approach does expect that the new commission would review hirings and promotions at all Brookline agencies, including schools, but it advocates cooperation rather than legal requirements to provide information to the commission.

For policy, Abby Cox reported on “community use of school buildings.” Those uses extend from child care and supplemental education to occasional meetings of organizations. Changes are being proposed, she said, in a “policy manual” regulating scheduling, fees, liability, safety, accessibility, special events and large gatherings. However, she did not describe any changes, and no such proposals could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline. Ann Turner of Toxteth St., representing Brookline’s extended day programs, spoke up during “public comment,” saying, “Waiting lists are getting longer.” She urged the committee to “work together to build trust, and make space available to after-school programs.”

Continuing policy reviews with larger issues of how schools educate students, Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, described a proposed new “strategic plan” for the school department. The current version was adopted by the committee in 2009. Only an “executive summary” of the 2009 plan could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline. The proposed new version changes the plan’s “vision,” “mission,” “core values” and “goals.” The proposals were flashed on a projector screen during the meeting, but they could not be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline.

Dr. Fischer-Mueller invited members of the School Committee to recite statements from the proposed new plan aloud. Although committee members went along, that extended ritual would surely have looked odd to veterans of School Committee meetings over the past several decades. Nothing similar comes to mind. The statements sounded ambitious and idealistic yet somewhat vague. Proposed titles of “core values” remain the same as in 2009, while some of the revised “goals” seemed less specific. Discussion followed over how performance could be measured against goals. New committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said, “The system is not captive to MCAS scores.” New vice chair Barbara Scotto went farther, saying, “I’m not sure I want to live in a society where everything is measured.”

Test scores: With Deborah Holman, the Brookline High School headmaster, and Harold “Hal” Mason, the assistant headmaster, presenting, the committee reviewed a “competency determination report” for the High School. Ms. Holman came to Brookline High from Newton North two years ago, replacing Dr. Robert “Bob” Weintraub, who left to become a professor of practice at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Mr. Mason, an English teacher, came to Brookline High from the New York City High School of Art and Design five years ago.

Ms. Ditkoff’s outlook notwithstanding, the “competency determination report” appeared entirely based on the state’s standardized tests. They have functioned in graduation requirements since 2001. No other “competency” was mentioned in the report–notably none involving practical and prized skills such as organizing, selling, inventing, managing, debating, report writing, estimating, translating, complex problem solving, community awareness, music, art and mechanical design. School Committee members had copies of the report at the meeting, but no such reports for any year could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline.

“Competency determination” is required for public school students by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education under state regulations inspired by the Education Reform Act of 1993. The format of the report being reviewed by the committee is unique to Brookline schools and was developed during the Lupini administration. Copies of the recent document were made available to reporters. It can be obtained on request to Beth McDonald, Administration and Finance administrative assistant, at the school department offices in Town Hall, 617-730-2425.

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests produce “scaled scores” ranging from 200 to 280 and rankings named “advanced,” “proficient,” “needs improvement” and “warning/failure.” Students scoring in one of the upper three ranks on English language, math and at least one of the four science tests meet the state’s graduation requirements. The Brookline “competency determination report” focused on students scoring in the top two ranks. Those students need not be evaluated individually by Public Schools of Brookline, to prepare “educational proficiency plans” in the subjects of tests at issue.

The latest “competency determination report” compares groups of Brookline High School students identified as “white”, “Hispanic” “Asian,” “African-American” and “multirace.” In past years, High School administrators maintained internal reports also comparing METCO students and students living in Brookline public housing. The latter groups were not mentioned in the latest report, which surveys the most recent four years. The report did not compare Brookline High with any other high school in the state or compare MCAS with any other tests–such as the National Assessment of Education Progress, whose 12th-grade results for last year were recently announced.

Overall, MCAS test rankings for Brookline High School students have been strong and rising. For English language, 89 percent of those tested were in the top two ranks in 2010, rising to 98 percent in 2013. For math, results increased from 91 percent in 2010 to 93 percent in 2013. For science, results increased from 81 percent in 2010 to 87 percent in 2013. The report offered no breakdowns by science subject.

Mr. Mason told the committee that all this year’s seniors received high enough scores to graduate. However, some encountered problems and had to participate in retests. The report mentions problems for students with “limited English proficiency.” According to Ms. Holman and Mr. Mason, the high school has many students coming from foreign countries and many speaking languages other than English at home. The report mentions tutoring offered to low-scoring students.

The report shows percentages of “Hispanic” students in the top two scoring ranks increasing in English and math–approaching those for the total student body. However, a substantial gap remains in science. For “African-American” students, trends in English are also rising, but more slowly. For math and science, the most recent year saw a substantial drop in “African-American” students scoring in the top two ranks–from around 80 percent to around 60 percent in math and from around 50 percent to around 40 percent in science.

Bhs10thGradeMathMcas2010to2013

Source: Brookline High School, MCAS Competency Determination, 2013-2014

Questions from School Committee members focused on declines for “African-American” students in science and math rankings, which Ms. Stone described as “breathtaking.” Ms. Holman and Mr. Mason did not offer clear explanations. Ms. Holman said it was partly a “surprise” and there had been lapses in “tracking” student progress. They and Dr. Lupini committed to more frequent reviews. Possibly that also means more counseling and tutoring, but if so no one spoke about it.

Instruction and assessment came across as main interests of the committee, including “calculus for Latino and African-American students,” but motivation was hardly mentioned. In particular, no one spoke to the obvious: that transition to a new headmaster might have some effects. “Dr. Bob,” as he was often called, was famous for knowing nearly all students and staff by name and taking keen interest in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. If those shoes can be filled, that is not likely to happen overnight.

Surprisingly, committee members did not ask about the fraction of school resources diverted into coaching for tests in mainstream classes and into test-oriented counseling, planning and tutoring. They also asked few questions about testing students with learning disabilities, including ones in special education programs. In past years, these have been controversial topics.

New testing regime: Dr. Lupini mentioned he is to make a decision before July about whether to adopt new PARCC tests as a base of assessment, instead of MCAS. They are oriented to the so-called “Common Core” curriculum being promoted by the U.S. Department of Education, under the Obama administration. The state’s education department has said it will not change to PARCC before 2018.

PARCC looks high-risk for Brookline–partly because of a very complex and fast changing curriculum, partly because of differences in test administration. MCAS uses conventional, paper-and-pencil tests. PARCC is electronic and uses interactive computer software.

A more drastic difference is that PARCC tests have been strictly timed. MCAS began as a timed test but offered “accommodations” to students with learning disabilities. For practical purposes, it evolved into an untimed test. Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages.

Tests are usually couched in dialects that tend not to match those of foreign-language and low-income home and community settings. With enough time to understand questions, students from those backgrounds often do better. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. Because many are Latino or African-American, some critics have protested the practice as racial discrimination.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2014


Correction, May 15, 2014. Sentence added about Advisory subcommittee position on funding for Driscoll, a rare instance when a subcommittee reported no recommendation.


Bella Travaglini, Panel raises questions on PARCC, Boston Globe, April 12, 2014

David B. Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education, Harvard University Press, 1974

Board of Selectmen: school building, Marathon, development, licenses

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 8, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. As usual, the board heard from department staff and organizations. It had also scheduled two license hearings concerning alcohol sales to underage customers.

Announcements: The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance will hold a candidate’s night for town-wide offices Wednesday, April 16, starting at 6:30 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. Gillian Jackson from Brookline Commission for the Arts described plans for spring, leading up to the year’s Coolidge Corner Arts Festival scheduled for June 7. See ArtsBrookline.

Devotion School project: The Building Commission got approval to apply to the state’s inspector general for authorization to use a Chapter 149A design-build process when renovating Devotion School. In that approach, a general contractor is engaged before there is a completed design on which to bid. Members of the board seemed unaware of the town’s disastrous experience with a loosely controlled process when starting a new Pierce School in the late 1960s. Years of repairs and corrections followed, costing millions of dollars in today’s money. In the early 1970s, Brookline revised its standards for conducting town projects, and there has been no such disaster since.

Marathon Day: Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, described plans for Marathon Day: Monday, April 21. Beacon Street from Cleveland Circle to Audubon Circle will have no automobile traffic or crossings from about 9 am to 6 pm. He didn’t mention whether the Bowker Overpass near Kenmore Square will be open. Team Brookline leaders said they had raised about $200 thousand in recent weeks for 2014 Marathon Day activities.

Hancock Village 40B development: Alison Steinfeld, the town’s planning director, got authorization for a consulting contract to review the latest proposal for a Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village in South Brookline. That plan for 192 apartments, started in process last fall with the state’s Housing Appeals Committee, is much smaller than one for more than 400 apartments floated several years ago, but it would still be a major impact on the neighborhood and could also further overload Baker School.

Hotel at former Red Cab site: The Economic Development Advisory Board and Kara Brewton, the town’s economic development director, announced agreement with Claremont Companies for improvements to public property near the long vacant former site of Red Cab at 111 Boylston St. Claremont, of Bridgewater, MA, proposes a 130-room hotel. It would be a little more than half the size of Brookline’s largest: Holiday Inn on Beacon St. The Davis Path pedestrian overpass would be renovated. Redevelopment has languished for about a decade as one after another plan fell through or attracted strong neighborhood opposition. Plans began with up to 5 stories of offices and more recently saw a 3-story office building proposed by GLC Development Resources.

Clark Road reconstruction, Quezalguaque: Peter Ditto, the town’s engineering director, got approval for a $176 thousand Chapter 90 project to reconstruct Clark Road this coming summer. With a $5,000 contribution from Brookline Rotary, the fund to provide an ambulance for Brookline’s “sister city” Quezalguaque, Nicaragua is finally nearing its goal. That will only be enough to buy and outfit a used van. Surprisingly, no board member contrasted how rapidly money had been raised for a sports event, just a moment in time, as compared with a long-term humanitarian project.

Liquor license violations: Deborah Hansen, owner of Taberna de Haro on Beacon St. at St. Mary’s St., appeared for a hearing about the sale of alcohol to an underaged customer, lack of supervision and other complaints. She explained that on an icy day this past winter neither she nor the manager of alcohol sales made it to the restaurant before opening time, and the bartender had made mistakes. That bartender has been dismissed, she said. Richard Garver, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, spoke in her support and said she had the support of the other town meeting members. The board was not unanimous on this matter, as it often is; Nancy Daly and Richard Benka dissented on some items but did not explain why. With no previous history of violations, Ms. Hansen received a 3-day conditional suspension, to be held for a year and cancelled if there are no more violations.

Liquor license violations: David Brilliant, owner of the former Mission Cantina just across Beacon St. from Taberna de Haro, appeared for a hearing about the sale of alcohol to an underaged customer and about operating under an expired license, apparently shortly before the restaurant closed. He admitted to the violations and apologized. With no previous violations, he also received a 3-day conditional suspension, but his license was ordered to be permanently terminated if not transferred or properly reactivated within six months.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 9, 2014


Nicholas J. Brunick and Patrick O. Maier, Renewing the land of opportunity, Journal of Affordable Housing 19(2):161-190, 2010