Category Archives: Projects

town and private projects

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