Category Archives: Traffic

Brookline traffic and streets

State transportation project: Carlton St. footbridge

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

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

Site of the Carlton St. footbridge, 1887

MuddyRiverFensFootbridgeSite
Source: National Park Service

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

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

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

Carlton St. footbridge, c. 1896

CarltonStreetBridge1896Mono
Source: Public Library of Brookline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Transportation project funding, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, 2015

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

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

Minutes, Brookline Preservation Commission, April 12, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge to nowhere, Carlton Street Footbridge, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Registered marijuana dispensary regulations, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 21, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board heard from applicants for permits and from petitioners for town meeting articles. It began with the several-years tradition of “announcements” from departing board member Betsy DeWitt. Key among them this week was celebration of a new landmark.

Landmarks: Ms. DeWitt, who has a longstanding interest in Brookline history, announced that a Brookline site had recently been named a national historic landmark, the town’s fourth. It is the Brookline Reservoir–located along the former Worcester Turnpike, now Boylston St. and MA Route 9, between Lee and Warren Sts.–along with the 14-mile Cochituate Aqueduct, connecting it with man-made Lake Cochituate in Natick.

The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct were the first major expansion of the Boston-area water works, which later came to include the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the Fisher Hill Reservoir. The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct are the earliest intact example of a reliable, metropolitan water system for a major U.S. city. They operated in full service from 1848 through 1951.

In mid-nineteenth century, when the aqueduct and reservoir were built, Boston-to-be was a conglomerate of a growing small city and nearby towns–including Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury and West Roxbury, which included Jamaica Plain after 1850. Between 1868 and 1873, these towns agreed to merge with Boston. An 1873 Brookline town meeting refused to join, putting an end to Boston expansion except for Hyde Park in 1912. The aqueduct and reservoir remained key elements of the city’s water supply until the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir, during the Great Depression, and of the Hultman Aqueduct, in the 1940s.

Two of Brookline’s three older national landmarks are well known: the birthplace of former Pres. Kennedy, at 83 Beals St., and the former home of Frederick Olmsted, Sr., the pioneering landscape architect, at 99 Warren St. For some obscure reason, Ms. DeWitt would not describe the other landmark site.

The third older landmark is the former residence of George R. Minot (1885-1950) of Harvard Medical School, for whom the Minot Rose Garden on St. Paul St. was named. Anyone with Internet access can easily locate the site at 71 Sears Rd., now occupied by unrelated private owners. Prof. Minot became the first winner of a Nobel prize to live in Brookline.

In the mid-1920s, Prof. Minot, George H. Whipple of the University of California Medical School and William P. Murphy of Harvard Medical School found that Addison’s disease, a fatal condition then called pernicious anemia, was associated with a dietary factor. They discovered it could often be controlled by adding a water-soluble extract from liver to the diet. The three were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for 1934. In the late 1940s, the active dietary substance was isolated; it is cobalamin, also known as vitamin B-12.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board approved $0.08 million in contract additions for storm-sewer repairs with Beta Group of Norwood, also the town’s consultant for storm-water issues during review of a proposed Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village. The contract is part of a continuing program to reduce infiltration and leakage. This year’s repairs affect Addington Rd., Summit Ave. and Winchester St. Peter Ditto, the director of engineering, said he expects the state to reimburse about 45 percent of the cost.

Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to hire an associate town counsel. The position became available after promotion of Patricia Correa to first assistant town counsel. Members of the board expressed appreciation for Ms. Correa, one of the few Brookline senior municipal staff fluent in Spanish. Ms. Murphy said she would be searching for expertise in construction and school law. Ken Goldstein, the board’s outgoing chair, omitted the usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, presented a plan for improving the Olmsted park system shared with Boston, also called the “emerald necklace.” It is partly based on a survey of over 7,000 trees in about 1,000 acres of park land. Board member Nancy Daly asked what the plan would cost to implement. Ms. Gallentine estimated about $7.5 million for the total plan and $0.5 million for the Brookline portion, spread over several years.

Ms. Gallentine expects private fund-raising to cover a substantial part of costs. The board voted to approve an agreement with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy of Boston to begin work. The board has not published a statement of the work to be performed, which is supposed to become Exhibit A of the agreement, or evidence of insurance from the conservancy, which is supposed to become Exhibit B.

Permits and licenses: Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and proposed as manager of Genki Ya restaurant, at 398 Harvard St., asked to transfer licenses held by the current manager. This had been continued from February 17, when Mr. Chen was not able to answer some of the board’s questions. Since then, he also applied for outdoor seating. This time he appeared well prepared. The board approved all five licenses requested. Board records continue to contain misspellings of names.

Andrew Gordon of Boston applied for a permit to operate an open-air parking lot at 295 Rawson Rd. The parking lot for 20 cars was created in 1977 under a special zoning permit. Located below Claflin Path and behind houses on Rawson Rd, it has access to Rawson Rd. through an easement between two houses. Mr. Gordon has agreed to buy it from the current owner.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, had sent a memorandum saying the department “was not aware of any problems,” but neighbors and abutters said that they certainly were. About 20 of them came to the hearing, and several spoke. They described problems with access and snow clearance. This past winter, they said, problems became extreme, with access to the lot dangerous or blocked for weeks.

The current license, through June 30, requires the operator to “keep the entrance and parking spaces passable and clear of excess snow at all times.” Neighbors also objected to parkers using Claflin Path, a private way, for access to the lot. Board member Neil Wishinsky said that might constitute trespassing and said owners of Claflin Path might consider a fence. It was not clear whether a “doctrine of adverse possession” might apply.

Others described the lot as currently “striped for 30 cars.” Communications from the building and planning departments did not reflect knowledge of conditions. Through a spokesman, Mr. Gordon agreed to observe the 20-car capacity. With uncertainty over conditions, the board decided to continue the hearing on April 28.

Town meeting controversy: The board reviewed several articles for the annual town meeting starting May 26 and voted recommendations on some, including Article 9, which would make elected federal and state officials living in Brookline automatic members of town meeting. The Advisory Committee considered the article April 14 and voted unanimously to oppose it.

Town meetings are the legislative bodies of towns. In larger towns with representative town meetings, town meeting members are elected to represent voters, mostly on local issues. Holders of elected federal and state offices represent voters on different issues. U.S. senators and representatives–as well as the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and so on–are mostly elected by voters living somewhere other than in one particular town.

None of that seemed to matter to members of the Board of Selectmen, who spoke in terms of social relations and potential influence with officials who might qualify as Brookline town meeting members. They voted to support the article. Such thinking has long been common among members of the board, but over the years town meeting members have seen things differently, voting to trim back the number of automatic town meeting members.

Board members voted to support Article 10, excluding from living wage coverage some seasonal jobs in the recreation department but keeping a one-dollar premium over minimum wages. Disagreement with the Advisory Committee remains over which jobs would continue to be covered by Brookline’s living wage bylaw. As nearly everyone expected, board members voted to support Article 11, proposing a Crowninshield local historic district.

After a skeptical review by an Advisory subcommittee, petitioners for Article 17, a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects, agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board. An approach of further review now has support from both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, which takes up the article again April 23.

Article 18 proposes a resolution seeking a study of acquiring Hancock Village buffers, mostly behind houses on Beverly and Russett Rds., for park and recreation purposes. Members of the board expressed concern over involvement in lawsuits against Hancock Village owners over a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. Voting on a motion to support Article 18, Ken Goldstein, the chair, and board members Nancy Daly and Neil Wishinsky abstained. The motion failed for lack of a voting majority, leaving the Board of Selectmen taking no position on this article.

No Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposes a resolution against Olympic games in Boston. urging officials who represent Brookline to reject the proposal for 2024 Olympics. Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, spoke for the article. He is co-chair of a group called No Boston Olympics working to defeat the proposal. The City Council of Cambridge has already passed a resolution similar to Article 19.

In his efforts, Mr. Dempsey has associated with Liam Kerr, a leader in an educationally extremist campaign known as Democrats for Education Reform–nationally typified by performances of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Demonstrating the durability of gross ignorance, that group maintains, “Standardized tests have shined a light on the real quality of education.”

Olympics opponents point to $50 billion for the Olympics in Japan–largely at government expense. They argue that a Boston Olympics would bleed state and local governments and usurp public roads and property for weeks to years. Some members of the Board of Selectmen appeared uninformed and wary of the issue, but Nancy Daly said, “I’m against the Olympics.” No representatives of the pressure group pushing for the Olympics showed up, and the board decided to reach out to them and defer voting a recommendation on the article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 22, 2015


Ellen Ishkanian, Brookline Reservoir and gatehouse named national historic landmark, Boston Globe, April 16, 2015

William P. Marchione, Brookline’s 1873 rejection of Boston, Brighton-Allston Historical Society, c. 2000

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

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

Adam Vaccaro, They just don’t want the Olympics, Boston Globe, April 2, 2015. A rambling, chatty account bloated with gossip.

Zeninjor Enwemeka, After WBUR poll, Boston 2024 says it won’t move forward without majority public support, WBUR (Boston, MA), March 23, 2015

Dan Primack, Chris Dempsey leaves Bain & Co., as Boston Olympics battle rages on, Fortune, March 20, 2015

Gintautas Dumcius, Deval Patrick will get $7,500 per day for Boston 2024 Olympics work, Springfield (MA) Republican, March 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

House21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

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

FourDeck21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary

A regular meeting of the Licensing Review Committee on Thursday, January 29, started at 8:30 am in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. This committee considers licensing policy and new types of licensing. The agenda was initial review of the proposed form of license for a registered marijuana dispensary. Patricia Corea, associate town counsel, is a member of the committee and described the proposed license conditions and the proposed form of a license application.

In addition to committee members, attending this meeting were Alan Balsam, the health director, Kara Brewton, the economic development director, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, Polly Selkoe and Lara Curtis Hayes of the Planning Department, Supt. Mark Moran and Lt. Philip Harrington of the Police Department and one member of the public. The town departments had presented their reviews at a previous meeting held on December 11.

Business plans: New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes operating from the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. The company is also planning a dispensary in Northampton and a production facility in Franklin. Present for the company were Mr. Vered, Norton Arbelaez, a lawyer, Amanda Rossitano and Jim Segel, a lawyer and a former state representative from Brookline. Mr. Arbelaez said the company hopes to open its production facility in March and be in full operation by fall.

The company is being reviewed for state certification. The Department of Public Health would act as primary regulator for the strength and purity of products. According to Mr. Vered, most sales are expected to be oil-based liquids, not solid or smokable marijuana. If the company receives state and local licenses, it will also need a special permit under Brookline zoning enacted in November, 2013, and maintained without change at the 2014 fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen issued regulations for a registered marijuana dispensary last year.

Brookline requirements: Mr. Arbelaez, representing NETA, questioned a proposed requirement to report racial and income information about customers. He said the company would not have the information. Asking for it could be an invasion of privacy. Dr. Balsam of the Health Department said his department’s intents were to keep track of how many customers received health-care subsidies and to check for potential discrimination. There was no apparent resolution of the issues at this meeting.

Mr. Arbelaez questioned proposed requirements to avoid “illegal” conduct, noting that marijuana distribution is expected to remain illegal under federal law, even if the federal government does not enforce the law against a state-regulated operation. The committee agreed to modify the requirements. Mr. Arbelaez also questioned requirements not to create “nuisance conditions” from illegal parking, littering and other activities–noting lack of control over activities outside the place of business.

Kenneth Goldstein, a committee member and chair of the Board of Selectmen, explained that proposed requirements were modeled after other town licensing and that the Board of Selectmen, as the licensing authority, understood practical circumstances and could not be “arbitrary or capricious.” Mr. Arbelaez noted that the company had submitted a “transportation demand management” plan, intended to reduce traffic problems.

There was an extended discussion of home delivery. The state is requiring that home delivery be available, but Mr. Vered maintained that while it might reduce traffic issues, home delivery was probably less secure than a well protected and highly visible business location. Police representatives indicated that they preferred deliveries be made from NETA’s production facility. Mr. Vered said that was also the company’s preference.

The proposed license application includes financial information about Brookline operations. Mr. Arbelaez noted that the information would not meaningfully reflect the company’s operations, since over 80 percent of its costs were expected to be incurred in production, not distribution. The committee agreed that audited financial statements, already required as public information, would suffice. It will hold another review in mid-February.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 29, 2015


Registered marijuana dispensary regulations, Town of Brookline, MA, 2014

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

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

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, January 22, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda was a two-family conversion on Babcock St. and the board’s formal review of plans for Brookline Place redevelopment, being proposed by Children’s Hospital, the property owner. Lara Curtis Hayes, a senior planner in the Department of Planning and Community Development, and Polly Selkoe, the assistant director for regulatory planning, presented the cases.

Children’s Hospital was represented by Charles Weinstein, vice president for planning and development, by Sam Norod and Tim Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects, by Mikyoung Kim of Mikyoung Kim Design, landscape architects, by Skye Levin of Howard/Stein-Hudson, traffic engineers, and by George Cole of Stantec Consulting. Developers for Brookline Place had held a series of six meetings over last summer and fall with a design advisory team appointed by the Planning Board, including board member Mark Zarillo and Linda Hamlin, the board’s chair.

Members of the public–only four–were outnumbered by developer representatives and Brookline staff, including Kara Brewton, the economic development director. Rather than indicating lack of interest, slim attendance more likely reflected satisfaction with the project and its designs, negotiated with public input and participation.

BrooklinePlaceAerialFromNw20141212

Source: Town of Brookline, MA, from Children’s Hospital

Building a plan: The rendering shown is an aerial perspective from around 2,000 feet above Town Hall on Washington St. showing the Brook House in the background and the existing 10 Brookline Place, formerly Hearthstone Plaza, to the right. The 2-story former Water Department near Brookline Ave.–now an early-education and day-care center–is hidden in this view by offices at 1 Brookline Place.

While the main outlines of the project had been explained to town meeting last May, when it approved zoning changes, the building shapes and appearances and the landscaping developed during extended reviews. Plans call for removing two low-rise structures now at 2 Brookline Place and the adjacent 4 Brookline Place, replacing them with an 8-story office tower, and adding a 6-story wing, toward Washington St., to the existing two wings of 6-story offices at 1 Brookline Place. A 3-story garage is to be replaced by a larger, 5-story garage.

Current plans most nearly reflect a “boulevard concept” presented last summer. They feature a lawn across Pearl St. from the MBTA Green Line stop and many other landscaping elements. At the most recent meeting of the Transportation Board, those board members generally seemed to favor leaving views of the lawn unobstructed from Brookline Village by moving a taxi stand across the street, beside the Green Line stop.

Planning a building: Planning Board members took note of public improvements to be funded by Children’s Hospital under a development agreement with Brookline. They include removal of a long-disused pedestrian overpass across Route 9, built about 40 years ago and closed up after it harbored muggings and vandalism. Funds are to be contributed for street reconfigurations and improvements, including a traffic signal at Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. and signal coordination for Route 9 and nearby streets.

Planning Board members seemed as interested as Transportation Board members had been in traffic issues, but they were not able to make much headway during a meeting filled with other concerns. Ms. Hamlin noted that so far there had been little involvement by Station St. business operators, on the other side of the MBTA stop. The Planning Board is to revisit those issues soon, perhaps at its next meeting.

Screening along the Pearl St. face of the new garage and on the face adjacent to the lawn attracted interest. Mr. Norod, the architect, said that designs were preliminary and might change. The “framing” along Pearl St. and the “staircase” pattern adjacent to the lawn, he said, are intended to be “visually interesting.” The paths across the property will be open to the public and will be maintained by the building owner. The ground floor of the 8-story tower will house restaurants and retail shops.

Not shown in the rendering are large signs proposed for the roof of the 8-story tower and in other places, advertising Children’s Hospital. They were on the agenda to be considered for special zoning permits. Other permits are needed for parking, setbacks and projecting signage and for design review of a major-impact development. Participation by the design advisory team was an element of design review. Jonathan Simpson, a Planning Board member, asked about shadow studies. Ms. Kim said some studies had been done, but she spoke only about shadows inside the Brookline Place property and showed no studies at the meeting.

According to Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Norod, Children’s plans to develop in stages: first removing the low-rise buildings at and near 2 Brookline Place, then putting up 3-level, outdoor automobile stackers there to house vehicles temporarily that now use the current garage. Afterward, the current garage is to be removed and the new one built, and finally the new 8-story office tower at 2 Brookline Place and 6-story wing at 1 Brookline Place will go up. The Planning Board recommended approval of permits to the Zoning Board of Appeals but is seeking conditions, including review by Planning of final designs.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 23, 2015


Two Brookline Place / Children’s Hospital, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2015

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

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

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

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

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, December 1, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Like most previous sessions, it took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. At this session, the board did not invite or hear comments from the public.

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

Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin, by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs and by landscape architect Joseph Geller of Stantec Consulting in Boston, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

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

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

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

According to Mr. Ford, commitments by the developer to install sprinklers in all the new buildings will help. Asked about safety in existing Hancock Village buildings, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said Brookline could not require changes unless those buildings were directly involved in a major construction or renovation project. Simply being adjacent to a major development would not trigger reviews.

Parking: Board members Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book continued to object to 323 new parking spaces, proposed at the previous session, as “excessive.” Mr. Hussey continued to favor an average of 1.5 new parking spaces per new apartment in the area to be accessed via Asheville Rd. He said that would reduce new parking by 21 spaces.

Mr. Book sought to apply the 1.5 ratio to the entire project. He said that would reduce new parking by 57 spaces. Speaking for the developer, Mr. Geller of Stantec objected that reducing on-site parking would impact nearby neighborhoods, saying, “Cars will find other places to go.” Mr. Levin continued to object that providing less new parking than anticipated new demand could compromise the project. He said board members did not seem to have considered about 25 spaces to be reserved for visitors and about 15 spaces for disability access.

Mr. Levin said parking appropriate in urban Brookline, with its Green Line rapid transit, did not suit the suburban areas around Hancock Village. Mr. Schwartz said the proposed amount of new parking was in line with Brookline’s zoning requirements. (It was actually somewhat less.) He recalled that a town meeting last year had considered reducing zoning standards for parking but rejected the proposal.

Negotiations ensued among Appeals board members and between them and the developer’s representatives. During the discussion, Mr. Hussey again voiced resistance to retaining any of the fourth floor of apartments in the proposed large building, but then he backed away, saying, “My brothers have squeezed me in.” Mr. Book continued to press for reduction of new parking by more than 21 spaces.

Making a deal: After about an hour and a half of discussion, Mr. Book proposed a further reduction of 10 more spaces, beyond the 21 sought by Mr. Hussey, with a condition that those spaces could be included in the project if the developer obtained full access to VFW Parkway. After a few minutes more discussion, the developer’s representatives agreed to that change.

Mr. Schwartz said Chestnut Hill Realty would return to the next session with a full plan for 12 new buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 292 new parking spaces. This session of the Appeals hearing gave no consideration to numbers of new residents or potential impacts on town services–particularly 200 or more added students atttending Brookline schools.

With a recently reported 824 students, the nearby Baker School now has the largest population of Brookline’s elementary schools and is well beyond rated capacity. Brookline has no plan to cope with 200 or more added students coming from Hancock Village. Among its few obvious options might be a major addition to Baker School or some use of the former Baldwin School or its ten unrestricted acres of grounds on Heath St. at Woodland Rd.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 2, 2014


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

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

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

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, November 24, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. An audience of around 20 came to this session, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Best and final plan: The developer presented what appeared to be a best and final plan. As compared to the plan of November 12, it removes three units from the fourth floor of apartments of the proposed large apartment building, making it look like a somewhat bulky 3-story building when viewed from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. As revised, the large building would have 99 apartments.

The total proposed development becomes one large and eleven smaller buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 323 new parking spaces. There are no longer any lofts. Board member Christopher Hussey, an architect, repeated his previous objections to the amount of new parking. Grouping the large building with two smaller ones at the southeast extreme of the development, Mr. Hussey counted 209 parking spaces and 125 apartments to be reached via Asheville Rd.

Too much development: Mr. Hussey said that the amount of new development was too much to be accessed by Asheville Rd., but he did not compare it with the current site. Around 65 of the Hancock Village apartments built in the 1940s are now usually reached via Asheville Rd. The plan presented at the Monday session would nearly triple that number of dwellings and would more than triple the number of parking spaces serving them.

Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, cited an informal study presented to a 2010 town meeting, estimating that Hancock Village has about 1.1 parking spaces per apartment. [Article explanations, November 16, 2010, town meeting, p. 20] He called the proposed ratio of 2.0 for new development excessive, saying it will increase costs and reduce open space. The Appeals board, he said, should set a maximum on parking spaces as a permit condition.

Street and fire safety: Ben Franco, a member of the Board of Selectmen, recalled testimony at the previous session by Paul Ford, the fire chief, saying the development will “exacerbate emergency response problems.” According to Maria Morelli, the Planning Department’s consultant for the project, Mr. Ford will be sending in a written evaluation. Deborah Kilday, an Ogden Rd. resident, said current traffic on the streets crossed by Asheville Rd. was already a major hazard. She said children “can’t walk to school safely on a normal day.”

Precinct 16 town meeting member Scott Gladstone, a neighbor of the proposed development who lives on Russett Rd., contended that adequate traffic and fire safety for the dense, southeast part of the project will need street access from VFW Parkway, which runs along the south side of Hancock Village. Several nearby Brookline streets laid out in the 1930s intersect VFW Parkway, including South St. and Bonad and Russett Rds.

Only South St. has two-way access. The others connect with westbound lanes of the parkway, going toward Dedham, which would be favorable for Brookline fire trucks. The developer would likely encounter resistance trying to get approval for a street connection. VFW Parkway was formerly a segment of U.S. Route 1, although the highway designation was discontinued toward the end of the last Dukakis administration. The parkway is now under supervision of the highway-hostile Department of Conservation and Recreation. The incoming Baker administration might make some changes to this insular agency.

With no one else wanting to comment after about a half hour, the board engaged in discussion for the next hour and a half. Much discussion this time concerned parking and traffic. Their legal counsel, Ms. Netter and Ms. Murphy, advised the board that school crowding and loads on other public services were not eligible concerns with a 40B project but safety issues were. A discussion about street and fire safety ensued.

Parking standards: Board chair Jesse Geller objected to “arbitrary” standards for parking. Board members had trouble recalling the development of Brookline’s zoning requirements but were aware that minimum parking had been increased since residential parking was first required in 1949, with 1.0 spaces per apartment in 1964.

By 1980, Brookline parking requirements varied according to type of zone, with 1.3 spaces per apartment for the M-0.5 zone of Hancock Village. In 2000, town meeting made parking requirements nearly uniform across types of zones, raising them to 2.0 spaces per dwelling unit in most cases. In multiple-apartment zones, like Hancock Village, 2.3 spaces per apartment were required for 3-bedroom and larger apartments. Recent town meetings rejected reducing the parking standards (Article 10 at the November 16, 2010, town meeting, referred to a study committee, and Article 10 at the November 19, 2013, town meeting, defeated).

Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty claimed that the current project plan follows Brookline zoning requirements for parking, but it clearly does not. The plan includes about 45 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom units. Zoning would require about 15 more parking spaces than the plan presented November 24, calling for 369 spaces. Mr. Hussey’s interest in less parking is not supported by access to rapid transit, like recent projects around Brookline Village and recent proposals along Beacon St.

Shrinking a project: The latest plan, at 161 apartments, is significantly smaller than the original proposal for 192 apartments about a year ago. That, in turn, was far smaller than a plan for 466 units described in 2010 but never taken through the 40B permitting process. Since 2010, Edward Zuker, head of Chestnut Hill Realty, has kept a distance, sending Mr. Levin to represent the firm’s interests in the current project.

Additional hearing sessions were scheduled for December 1, 8 and 15–also starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Mr. Levin committed to supply a set of detailed plans and descriptions by December 8. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said his department could review the plans for departures from zoning in a few days. The Appeals board is inviting the fire chief to return on December 1. The board is expected to settle its decision at the December 15 session.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 25, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

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

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Perry Stoll, Portable modular classrooms at Baker School, Driscoll Action, November 24, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 18, 2013

Andreae Downs, Housing plan would get major review, Boston Globe, October 6, 2010

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Wednesday, November 12, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin and by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Key topics for this session were construction safety and fire safety, drawing a large audience of around 70, including several town officials and staff. At the most recent session on November 3, the developer jousted with the board over numbers of units in the project and visibility of the top floor of a large building proposed at an extension of Asheville Rd.

Plan changes: At this session, the developer was widely expected to present a best and final plan. What Mr. Levin described, however, were two minor changes to the previous configuration. A smaller building near Beverly Rd. was reduced to four rather than eight units, but three units were added to the fourth floor of the large building, which was reconfigured with sloping sides to give the impression of a hat-shaped roof from a distance.

The board did not seem much impressed by these changes. They leave the large building and 11 smaller buildings totalling 165 dwelling units, 338 bedrooms and 331 parking spaces. In discussions near the end of the meeting, members asked the developer to return with plans such that the large building’s fourth floor, if retained, is not visible from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. The next session is November 24.

Blasting: Brookline brought in a consultant on blasting, Andrew McKown of Beverly, a registered civil engineer. The plan for the large building places it over an outcrop of Roxbury puddingstone, of which the developer proposes to excavate up to about 20 feet by blasting. Mr. McKown said that could be carried out safely but made recommendations, including a review of plans, a 400-foot survey zone and crack-age monitoring for nearby structures. Mr. Levin said Chestnut Hill Realty would accept the recommendations.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, reviewed fire safety concerns. He has already worked with the developer on roadway access for fire apparatus but remains concerned about the large building. Brookline does not have a ladder truck at a nearby station. The closest one, he said, is nearly four miles away. He said access from VFW Parkway, discussed at previous sessions, would be important for fire safety at the large building.

Robert Niso, a transportation consultant for the developer, would not commit to VFW Parkway access and claimed that the large building could be serviced by a ladder truck at a Boston station about a mile and a half away. Mr. Ford said the main issue was rapid response; Boston equipment would be called in only as backup. Brookline has not previously needed a ladder truck in the area because it currently has no tall buildings.

Opposition: The Appeals board opened the hearing to public comment, probably the last such opportunity, which went on for about an hour and a half. On September 16, the Board of Selectmen sent a letter opposing the project, and three of its members spoke up. Echoing the letter, board member Betsy DeWitt said, “The development is poorly conceived,” threatening the historic integrity of Hancock Village. Nancy Daly spoke to the need for fire access. Neil Wishinsky urged the Appeals board to challenge the developer’s assertions that reducing the large building to three floors of apartments would make the project infeasible.

James Batchelor, an architect who chairs the Preservation Commission, described development of Hancock Village in the 1940s. “It is historic,” he said. “The layout of the buildings and open space are carefully planned around the roadways. The current plan is turning that inside out.” Vehicles, he explained, “being fed in from the back…on small roads.” Emily England, a Bonad Rd. resident and president of Baker School PTO, agreed. “This is the worst year ever,” she said. “Cars are backed up ten and twenty on these little residential roads.”

Regulations: Precinct 16 town meeting members Stephen Chiumenti and William Pu reviewed the state’s comprehensive permit regulations for Chapter 40B projects, which were revised in 2008. They emphasized “local concerns” as decision criteria: “the need to protect the health or safety of the occupants of a proposed project or of the residents of the municipality, to protect the natural environment, to promote better site and building design in relation to the surroundings and municipal and regional planning, or to preserve open spaces.” [760 CMR 56.02]

A project application can be denied if the Appeals board shows that “local concerns” outweigh “housing need,” meaning “the regional need for low and moderate income housing considered with the number of low-income persons in the municipality affected.” [760 CMR 56.07] Mr. Chiumenti argued that Brookline has a relatively small number of such persons, most already living in publicly assisted housing. Mr. Pu argued that the developer is proposing to build on sites “needed to preserve open space…communal space in a natural setting.”

Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead represented several neighborhood residents at the Appeals session. “One area where towns have had success” in opposing 40B projects, he told the board, “is with respect to fire safety.” He urged the board to demand reductions in project scale and challenge resistance. “You can’t get there unless you ask for it,” he said. “You don’t get a second chance at it.”

Neighborhood concerns: Several neighbors of Hancock Village expressed concerns that blasting would damage gas or sewer pipes. William M. Varrell, III, of Asheville Rd., a structural engineer, described effects he had found during other construction projects. There are, he said, “utilities that go right through the parking lots,” but the project design “has ignored them.”

Alisa Jonas, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, seemed to express sentiments of the neighborhood, judging from the hearty applause. She told the board, “We feel that you are accommodating…an unworthy project…There is a beautiful green space…[It's] a breach of trust…I really would like you to think of us in the neighborhood…This is a ridiculous proposal!”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 13, 2014


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

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Important neighborhood meeting, South Brookline Neighborhood Association, January 9, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In an earlier session, closed to the public, the board had agreed on a contract with the Teamsters local representing the police and fire dispatchers. There were two major reports about ongoing issues. There were public comments, reviews and recommendations for ten of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18. An ambitious agenda produced a session lasting nearly until midnight.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 29, November 9 and December 4 at Baker and Devotion schools and at the Health Center. The first day for a winter farmers market in the Arcade Building at 318 Harvard St. is Sunday, November 2, starting at 2 pm.

On Wednesday, November 12, the Brookline Neighborhood Association and League of Women Voters host a forum for the November 18 town meeting. It begins at 7 pm in community television studios on the third floor at 46 Tappan St., the Unified Arts Building of Brookline High School. Topics are for Articles 8, 12, 13, 15 and 16: revising the disorderly conduct bylaw, restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and managing taxi medallions (that is, permanent licenses).

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the duration of a contract with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown for design of a road improvement project for lower Washington St. Planning began about nine years ago as part of a so-called “Gateway East” effort. Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to add $0.015 million to a masonry repair project at the Old Burying Ground on Walnut St., using funds already appropriated.

The board interviewed candidates for appointments: one for Tree Planting, one for Economic Development and one for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission. Twelve commissioners are authorized but none appointed yet, with some positions still awaiting applicants according to board member Nancy Daly. The board also decided to appoint a Noise Control Bylaw Committee, to be charged with proposing revisions to related town laws.

Projects, licenses and permits At the request of Ms. Gallentine and the Dukakis Recognition Committee, established in 2011 through a town meeting resolution, the board approved a plaque dedicating the Riverway Park to Brookline residents Michael and Kitty Dukakis, the former 3-term governor and his wife. It will be stationed near the Longwood stop on the D branch of the Green Line, where Mr. Dukakis often boards.

Hsiu-Lan Chang, who operates Fast Frame on Beacon St. in Washington Square, asked for permission to install a plaque on the Washington Sq. clock–a donation to the town about 20 years ago from Washington Sq. merchants–in honor of William T. Bonomi, a key supporter of efforts to install and maintain the clock. The board approved. A major maintenance effort is expected before year’s end by Electric Time of Medford, funded by area merchants.

The board reviewed and approved alternate managers for alcoholic beverage sales at two locations, temporary licenses for two events and a 10 am Sunday starting hour for alcoholic beverage sales at six locations. The last, according to board member Betsy DeWitt, is an obligation under a recent state law when a license-holder requests it.

Chen-Hui Chi of Chelmsford appeared to apply for a food vendor (take-out) license to continue operations for Hong Kong Cafe at 1391 Beacon St., which currently has a different owner. He was represented by a bilingual lawyer who translated the board’s questions to Chinese. The board wanted to make sure the applicant understood that the license did not authorize table service. Board members were satisfied and approved.

Managers of Herb Chambers appeared for continued review of an inflammables permit for the Audi dealership at 308 Boylston St. A review on August 29 had left several matters to be settled. As before, the organization was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Mr. Allen told the board that the waste oil storage tank had been moved to a different location and would no longer be serviced via East Milton Rd., a previous source of neighborhood opposition. He said former underground tanks have been removed. KPA Environmental and Safety of Colorado is now overseeing environmental compliance. Mark Jefferson, deputy chief of the Fire Department, confirmed the progress but said the new tank installation was not finished. This time, despite some neighborhood objections, the board was satisfied that Herb Chambers was on track for a safe workplace and granted an annually renewed permit.

Representatives of the VFW and American Legion post on Washington St. appeared again, seeking a club license for alcoholic beverages. They were represented by Roger Lipson, a Brookline-based lawyer and Precinct 14 town meeting member. The post held such a license from 1977 through 2010 but let it lapse by mistake, when a manager became ill. About two years ago, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, took over as post manager.

Mr. Hendrickson has been successful in building a clientele who use the post for events, including weddings and other celebrations, but this has caused friction with neighbors–evident at a previous hearing October 2 on the license application. This time, both Mr. Hendrickson and the board were more prepared. The board wanted some firm conditions on the license, to which Mr. Hendrickson agreed.

There will be police details for events with over 50 participants, and there will be four post members on hand for events: two for service and two for security. The club will not operate past 11 pm. Video cameras and sound meters have been installed and will be monitored during events. Doors near abutters will be used during events only for emergencies. The parking lot will be used only by caterers. With these and other conditions, the board approved a new club license for the post, to be reviewed annually.

Muddy River project: The board heard a report on the Muddy River Restoration Project from Thomas Brady, the conservation director, and Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. The project began after a major storm in October, 1996, flooded the Kenmore Sq. transit station and many houses and buildings in Brookline and Boston. A disastrous 1958 decision by the Hynes administration in Boston to divert the river into relatively small culverts is now being reversed by excavation and by construction of large channels under Park Drive and Brookline Avenue crossings, near the former Sears now called Landmark Center.

As Mr. Brady and Mr. Pappastergion explained, the current effort will correct only one blockage to river flow, although it is probably the worst one. A century-long buildup of silt and invasive plants obstructs many other parts of the riverway, from Ward’s Pond through the Fenway area. They said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, manager of the current project, is now willing to extend the project–provided it receives a Presidential order and Congressional funding.

Board member Ben Franco said the Muddy River project was what got him involved in town government. Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, urged pressure on Congress for funding. “If we don’t maintain this river,” she said, “it will continue to be a significant threat.” The board agreed to participate in a campaign of letters from Boston, Brookline and several organizations. They will send a letter to the President.

School construction: The board entertained a long report from Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani on the need for school construction. Mr. Modigliani felt that the needs were overstated, and he brought along a spreadsheet report trying to show why. According to his report, for kindergarten through eighth grade, the Brookline schools have, by different criteria, between about 600 and 850 unfilled seats. Class sizes this year range from 17 to 26 (Baker seventh grade).

As has become well known, while school enrollments rose over the past several years, so did class sizes. William Lupini, the school superintendent, made similar points in a presentation to the board on October 7. However, Dr. Lupini’s view appears to be that maintaining high-quality schools is going to take more space, perhaps another elementary school plus some kind of high-school expansion.

Mr. Modigliani, an architect, sought to discourage the board from supporting that approach, claiming that the unfilled seats in elementary schools will make more space unnecessary for at least several more years. However, he could not explain how to make use of the capacity, which is scattered through all eight schools and across all nine elementary grades, except by ordering students to transfer abruptly from one school to another.

Board members seemed skeptical. Betsy DeWitt pointed out that several current classrooms have been squeezed into small spaces, labeled “suboptimal.” Mr. Modigliani agreed that was possible but said he had not been able to inspect any of them. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, challenged Mr. Modigliani’s approach, saying it would force schools to split siblings between schools.

Board member Nancy Daly recalled events of years ago, saying, “My son was in a first grade of 27 kids. He didn’t learn how to read. That’s what catapulted me into town politics.” Mr. Modigliani seemed to focus on counting noses. The value of a seat in a classroom, he claimed, was about $100,000, but it turned out that he meant only costs of construction. He did not seem to have given much attention to the effects of increasing class sizes on the quality of teaching and learning.

Warrant articles: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 1, unpaid bills, since there are none. For Article 2, collective bargaining, the board voted to recommend approval of the collective bargaining agreements reached with police officers earlier and with dispatchers the same evening. For Article 3, budget amendments, the board voted to recommend the Advisory Committee’s plan to use about 60 percent of an additional $0.04 million in state aid for the new diversity department, as proposed by Advisory member Stanley Spiegel and agreed to by the School Committee.

The board voted to recommend approval of Article 7, bylaw amendments prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education. The board had worked through these topics last August 29 with the participation of citizen petitioners for the article.

As negotiated with the petitioner for Article 9, noise control bylaw amendments, the board voted to recommend referral to the Noise Control Bylaw Committee it will be appointing. For Article 10, commercial recycling, the board expressed support. However, board member Nancy Daly observed, “The business community is pretty unaware of this.” She asked petitioner Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, “Have you reached out to them?” Apparently unsatisfied with the answers, the board decided to wait for an analysis by the town administrator, Mel Kleckner, and did not vote a recommendation.

The board gave the petitioners for Article 12, restrictions on locating marijuana dispensaries, another big bite of the apple, after spending almost two hours on the topic at a previous meeting. Not much was new. The issues had been hashed over the previous evening, at a meeting of the Zoning Bylaw Committee. Once again, George Vien of Davis Ave. tried to scare board members with vague threats of federal prosecution.

Mr. Goldstein wasn’t buying any of that, saying, “I don’t think the federal government is going to hold the Board of Selectmen liable for voting no-action on a warrant article.” He then moved to recommend no action on Article 12. Board member Neil Wishinsky agreed, saying, “We can handle the concerns that people have through the licensing and appeals process.” The board voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

For Article 13, zoning appeals notices to town meeting members, the board also voted to recommend no action, after the Planning Department instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners. For resolution articles 18 and 19, support for domestic workers and opposition to a gas pipeline, the board voted to recommend approval, with amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee.

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


Jana Kasperkevic, Medical marijuana in New York: barriers high for small businesses, Manchester Guardian (UK), October 29, 2014

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

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

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

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries

The Zoning Bylaw Committee met to review proposed new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries Monday, October 27, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Article 12 for the November 18 town meeting proposes to exclude these facilities within five hundred feet of day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” The committee had held a public hearing on the article September 22.

Proponents: In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning amendments to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. The use requires a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, the property boundary must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property and the building may not contain a day-care center. Section 4.12 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw contains several other general restrictions and some procedural requirements.

Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and the other petitioners for Article 12 argue that those restrictions are not enough. They claim a basis for the specifics of their proposal in a regulation of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, presumably meaning 105 CMR 725, titled “Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.”

At the committee’s hearing and at several other recent meetings, Mr. Bennett claimed Brookline should have followed regulations from the state’s public health department–adding exclusion zones around day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” However, the petitioners for Article 12 quote selectively from state regulations.

Crumbling claims: The state regulation at issue, 105 CMR 725.110(A)(14), can be found in a section titled “Security Requirements.” It provides (in full):

“An RMD [registered marijuana dispensary] shall comply with all local requirements regarding siting, provided however that if no local requirements exist, an RMD shall not be sited within a radius of 50 feet [sic] of a school, daycare center or any facility in which children commonly congregate. The 500 foot distance [sic] under this section is measured in a straight line from the nearest point of the facility in question to the nearest point of the proposed RMD.”

The regulation is only a default. It applies “if no local requirements exist.” Last year, Brookline enacted its own local requirements in Section 4.12 of its zoning bylaw. The regulation does not apply to Brookline. Since it was the keystone of Mr. Bennett’s claims, they appear to crumble. He and the other petitioners for Article 12 are left with general arguments about “protecting children” but not with the hard-edged specifics such as a “radius of 50 feet” or a “500 foot distance.”

Opponents: The petitioners for Article 12 claimed that in Colorado half the prescriptions for medical marijuana had been written by a dozen physicians. One of the petitioners, Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St., showed how that might happen. Ironically, the statement from Dr. Childs, a physician, became an argument in opposition.

Dr. Childs said she, along with other physicians belonging to the practice groups of the major Boston medical centers, would refuse to prescribe marijuana. That is likely to leave a small number of independent physicians as sole resources for patients interested in treatment. As in Colorado, a small number of physicians is then likely to write a large fraction of prescriptions, because of rigid attitudes adopted by other physicians.

Eddie Benjamin of Brookline objected that petitioners for Article 12 wanted to ban marijuana dispensaries by leaving no place for one to locate. Maps prepared by the Planning Department confirmed that locations of parks, playgrounds and child-care facilities in Brookline were so numerous and widely dispersed that no part of a general business, office or industrial zone would remain as an eligible site.

New England Treatment Access (NETA), now headed by Arnon Vered of Swampscott, proposes to use the former Brookline Bank building at the intersection of Boylston and Washington Sts. Mr. Vered argued that it is one of the few suitable sites in Brookline: an isolated, single-use building in a general business zone, on a state highway with on-site parking, close to a transit stop on Station St.

According to Polly Selkoe, the assistant director of regulatory planning, the Brookline Bank location is an eligible site under current zoning, and NETA has filed a plot plan that freezes the zoning for its site. Under those conditions, even if town meeting were to pass Article 12 as submitted, NETA would be able to use the site as long as it began operations within three years from filing the plot plan.

Review: Committee members found claims advanced for Article 12 unconvincing. Linda Hamlin, who chairs the Planning Board, said there was “no evidence day cares are put in jeopardy.” Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the committee and the Board of Selectmen, said, “Voters in Brookline have spoken clearly…The bank is about as good a location as we could find in this town.” The committee voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 28, 2014


Marijuana dispensary zoning, currently allowed, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

Marijuana dispensary zoning, proposed Article 12, Town of Brookline, October, 2014

An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, St. 2012 C. 369, Massachusetts General Court, November, 2012 (enacted by voters through a ballot initiative)

Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, 105 CMR 725, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, May 24, 2013

Zoning bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

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

Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone

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

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

Route9BrooklineGasStation

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Development Advisory: skeptical about proposals

Two proposals for commercial development drew some skepticism from the Economic Development Advisory Board on Monday, October 6. An audience of over 30 gathered in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. Local business operator and real estate investor Raj Dhanda described the projects, each with its own set of architects and advisors.

Offices in Chestnut Hill: The more developed of the projects aims to place a four-story office building at 1180 Boylston, on the southeast corner where Hammond St. intersects Route 9. For many years, the site housed a large Exxon service station, now gone, diagonally opposite the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center. The proposed development would provide retail space on the first floor.

As described by Haril A. Pandya of CBT Architects, Boston, the structure would have about 36,000 sf of gross floor area for office space and 12,000 sf for retail space, with two levels of underground parking and around 50 spaces. Located on a plot of about 14,600 sf, that yields a floor area ratio of 3.3. For over 50 years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.0, general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.0.

Nearby commercial property is low-rise, mixed among a few older 3-decker houses. The proposed development would be far more dense. Brookline has only two types of zoning that could allow it: G-1.75(LSH), designed for the Marriott hotel site at 40 Webster St. in Coolidge Corner, and GMR-2.0, designed for the 2 Brookline Place site now under development by Children’s Hospital, near the intersection of Washington St. with Route 9. Economic Development Advisory was involved in both projects, whose planning and rezoning each took several years.

Unanswered questions: Board member Robert Sperber, who organized Economic Development Advisory over 20 years ago, asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, always the board’s prime concern. Astoundingly, Mr. Dhanda and his advisors said they had none. “It would be a lot,” one claimed. Board members asked about the prospective retail and office tenants and about traffic and environmental studies. Again, there were no clear answers. As to financial potential, Mr. Dhanda simply said, “It’s good.”

Board members Kenneth Lewis and Donald Warner questioned plans to site vehicle access on the heavily congested Hammond St. side. Mr. Lewis called the parking ratio “extreme,” only about one space per 1,000 sf. The offices might house more than 300 people but provide parking for fewer than 50. Mr. Panya of CBT said the area was “well served” by public transportation. MBTA bus 60, between Kenmore Sq. and Newton, stops about twice an hour on average. A station for the D branch of the Green Line is about four blocks away, with about 100 parking spaces. Pedestrian facilities are spartan. It is a suburban location, dominated by cars.

A 10-story hotel at Coolidge Corner: Mr. Dhanda next proposed to build a 10-story hotel at 1299 Beacon St., currently occupied by his lamp store, Neena’s. To the east is the one-story Brookline post office. To the west is the 1986, three-story Center Place office building, with Trader Joe’s on the ground floor. The proposed development would be self-contained, providing no retail, office or public spaces and no landscaping.

As described by Harold F. Wheeler of Group One Partners, architects in South Boston, the structure would house about 160 hotel rooms, 60 parking spaces on two underground levels, a lobby, a food service, meeting rooms, a small swimming pool and an exercise room. The plot has less than 60 ft of Beacon St. frontage, making the proposed building narrow, stretching over a current, small parking lot to Sewall Ave. in back.

Neighboring commercial buildings all have one, two or three stories. The 1924 Pelham Hall, across Beacon Street, has eight stories, and the wider area within several blocks has other residential buildings up to 13 stories. A crude outline of a looming, narrow tower suggested window walls facing east and west, looking up and down Beacon St. The proposed building was described as 140,000 sf gross floor area for hotel uses, plus parking.

Located on a plot of about 18,600 sf, the proposed hotel space yields a floor area ratio of 7.5. Numbers do not seem to be a strong suit for Mr. Dhanda and his advisers, who claimed that the floor area ratio would be about 6. For many years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.75(CC), general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.75. Developers of large lots in the zone who support community facilities are eligible for up to a 15 percent bonus in floor area, but the lot at 1299 Beacon St. is too small to qualify.

Brookline has no current type of zoning that would allow the proposed development. Window walls on the sides of a building in a G zone sound unwise and might not be allowed. Properties in those zones can be built to the lot lines. In the future, one or more of Mr. Dhanda’s commercial neighbors might also build to the lot lines, wiping out window views.

More unanswered questions: Dr. Sperber again asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, including local taxes on hotel rooms. All Mr. Dhanda offered was that Brookline would receive more than the current property taxes of about $60,000 a year. Several members of the board and the audience questioned traffic plans. Mr. Wheeler said parking would operate with valet service, using large elevators. He did not address frequent, heavy congestion on Sewall Ave.

As with Mr. Dhanda’s other proposal, there had been no traffic or environmental study. Board member Donald Warner said that while economics for a hotel were likely to be strong, “the key is making the numbers work. That [10-story] height isn’t going to happen.” David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, recalled that the height and density allowed for Coolidge Corner commercial properties had been reduced. To carry out the proposal, he said, “you would have to change the zoning in town meeting, which you won’t have the votes for.”

Variances: Unlike developers of Brookline Place and of hotels on Webster St. and at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., Mr. Dhanda and his architects and advisors turned confrontational. Rather than negotiate and work cooperatively with Brookline on zoning, economics and environment, they said they planned to seek variances, under Chapter 40A of Massachusetts General Laws.

Variances can be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, but requirements are difficult to satisfy, and they have become increasingly rare. Instead, Brookline has developed an extensive system of special permits in its zoning, through which additional building height and density can be approved when developers agree to provide specific public benefits. Mr. Dhanda did not seem familiar with town’s approach to planning and development.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 7, 2014


Zoning Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 16, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B: Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the board, announced that Brookline lost in its Norfolk Superior Court case opposing a Chapter 40B housing project proposed for Hancock Village. He did not say whether the board intends to pursue appeals. All board members said they continue to oppose the project. At this meeting, they endorsed and signed a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Under Chapter 40B, developers can obtain a “comprehensive permit” to build housing, in lieu of all other town permits, if one in five housing units is subsidized to benefit low-income and moderate-income residents, following state regulations. The Zoning Board of Appeals is the only local board directly involved in such a permit. Within about a month, it is expected to make a decision on the Hancock Village proposal.

Hancock Village is situated in the southernmost corner of Brookline, toward West Roxbury. It was one of three Brookline projects organized after World War II to provide housing for war veterans, along with public housing on High St., toward Jamaica Plain, and on Egmont St., toward Allston. A 1946 contract between John Hancock Insurance Company, the developer, and Brookline specified objectives and restrictions for Hancock Village.

Now the Board of Selectmen is concerned that Chestnut Hill Realty, holder in due course, is seeking to nullify obligations under the 1946 contract in proposing to put up a five- to seven-story building with 140 apartments and nine three-story buildings with 44 apartments. Its letter to the Board of Appeals cites several objections, including invasion of protected green space, massing of the large building, sprawling parking lots and traffic.

Projects, hirings and interviews: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval to seek reimbursement for $0.019 million in road repairs, under the state’s “rapid recovery” program. Brookline is now eligible for up to about $0.1 million. Michael DiPietro, the comptroller, got approval to hire an accountant to replace an employee who has left.

The board interviewed a candidate for Economic Development Advisory and a candidate for Solid Waste Advisory. Questions during the latter interview revealed that Brookline does not know what is happening to recycling collections after they leave town premises and does not know how much solid waste is being incinerated. A new contract, under development, may divert solid waste to a landfill in Southbridge.

Tax override: Starting at 8 pm, the Board heard a report from Susan Ditkoff and Richard Benka, co-chairs of the Override Study Committee appointed last year. They mostly repeated information from a written report of August 14. As in that report, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka took an exceptionalist approach. They did not compare Brookline with the 350 other Massachusetts cities and towns.

Surprisingly, Mr. Benka devoted much of his time to the METCO and the “materials fee” programs run by Public Schools of Brookline. For more than 40 years, they have allowed minority students from Boston and children of town employees to attend Brookline schools. Together, he claimed, they cost Brookline about $7 million a year. If they were abolished, his figures suggested, there would be little need for a tax override to maintain school operations.

Mr. Benka presented no evidence to sustain his cost claims, and he may not have any. To the contrary, Public Schools of Brookline says students in these programs do not get their choices of schools but are instead assigned to schools where there are available seats. Operating in that way, the programs do not add significant costs. It came out that there are currently about 800 more available seats, mostly from observing policies on maximum class sizes. Board members were skeptical of Mr. Benka’s claims about METCO and “materials fees.” According to Betsy DeWitt, they “need a pragmatic filter.”

In discussions about a tax override for debt exclusion, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka said that the proposed project to expand Devotion School was expected to add only five classrooms. That project is currently budgeted for over $100 million. In contrast, construction underway at Lawrence School will add four classrooms for less than $5 million. It sounded as though the Override Study Committee had entertained some strange priorities for economies.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 17, 2014

Planning Board: a house trying to eat a hill

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, August 21, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of five property improvement applications were scheduled. A proposal to convert a single-family house at 227 Tappan St. to a two-family house drew strong neighborhood opposition.

SC districts: Many properties near the peak and on the south and east sides of Addington Hill are in types of zoning called SC-7 and SC-10. SC zoning was introduced in the early 1960s, when Brookline made its first major revisions to zoning since 1922. Single-family houses in SC districts can be converted to two-family with special permits approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The single-family property at 227 Tappan was bought by a developer this year, who applied for a conversion permit. Several such conversions have not aroused much controversy, because owners maintained the outlines of houses and added inconspicuous second entrances. In this case, however, the developer plans to add a large extension onto the rear of a two-story house, more than doubling the floor area.

House on a hill: Slopes along the south side of Addington Hill are among the steepest in Brookline. No cross street connects Tappan St. to Rawson Rd. uphill from it except Garrison Rd., in relatively flat territory near Beacon St. Several properties along the middle section of Tappan St., including the one at 227, have deep lots with steep, heavily forested slopes in back.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the developer–who also brought along an architect and a landscape designer. Comments from members of the Planning Board indicated they saw skilled and professional efforts to plan construction on the steep rear slopes, while largely maintaining current appearances from Tappan St.

It was just those factors that most alarmed neighbors. They presented a memorandum of objections, and several spoke out about their concerns. Construction plans call for a large excavation, probably scooping out several hundred cubic yards of Addington Hill and uprooting or disturbing mature trees. Big, deeply set retaining walls would be needed. The scale of land disturbance is rare except for major buildings and highways.

Objections: Next-door neighbors were upset about the potential for “shifting of the ground,” as one put it. “We’re going to end up with a cracked foundation,” he predicted. Drainage from Addington Hill onto Tappan St. has “a 50-foot head…[it] will flow onto adjacent properties” and may flood them. For those Tappan St. residents, it was “not a question of aesthetics but a serious structural problem.”

Other neighbors were concerned about a concentration of automobiles opposite the intersection of Tappan St. with Beaconsfield Rd. Based on parking designs, there can be five to seven instead of only one, they said. The neighbors said current driveways are hazards for children, especially during snow season, but the proposed one would be much worse. because of its location and the number of cars there.

Lee Cooke-Childs, a Precinct 12 town meeting member who lives on Rawson Rd., directly behind the Tappan St. property, objected to disturbing trees. It’s “a climax forest,” she said, asking whether “their excavation is going to threaten the roots of my trees.” Another resident, a few doors away on Tappan St., observed that “60 percent of the lot is flat…[yet] the plan will tunnel into the hill.”

Alex Coleman, a member of the Human Relations Commission who lives on the other side of of Tappan St., said neighbors were at work on a proposed zoning change for part of the SC-10 district. However, Dr. Coleman conceded such a change would come too late to prevent the development proposed for 227 Tappan St., if it were allowed by the Appeals board.

A skeptical board: After hearing from the neighborhood, Planning Board members began to express skepticism about the proposal. However, board member Steve Heikin said Brookline did not have much leverage over dimensions, since the plan observes Brookline limits for floor area and setbacks. He recalled a recent, large Toxteth St. development that needed no special permits, saying it had inspired a neighborhood conservation district enacted at the 2014 annual town meeting.

Board member Robert Cook was probably the most direct. “It’s way too big,” he said. Board member Linda Hamlin said she didn’t “think it meets community standards…asking for too much.” Board member Sergio Modigliani, an architect, said the plan was “a big reach, as much as possible inside that envelope.” Mark Zarrillo, the board’s chair and a landscape architect, summed up. “I can’t support this,” he said, “The project is too big.”

Faced with little or no support from Planning Board members, Mr. Allen looked for an alternative. “Maybe we could return on September 4,” he said, “Maybe we could come back with something like” what amounted to around a 20 percent smaller house. Mr. Zarrillo recommended the developer and his architect look into “extra height to avoid a larger footprint.”

The developer said he “would be willing to engage…if it was worthwhile.” Mr. Zarrillo responded, “You need to talk to the neighbors.” The developer said, “I’ve tried to have that conversation…only one person showed up.” Tentatively, the Planning Board scheduled another review for September 18 and continued the case without voting a recommendation.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 22, 2014

Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors

Chief Daniel O’Leary of the Brookline Police Department wrote an analysis of bicycle crashes, based on his department’s records for 2013. It shows the highest density of crashes for that year on Harvard St. between Auburn and Verndale Sts. He also provided to the Bicycle Advisory Committee some detailed information about the 53 bicycle crashes police investigated in 2013: on average, about one a week. Several patterns appear.

Patterns: Three-quarters of bicycle crashes occurred from May through October: 40 during the six warmer months, compared with 13 during the six colder months. Few crashes occurred from 8 pm to 8 am–6 reports–compared with 8 am to 8 pm–47 reports. Most crashes occurred during daylight hours in warmer months. A bicycle crash around 10 am in summer was about 20 times as likely as a bicycle crash around 10 pm in winter.

All the police reports from Brookline were for collisions involving motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. Peak hours for bicycle crashes were late morning, 10 am to noon, and late afternoon, 4 pm to 6 pm. None of the police reports from Brookline were for bicycles falling over or colliding with fixed objects. However, a long-time Boston-area bicyclist and observer reports that “most injury-producing bicycle crashes do not involve a motor vehicle at all.”

Circumstances of bicycle crashes are harder to understand. For about two-thirds of Brookline bicycle crashes, bicyclists were transported for medical attention. No fatalities were reported for 2013, but the extents of injuries were not otherwise described. Police reports of primary causes did not appear to follow a uniform system and needed to be categorized. Grouping them into five categories yielded the following:

Motorist struck bicyclist—-18 reports
Collision at vehicle turn—–12 reports
Bicyclist violated signals—-11 reports
Collision with vehicle door—9 reports
All other circumstances——-4 reports

Factors: Lack of attention by both motorists and bicyclists appears to be a strong factor in the reported bicycle crashes. Frequent circumstances were motorists pulling out into traffic, making turns and opening doors. Motorists were considered at fault in 28 reports, bicyclists in 12 reports and pedestrians in 2 reports. Citations were issued to 21 motorists and to 7 bicyclists.

From these reports alone, one cannot tell whether Brookline streets are relatively dangerous or relatively safe for bicyclists. They do not indicate corresponding bicycle and motor vehicle traffic densities. So far, there is little comparable information from elsewhere in the United States. Informal observations find bicyclists in Brookline stopping more often at traffic signals than those in Boston’s terror zone along Commonwealth Ave.

Other communities: Several years ago, New York City published a multiple-year report on bicycle crashes. It focused on fatalities and “serious injuries” but also analyzed “contributing factors.” This report found the two most common factors were “bicyclist crossing into a vehicle path”–reported for 84 percent of crashes–and “driver inattention” or “driver error”–reported for 60 percent of crashes.

Crashes at intersections were reported about ten times as often as crashes in mid-block. Midtown Manhattan and south, down to Union Square, appears to be the terror zone of New York City. Informal observations often find bicyclists in midtown Manhattan weaving through traffic. Neither Boston nor Cambridge has published detailed information online. Occasional incident maps from those communities provide the few clues.

Improving safety: Reducing bicycle crashes remains an art and a goal in the United States, not yet a science or a record. John S. Allen, a veteran urban bicyclist in the Boston area, has described some efforts in Cambridge. His report on a Vassar St. bicycle lane shows how what might have sounded like a good idea, at least to some, yielded perverse results. It is not clear how thoroughly the Brookline Bicycle Advisory Committee has investigated this nearby experiment.

As of summer, 2014, there are no federal standards for enhanced bicycle markings at intersections. Designs have been promoted by organizations, but they have yet to be validated against alternatives through systematic and prolonged testing. Issues can become complex. Mr. Allen described several he encountered while a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee during the 1990s. So far, they do not appear well resolved.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 16, 2014


Daniel C. O’Leary, 2013 bike crashes, Brookline Police Department, February, 2014

Leze Nicaj, et al., Bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries in New York City, NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner and NYC departments, 2006

John S. Allen, About Bicycle Sidepaths, 2010


Note: Readers who examine Mr. Allen’s descriptions will find he disapproves of separated bicycle lanes, which he calls “sidepaths” and “bike paths” rather than “cycle tracks.” Mr. Allen omits to mention that as a long-distance commuter, between Waltham and Cambridge, he tacitly sides with high-speed bicyclists and against low-speed bicyclists. The former try to maintain around 20 to 30 mph–about 7 to 10 times walking speed–as contrasted with around 6 to 9 mph for the latter–about 2 to 3 times walking speed.

That difference has developed over about the last 30 years here. It has become a major distinction between a typical U.S. and Canadian approach to urban bicycles, tending to favor high-speed bicyclists, as compared with a typical Dutch and Danish approach, tending to favor low-speed bicyclists. Loudmouths and pressure groups among domestic bicyclists represent only high-speed riders. Nearby, one often finds those in the Boston terror zone, B.U. neighborhoods of Commonwealth Ave.

An even more violent scene of the same sort can be observed in Watertown and Cambridge segments of the Paul Dudley White bicycle path, mostly on the north side of the Charles River, around 8 to 9 am on a weekday morning. These days, unlike the 1970s, arrogant high-speed bicyclists dominate the scene, recalling classic, hyper-aggressive “Boston drivers” of the 1950s and 1960s.

Bicycle Advisory Committee: street markings, safety and priorities

Brookline’s Bicycle Advisory Committee met Monday, August 11, at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall. It focused on priorities for bicycle facilities next year, drawing several visitors. The committee did not meet at Devotion School, as before. Meeting dates, times, places and agendas can be found on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site.

Committee members appeared to expect an allocation for bicycle facilities in Brookline’s capital improvement program. However, the current program shows only $30,000 for this fiscal year and nothing for future years, under the heading “public works infrastructure.” The committee worked with a large paper map of the town’s bicycle facilities. A corresponding map could not be found on Brookline’s municipal Web site, where most bicycle documents appear stale, the latest bicycle map is from 2011 and no link appears to the Web site operated by the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Bicycle markings: The committee considered whether to propose a “bike box” for next year. To the committee, that means painted markings at or near a street intersection–not a bicycle carrying case. The U.S. Department of Transportation does not currently provide a standard for augmenting bicycle markings at street intersections in its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Brookline currently has no such markings. Boston has some augmented markings at a few Commonwealth Ave. intersections in B.U. neighborhoods but currently lacks evidence about whether they improve safety.

The committee also considered which streets to propose for new lane markings. The committee maintains a Green Routes Bicycle Network Plan that began with Beacon St. and has expanded to Harvard, Washington and other streets in urban Brookline and to Clyde, Lee and other streets in suburban Brookline. There is a path for pedestrians and bicycles in Riverway Park, but there are no physically separated lanes on streets.

For visitor Anne Lusk, that was a critical issue. She urged the committee to propose at least one separated bicycle lane, calling it a “cycle track.” She also proposed a bicycle training area to be constructed at Robinson Playground on Cypress St. Cynthia Snow, the chair, said she would to put the items on the agenda for a meeting this fall.

Safety and priorities: There was discussion of safety impacts of bicycle lanes. So far there has not been a detailed analysis, but the committee has a police report of bicycle crashes for 2013 and some data for earlier years. For 2013, on the two miles of Beacon St. there were 15 reported incidents. At a rate of about 7 incidents per mile per year, Beacon St. might be safer than B.U. neighborhoods of Commonwealth Ave., where the Boston Globe recently found about 30 incidents per mile per year. Amounts of bicycle traffic on the two streets have not been reported.

As proposed by committee member Tommy Vitolo, the committee decided to request four bicycle improvements for next year: (1) some route to connect bicycle lanes on Clyde St. to Larz Anderson Park, (2) one or more “bike box” markings at street intersections, (3) a bicycle lane on St. Paul St. between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and (4) one or more additional bicycle racks.

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


Brookline Green Routes Bicycle Network, map, Bicycle Advisory Committee, 2014

Bicycle lanes and paths, map, Brookline Information Technology Department, 2011

Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods

Writing in the Boston Globe of Saturday, August 2, Martine Powers reported that bicycle signs and painted street markings in B.U. neighborhoods have failed to prevent fatal crashes. She reviewed police reports for Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner, where Commonwealth Ave. bends and Brighton Ave. begins. Along most of this part of Commonwealth Ave., Brookline takes up on the inbound side of the street at the building doors, so the street is part of Brookline as well as Boston neighborhoods.

That segment of Commonwealth Ave. has elaborate bicycle markings, including signs, green-painted lanes and many safety warnings. A showcase for the late Menino administration, it may be the most developed example of a major, bicycle-oriented urban street in New England. However, it has no physical barriers between bicycles and motor vehicles, it has no traffic signals for bicycles and there is little enforcement of bicycle laws.

According to Ms. Powers, over the three years from 2010 through 2012, on just that 3/4 mile of Commonwealth Ave., 68 bicycle crashes were reported to Boston police–including a fatal incident in 2012. Ms. Powers does not seem to know much about the neighborhoods. If she did, she might have heard about one of our fellow bicyclists who was run over at the same location in nearly the same way forty years earlier–before there was a Paul Dudley White bicycle path and long before almost anyone in New England heard of bicycle markings. Although in the hospital for weeks, our friend survived.

A typically disjointed Boston administration is now about to reconstruct that stretch of Commonwealth Ave., according to the Globe. That part of the street was recently repaved, got new sidewalks and trees and is just fine, but the Walsh administration apparently has federal money burning a hole in its pocket and no better use for it. A pressure group called Boston Cyclists Union decided to campaign for physically separated bicycle lanes.

As Bill Smith of Brookline’s Engineering staff found out several years ago, when planning a Beacon St. reconstruction, even a more spacious street with a generous center median has only a finite amount of width in which to fit pedestrians, trolleys, trees, shrubs, motor vehicles, parking and bicycles. In the end, Mr. Smith did not design physically separated bicycle lanes for Beacon St.

Eventually Transportation staff added a few bicycle markings–more recently amended with green-painted lanes and signs. Some markings were in place a few years ago but failed to prevent a fatal incident on Beacon St., similar to the Boston incident of 2012, in which a bicyclist was run over by a truck making a turn.

The Commonwealth Ave. design is being rushed to beat a grant deadline. It’s easy to see the Walsh administration making an even bigger mess than the myopic Menino administration–in each of three major projects over about 20 years. Like Brookline on Beacon St., Boston is brushing off bicycle riders, recently suggesting special signals for them. Nearly all of today’s bicyclists on Commonwealth Ave. ignore the traffic signals they already have.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 3, 2014


Martine Powers, Bicycle advocates seek safety changes for Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue, Boston Globe, August 2, 2014

Bicycle facilities and the manual on uniform traffic control devices, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2014

Brookline Planning Board: pavilion for Parsons Field

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, July 24, started at 7:30 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Reviews of four property improvement applications were scheduled. A proposed change to Parsons Field–as it has been called since 1969–proved controversial and took most of the meeting. It was where legendary Kent St. resident George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr., sometimes practiced in the early twentieth century.

Parsons Field: Northeastern University has owned Parsons Field since 1930 and uses it as a sports stadium. The largest use, for the former Huskies football team, ended when Northeastern disbanded the team early in 2010. The major university uses now are baseball and soccer. Brookline High School has used the field in many prior years, though not recently, for home football games.

The 5-1/2 acre field extends between Kent and Harrison Sts. and takes up much of the block from Aspinwall Ave. to Kent Sq. Houses along Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. abut the field, as do one each on Kent St. and on Harrison St. Other dwellings are directly across Kent and Harrison Sts. The field and most of the houses are in a T-5 two-family zone. Dwellings east of Kent St. are in an M-1.0 low-rise apartment zone. In some places, one finds “7 acres” quoted for the field size, but that seems to include parts of abutting land.

Plans for a pavilion: Last winter, Northeastern began plans to build a pavilion for its baseball diamond, with home plate near the southeast corner of the field, toward Kent St. and Aspinwall Ave. Current specifications show 409 seats, about 100 more than provided now in metal bleachers.

There are also nearly 1,800 seats in metal bleachers along the northern edge of the field, toward Kent Sq. Those are to remain for use during soccer games. A field house bordering Kent St., used for both baseball and soccer, will also remain. Parsons is a fairly compact field for baseball. Fly balls and foul balls sometimes reach neighboring houses, and outfielders risk colliding with soccer bleachers.

The field once had about 7,000 seats in open stands. Over the past 50 years, there have been four prior renovations. In a somewhat controversial renovation of 1972, Northeastern installed artificial turf, moved the baseball home plate from the northeast to the southeast corner and reduced seating. The field house was renovated in 1992. The most recent renovation replaced older artificial turf with FieldTurf.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented Northeastern–which also sent two administrators and two representatives from its architect. Mr. Allen said Northeastern would welcome Brookline High School’s football team again. He said there would be extended netting to catch more stray baseballs and claimed the pavilion would “improve the streetscape along Kent St.”

Board member Steven Heikin later took exception, saying the “back side [of the pavilion] is pretty industrial.” Mark Zarrillo, the board’s chair, asked about lighting. A Northeastern representative said field lighting had been replaced this year. All except two fixtures operated in common, and those two would stay on about 30 minutes after the others went off. Mr. Zarrillo questioned whether that provided adequate security.

Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said that the planning review had been triggered by expansion of seating area. As a nonprofit educational institution, Northeastern has a right to use the field for educational purposes, but Brookline has rights related to dimensions of structures, public safety and nuisance control.

Concerns and objections: Many residents attended the Planning Board meeting to express concerns. The most frequent were about traffic and parking during events. Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen, said, “Traffic and parking are serious concerns…streets are narrow…buses obstruct traffic.” She was “glad to hear Brookline’s team can play there again.”

Capt. Michael Gropman, who heads the Brookline Police traffic division, said he had many concerns and complained that he and Transportation Director Todd Kirrane “found out about this only six days ago.” The Northeastern management held a well advertised meeting for neighborhood residents in mid-spring, but there had apparently been no similar effort to contact Brookline departments.

Marla Engle, a Harrison St. resident, said that parking has been inadequate for events, that use means both frequency and intensity, and that the overall impact is increasing. Another Harrison St. resident complained about noise. Some of the worst, he said, is extremely loud music during practice sessions.

Responding to questions from board members Robert Cook and Steven Heikin, Northeastern representatives said that use for soccer was stable but use for baseball was increasing. They made vague statements about noise. Mr. Cook asked, “In terms of good neighbor relations, can it be confined?” There was no clear answer.

The board found too many unresolved issues to reach a decision and will reconsider the case at a meeting scheduled for August 14. Northeastern representatives said they will work with Capt. Gropman and Mr. Kirrane on traffic plans.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 25, 2014


Parsons Field to debut new surface this weekend, Northeastern University, August 18, 2010, with some recent history of the field

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: Bridj jitney bus service, MBTA 51 bus route

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, June 25, started at 7:00 pm in the 4th floor conference room at Town Hall, with the five current committee members present plus eight members of the public, a Transportation Board member, a member of MBTA management and a representative from GroupZoom, who operate the Bridj jitney bus service from Coolidge Corner.

Jitney bus service: Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, told the committee that the Centre St. neighborhood near Coolidge Corner was “taken by surprise” around 8 am the morning of June 2, when three full-size buses showed up on the street, labeled BRIDJ. Inquiry found they were starting to offer jitney bus service on weekday mornings to the Kendall Square area in east Cambridge and to the Post Office Square area in downtown Boston. For the first few weeks, the services were to be free of charge. Service has since been extended to the Seaport District.

Mr. Swartz said there had been “no notice to neighbors about buses on the street,” and they didn’t fit. A neighbor complained that the buses were left idling while waiting for passengers for much longer than the five minutes allowed. She had gotten drivers to turn off their engines. Another neighbor recounted that the 54-passenger buses had been almost unable to turn from Centre St. onto narrow Shailer St., calling the buses an “imposition on the neighborhood so that this company can make money.”

Mike Izzo, operations manager for Group Zoom’s Bridj service, agreed that the large buses had trouble negotiating turns, saying he was “losing some of [his] hair when those buses turn the corner.” Mr. Izzo, who affects an ultra-short hair style, didn’t look to have much left to lose. He offered contacts for anyone who wants to report a problem: mike@bridj.com and 931-551-5802. Mr. Izzo said his service was starting to use smaller buses from Academy Bus, operating from Braintree, and vans operated by DPV Transportation of Boston. However, all the current vehicles get their heat and air conditioning from the main engine–as yet an unsolved issue.

Linda Jason, a committee member, asked what Brookline was doing to address the neighborhood concerns. Abigail “Abby” Swaine, the committee chair, said that the Transportation Board would be reviewing permit applications in late summer or early fall. The service has temporary permits from Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, that expire in about two months. Linda Swartz, wife of Mr. Swartz, said buses might interfere with the Brookline Farmers Market, whose vendors start to set up stalls in the morning, and said the buses have been parked in metered spaces without paying at the meters. Several issues were left unresolved.

MBTA 51 bus: Ms. Swaine outlined proposals to alter the MBTA 51 bus route through south Brookline. The main change is to move the segment running from the intersection of Chestnut Hill Ave. with Route 9 to the vicinity of Putterham (Ryan) Circle about a mile westward. It would operate on Boylston St. (Route 9) and Hammond St. instead of Lee St., Newton St. and Grove St. An unresolved issue is how to proceed south of Horace James Circle.

An obvious choice would follow West Roxbury Parkway to Putterham Circle. However, Ms. Swaine said, much of that route is state highway, and it lacks sidewalks and safe, convenient pedestrian access. An alternative would follow Lagrange St. and Beverly Rd. to Grove St. west of Putterham Circle. Beverly Rd. is narrower, particularly the section passing Baker School.

Linda Lally, an MBTA system planner attending the meeting, said MBTA would need full specifications for a proposed change by mid-November to implement it for the winter schedule. The next opportunity is mid-March. Brookline has yet to organize either a ridership survey or neighborhood meetings. If use of West Roxbury Parkway is to be proposed, that will involve consultation with the state’s Department of Transportation.

Scott Englander, a member of the Transportation Board, said the board has been able to improve response rates to surveys by finding a retail sponsor and offering a chance at winning a gift card. Ms. Pehlke asked about including an insert in a utility bill mailing. Ms. Swaine agreed to ask Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. At the start and end of school days, a full-size bus operating on Beverly Rd. would aggravate congestion near Baker School, and it might be unable to get through in snowy weather. Ms. Swaine said so far there had been no contacts with parents and school staff.

MBTA transit: The committee revisited the topic of transfers between MBTA lines, reviewed briefly at its last meeting. Committee member Deborah Dong said it should be a high priority because of the Government Center station closing for renovations. Mr. Englander said that a likely way to automate transfers would involve microprocessor-based Charlie Cards. Ms. Lally agreed but said that there was currently no way for MBTA to make the necessary changes to turnstile card readers. Ms. Swaine recalled that at the previous meeting Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, claimed the change would be “easy.”

With town meeting approval of $50,000 for a Beacon St. signal study, aimed at reducing street-crossing wait times for MBTA Green Line C trains, Ms. Swaine said the Transportation Department was drafting specifications for a consulting contract. Christopher Dempsey will monitor the project for the Transportation Board. There has been no written communication yet with MBTA, but MBTA staff are aware of the project and the funding.

Bridj jitney bus permit: At a meeting of the Transportation Board the next evening, Mr. Englander gave a brief oral report about the committee review of the Bridj jitney bus service. However, he did not convey vigorous neighborhood concerns about traffic and parking problems. The next day, Joshua Safer, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and chair of the board, said that so far there had been no written report to the board about the Bridj service.

Mr. Kirrane, the Brookline director of transportation, who attended the Transportation Board meeting, said that in September the staff of GroupZoom would meet with the Transportation Board, seeking a regular permit for Bridj. A few days after the meeting, Ms. Swaine said Mr. Izzo had informed her that Bridj would no longer use full-size, 54-passenger buses for its services based from Coolidge Corner but instead use smaller 27-passenger and 13-passenger vehicles.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 4, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

Town meetings seem to behave, in part, like musical theatre. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t carry an argument. Alas, some of today’s would-be performers come across–politically speaking–as tone deaf. However, there still remain quite a few sparks of life.

May 27: Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6 flagged conditions the Advisory Committee had tried to attach to special appropriations item 41 under Article 8: $50,000 to study Beacon Street traffic signals, aiding MBTA Green Line trains. Dr. Vitolo said the proposed conditions amounted to an invalid attempt to bind actions of a future town meeting and moved to delete them. No Advisory Committee member stood up to respond. Town meeting members agreed by a show of hands, with only two people counted as opposed.

Joyce Jozwicki of Precinct 9 sounded more than a little cross about special appropriations item 40 in Article 8: $30,000 for “bicycle access improvement.” She contended it “should be preceded by enforcement of the rules for bicyclists.” Over the fan noise, no response could be heard from the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Driscoll School: In the debate over a Driscoll School feasibility study, School Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff admitted what had long been clear to close observers: despite nearly religious objections, the School Department has already increased class sizes, “on average 1-1/2 students per class,” she said.

That almost cancels Brookline costs to support METCO and “materials fees” students. If standards for class size rise from about 25 to about 27 students, then the current students from outside Brookline will all have been absorbed by the current staff within the current buildings–responding to historic promises that those students occupy “available seats.”

Concerning special appropriations item 51 under Article 8, George White of Precinct 9 asked: Where’s the plan for light-emitting-diode (LED) street lights? For once the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, sounded flustered, saying that should be in the warrant report. It is not. He brushed off Mr. White, telling him to go ask the Department of Public Works–whose commissioner was standing on town-meeting floor, looking ready to answer the question. After all, LED street lights are Mr. Pappastergion’s signature project of the year.

School funding: In the debate over school funding, Jonathan Davis of Precinct 10 asked about costs of “carts” for computers: “Is that much money really needed?” He never got a clear answer. School superintendent William Lupini launched his “so” “right” dialect–a local curiosity at School Committee meetings–as in, “So…they’re for the computers we’re purchasing…Right?” Yes, indeed. “Exactly what it says on the tin.”

More items from Ms. Ditkoff of the School Committee: “The cost per student has been absolutely flat for the last five years…We’ve added more than 50 classrooms out of our current spaces.” Without explanation, the latter sounded like “space magic.” Apparently a School Committee insider violated current town-meeting protocol–a Gadsby invention–distributing rogue handouts on town-meeting floor. It caught Mr. Gadsby’s attention and drew a reproach, but then he relented, saying it “has my retroactive approval.” Humph! Issues of free speech went unmentioned–even with Martin “Marty” Rosenthal, Karen Wenc and Harry Friedman on hand.

Somebody might have asked but didn’t: since Public Schools of Brookline already spends around $17,000 per year per student, if computers are so important and the ones PSB prefers cost only $330 each, why not get a computer for every student and forego the fancy carts and projectors PSB wouldn’t need?

Police Department topics: Harry Friedman of Precinct 12 objected to investigating criminal backgrounds of construction workers, during debate about the police budget. Joslin Murphy, recently appointed as town counsel, said Massachusetts law now requires checking national Criminal Offender Record Information if workers have unsupervised contact with school children. That might be an issue, for example, in the upcoming Lawrence School project. Mr. Friedman was dissatisfied, saying, “People in these jobs often have criminal records” but need employment to regain a place in society. He called the practice “heartless and vindictive.” However, workers on town jobs are usually going to be union members–unlikely to get those particular jobs fresh out of prison.

Mr. Friedman also objected to police seeking out a “Groton man”–apparently not a graduate of Groton School–who answered a fake “personal” ad Brookline police placed online. Outside a putative “hands off” stance, Moderator Gadsby asked Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, about the “purpose of entrapment policies.” Not satisfied at Mr. O’Leary’s responses, Mr. Friedman said, “From a moral or ethical point of view [the incident] really…crosses over the line…. If the Brookline police want to be the protectors of eastern Massachusetts…they can go into Boston and patrol the streets there.”

Advisory chair Harry Bohrs confirmed the once touted Galaxy WiFi services are dead and gone, although many antennas still hang from street-light brackets. He said Brookline is equipping some employees with wireless Internet, to the tune of $50 per device per month.

May 29, human relations: Article 10 proposed to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. It also designates a new “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Klecker and reduces the new commission’s duties and powers, compared with the 1970 commission. Nancy Daly led the effort to write Article 10 and spoke for the Board of Selectmen. She said it would “not give the [new] commission the quasi-judicial authority to hear and act on…complaints.”

Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, spoke for the current commission and against Article 10. She said it “will take away any direct role or oversight on complaints brought to the [chief diversity officer] by employees…[and] take away the commission’s authority for developing…equal opportunity and affirmative action. It will give the commission about eighteen tasks…but appropriates no money for them.”

Speaking about a chief diversity officer, Ms. Ames said, “What good does that do if we’re going to ask this person to do precisely what was wrong by his predecessor? Only this time, we put it in writing: that is, handle complaints privately, have sole discretion whether to share information with the commission, have no oversight and no accountability…in essence, get paid hundreds of thousands to do…what exactly? Keep the lid on?”

Stature as a department head: It must have been a troubling moment for Ms. Daly and other members of the “diversity committee.” However, one of them, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9, had joined with Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 in proposing an amendment to this year’s Article 10: designating a new chief diversity officer as a “senior administrator/department head”–the same language used in Brookline bylaws for the head of the Human Resources office, which was created by town meeting in 2000.

A motion to close debate after nearly an hour proved premature; it failed to get a two-thirds vote. Arguments continued. While Mr. Rosenthal and Dr. Spiegel had offered spirited sallies for their amendment, it was likely Joanna Baker of Precinct 13 who sailed it over the net.

Ms. Baker recounted experiences as a recruiter, helping to employ and advance people of color. “People hate change,” she said. “Change makes people uncomfortable.” According to Ms. Baker, the stature of being a department head will matter. In order to be effective, she said, a chief diversity officer will have to be “shrewd, discerning, sophisticated, gutsy.” In a recorded vote, town meeting adopted the Rosenthal-Spiegel amendment by a margin of 107 to 95. The main motion also got a recorded vote: approved 185 to 16.

Noise control: In Article 12, changes to Brookline’s noise-control bylaw were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member–to provide what he claimed would be better standards for regulating noise. He proposed a new standard for estimating background noise at night: make measurements during the day and subtract 10 decibels. That’s not helpful if your neighborhood tends to be fairly noisy by day but quiet at night. Selectmen missed the problem, but they managed to flag a provision to regulate some of the leafblowers while exempting others–large ones mounted on wheeled carts.

Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad and transplant from Precinct 1–challenged the proposed standard for night-time noise at town meeting. Dr. Vitolo carved away pseudoscience from the proposal, saying, “This warrant article is bad news. The most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

For the supporters of the article, including a majority on the Board of Selectmen and a unanimous Advisory Committee, there was no recovery. In a show of hands, Moderator Gadsby found zero raised in support and declared unanimous rejection of the article–an extremely rare event. He asked officials gathered at tables just past the auditorium’s stage, “Have we no courage in the front of town meeting?”

Mavens of precinct politics–towns don’t have wards–may recall that Mr. Lebow was among a wave of Precinct 1 conservatives who infiltrated, years ago, a moderate delegation. Dr. Vitolo was involved with a second, progressive wave, who eclipsed the first wave a few years later. The waves more often involve galleries of mostly incumbents, promoting themselves as friendly “neighbors.” Controversies at the time roiled over whether or not to support renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge. Was that really a convenience to the neighborhoods, or would it instead become a crossway for criminals, slinking in from Boston? We shall see.

Down-zoning: Two quietly successful articles carried on a trend: adapting Brookline’s land use regulations to neighborhoods. It had taken root at a heated, 4-night town meeting held in December, 1973. Like that previous effort, both recent ones were organized by neighborhood residents. Unlike that previous effort, both got help and support from town boards and agencies, and both aroused little controversy.

Article 11 proposed a neighborhood conservation district for Toxteth St. between Aspinwall Ave. and Francis St., plus adjacent parts of Perry St., Harrison Ave., Aspinwall Ave and Francis St. It was built out starting in the late nineteenth century–before Brookline adopted zoning–on a more spacious scale than the current T-5 two-family zoning requires. Ann Turner of Precinct 3 said the recent effort was prompted by an obnoxious project built to the maximum under zoning limits and requiring no special town review.

Article 21 proposed a new S-4 type of single-family zone for parts of Buttonwood, near Meadowbrook Rd., also currently zoned T-5 two-family. Neighborhood resident Diane Gold told town meeting she and her neighbors were motivated by a developer who took advantage of current zoning to replace one modest, single-family house with a pair of “huge, 4-story, 2-family luxury condos…Green space was paved over to create ten parking spaces.” She recalled, “We were told they can do this by right…If you don’t like it, change the zoning.” With help from Polly Selkoe of the Planning Department and with town meeting’s approval, that is what residents did.

Zoning changes rejected: The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all took it on the chin with two other zoning changes proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 revived the long-running disputes over self-service gasoline stations–proposing to allow them in business districts when combined with so-called “convenience stores.” As proposed, those stores could be up to 3,000 square feet–far larger than many current retail stores.

Judith Vanderkay of Precinct 9 recalled, “Twenty years ago…my neighborhood rallied to prevent a giant, highway rest-stop-type gas station.” She said Article 22 looked “like something from ALEC being proposed in the guise of an innocuous regulation”–referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that has been promoting pro-business, anti-labor laws, mostly in state legislatures. The proposal failed on a recorded vote of 109 to 62, below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

In S-40 single-family districts–Brookline’s lowest zoning density–Article 23 proposed to disallow new, detached accessory dwellings to be occupied by employees or their family members. Last November, town meeting disallowed them in single-family districts with smaller lot sizes. Steve Heikin spoke for the Planning Board, saying that accessory dwellings are a “loophole” allowing permanent construction for a temporary use.

Town meeting members Anita Johnson of Precinct 8, Rebecca Mautner of Precinct 11 and Jane Gilman of Precinct 3 denounced the Planning Board proposal–partly as an attack on “affordable housing.” Ms. Johnson cited an approach used by Portland, OR. “They put a size limit on accessory units…825 square feet.” She said Portland’s regulation “has been totally successful, and everyone agrees with it.” Article 23 failed on a recorded vote of 106 to 56, again below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

Renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge, strongly controversial a decade ago, returned to town meeting in Article 24. The now-dilapidated bridge was built in the 1890s to serve a whistle-stop on the former Boston and Albany commuter rail service between Needham and Boston. It has been closed since fall, 1975. Article 24 proposed accepting a grant in easement from MBTA to accommodate wheelchair ramps. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt said Brookline would “apply for a state [Transportation Improvement Program] grant, up to 90 percent” of funds already set aside. In a quiet surprise, town meeting voted unanimous approval.

Retirement Board pay: Stipends for Retirement Board members–a perennial–returned to town meeting in Article 25. As on previous occasions, board member James C. “Chet” Riley asked for town meeting’s support. “We have the ability right now to invest your $245 million,” he said. “We are the deciding body.” According to Mr. Riley, the board’s work has become “a lot more daunting, a lot more challenging.” That did not sway Advisory. Committee member Karen Wenc of Precinct 11 said, “The substance of this article [came] before town meeting in the May, 2012, session–with no demonstration that the Retirement Board’s efforts are [now] measurably greater” than they were then. “There is no compelling reason for change.”

The Board of Selectmen reversed former opposition–by a margin of 3 to 2. Speaking as one of the three in favor, Nancy Daly said the “vast majority [of neighboring communities] do provide a stipend…Boston, Newton, Cambridge….” Town meeting members would likely notice that the few communities Ms. Daly named–unlike Brookline–are all cities. In a personal appeal, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9 stated, “Nobody’s done more for the town of Brookline than Chet Riley.” Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 took a financial approach, saying, “This is one of the few boards that actually has the final say over large quantities of money. They’re volunteers, but they deserve the sort of minimal compensation that this article proposes.” Article 25 proposed a stipend of $3,000 per year for each of the five board members.

Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 did not agree. “[This is] at least the fourth time in fourteen years” with the proposal, she said. “They’ve been waiting for the right town meeting, the right Board of Selectmen…It’s a town. This is a volunteer [effort], and if they don’t want to do it they shouldn’t volunteer.” Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice said, “I’ve been in the financial services industry,” and asked, “Do [board members] get the advice and counsel of licensed [financial] planners?” Mr. Riley of the Retirement Board responded, saying, “We hire and fire consultants and money managers.” What may have sounded like posturing did not sit well with town meeting members, who rejected Article 25 in a recorded vote, 47 to 100.

June 2, Brookline Place: The final session of the 2014 annual town meeting began with the postponed Articles 15 through 19, concerning proposed redevelopment for Brookline Place. Moderator Gadsby’s stagework in positioning those articles to begin a session provided a showplace for Children’s Hospital–the landowner and developer–and for the town officials, boards and committees who became sponsors and supporters of the project. The block bounded by Washington St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. is part of the former Marsh Project–involved in redevelopment efforts for nearly 50 years.

Town meeting members who declared partial opposition had proposed alternative zoning in Article 16. As compared with Article 15, the official zoning proposal, Article 16 would have restricted new on-site parking for over 180,000 square feet of added office space. Supporters of Article 16 claimed that the adjacent MBTA Green Line trolley stop and the nearby bus stops for MBTA routes 60, 65 and 66, traveling via Route 9, should make any added parking unnecessary. Management of Children’s Hospital have contended that more parking is needed for financially viable development and that costs of removing contaminated soil would make it too expensive to place that parking underground, as normally required by Brookline’s zoning.

In an apparent response, the Planning Board and their Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to reduce added parking from about 465 to about 325 spaces–negotiated with the management of Children’s Hospital. The change apparently undercut support for Article 16. Submitters of that article opted not to offer a motion for it. Town meeting passed over the article without a vote. Fifty years ago and earlier, weak opposition would have been squelched: maybe allowed a speaker and then switched off. Brookline’s traditions have changed. The debate over the Brookline Place articles included many speakers and took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice spoke forthrightly. “Let’s start with admitting the reality that Children’s Hospital has us over a barrel,” she said. Children’s had acquired 6-story offices the former Harvard Community Health Plan built on the eastern part of the Brookline Place block during the 1990s. More recently, Children’s bought the western part of the block, occupied by two low-rise buildings dating from early twentieth century. The literal “Brookline Place” is a narrow, little used way running north from Washington St. between the larger low-rise building and the 6-story offices.

Referring to a former attempt at redeveloping Brookline Place, Merelice commented, “Town meeting members ten years ago lost sight of the fact that they were voting for zoning.” The controversial project–never carried out–anticipated biotechnology laboratories. A key problem with the site has been soil that is badly contaminated from nearly a century of use by a former gas works. Merelice continued, “When Children’s bought, they knew full well the soil was contaminated. Nevertheless, they proceeded to buy up all the adjacent parcels. Now they’re asking the town to feel sorry for them, because it would be ‘too expensive’ to remove the soil. Their answer is a huge garage with no underground parking.”

Treating Article 16 as though it posed a real threat to the Brookline Place project, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 recalled, “Fifty years ago…[with the] Chestnut Hill shopping center, [which] straddles the line between Brookline and Newton, Brookline did not want any retail development because of concerns about congestion and traffic…All the retail establishments were built on the Newton side of the line; Brookline got the parking lot. Newton got the abundance of taxes; Brookline lost millions in tax revenue.”

Dr. Spiegel described an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s to build a hotel replacing the former Boston Cadillac, located opposite the B.U. Bridge. Brookline Place, he said, offers the town “$2 million in taxes…[That] means more classroom teachers…support for METCO…[and] the Coolidge Corner Library…With all the good that it has, will it be built?”

Moderator Gadsby held a recorded vote on Article 15 for zoning changes. Town meeting approved 170 to 9, he announced, with 20 abstaining. Mr. Gadsby then passed over Article 16 without a vote. Articles 17 and 18 were approved by voice votes. Article 19 was approved by a show of hands, declared unanimous.

Taxi medallions: Town meeting member John Harris of Precinct 8 filed Article 26, proposing that Brookline ask the General Court to repeal laws it had passed, at town meeting’s request, authorizing Brookline to sell taxi medallions. The Transportation Board and Board of Selectmen, both committed to the medallions since they were proposed in 2007, proved much exercised over the attack from Mr. Harris. Robert Volk of Precinct 4 proposed referring Article 26 to a special committee to be appointed by Moderator Gadsby.

Mr. Harris said his “intention [was] to begin the debate…the town should have had in 2008.” He asserted that “medallions establish an artificial quota on the number of taxis allowed to operate,” leading to evil consequences. Jonathan Karon of Precinct 12 agreed, describing his experience representing a person who had been injured during an incident involving a taxi in Boston, which uses medallions. If you are injured in such a way, Mr. Karon said, you will find the “medallion is mortgaged…insurance [is] at the legal minimum…[and the] medallion owner will disclaim responsibility,” saying the taxi driver is an “independent contractor.”

Advisory Committee member Michael Sandman, a former Transportation Board chair, responded for the committee, saying “nearly every premise that Mr. Harris spoke of is wrong.” He showed three pages of items. About a claim that “medallions establish an artificial quota,” Mr. Sandman said Brookline has actually “had a closed system for decades, with a fixed number of licenses.” Joshua Safer of Precinct 16, the current Transportation Board chair, agreed. He said, “The current system is a closed system…There is scarcity by design…We have no logical way to bring newcomers into the industry.”

Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9 asked, “How would a Brookline [medallion] system be different from Boston? He got a fairly opaque answer from Richard La Capra, who has been employed by the Transportation Department as a consultant on taxi regulation since 2010. Mr. La Capra stated that a “Brookline [taxi medallion] system will be different [from Boston]…because it is handled at the regulatory level in a…different fashion.”

Chad Ellis of Precinct 12 said he had prepared a financial model, checked out with Mr. La Capra, finding that a 10 percent fall in taxi fare revenues would produce at least a 50 percent contraction in medallion values. He supported the article filed by Mr. Harris.

Moderator Gadsby called for a vote on Mr. Volk’s motion to refer the article rather than approve or reject it. Unable to decide from a show of hands, Mr. Gadsby held an electronic vote. Town meeting approved referral, he announced, 96 to 91. Mr. Gadsby asked for volunteers to serve on a moderator’s committee and said he plans to appoint a committee within three weeks.

Resolutions: Article 27 was filed by Neil Gordon of Precinct 1, who described himself at town meeting as a veteran of the Vietnam War. It asked for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved in a unanimous voice vote.

Article 28, filed by Frank Caro of Precinct 10, did not get such a swift hearing. It proposed a resolution saying that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen, supported by the Advisory Committee, proposed referring Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner–to address it using a “task force.”

However, the same problem had been taken to at least three previous town meetings. Each referred an article to a moderator’s committee, yet the problem remained unsolved. Dennis Doughty of Precinct 3 presented some graphics showing snow-removal complaints logged since December, 2011, by the Brookonline Web page. They indicated several chronic problem spots, targets of repeated complaints.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., of Precinct 16, a lawyer with quite a few local business clients, had already voiced a related argument, saying there were a few chronic problems but that nevertheless “the goal should not be to fine and to warn” business owners. Lea Cohen, an Advisory Committee member at large, spoke as the outgoing chair of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. She objected that “the existing bylaw has some very tight time-frames.” She asked town meeting not to “make another gesture that singles out our merchants with uneven enforcement policies.”

Joshua Safer, of Precinct 16, disagreed with trying a “partnership” tactic again. He noted that “the last moderator’s committee on sidewalk snow removal suggested exactly [what Article 28 proposed], across the entire town.” Mr. Safer stated, “The police force seems comfortable that they would have the resources to undertake this particular effort.” Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, a member of the Commission for the Disabled, turned adamant, “It’s time,” Dr. Allaire said, “to take serious action on this problem, instead of just kicking it down the road yet again.” By a show of hands, a large majority of town meeting rejected referral of Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Nearly all approved the resolution.

Local First: Article 29, a resolution urging support for local business, was submitted on behalf of an organization called Brookline Local First. Issues developed at town meeting and in several earlier reviews over what “local” might mean in that context. The Board of Selectmen proposed that town meeting refer the article to the Economic Development Advisory Board, which they appoint, rather than accept or reject it.

Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner with his wife Christina “Christy” Timon of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., made the arguments for Article 29. The two have run Clear Flour since 1982, live in Brookline and brought up a family here, he said. “Vibrancy of Brookline’s economy,” Mr. Faber stated, “stems from its independent businesses.” Comparing them with what he called “formula businesses”–franchises and chain stores–he said, “Independent businesses hire a greater proportion of local employees [and] pay them higher wages…Cities and towns benefit most…from…independent…rather than formula businesses.”

The arguments rang false to Hsiu-Lan Chang, also a Brookline resident. She introduced herself to town meeting as owner of Fast Frame, a franchise located on Beacon St. in Washington Square. She described her background as a trustee of the Brookline Community Foundation, a founder of the Washington Square Association and a supporter of several local civic and charitable groups. Her sons David and Leo, she said, are graduates of Brookline public schools. “Article 29,” she stated, “left…[an] impression that I’m not a part of this community.” She urged town meeting to reject the article, saying, “The imposition of an arbitrary definition on the word ‘local’…is exclusionary, divisive and simply wrong.”

Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt suggested proponents of the article might be seeking more than the town could do. She mentioned requirements of “state procurement law to solicit broadly, without discrimination among suppliers in purchasing practices.” Ms. DeWitt stated, “While well intentioned, this resolution is flawed. We must have a fair, broad and inclusive definition of local business.”

Speaking for the Economic Development Advisory Board, Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 said EDAB would give the article careful consideration if it were referred to them but cautioned, “Brookline businesses should focus outward and on expanding the local economy.” A show of hands on the motion to refer proved too close to call for Moderator Gadsby. He conducted an electronic count. Town meeting approved referral 99 to 76, he announced, with 3 abstentions.

Article 31 proposed a resolution affirming “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.” Alex Coleman, a clinical psychologist and a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, submitted the article and made the main arguments for it. He said he had lived in Brookline more than 30 years, bringing up a son who is a Brookline High graduate, and described his recollections of making public a trans-sexual identity, over 20 years ago, as being a “horrific experience.”

Dr. Coleman said that attitudes have begun to change: “There are now students in the Brookline schools who identify as being gender-nonconforming,…[However], people…[with] a different gender identity…or expression…don’t have the same protections as everybody else.” Frequent problems he noted are “harassment in places of public accommodation…[and being] denied equal treatment by a government agency or official.”

Leonard “Len” Weiss spoke for the Advisory Committee, supported by the Board of Selectmen. The committee proposed an amendment asking Brookline’s legal staff to review Brookline’s bylaws and propose changes at next fall’s town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of Article 31. Town meeting approved the resolution as amended.

Article 32, submitted by Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, proposed a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. That calls for state pension funds to divest from “fossil fuel companies” but does not specify what the term means. Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, the chairman, cited that issue, claiming the “bill does not support its own goals in a meaningfully effective way.” Karen Wenc of Precinct 11, an Advisory member, said as an energy consumer she “would feel hypocritical and insincere in voting for this resolution.”

Arguing in favor of the resolution, Edward “Ed” Loechler of Precinct 8 acknowledged, “When you hear the word ‘divestment’ you think, ‘well, we’ll lose too much money’.” Dr. Loechler said, “Profits are not the same as returns on investment.” It is the latter, he contended, that matters for pension-fund portfolios. He cited an independent review of returns on investment for around 3,000 U.S. public stocks over many years, claiming that the difference between performance with and without including about 200 “fossil fuel companies” proved “statistically insignificant.” However, Dr. Loechler argued, even if that were not so, “It’s time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it…Making money from the destruction of the planet is wrong…as wrong as making money from slavery was in the 1850s.”

For the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly spoke of a “very tangible financial hazard to not addressing climate change.” Town meeting members asked for a recorded vote on the article. They approved the resolution 126 to 20, with 7 abstaining–the last action during a long and complicated town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 7, 2014


Correction, June 8, 2014. In the discussion of Article 23, the phrase “family members or employees” was corrected to read “employees or their family members.” Thanks to Stanley Spiegel for spotting the mistake.


John Hilliard, Brookline taxi consultant contract signed, Brookline TAB, December 3, 2010

City of Boston, Taxi Consultant Report, Nelson Nygaard, October, 2013

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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