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News

Special Town Meeting Articles to limit expansion of ash landfill pass

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Town Meeting members on Monday night gave overwhelming support to three zoning bylaws that would curb expansion of Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc.’s ash landfill at its trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 and toughen local regulations on future ash landfills that could be located in town.

The major change in the proposals would limit the maximum permissible height of existing landfills or ash landfills to 50 feet above the mean sea level. Another key change would prohibit new landfill or new ash landfill being established in or adjacent to an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and would also bar an existing landfill or ash landfill from being expanded in or adjacent to an ACEC. Another article would add three new definitions – for ash, landfill and ash landfill. The final article would add a line on “Landfill/Ash Landfill” in the “Table of Use Regulations” within the Zoning By-Laws.

Members of the Alliance for Health and Environment – the group that initiated the new measures – hailed the passage of the articles as a step in the right direction to protect the town.

“When our air and water suffer, our people suffer. It’s as simple as that,” said Kirstie Pecci, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. She said the bylaws were sensible and well within the Town of Saugus’s zoning powers.

“If we allow landfills to be built higher and higher with no end in sight, then we are telling our neighbors that their health and their safety don’t matter,” Pecci said. “Last night, the Town of Saugus stood on the side of families and communities by placing limits on the future build-out of landfills. There is still work to be done in managing toxic methane emissions, groundwater contamination and other serious health issues that accompany these sites, but the bylaws established last night are an important step in the right direction.”

Officials of Wheelabrator Technologies have already threatened to file a lawsuit to invalidate the proposed regulations. James J. Connolly, vice president of environmental, health and safety for Wheelabrator Technologies, called the warrant articles “unnecessary” and “counterproductive.” “Articles such as this have been attempted before,” Connolly said, referring to amendments Town Meeting members passed in 2003, which the company challenged “because we were certain this amendment was outside the law.”

“In 2005, the Massachusetts Land Court determined the amendment was unlawful … These proposed town meeting articles are just not going to help … We hope to avoid lengthy and unnecessary repeat of the previous legal dispute … We’d encourage you to have town counsel look at the previous case,” Connolly said.

Connolly said the articles would “impair” Wheelabrator’s working relationship with the town. He noted that the plant contributes about $15 million in economic activity to the area – including about 50 jobs. He noted that Wheelabrator is the town’s highest taxpayer.

In his ruling 12 years ago, Land Court Justice Charles W. Trombly Jr. concluded, “Article 32 is null and void because the Town exceeded its authority … Specifically, the Town’s Passage of Article 32 is an impermissible attempt to regulate a solid waste disposal facility properly permitted under the Commonwealth’s Site Assignment Statute.”

At Monday night’s special session, Town Counsel John Vasapolli defended the articles, while acknowledging he expected Wheelabrator to file a lawsuit. “I’m sure that Wheelabrator will challenge it,” Vasapolli told Town Meeting members.

Town William Brown of Precinct 2 was vocal in his opposition to the three articles, saying that the town would only worsen its relations with Wheelabrator. “This is building a brick wall between the town and Wheelabrator … Let’s not build a brick wall or this will be hurting us financially,” he said.

Eugene Decareau of Precinct 8 also contended that the town was doing the wrong thing in passing the bylaws. He said he doesn’t understand why the new regulations are needed. “If a facility is creating a hazard in the community, the Board of Health can shut them down,” Decareau said.

“We are facing two debt exclusions; we already have an increase in the water and sewer. We already have a huge increase in our taxes … The rumor is out that the School Department may ask for a debt exclusion for a shortfall in their money. We cannot allow other communities and outsiders to come in and tell us what’s good for our community,” Decareau said.

Pecci said the key intent of the proposed regulations is to keep the height of the landfill at 50 feet. “You have a landfill that would not be allowed to be built right now … To be honest, the state has let you down in the past, so it’s important to take the reins to protect your community,” Pecci said. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has allowed Wheelabrator to expand the landfill in various ways over the last 20 years, she said.

Town Meeting Member Martin Costello of Precinct 10 insisted that Wheelabrator hasn’t been a good neighbor. “In the latest episode, they refused for a site assignment to get done … If you have a neighbor that’s going to litigate you, he’s not a good neighbor. He’s your enemy,” he said.

“The Alliance appreciates the fact Saugus community leaders are taking steps that will protect environmental resources in Saugus, as well as surrounding neighborhoods, including in Revere,” said State Representative RoseLee Vincent. “Saugus has the right to govern itself, and I applaud and thank those Town Meeting members who stood up to do the right thing by adopting these very reasonable zoning changes … Now, Wheelabrator has an opportunity to become a good neighbor to the town by participating in a process that will eventually lead to final closure of the ash landfill.”

Vincent predicted “there will be a mound of ash so high, your grandchildren will be skiing on it.”

Many of the environmental activists offered reaction to the passage of the three articles.

“As a Town Meeting Member and as President of Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE), I am very pleased and encouraged by the vote of Town Meeting, which passed all three articles to define landfills and impose reasonable conditions to help protect the environment and the public health,” said Saugus resident Ann Devlin. “With SAVE’s long history of working to provide a better quality of life in Saugus through environmental action and concern, this is a great step in working toward those goals.”

“These bylaws were the next logical step for the town to safeguard its citizens, where our main concern is the health, welfare and safety of our Saugus citizens and our neighboring communities,” said Saugus Board of Selectman Chairwoman Deb Panetta. “I sincerely appreciate the vote taken by Town Meeting Monday night.”

“By approving local bylaw changes, Saugus has taken a leadership role in protecting critical environmental resources and public health for the future,” said Saugus River Watershed Council Executive Director Joan LeBlanc. “With anticipated sea level rise and increasingly intense coastal storms, it’s extremely important to shift the focus from expanding disposal of contaminated ash at this vulnerable coastal site to ensuring that our valuable marshes, waterways and local beaches are protected from risks related to the millions of tons of ash already on the site.”

“Ash landfills are chock-full of toxic heavy metals like mercury,” said Ben Weilerstein, organizer at Toxics Action Center, “so Saugus families will be safer with these new bylaws. The people of Saugus have spoken and are taking action. MassDEP should hear them loud and clear: Unlined dumps are dirty and dangerous!”

“With this vote, the residents of Saugus took a common sense, reasonable stand in support of protecting their health – particularly the health of young children and pregnant women who are most vulnerable to persistent toxins like dioxin and lead,” said Cindy Luppi, New England Director of Clean Water Action. “Shouldering this unique health burden for decades, Saugus and neighbors deserve relief – and today, we are one step closer to a healthier community for all.”

 

Greatest of All Time

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Proudly standing next to the Patriots’ fifth Super Bowl trophy, QB Tom Brady waves to the ecstatic crowd during the team’s triumphant Duck Boat victory parade in Boston Tuesday. The Pats wrested victory from the Atlanta Falcons Sunday in a stunning second-half comeback to close the game 34-28 in overtime. (Advocate photo by Ross Scabin)

 

   

“The essential question”

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DeRuosi is preparing answers as to why he’s seeking a $1.3 million budget increase for Saugus Public Schools

Why is enrollment going down and costs are going up?” That “essential question” is printed in black ink across the top of the whiteboard in the superintendent’s office of Saugus Public Schools.

In green ink on the left side of the whiteboard is a column of nine items which were the subject of Wednesday’s workshop of the School Committee’s Finance Subcommittee. School Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. covered each of the nine items in meticulous detail – providing Finance Subcommittee members with graphs, charts and financial analysis compiled by Executive Director of Finance and Administration Pola G. Andrews.

DeRuosi figures thorough answers to “the essential question” will enable him to justify the tentative $1.3 million increase in the budget he’s crafting for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“We’ve got to change our strategy,” DeRuosi told Finance Subcommittee members after giving them a fiscal briefing that he plans to improve upon and repeat for the full School Committee and the public at a budget hearing set for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23 at the school administrative offices, 23 Main St.

“For the first time, I believe we can present a budget that really explains the cost factors,” DeRuosi said.

The superintendent noted that typically, the School Department has been averaging a budget increase between $400,000 and $600,000.

“We’re asking for an addition of $625,000 over that,” DeRuosi said of the $1.3 million or 4.7 increase in the $28.2 million budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The superintendent said the current draft could be amended several times before he makes his presentation to the School Committee on Jan. 23. The big challenge for DeRuosi – who took charge of the School Department on July 1 – will be to justify his spending plan to the Finance Committee and ultimately Town Meeting members.

“It’s kind of a reality time,” DeRuosi said of the case he plans to make when he eventually provides answers to “the essential question” for the Finance Committee and the community on why enrollment is going down while the school budget continues to increase.


Charting the costs

DeRuosi told the Finance Subcommittee that he and school officials need to do a better job on educating the Finance Committee and the general public about the main reasons for rising school costs. “When I talk to the Finance Committee, they need to know that it’s not all salary … They need to know that fixed costs are going up,” DeRuosi said.

The superintendent presented five-year budget analysis and related data compiled by Andrews which explained the cost factors he outlines on his whiteboard. They included the following:

• Special Education Expenses. DeRuosi noted that about 18.2 percent of the school district’s 2,600 students are on some kind of Individualized Education Program (IEP). “Up to $6 million of the budget goes to mandated, funded Special Education Programs.”

• The rising exodus of students to charter and vocational schools. In 2012 there were 96 Saugus children enrolled in local charter schools. That number increased to 164 this year. “You’re talking $6 million,” DeRuosi said of the projected fund loss for Saugus Public Schools. “That’s money walking out the door,” he said.

• Students from low income backgrounds. Close to 40 percent of the district’s students, or about 1,000, come from low income families. “Poverty creates needs,” DeRuosi said.

• The rising demands to accommodate English Language Learners (ELL). “ELL students cost the district money,” DeRuosi said of the increasing number of these students who need special instruction.

• Accommodating homeless students. The number of homeless students in the district has increased from 11 to 40 over the past five years, according to the superintendent. Transportation costs for those student has increased from $44,000 in 2012 to $80,000 last year, DeRuosi said.

• The loss of grant funds. The district is faced with the tough decision of eliminating good programs once funds are cut, or increasing the budget to keep programs that are necessary. DeRuosi noted that grant money decreased from $1.4 million several years ago to $521,000.

• Overall transportation costs have been increasing. The increased costs for transporting Special Education students is even more noticeable, according to DeRuosi. For instance, the $500,000 it cost to drive 49 Special Ed students four years ago is what it costs to transport 33 today, he said.

• Staff costs. New requirements are increasing budgets. DeRuosi referred to what he called “the silent” that’s hurting many school districts today – the five-year requirement for every teacher to get a Master’s Degree. “It took me 12 years,” he recalled of his pursuit of a Master’s Degree.

• Revolving accounts


Some sage advice from the Finance Subcommittee

During his presentation, the superintendent got some advice from Finance Subcommittee Chairman Arthur Grabowski and fellow Finance Subcommittee Member Peter Manoogian. “I think it’s vitally important to explain to them what the ramifications would be,” Grabowski said, urging the superintendent to elaborate on how students could be hurt by drastic cuts to his proposed budget.

Grabowski said he thought the Finance Committee has not been supportive of School Department budget increases during the time he’s been on the School Committee. Now in his eighth year, he is the longest-serving member. Grabowski also noted that it doesn’t help “if you’ve got a Board of Selectmen who sit here and don’t fight for us.”

Manoogian suggested it was crucial that the superintendent do everything he can to explain and justify his budget. “People want to feel like we are not throwing good money after bad,” Manoogian said.

Lisa A. Howard, the district’s executive director of pupil personnel services and special education, said the public should realize “there’s a lot of good work going on.”

An important part of restoring public confidence in the school district rests with school officials, DeRuosi suggested. “The job of the School Committee, the superintendent and school administrators is building a better product … You change the culture. You have to build the credibility back in the school district,” DeRuosi said.

DeRuosi likened the school district to a sports franchise, where a turnaround only comes by building “a culture of success … a winning culture.”

“You want more [pay] teachers, get me to Level 1,” DeRuosi said, referring to the state’s designation for the top performing school districts. Saugus Public Schools are classified as Level 3 – the state’s designation for the lowest performing of 20 percent of school districts in Massachusetts.

Grabowski and Manoogian both noted that people aren’t happy about the recent increase in property taxes for homeowners. That could prove to be an obstacle for the superintendent in getting his proposed budget passed without any substantial cuts, they said.

“Debt exclusion is going to be a challenge,” Manoogian said of the possible vote the town may take later this year in order to approve the town’s share of financing the construction of a new combination High School and Middle School.

   

A firefighter’s comeback

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The Saugus Fire Relief Association sets fundraiser to help injured comrade Marco Tirella get back to fighting fires

Saugus Firefighter Marco L. Tirella says he knows the injuries he received when a car crashed into his motorcycle in Groveland, Mass. last August could have been a lot worse. “If I didn’t move my right leg, I would have lost it – and not just the toes,” Tirella told the Saugus Advocate in an interview this week.

“I’m very lucky that I wasn’t hurt more seriously. This could have ended my career. It also could have caused some more serious injuries than the five toes I had to have amputated,” he said.

“My motorcycle was totaled. The part of the bike where my foot was got pushed to the other side. So, I’m very fortunate to come out of it like this,” he said.

Tirella, 28, a 2006 Saugus High School graduate and lifelong town resident, said he can’t wait to return to active duty. His comrades in the Saugus Fire Department are also eager to get Tirella climbing back on Engine 3 or Ladder 1 as soon as possible. That’s why the Saugus Fire Relief Association has organized a fundraiser to help Tirella with out-of-pocket expenses for a prosthesis he will need on his right foot that will enable him to handle the physical challenges that are part of a firefighter’s job.

Benefit dinner on Feb. 15

A special dinner is planned for Feb. 15, from 7 to 11 p.m. at Spinelli’s in Lynnfield. Tickets will be available online only on a first-come, first-served basis at marcotirellafundraiser.eventbrite.com; tickets will not be sold at the door. The tickets cost $50 and include a buffet dinner and entertainment for the evening. There will be a cash bar, raffle prizes and a 50/50.

The custom-made prosthesis will cost Tirella $10,000 to $15,000 and will be manufactured by ExoSym. Tirella said he will travel to Seattle, Wash. to have a company called the Hanger Clinic fit the special brace.

“Once I get the prosthesis, I’ll be able run again without much pain,” Tirella said.

“Without this device, my [firefighting] career probably would have been over. I’m very lucky that the technology has come a long way. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a fireman. I always thought it would be a great job – and it’s awesome,” he said.

Fellow firefighters have embraced Tirella like family since his accident. Whether it was showing up at the hospital when he was recuperating from his injuries or leaving encouraging messages on the Saugus Fire Department Facebook page, his coworkers have rallied around him. In late October, there was a “Welcome back, Firefighter Marco Tirella!” posting, after he returned to the fire station for light duty, working out of the Fire Prevention Office.

“Everyone at SFD is looking forward to Marco returning to Engine 3 when his leg is completely healed next year,” the posting said. “Get well soon, brother.”

At the Fire Prevention Office, Tirella assists in the testing of home and business smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Other chores include stamping drawings, doing other clerical duties and participating in fire safety inspections. “I’m learning a lot of things I didn’t know. I’m very lucky to be able to work in this office and get this experience,” Tirella said.

“I started physical therapy last week and it helped me with my balance. I definitely should be back to full duty sometime this spring,” he said.

People who are unable to attend the dinner can still help by sending donations to The Marco Tirella Fund, attention Mike Barker, at 27 Hamilton St., Saugus, MA 01906. For more details, they can call Saugus Firefighters Barker (617 240-1999) and Rick Porter (617 257-9751).

   

Saugus Planning and Development Director Stephen Cole and Town Planner Krista Leahy talk about the Saugus Housing Production Plan

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~ THE ADVOCATE ASKS ~

Editor’s Note: For this week’s interview, we sat down with Planning and Development Director Stephen T. Cole and Town Planner Krista Leahy to discuss the significance and important components of the Saugus Housing Production Plan (HPP), a document that is expected to be approved by the state Department of Housing and Community Development early this year. They talked about how the plan can be used as a guide in working with developers to meet the town’s housing needs and also to help achieve its goal of having 10 percent of its housing stock considered “affordable.” Town Manager Scott Crabtree hired Cole and Leahy after creating a two-person Planning and Development Department last summer to fill the void left earlier in the year by the resignation of Robert Luongo, the town’s economic development officer.

Cole, 34, spent the first 11 years of his professional career at the forefront of economic development in Hartford, Conn. and Springfield, Mass., before coming to Saugus. Born in Dorchester, Cole considers himself more of a Cape Cod native. He grew up on the Cape, graduating from Nauset Regional High School in Eastham. He earned his Master of Arts degree in Public Policy and Law from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. (2012). He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and Comparative Foreign Policy and World History from Westfield State University (2005), where he graduated magna cum laude.

Leahy, 29, a Holyoke native, went to work for the Town of Saugus last August. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography from the University of Vermont in Burlington in 2009. In early 2014, she received her Masters of Science degree in City and Regional Planning from the Pratt Institute of Design in Brooklyn. She interned for a semester for the New York City Department of Transportation while in graduate school. She also studied Urban Design at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. While there, Leahy worked to develop academic course programs for sustainable planning and development. Some highlights of that interview follow.

Q: Okay, a couple of weeks ago, there was a report released on the Saugus Housing Production Plan. What’s the next step on this?

Leahy: The next step for this: MAPC [the Metropolitan Area Planning Council], the consultant on this, will submit it to the state for approval. They’ve done quite a few of these in the past. So, barring any significant changes or data revisions that need to be done – which we’re not expecting – it should be accepted by the state as our plan. That’s a five-year plan, and it will basically allow us to have a guideline for how we can steer development in the future. So, the next step is to submit it to the state, and in order to do that, we just need to provide them with the minutes from the housing production plan. I will be working on typing up the official minutes for that over the next couple of days.

Q: So, this plan actually has a five-year shelf life?

Leahy: Yes, it’s good for five years and then they have to go through the process again, to review what changes have occurred, have we stuck to it and what are the new goals that should be evaluated in five years, especially given the development that is going on – the landscape and need is constantly changing.

Cole: This is an organic document. It’s considered living and breathing, so to speak. This policy, as defined, is good for five years. As Krista points out, in a half a decade, any number of things can change, the least of which are the types of housing needs that our community has expressed. So, the HPP, in many ways, is not just to steer development, but it’s also to let developers know that these are the types of things that we as a community are looking forward to. So, it’s a policy document.

Q: What’s the best-case scenario coming out of this document?

Cole: In my opinion, the best-case scenario is that this document informs developers and potential investors of the community’s profile – the housing profile – what needs to be developed and what people are interested in living in. And I understand that the Commonwealth has to provide for its population 17,000 housing units every year for the next 20-some-odd years just to keep up with population growth. This is Saugus’ way of getting ahead of that.

Q: Okay, I guess the ultimate would be to meet the 10 percent threshold?

Cole: Precisely. Yes, that’s a component of it. And I want to make no qualms about what the 10 percent means. It means we are no longer subject to other developers or other entities imposing on us a project that’s more consistent with the state project guidelines, but inconsistent with our own. The ultimate is not only protecting our interests, but the state’s regulatory goals as well.

Q: So, right now the town is vulnerable until it meets the 10 percent goal of affordable housing?

Leahy: There are only a handful of towns that have met that goal. The North Shore is particularly vulnerable to Chapter 40B development. But the one thing about this housing production plan is that it provides us with a bit of a safety net, so that developers when they do come in – because we have this on paper and because we’re showing them what we need – we have a little bit stronger a case to say, “You still need to stick within our zoning. These are the goals that we need to be meeting.” So, that provides us with a little bit extra protection so that we’re not as vulnerable as a community that has not gone through the housing production plan process.

Q: What’s the long and the short as far as the disadvantage for not meeting that 10 percent threshold?

Leahy: The disadvantages are that you can have developers come in and present a project that is, say, higher in building heights than what the town has in its zoning requirements. You can have them coming in and proposing larger units, which may not actually be the need of the community, but because it may be beneficial to a developer to have a three- or four-bedroom unit, moneywise. They can propose that when we actually don’t need that. The building style, the open space requirement – all of that can be pushed back against if you don’t have the 10 percent or the housing production plan in there. They can really bypass a lot of the zoning the town has in place. They can do this through legal right, so if the town rejects it, they can bring it to court. Not only does that take away our energy from other projects – it can take months and a couple of years and it can cost the town money that can be otherwise spent doing other projects and providing for the residents. So, there is a little bit of a drawback for not having a housing production plan in place.

Q: And the town is at an automatic disadvantage when it goes to litigation because the state can say, “Hey, you haven’t met this threshold.”

Leahy: That is correct, but the town – with the Housing Production Plan in place – can show that we are trying to meet this goal. So, it doesn’t always mean that the developer will win, but it can definitely create a headache for the town.

Cole: And, really, we don’t want to seem adversarial or that we are anti-development in any way. We’re intimately aware that our community needs these types of housing and the style of housing. This policy document frames for us and any potential user of the document our goals, so we can work together. The idea is to really work together, frankly.

Q: Okay, the timeframe now when this would become official is when the state approves it?

Leahy: That’s correct. So, sometime in late winter. They should get back to MAPC rather quickly, so by spring, this will be a document that has been officially adopted by the town and the state. But, we can use it in the meantime, because it has been adopted by the town.

Q: So, by the time you roll into Town Meeting, you’ll be set with this?

Leahy: Yes. That is correct.

Cole: It doesn’t, however, require Town Meeting approval. The town manager has already accepted it. The next step is for Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen.

Leahy: Yes, he can present it to selectmen and the Planning Board. But that’s more of a ceremonial step. Because of our charter, which we have in place, the town manager is the only person required to adopt it. But it is important that we get the Planning Board’s approval – just saying that they understand what the plan is – and submit those minutes as well.

Q: Okay. In this whole report, what do you see as the most significant finding?

Leahy: I think the biggest one is the type of housing styles that we need for the town. We’re a town of mostly single-family detached homes. While that’s great, that’s basically the only type of housing that’s available. And that’s not the housing that will necessarily be needed in the future. So, that was kind of a big surprise for me, to see that we do need to provide different types of housing: two-family homes, three-family homes, town houses, assisted living. There’s more of a mix that we could have, so that all types of people – whether they want to age in place or they are looking for starter homes or they want to downsize – this now shows that if we want people to be able to stay in Saugus, we should try to provide different types of housing for them.

Q: So if you don’t do anything, you’ve got a situation where a lot of young people who want to come back, may not come back because there are no housing options for them?

Cole: Precisely. Yes, we have a bit of a bottleneck in our housing market. Can you imagine – as Krista said, you want to free up some of those longtime residents who are in their homes, but maybe the home is too large for them to accommodate themselves, but there’s nothing on the market that’s fewer square footage that they could move into seamlessly. So, on the one hand, we’re a great community for aging in place. But at the same time, we are really not, because many of these folks don’t have alternatives or options. And freeing up those options – you can imagine – frees up the market. Our housing market is not just unique to Saugus. But on the North Shore right now, a lot of folks have their finger on the pulse and they’re concerned because it’s a volatile market. We don’t have enough of an inventory coming online. With a growing population base, something’s got to give. And that makes me very concerned – if we don’t respond to this as a whole – as a region, the Massachusetts housing market becomes more volatile.

Q: And you have a serious shortage for the senior citizens who want to downsize.

Leahy: I imagine it’s very difficult to find affordable homes to move into so you can sell your home. Hopefully, you don’t have a mortgage. If you do and you’re able to pay it off by selling your home and you can put the rest of the money down for a smaller home, that’s good. Unfortunately, it’s just not the type of housing stock that we have available yet. Condos are probably one of the better things to downsize into. Because you don’t have the maintenance and the upkeep that you need to do on your own. Trash is usually handled, so is snow removal. That’s a big one. Having a single-family home is a lot of work, and it’s a lot of work when you are by yourself or you have disabilities or chronic pain. So, that is a difficult type of housing to find in Saugus right now.

Q: Realistically, how many years away from meeting the threshold?

Leahy: The 10 percent. That can vary significantly. It depends on the type of development that is being attracted to town.

Q: It’s possible that if you don’t have the right kind of development, you can go backwards?

Cole: Yes. If we have somebody who comes in and does 100 percent full market and doesn’t include any affordable housing.

Leahy: Anything you do above five units or more, you are required to do 10 percent inclusionary housing. But if people are just meeting the 10 percent, that’s just keeping us static at the 6.92 percent of affordable housing that we have, so we’re not going to be increasing with that. But that’s not to say that you don’t have a developer who comes in and wants to do 25 percent, just because they know where the market is going or they have an interest in providing affordability. So, based on how long it takes for a project from infancy to being finalized and having people move in, that can take about three years. So, if we were going to put a timeline on it, we couldn’t do it before three years, just because you can’t build a building overnight, and there’s a lot of rules and zoning bylaws that are in place, and review from the community that has to take place before a project can be finished.

Cole: And we have a second front on this board, too. On the front end, we have new developments coming online, but we have some potential projects that are already presently affordable that are not deed-restricted. There’s potential opportunity for them to go back to market rate in the next 20 years. That’s a concern we have, that our existing inventory could ultimately go back to being market rate. And then we’re back to where we were.

Leahy: I will say that the town is fortunate that most of our affordable housing is in perpetuity. But it’s not all of it, so there are a handful of those affordable units that will no longer be affordable, unless the town can work with the owner. It’s not uncommon to say, “We’ll sign on for another 15 years.” So far, tenants have been great. But we are fortunate that most of our affordable housing is protected.

Cole: We have to be clear, too. Affordable does not necessarily mean subsidized. We need to be careful about that. Some people hear “affordable,” and they automatically go to thinking about Section 8 or some kind of a subsidized housing. Work can enter into this. The amount of money you can pay to the project for your rent goes up as your incomes goes up. So, that’s one way for also helping people who are young to establish themselves in this area. As they are more successful, so, too, does the housing market gain success. I just want to caution – when we say “affordable,” we don’t necessarily always mean “subsidized.”

Q: I guess the worst-case scenario – if you don’t have the right kind of attention and right kind of focus – you could be just treading water. And this target that you have could just keep moving?

Cole: Yes. It could be a moving target if we’re not vigilant.

Q: And then like five years could pass, we could say, “What have we really done to meet our housing goals?”

Leahy: That’s a possibility. But, then again, this is one of the benefits of having a housing production plan in place – that when development comes in, we have a legal document saying “This is what we want,” and we can give that pushback and work with the developer so that it’s not just their vision, but that they’re accommodating our community needs, and it’s not just about the bottom line and the profit. It’s more about “This is what we need, and if you want your project to also be successful, you might want to consider following along what the housing production plan is asking of us.” And that is a big step. So, there is a worst-case scenario, but I don’t think we should look at it that way because of how powerful this document can be, and given the rezoning of Route 1 and the Master Plans required for that site, the large 40,000 square feet that they are required to have – it’s almost nearly an acre. Along with all of the setback requirements, it’s almost two acres for every development. With that in place, you are going to end up seeing different types of housing stock and different types of housing styles, because of that. We’re a pretty built-out community, so it’s a little difficult. But also we’re fortunate because we cannot build many one-family homes because we simply do not have the space for them. So, we’re in the opposite of a Catch 22, because it’s actually beneficial that we have done the rezoning for Route 1 and now we actually see that we need apartments and condos and townhouses and assisted living. And that’s all in line with the rezoning.

Q: So, a good percentage of what’s developable is along Route 1.

Leahy: For the most part, but there is some open space, especially on the western side of Route 1, in those areas near Golden Hills. There is some space on the eastern side of Route 1 for infill development.

Cole: We’ll see potential new sites coming online, like with Aggregate Industries [the quarry being filled and reclaimed]. That’s about 60 acres. We imagine mixed use on that site.

Q: That’s probably a decade or more away [from development].

Cole: It could be. I think that some of the more conservative estimates say we could probably start building within the next five years, because a substantive portion of that site will be infilled. But yes, all told, the full buildout is at least a decade. But how many other communities have a 10-year vantage point that they can look at and say, “We have a great 60-acre site we didn’t have before. Let’s do something meaningful on here that also addresses these issues, especially including housing?”

Q: This document, at least the opportunity, was there for all segments of the public to participate in putting together a plan. Are you satisfied that this is a community plan that had a lot of input?

Cole: I think we can always have more input, frankly. Meaningful input is important. My sense is that we have actually had some important and meaningful input into this document. Our hopes is that anybody who hasn’t had an opportunity to read it after the fact will be proud of it. As we said, this is an organic, living document. This is a five-year-plan. The next one is going to start in three [years], perhaps. We need about a year of lead time just to put together the assessment of the existing document, the feedback from the community, and then it takes another year or so to put this thing together. So, my sense is that in the next three years, we are going to start this process again. It’s not as though if anybody missed the train this time, that there’s not going to be another opportunity for them.

Q: Are you satisfied that the public has a good grasp to what this is about?

Leahy: I hope that people who came to the meetings and took the time to review the documents that we put on the Planning and Development website have a better understanding. It’s pretty straightforward. Some of it can be a little complicated, because it is a professional planning document. And some of that stuff is geared toward people within the planning and economic development profession, but it’s pretty straight forward, and I think the Saugus community is pretty well informed about what their community needs are. A lot of people have been living here from childhood and have started their own families here and have watched their parents decide to sell their homes and downsize and have to leave Saugus. It’s not an uncommon thing. So, I would say the community in and of itself really know what they need here. They’re not unaware that they want their parents to stay here, or they want their kids to come back from college and live here. And they’re aware that it’s a pricier market and the available housing isn’t necessarily what a starter home family or a single person may be looking for. So, as much as they might not be as informed about this plan in particular, this plan really echoes a lot of the concerns, and the needs and the desires of the community, because this community has people – you meet people all the time who were born and raised here and started their families here, so they’re more informed than that document could be, just because they live it every day.

Q; Are there some priority projects in addition to this – initiatives that the Planning Department will embrace?

Cole: We respond to the market forces. The most we can do in government is to prepare the market for the type of development that we wish to see as a community – responsible development. And so we can set the framework for what we’d like to see. But, the fact of the matter is, nothing will really happen unless we see the market forces, the investors, the developers and whatever else makes up the middle, kind of getting on the ground. They’ll come to us and they’ll express an interest. We’ll make sure that it’s regulatorily sufficient and then we facilitate the process for the permitting. There’s very few things outside of dollar stores and that kind of thing or cookie-cutter-type homes that we wouldn’t be willing to see or want to see here. As long as it’s a well-informed design and they’re a meaningful contributor to our community, we’d be glad to work with them. But for setting the vision and the policy, though, there’s very little we in government can do to enact any of that stuff. I think the biggest thing that draws us – we are 10 miles out of Boston and it’s a 12-minute ride on a good day. The fact of the matter is – our housing market – we have in many ways a community that has grown up in a small town, very much outside the influences of Boston. But that’s very much changed. You can see that just in the cost of a single family home in this town. It’s north of $350,000. That wasn’t the case just five years ago. Other communities, like Lynnfield, may have been experiencing this for a long time. They’re north of $700,000 for a single family home. But the reality is that Saugus – not only are our demographics changing, but we need to in some ways get out of the small-town mentality, because we are being absorbed by the greater influences of Boston at this point. And that’s going to change how we attract investment and the types of investment that we see.

Q: Okay. Is there anything you see in possible initiatives, like zoning, that need to …

Cole: Maybe not for housing. But, I do think to achieve some of our economic goals – especially in some of our commercial areas, like Cliftondale – I do think that some changes in zoning might have to happen or some variances may need to occur. Overlays, perhaps. But, at least with regard to housing, the trajectory that we are on is, frankly in my opinion, from an economic development perspective – not a planning perspective – from an eco-dev perspective, our trajectory is something that emboldens me. I’m very encouraged by what we’re seeing. My bigger concern is whether or not our existing infrastructure can accommodate the amount of investment we’re seeing in the next three to five years. That’s my biggest concern.

Q: Water and sewer?

Cole: Water and sewer. Traffic. The number of trips we see on Route 1 north and southbound now – let’s pretend we’re using that 17,000-unit figure that the state put out there, I don’t know what Saugus’ share of that is. But even if we were to add say 3,000 units [of housing] to Route 1 in the next three to five years, that’s going to have an obvious impact on the traffic that we see on Route 1. We have to be prepared to respond to that. And it’s a little bit outside of our control. Much like we – like we have to sometimes temper our enthusiasm to market forces, we also can’t forget the fact that as a community in Massachusetts, we are a political subdivision of the Commonwealth and so, there’s limited resources we have access to. But, also limited capabilities that we have to be able to solve these problems on our own. This will require a regional effort. And I think Saugus is uniquely situated to lead that way, because we are the gateway to the North Shore.

Leahy: Regarding zoning, quite a bit of zoning changes have taken place prior to myself or Steve coming on board the town. So, you saw the rezoning of Route 1, the overlay district for the waterfront area, the historic mixed-use overlay that’s near where the historic mills are – so a lot of that zoning has already been in place. And as you can see from Route 1, people are taking advantage of that new zoning. With the waterfront, the RiverWalk is in its infancy – but you will begin to see different types of investment there, with people taking advantage of the overlay. And, eventually with the historic mills, I think you’ll eventually begin to see … people taking advantage of the new opportunities underneath that overlay zoning. But at the moment, most of the mills are actually in use and very productive, so until something changes with that, there’s little opportunity at the moment for any development to go there.

As for other types of zoning in time, with Cliftondale, we might want to evaluate doing an overlay for down there. A lot of work had been done before us. And now, it’s trying to work within our new zoning, making sure that that zoning is honored. And you’ll see in the housing production plan, that MAPC does recommend that we look at what we call spot zoning, so you would find a parcel of land that is not necessarily the 20,000 square feet minimum lot size that’s required for housing production for a single family home. Say you find one that’s 12,000 and you’re providing that specific parcel with its own unique zoning overlay, so that if someone did want to come in and build a two-bedroom ranch, or a Cape-style house, they would actually be able to do that there. I don’t know when we’ll start that discussion, because that is a very sensitive topic, especially for many people on the western side of Route 1, where the lot sizes have just been consistently larger. So, you want to make sure that it fits within the character of that specific neighborhood. We might have some opportunities to do some of that spot zoning on the smaller lots on the east side, but again, it can be very sensitive and you want to be respectful of the current neighbors and the neighborhood characteristics that you see. That is probably one step in zoning that we can probably evaluate. But, at least from our department, we would really want to communicate and get feedback from the community before doing anything to start to change their neighborhoods. People settled there for a reason. And the last thing we want to do is make them unhappy with where they have chosen to settle down.

Q: Anything else that you would like to share about this?

Leahy: It’s a straightforward plan, because it’s not rezoning. It’s a plan, but it’s also very much a guideline. There really isn’t much that needs to be approved. I would just encourage everyone to go to the Planning and Development website and take a look at it and see the pretty graphs that are in there.

Q: This is already posted?

Leahy: Yes. It’s on there. I’m in the process of trying to get the rest of the Powerpoints on there because we want it all to be on that one page. Anyone who wants to view it should go to the Saugus Home Page and get the Planning and Development subpage. It’s under Housing, and they will be able to click and get documents that are on there.

Cole: Anybody who has any questions after reading the report, they are more than welcome to give our office a call and we’d be glad to talk to anybody.

   

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