Dear Councillor Winslow:
Please accept this letter from Mystic Valley Regional Charter School (MVRCS), which expresses the school’s opposition to the City of Maiden’s strategy for planning the future of Maplewood Square, as outlined in Mayor Christenson’s Request for Technical Assistance letter to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
MVRCS agrees that there ought to be a plan for improving Maplewood Square. However, the mayor’s proposed direction, as outlined in his letter, raises serious questions regarding the newly formed Future of Maplewood Square Committee (Committee). This leads the school to believe that the process is already fundamentally flawed. Our objections are as follows.
The Committee was created in a non-transparent, non-inclusive manner. The Committee is not representative of Maplewood Square or its stakeholders.
For over 100 years and until the gerrymandered district lines were redrawn (effective January I, 2022), Maplewood Square was entirely inside of Ward 6 boundaries. Ward 6 still holds claim to over 75 percent of the land area and more than 80 percent of the businesses within the square. The Committee, in its current iteration, is composed of five members. Only one member; Councilor Winslow, is from Ward 6. Three members are from Ward 5, two of whom do not live within one mile of Maplewood Square. There is only one commercial business owner from the square on the Committee, but this person does not reside in Malden and has only been in Maplewood Square for two years, mostly during the pandemic.
The Committee does not contain a single commercial property owner within the defined Maplewood Square historically surveyed area as defined by the Malden Historical Commission Survey of 2016-2017, which is largely the reason this Committee was initially established. There are many viable long-term property owners and stakeholders with longstanding interests in Maplewood who are likely to be most impacted. These stakeholders are notably absent from Committee representation. Instead, the current Committee is comprised largely of politicians, government bureaucrats, and social service providers who work in the nonprofit sector. Are these the people who are best equipped to determine what should occur with the property owners’ buildings?
The Committee does not include a single resident homeowner who lives in the defined Maplewood Square historically surveyed area or any of its adjacent streets, as defined by the Malden Historical Commission Survey of 2016-2017. There are owner-occupied houses within the defined district and streets directly abutting it. No earnest attempt was made to reach out to these individuals, despite it being a common courtesy to seek volunteers from within 300 feet of the defined area. These homeowners will be far more impacted than those who currently sit on the Committee and should have been included.
While a business owner sits on the Committee and while we believe he will provide meaningful feedback, we respectfully note that the business opened just two years ago, immediately prior to the pandemic. Of note, it is located on Lebanon St., where there are a fraction of the businesses that are on Salem St. Lebanon St. is also less impacted by bus transportation. This business typically does not open until later in the day, limiting exposure to the morning rush hour traffic. The Committee, therefore, should be expanded to include members with more longevity and experience in Maplewood. MVRCS would be glad to furnish a list of viable business and property owners upon request.
The mayor’s letter cites the 2010 Master Plan. That Master Plan, largely created by MAPC, was rejected by the Malden City Council in 2011. Thus, citing it is misleading. When the City Council voted down the 2010 Master Plan, it effectively made that report irrelevant from a planning perspective. In fact, it is our understanding that it was rejected largely because it called for increased housing density around “Squares and Centers” such as Maplewood Square. In the Vision Survey of 2008, Malden citizens resoundingly opposed more apartments, particularly outside of downtown Malden. Further, during the Moratorium Survey of 2017, an overwhelming majority of the residents of Ward 6 and the city at large voiced their opposition to any further apartment growth within the city. The citizens expressed support for height limits of no more than three stories outside of downtown Malden (the height limit was lowered to four stories) and opposition to bike lanes on streets. Despite that direct feedback from the citizens, the letter appears to be promoting both more density and the creation of bike lanes. For clarification, MVRCS is aware of the results of the 2017 Moratorium Survey because MVRCS students performed the data entry for most survey responses after a volunteer request from the mayor’s Office. At the project’s completion, the report was provided to the school for documentation of student hours.
Although MAPC is a decent organization, its conflicts on this matter cannot be ignored.
MAPC is effectively an arm of the State of Massachusetts and has a stated agenda. It cannot possibly be an unbiased arbiter in this process.
Its mission is to “promote Smart Growth,” achieved, in large part, by lobbying cities and towns to adopt the state’s housing agenda. That agenda has established a target for Malden to add over 6,900 housing units by 2030.
The implementation of MAPC’s agenda will exacerbate current traffic concerns in Maplewood Square to a far greater extent than MVRCS’s planned growth. Traffic congestion is almost always cited as a problem in Maplewood Square, and, in the last decade, MVRCS has added almost none, due to an enrollment cap that was only recently increased. We acknowledge that traffic is increasingly problematic during rush hour and other times during school days. Schools like MVRCS, however, have not collectively added any traffic to the Salem St. corridor in the last decade. What has, in fact, compounded problems with traffic congestion is the city, in many respects steered by planners from MAPC, introducing more than 3,000 housing units (many on the east side of town in the Overlook Ridge Development). This growth has filled our streets with thousands of cars each day.
Creating many more housing units in the City of Malden, one of the five most densely populated cities in the Commonwealth, is not the answer for Malden nor Maplewood.
With the 2009 Land Use Plan, the 2010 Master Plan, and the attempted 2018 Housing Needs Analysis, MAPC has demonstrated that it is unable to act in a manner not in accordance with its mission when it conducts such work for the city. MAPC has a well-documented track record of producing results that are consistent with its mission and organizational goals, rather than what the majority of the citizens of Malden would prefer.
Because MAPC cannot ignore its mission, we believe the city should seek an unbiased private planning entity to provide technical assistance in creating the neighborhood plan.
It is surprising and insulting that MVRCS was not invited to participate in the February 28, 2022 meeting of the Future of Maplewood Square Committee, particularly given that MVRCS is currently engaging in productive negotiations with the mayor and the City of Malden. MVRCS is Maplewood Square’s largest property owner with over 135,000 square feet of land within the defined Maplewood Square historically surveyed area. The school is also the square’s largest lessee, renting over 70,000 square feet of land from the Archdiocese of Boston (Saint Joseph’s Parish). MVRCS is the area’s largest employer, with a multimillion-dollar payroll and more than 150 employees working in Maplewood, and we are also a longtime Malden Chamber of Commerce member in good standing.
MVRCS implores the Committee to consider its concerns seriously. The composition of the Committee must be addressed, and MAPC’s involvement is inherently problematic. Thank you for your time and consideration.
George D. Warren
Chairman, MVRCS Board of Trustees