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WVN #347: Housing vs. open space

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, You may have seen the signs on lawns around town asking Town Meeting voters to vote for Article 15 to preserve Dudley Woods. And you may
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2010
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      You may have seen the signs on lawns around town asking Town Meeting voters to vote for Article 15 "to preserve Dudley Woods." And you may have wondered, preserve what?

      Dudley Woods isn't a formal name for seven town-owned acres near Dudley Pond, land that had been earmarked for affordable housing. Residents of the area who said they were unhappy with what seemed to be a fast-track process created the petitioners' article that would leave the land open except for the possibility of neighborhood septic treatment.

      The article has generated conflict between two groups of well-meaning people, advocates of housing and advocates of open space and environmental protection for Dudley Pond. One housing advocate accuses the proponents of "faux environmentalism" and "Not in My Back Yard" opposition. On the other side there is the feeling, articulated from time to time, that housing advocates concentrate dwellings into the already densely populated southern part of Wayland.

      Open space is a recognized town goal that can enhance desirability and property values. At the same time, Wayland has a strong interest in making progress toward affordable housing goals to avoid state interference.

      Also in this newsletter: Another top school official is leaving.

      PRESERVE WOODS OR BUILD HOUSING?

      Article 15 would transfer most of the designated parcels off of Route 27 near Doran Road to the Conservation Commission, with a smaller amount transferred to the Waste Water District Management Commission. It would reverse Town Meeting decisions of 1977 and 1979 to transfer the acreage to the Wayland Housing Authority.

      Proponents say the article would provide usable open space while protecting the septic needs of a crowded neighborhood and the health of Dudley Pond. Opponents argue that no action should be taken until more is known about the town's housing needs and the impact of any housing on the pond.

      Last summer an attempt was made to make a feasibility study to see if some combination of community septic system, housing, and conservation land could be made on these neglected town-owned parcels.

      A development limit of 29 bedrooms was set because of septic restrictions, but a more careful study of the land was needed to determine if this was reasonable. The goal was to provide attractive middle class family housing, similar to the 89 Oxbow (Nike Site) housing and at the same time improve the quality of Dudley Pond by leveraging state grant money to build a community septic field or a small package plant neighbors could tie into. It was assumed that a conservation cluster would be desirable, where only a small part of the land would be used for housing, roughly two acres of the 7.3-acre site.

      The town issued a request for proposals for a feasibility study after obtaining a grant from the state. When the proposals came in, a working group was formed to select a firm to do the feasibility study. The working group included a member of the Dudley Pond Association and a second person representing the Surface Water Quality Commission, who also lived on Dudley Pond. Other neighbors and abutters were not notified by the working group but were thought to have been notified by the Dudley Pond Association representative. A firm was chosen, but after the deadline for spending the money in the state grant.

      Several neighbors of the Doran Road property attended the open meetings of the working group. They organized an activist group called the Wayland Neighbors for Responsible Land Use, or WN4RLU. WN4RLU wanted no housing to interfere with the integrity of nearby Dudley Pond, with 1.5 acres set aside for potential septic relief for existing homes. The housing proponents maintain that with development there could be improvement to the pond health through better roads, community septic facilities or improved drainage.

      WN4RLU asserts that this parcel is much more ecologically sensitive than many others in town because of underground drainage into Dudley Pond, which is categorized as Class 5 by the Department of Environmental Protection, meaning that it needs nutrient reduction. Details on prior studies of the area's hydrology and septic characteristics can be seen at

      http://www.issuu.com/wswqc

      The group supporting Article 15 also points out there is no other open space in the vicinity and expresses puzzlement at the town's propensity to buy open space while wanting to develop a natural site it already owns. The group supports buying more existing homes for affordable housing and notes many neighbors in the area live in affordable housing.

      Supporters say visitors to the woods have been surprised at the undisturbed wildness, declaring the woods a "gem." Children took delight in discovering the feel of the dirt road. Dudley Woods is near the Middle School, on both sides of Pond Drive and at the end of Doran Road. There is access to the pond via Doran.

      WN4RLU conducted a clean-up in which two truckloads of refuse including a discarded refrigerator were removed.

      The area around the site is densely settled, with many houses on tiny lots. A significant percentage of Wayland residents live within a short distance of the woods.

      WN4RLU members led tours for for members of the Planning Board, the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee and other interested parties. Representatives of WNRLU have attended meetings of the Conservation Commission, the Housing Partnership and other committees in town, presenting concerns and asking for support.

      No studies have been made yet to see if the reserved acreage would be the best place for septic. However, several prior reports have identified the Doran parcel for septic relief.

      At the Conservation Commission meeting on April 29 a WN4RLU member said there was a vernal pool on the property. ConCom member Andy Irwin said that if community septic were in the wrong place it could harm a vernal pool. The designated future septic area is near the road, far away from the low portion of the land and the pond.

      Irwin wanted to see some commitment of abutters to use a community septic system if it were built. An attempt ten years ago to locate a septage facility there drew no neighborhood support. Since that time, the town and residents have become aware of the need to reduce nutrients in the pond, which has suffered from periodic milfoil invasions.

      Irwin also noted that a large leaching field would require the removal of trees, which means again that the area for septic should be chosen after careful study. Irwin also expressed support for a conservation cluster.

      Since the septic problem at Dudley Pond is long-standing and financial (better systems than existing ones can be built, but they are expensive), it was hoped that leveraging state grants for both housing and septic facilities feasibility could be arranged. It is more difficult to obtain grants for septic study alone, and such a study would need to take place before community septic facilities could be built. However, given the impact on the pond, other grants for septic study are possible. The development team that had been chosen in fall 2009 had grant specialists, civil engineers versed in septic analysis and architects. The grant proposal process has been started again.

      Town administrator Fred Turkington says in an email dated April 29 that a grant proposal was to be submitted to Massachusetts Department of Housing (the granting authority) the following day stating: "The funding will be used to develop a conceptual plan to allow the town to make an informed decision as to the best use of the property from among several potential town and neighborhood purposes and goals, including affordable housing, open space and passive recreation uses, protection of Dudley Pond, and septic treatment."

      QUESTIONS OF PROCESS IN ARTICLES 15 and 25

      The different approaches embodied in Articles 15 and 25 (to create recreation facilities at the former Dow Chemical site) raise the issue: What process should the town pursue before deciding the use of town-owned land? Article 15 opponents, including the selectmen (voting 4-1), maintain that a study should be made prior to any decision. Article 25 supporters maintain that no feasibility study is needed before undoing the will of the 2004 Town Meeting. That 2004 vote to transfer the open areas of the Loker property to the Recreation Commission was the outcome of an open public process, supported by town-appropriated funds and consultants. Article 25 petitioners, supported personally by at least two selectmen, have their own concept and business deal planned to maximize use of the land, taking control of the property away from the Recreation Commission and giving the Board of selectmen carte blanche to determine the outcome. The petitioners are unwilling to wait until July when the Recreation Commission expects to complete its comprehensive Field Study of all available lands, including the Loker property. Citizen requests of the Article 25 petitioners for public hearings to be inclusive of the entire community have been ignored.

      In an April 5 email to lead petitioner Steve Goldstein, FinCom member Paul Grasso tried to provide insight into why he voted against recommending a Yes vote on Article 25 that evening. Among his comments was reference to his discomfort with the process: "........My lack of comfort with the article now is not related to the 30Rec concept per se, but instead to the disjointed permitting board process as the neighborhood's only source of influence on it........my feeling is that there should be more opportunity to gain a better understanding of this project's potential impact prior to committing to the RFP and permitting process."

      Involving neighbors appears to be a weak point in the process of both articles, as can be seen by emails involving Doran Road/Dudley Woods. In May 2007 neighbors appeared at a selectmen's meeting when the topic was moving an existing home onto the property. In September 2007, the head of the Housing Authority emailed Town Administrator Fred Turkington requesting an article at Town Meeting to transfer the remaining two town-owned parcels in the area to the selectmen and requesting their approval for a grant for a conceptual plan for the area.

      Turkington responded saying he was "surprised by your email. It was my understanding following the most recent discussions among the Housing Authority, the Doran Road neighbors, and the selectmen at our meeting on May 21st, the Housing Authority agreed to spend some time reviewing concerns raised by the residents and attempt to address those concerns before proceeding. Among the concerns was the elimination of `open space' enjoyed by the residents by developing a portion of the municipal parcels, the impact of any project, regardless of size, on the quality of Dudley Pond; and the lack of any specific details on the project.... I assume that this grant would fund inquiries into the concerns raised by the neighbors and be used to develop a concept plan that would be vetted well in advance of a town meeting vote on articles needed to facilitate the construction of affordable housing in that area. I believe the selectmen expect such a concept plan, reviewed at public hearings and modified to address neighborhood concerns, as a prerequisite to placing the enabling articles before town meeting."

      Housing advocates say they came up with the idea of a feasibility study prior to a Town Meeting decision as a result of those concerns. They say the study would have to answer the question "How much housing could the land support?" and they were aware that the answer could be zero.

      Fast forward to 2009, when in late spring, Request for Proposals had been issued and the Housing Partnership notified the Dudley Pond Association and Surface Water Quality Committee, who alerted the neighbors. That grant proposal was to determine the quantity of housing the site could support, but did not include any funds for septic analysis or impact on the pond.

      -- WVN Staff


      SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR TURNOVER

      Another member of the four-person senior Wayland school administration team is leaving. School Business Administrator Joy Buhler will retire in August, the third senior administrator to leave in the last several years. Director of Student Services Doris Goldthwaite also retired recently, and Assistant Superintendent Wayne Ogden assumed management of the Franklin schools in 2006.

      Superintendent Gary Burton, 64, is also expected to retire soon.

      Buhler told WVN that "having reached a 'certain age' and being blessed with fairly good health, I'm looking forward to opening a new chapter in my life....I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to see where life takes me and to follow my late parents' advice -- 'Don't work too long. Life's too short.'"

      A replacement recommended by Buhler has already been hired, Geoff MacDonald, who held a similar position in Hopkinton. Buhler comments, "Geoff MacDonald is a seasoned and well-respected business administrator whom I have gotten to know through the TEC (The Education Cooperative) job-alike group and through MASBO, the professional association of school business officials here in Massachusetts." School Committee Chair Louis Jurist says that the district must have a certified business administrator, and the High School building project is required to have a certified procurement officer. Buhler is both, as is MacDonald. In addition, he has had significant building project experience in Hopkinton with both the high school and an elementary school.

      "The availability of such a person," Jurist said, "at exactly the very short period of time when we need it, is quite unusual. He came very well-recommended. There is not an abundance of people with this level of qualification and experience. The pool is not great and one cannot look outside of Massachusetts as the certifications are Mass.-specific, as are the many rules, forms, etc., that the job demands."

      MacDonald was recruited and interviewed by Buhler and Burton without a formal search, and then interviewed by the School Committee before an offer was made. Burton did not know MacDonald before Buhler suggested he be contacted, but strongly recommended him to the School Committee.

      MacDonald, who will be paid the same $129,000 salary as Buhler, was in demand. He had already received an offer from a nearby town at a similar salary, and Hopkinton countered his new offers at an even higher level. But he chose Wayland, where he will start on Aug. 23.

      Buhler says she is retiring at the end of August, rather than the end of the fiscal year in June, to allow her to "close out the fiscal year, ensure that student transportation services are ready to go in September, and to work on the end of year financial report for the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education." It also allows a week's overlap with MacDonald.

      -- Tom Sciacca
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      Michael Short, Editor
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