WVN #555: Put the town in Town Center?
- Dear Wayland Voter,
"Fits our town, funds our future" was the ubiquitous slogan used in 2006 to sell voters on the Town Center commercial/residential project. Then officials campaigned with "We've got to get the Town Center up and running." The next slogan could be "Putting the town in Town Center."
Planners have been working out of the public eye on scenarios that suggest shuffling town functions to new locations. In one of them, the town would lease space in Town Center buildings. Imagine paying your tax bill on the second floor and then stopping for a cup of coffee from a shop below.
-- Also in this newsletter: After recommending the maximum fine for a violation of the Open Meeting Law, the state has decided another complaint filed against the School Committee. This time the School Committee won.
PUTTING THE TOWN IN TOWN CENTER
Part of the deal that voters approved in 2006 called for the Town Center developer to provide land where the town could construct a municipal building. The developer, who had never built a mixed-use project before, envisioned something resembling a New England village with a town green. Officials predicted that the project would bring in $500,000 or more annually in new tax revenue.
In many ways the reality has fallen short of the proposal: a reduced housing component with fewer affordable units, few locally-owned businesses, almost no new tax revenue so far, a municipal building site with an undetermined future, and continued contentious relations with the developer resulting in multi-million-dollar problems involving a new wastewater system.
Still, some officials seem willing to get even closer to the developer, Twenty Wayland, which has from the beginning extracted concessions from the town while threatening -- and eventually pursuing -- litigation. At several public meetings this spring, Twenty Wayland project manager Frank Dougherty threatened further litigation against the Town over delays in completing a land swap and easements for the wastewater plant in addition to unresolved disputes regarding plant user fees and betterment charges. Twenty Wayland has filed a property tax abatement request and plans to do so annually in the future.
Some “Town in Town Center” proposals would transfer taxpayers’ money to the developer, but so far there has been no demonstration that facilities savings elsewhere would cover this expense.
Shortly before his term as chairman of the Planning Board expired in April, Kent Greenawalt applied for a vacancy on the wastewater commission, which is trying to sort out financing that could cost even small users of the system five-figure improvement payments. Greenawalt, who works in commercial real estate, said he feels passionately about the Town Center, which he believes could be a vital part of Wayland for the next two centuries. His expressed concern for the interests of Twenty Wayland, which won a $1.2 million judgment from the town over rights to the system, raised some eyebrows. A candidate who assured the selectmen that he had no personal interest or stake in the matter was selected instead after Greenawalt withdrew his application.
Greenawalt remains on the Planning Board along with new Chairman Colleen Sheehan who has shown continued interest in the Town Center. Bill Whitney just retired as the Planning Board’s associate member. As a selectman he negotiated the development agreement with Twenty Wayland in 2005/2006.
Sell the Town Building?
At the April 29 Wayland Planning Board meeting several proposals were discussed. The accompanying powerpoint is online at:
Much of the discussion focused on the possibility of using now unleased space in the commercial part of Town Center for town offices, in place of the current town building.
Although it was remarked several times that up to $4 million would be needed to repair the current town building for continued use, no figures were given for the cost of constructing or leasing space in a new Town Center building. Some needed capital improvements to town hall have been postponed in recent years by the facilities director and the Finance Committee. .
One scenario calls for selling or leasing the current town building, first making only cosmetic changes. The new owner would face expensive changes but pay a lower price. There was no indication of how much money the town might get from selling or leasing the town hall.
From the Council on Aging’s Feb. 25 minutes: “The Energy Initiatives Advisory Committee is interested in moving the town building to the Town Center. The current building is poorly maintained and has many energy problems. It will take an heroic effort to sell the proposal by fall. It might be easier to move the senior center to the (Town Center) space that will be built across from the Orange Leaf (yogurt restaurant) until the current town building is sold.”
However, Energy Committee member and WVN reporter Tom Sciacca says the committee’s only discussion of a potential move focused on skepticism as to its viability and a strategy to deal with it as a roadblock to passage of its ESCO article in April’s Town Meeting. The ESCO (Energy Services Contract) includes extensive work to the Town Building to fix most of the energy problems, all to be paid for out of energy savings at no net cost to the town. The resolution was to split the project into two phases, with work on the town building delayed until the fall.
Energy Committee co-chair Ellen Tohn and Council on Aging minute-taker Mary Antes were among those who attended recent private Town Center planning sessions.
In the Jan. 21 COA minutes, member Bill Sterling “....said these ideas need to be refined into a single plan that can be sold as a package to the Town at a fall Town Meeting…”
Private Planning Meetings
During this past winter, brainstorming was led by Town Planner Sarkis Sarkisian and Planning Board Chairman Greenawalt in small, private, invitation-only meetings regarding Town Center property. Greenawalt and Sarkisian disclosed these sessions to the Planning Board at its March 4 meeting. http://www.wayland.ma.us/pages/WaylandMA_PlanningMin/2014/3-4-2014%20draft.pdf
On Page 2 of the March 4 meeting minutes there is a claim of significant cost savings but no financial analysis. Another claim is urgency: the town competes with commercial parties said to be interested in the Town Center Phase II retail and office space. No evidence is included.
In the Planning Board’s March 18 meeting minutes, Page 2, Sarkisian reports back from Greenawalt’s March 10 presentation to the selectmen. “....He noted that the selectmen were in favor of exploring options further and asked that the planner confirm that funds are available for hiring a consultant…”
WayCAM’s recording and the selectmen’s March 10 meeting minutes show no vote of the Board of Selectmen endorsing the Town moving forward on a plan to reconfigure town facilities. It is Greenawalt’s view that this initiative is in the purview of the Planning Board. He was encouraged to do more homework.
It is not known who voted to authorize the private meetings before then and what funding source paid for the professional drawings in the April 29 powerpoint presentation, which is not marked “draft.”
The facilities study approved by 2012 annual Town Meeting voters, which Sarkisian and Greenawalt say contributes to their current planning activities, was never publicly presented to taxpayers by the consultant who performed the work. http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_Facilities/BldgUseAuditMay2013.pdf
Page 55 in the 2012 ATM warrant describes what was proposed, item 2a in the capital budget:
The agenda for the April 29 Planning Board meeting emphasized that planning was needed to determine the most appropriate use of the "municipal parcel" on the west side of Town Center. This land is to be donated by the developer to the town and was intended for a new 40,000-square-foot building to be built at town expense. There was also to be a 100-space parking lot. The library and the Council on Aging had considered sharing the new buildingl. The gift parcel was touted as a major benefit when the Town Center concept was proposed to voters.
However, state law forbids most new construction within 200 feet of the average high water mark of any river, and most of the municipal parcel falls within that boundary. So it is unclear whether any new buildings or new parking lots can be built there. During the Planning Board public hearings in 2006-2007, citizens’ recommendations that the muni-parcel be moved away from the river and wetlands went unheeded.
A smaller, empty, unfinished building sits in the municipal parcel where parking was planned. This building, designated “the day care center,” may or may not be usable. Construction began more than a decade ago without required authorization while investigations for the presence of hazardous waste on other parts of the property were being planned by the former occupant, the Raytheon Company. The entire property at that time was covered by an Activity and Use Limitation. The building has never been occupied. If the building isn’t used, the Town would have to pay for demolition. Either way, an environmental site assessment of the municipal parcel would be recommended.
7 Planning Options
Several options for modifying the use of town property were discussed at the April 29 Planning Board meeting. Some involved moving the library from its current building. This suggestion elicited the most response from the audience, which was solidly against moving the library.
Construct a new building in the municipal parcel which would accommodate the library and the Council on Aging. Put the school department in the current library building. Use the school's space in the town building for an arts center. Use the art center space in Firehouse Two and expand the fire house.
Construct a new building for the Council on Aging on the municipal parcel and keep the library in its current building. Move the arts center to town hall or else to the new building.
Move the library to a new building on the municipal parcel and the school department to the current library building. Move the Arts Center to the Town Building using space freed by the school department.
Options 4 and 5
Move some town hall departments to a new building at Town Center in the municipal parcel. Keep the Children's Way preschool and Recreation office at the town hall. Move the library to the town hall. Add a two-story addition to town hall for the library. Powerpoint slides remark that there is probably not enough room at the current town hall site for this, so this is not a realistic option. A variation (“Option 5”) includes using the unfinished day care building at the municipal parcel for the school department and the arts center. This was also marked as not realistic because there was not room to expand the current town building to include the library.
Various configurations would use space where the current DPW building (old highway garage) near the middle school now stands, to accommodate the library and/or a playing field. The current DPW building will be demolished when the new one on River Road is finished.
Erect a new building in the commercial area of the Town Center near the town waste water treatment plant and/or lease space for town offices above the stores in a future Town Center building, then sell the current town hall building after making cosmetic changes.
Meetings to Introduce Options
The Planning Board proposes a sequence of public meetings to introduce residents to the suggested options and hear from town residents. A talk is planned at the League of Women Voters Annual Meeting on May 28 with the topic "Putting the Town in Town Center." This will be presented by Town Planner Sarkis Sarkisian and Planning Board members Colleen Sheehan and Kent Greenawalt.
After this, public meetings with breakout groups are planned for June, September, October and November. In so-called charrettes, groups talk and then present their opinions to the whole. These findings could be incorporated in future Town Meeting articles on new configurations for town facilities.
No Financial Information
Missing from this brainstorming initiative is associated financial planning information. So far there are no publicly available financial priorities among the stakeholders, no capital planning timelines, no cost projections, no cost/benefit analyses, no tax rate impact estimates, no debt schedules.
The Town lost a $1.2 million wastewater lawsuit to the Town Center developer in 2013; that cost has not yet been paid. Smaller plant users have hired an attorney to protect their financial interests while wastewater disputes continue. If the developer’s promised $3 million in “gift” money is used to soften those financial impacts, it’s not clear what would be left to offset the cost of building at the municipal parcel.
Wayland taxpayers have just begun to pay down the debt on the new $70-million high school and the new $12-million DPW facility. The costly elementary schools reconfiguration and the new River’s Edge housing project were approved last month at the annual Town Meeting.
Wayland’s estimated FY15 tax rate is expected to exceed $20, with the July 1 tax bill expected to reflect an approximate 10% tax increase.
-- WVN Staff
STATE SIDES WITH SCHOOL COMMITTEE
The state has rejected a complaint that the Wayland School Committee violated the Open Meeting Law when it excluded the public before appointing a team to assist in union negotiations.
Saying it wanted to reduce the cost of lawyers, the Committee met in executive session where it appointed volunteers to attend bargaining sessions and act as liaison. The decision issued on May 5 by Assistant Attorney General Mark Higgins hinged on the complainant’s argument that the bargaining team is a public body as defined by the Open Meeting Law.
The team was assigned to meet with union representatives and identify possible areas of agreement, then report back to the Committee and its lawyers.
“It made no formal recommendations to the Committee, nor was it charged with any specific decision-making or policy advisory authority,” Higgins wrote. “...The team did not approve the contract proposals nor did it vote any other actions. The team acted as a conduit of information between the bargaining sessions and the Committee.”
Though the team was “within government” and served a public purpose, Higgins said, it lacked the power to act collectively, and therefore wasn’t a “public body” under the law.
The decision was issued a week after another decision in which Higgins declared the School Committee in deliberate violation of the OML and recommended the maximum fine of $1,000. The offense involved an executive session to discuss an employee, later fired, who was accused of unauthorized access to financial accounting software. School Committee member Donna Bouchard and George Harris, a lawyer and former selectman, filed complaints independently. Harris filed the complaint involving the negotiating team.
-- Michael Short
WALKING TOUR OF COCHITUATE
Sunday, May 18, 2 p.m. Gretchen Schuler, chair of the Historic District Commission and vice-chair of the Community Preservation Committee, will lead a walking tour of Cochituate Village, beginning at the Community Methodist Church. The public is invited to learn how Cochituate Village evolved from a rural farming community into a shoe manufacturing village in the late 1800’s.
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED TO SERVE ON NEW HOUSING TRUST BOARD
The Selectmen are seeking seven volunteers interested in serving on Wayland’s new Municipal Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board. Details are posted on the town website:
Establishing this new Trust was approved by voters at last month’s town meeting. For more information about 2014 Annual Town Meeting article 12, scroll down to page 64:
The Town still awaits the attorney general’s approval of Wayland’s newly passed local legislation.
MEMORIAL DAY PARADE
Wayland’s Public Ceremonies Committee invites the community to participate in the annual Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 26. For information about the program of activities:
JUNE IS REAPPOINTMENT MONTH
Wayland town government is made up of hundreds of volunteers. As clarified at the selectmen’s May 12 meeting, the following link is to a list of board positions whose terms expire June 30 as well as to board positions currently vacant. Registered voters are encouraged to consider serving. For more information:
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor