Want to be ‘the first to hear’?

Good morning!

We are all working on wrapping our heads around everything that happened last night, and will get a summary description post done asap.

HOWEVER, one thing we learned is that there are still a lot of people who plan to attend these Hearings who aren’t on our various mailing lists, or who are missing email notifications that get shunted into ‘spam’ or ‘promotions’ folders.

We have several methods to make sure you are updated in ‘real-time’:

  1. Scroll to the bottom of our homepage, or click here to reach us in 2 ways: a) send an email via ‘hello@boxboroughtowncenter.org’, or b) sign up for the newsletter listAdding yourself to this list via the website also means that you will receive an email when a new blog post is published.
  2. You can also join our email mailing list via the public Facebook page, Neighbors of Boxborough
  3. Note – for email mailings, we’ve started using a free service that makes it easy for you to ‘unsubscribe’. The catch is that the emails come from ‘Boxborough Town Center’, rather from either of us, as individuals. Thus, you need to check your spam and promotions folders, and add the email to your contact list. 
  4. You can ask to join our closed Facebook group – just for Boxborough community members. We mostly talk about the Town Center project, but we also share notices about other development projects in town, road closings, and community-related events / public service announcements. It is a friendly place, and a fun way to ‘meet’ neighbors.
  5. You can join nextdoor.com – which is basically everything I just described about our community Facebook group, but also has other topics like classified ads, recommendations of local services, notifications about lost pets, etc. I find it very handy, and the Boxborough population has grown recently to over 550 people!

So, if you follow any of these steps, you will be amongst the first to know about any upcoming meetings – and especially about time / date changes… since it seems they have been happening a LOT (often right when we have a large turnout planned…. some say coincidence, but – well, you should decide for yourself).

Running scared? The Developers cancelled tonight’s meeting!!

Dear all,

Well – our wave of support & interest may have thrown a bit of a wrench into things today.

In theory, in just a few short hours, a large portion of our community was supposed to gather  to hear the Planning Board present – for the first time – its drafted set of Conditions upon which it may accept the submitted proposal to build a private development of 100 new homes on the parcel of land that was intended to become a shared, mixed-use Town Center for all.

However, at the 11th hour (again!), the applicants have indicated that they will request a continuance this evening, since the Planning Board did not provide them with an advance copy of the draft Conditions.

Those Conditions were to be reviewed in front of Town Counsel, who had to cancel their appearance tonight due to a family member’s death.

(Side note – in the last 10 months, at the majority of these Hearings, the applicants have brought ‘new material’ to the Planning Board – without giving them any time to read it in advance. I can’t for the life of me see why the Planning Board couldn’t present their draft Conditions tonight in person, even without Town Counsel present. Seems like a convenient excuse to me – one that smells like something straight out of a ‘how to break a community’s momentum’ play book… no?)

So, a number of us will be sure to attend this evening to push for a pubic continuance – ideally with as much notice as possible, given the scheduling changes that were already made by many to attend the meeting tonight! – and we will circle back to let you know when that next Hearing will be held.

(If anyone would like to join us, feel free! We can even move the ‘meeting’ to a different public place if we can answer any of your questions, or if you’d like to meet some neighbors with related concerns)

That said, I’ll just leave you with this illustration of just how engaged we have all become, at least based on our website traffic this weekend.

As you can see – and the pattern is consistent in the volume of Facebook discussion in both the closed and public groups – there is a large and growing groundswell of interest and objection amongst community members.

We have not given up.

We will NOT give up.

We will not accept this proposal as a matter of attrition.

Thank you for sticking with us in this – even in the face of what feel like sneaky corporate maneuvering!

Yours in community,

Heather, Wes, and so many of your neighbors.

Nov 20th – Does it really matter if I’m there?

Yes.

Yes, it does matter. Oh – and I have a plan.

(skip to the end to read the Plan, unless you need to read the rest for a recap and/or compelling reasons as to why you should come on Monday night…)

So, here’s the thing, as I just posted in our Facebook group, it is truly important that you (yes, you!) come to join the Public Hearing on Monday (8pm – or earlier, to get a good seat! – at the BCC, 30 Middle Road).

Why?

Well, yes – I know why many of you have stopped attending in person (the Facebook live coverage is great, tho – right?), or have felt all along that the community voice was meaningless. That there seemed to be no hope to stop, or even curtail the development efforts of a deep-pocketed team like Fenton&Jeanson (and the Toll Bros partners).

But the thing is, we’ve learned from other communities that a concerted, determined, vocal, informed, and coordinated group of citizens CAN impact the outcome of these projects.

We’ve heard about ‘failures’, too – even here locally, where (small) groups of residents have banded together to try to derail a project that impacted their neighborhood. Yet, even with significant cost of time & money, these efforts saw no positive influence, in the end.  I can imagine how discouraging that would feel.

The Town Center project is different. Remember this map? It shows that we are not just a “collection of a few abutters”. From what I hear, the only other time we had this wide-spread objection to a proposed development was when a Casino was slated to be built near 495.

That is the class of objection we are dealing with here. But, if the Planning Board only sees that we were upset, and that only a fraction of us are still hanging on at the Public Hearings, they will enter into their 30 day deliberation period feeling as though the Town gave up their concerns and objections. Or that we think they should just set some standard conditions and hope that the building inspection team keeps the project ‘on plan’.

Instead, let’s show them we DO care. We care a LOT.

We care that the construction & blasting is going to disrupt our lives. Risk damage to our homes. Traumatize our pets. Scare our kids. Endanger our water supply. Destroy our roads. Delay our commutes.

We care that the addition of 100 multi-story homes – built within an arms length of each other – will add a significant burden to our Town’s services budget, with only a fraction of the promised benefit to our community.

We care that the Town voted to build a Multiuse Town Center, with a Green for gathering, with Services for our seniors, with Retail shops to keep our spending local in our community – and yet what we’re getting instead is a Private, Gated, Luxury development that none of us can access – not even to walk our dogs, or for our kids to travel safely from 111 to their homes on Priest Lane and beyond… though we will be able to admire their exclusive-use Pool and Recreation Complex from our main road.

We care that the 200 cars operated by the senior drivers that live in these homes will all be trying to enter and exit onto that busy main road – at a blind intersection that our own Police Chief finds objectionably dangerous.

We care that the Boxborough we live in – by choice and/or by heritage – is a Rural, Engaged Community for All.  Our 2030 Vision plan does NOT look like what is being proposed.

And We CARE that the only reason we are even having this discussion is because of a horrible, unintended mis-wording of an outdated by-law. It is so unimaginably wrong that it would be comical, if it wasn’t so real in terms of its permanent implications and negative impact on our Town.

So – Yes. It does matter that you come, and join us on Monday for what may well be the last Public Hearing on this project.

Please, let us send the Planning Board into their deliberations with Zero reservations about the community’s level of commitment to their opposition to this ‘Town Center’ proposal.

Oh, and the PLAN I mentioned? Well, there are a few parts to it – some of which will be clear when you arrive on Monday night. But the part YOU can play is this:

Stand for what you agree with. Stand for what you believe in.

What that means, is that we’ve all heard – over and over – that the Planning Board can only listen to new comments & questions. The community as a whole has actually sent so many letters and comments, the physical file on this project is enormous. But I’m worried how the Planning Board will be able to parse through it all, now.

So, here’s my idea. Think of it like a ‘closing argument’ on one of the legal shows on Prime Time television. On Monday – If someone gets up and makes a statement that resonates with you – don’t just applaud when they are done. Stand Up.

Show the Planning Board ,”I agree”, by silently standing any time you agree. That will give them a highly visible emphasis that none of us is alone in our thoughts, feelings, worries, and objections.

Let’s speak with one voice – even if only one of us is allowed to be heard. 

Thank you. See you Monday night.

Traffic Detour – see you this weekend!

Greetings, Community –

With the construction planned this weekend on 111 / Mass Ave, all traffic will be routed onto Stow/Burroughs Road or Middle Road @ the Town Hall.

This offers a great chance for residents to ‘see’ where the planned 100 new houses will be built (and also get a taste for what traffic on and off these intersections may look like, in that future).

So, watch for my new signs, and feel free to slow down and peek up and out your window as you pass by. Up above the few houses is where all the new condos will be built.

(After an estimated 5 years of blasting, construction, and 25,000 cubic yards of earth removal, aka 2500 truck trips on our roads, each weighing ~75000 lb. Gee, I wonder what condition Stow and Burroughs Roads will be in after that. Not to mention Priest Lane… if the trucks can even navigate that hill in the first place, of course.)

Yeah. I love this whole plan. 😐

Hope to see you at the Planning Board Public Hearing on Monday 11/20. I’ll have more blog posts and a newsletter coming out over the next few days to help you get ready.

 

Oct 11 Newsletter: Public Hearing remains open; PB considering ‘conditions’

The next Public Hearing will be held at 30 Middle Road (across from Town Hall) on Monday, October 16th, at 8:15pm. The Planning Board starts at 7:30, but this issue will be opened at 8:15pm.

A new, public Facebook group has been launched since 10/2, and we will start broadcasting the Hearings via Facebook Live in this location (i.e., you will not have to be a member of the closed BTC group to see the videos either in real time, or the archived version after-the-fact).

While I am thrilled that technology allows us to provide this option for community members to view the proceedings without attending in person, I also firmly believe that it is VERY important to have a strong in-person showing at the Hearings. Thus far, we have not been able to specifically ask questions on behalf of those people ‘watching at home’, and the sound isn’t always great.

If you can possibly make it in person, please come. There were plenty of seats available last week.

A few highlights from the 10/2 meeting (which can be viewed in the closed FB group, with comments that have been timestamped with notes about when various topics are being discussed. There was also a short article covered in the Beacon.):

  • The Chair spent a great deal of time reading from the 2012 by-laws, to highlight sections of the existing code that pertain to the application at hand. The inference from the audience is that he wanted to draw attention to the fact that the PB’s decision (and any conditions they place on a possible approval) will and must be guided by these by-laws. There was a lot of attention paid to concerns about safety.
  • Both the Fire and Police chiefs were present to field questions from both the PB and the public. Many of these questions had to do with blasting, and also with traffic on 111. The Fire Chief’s stance seemed to be largely “blasting has happened in town before, and we’ll handle it again just fine” (though he did acknowledge that he had NOT explored the extent of blasting that is anticipated for the current application), whereas the Police Chief took a largely opposite stance re his area of purview, namely that he “wanted to learn from past mistakes that had been made in Town, so as to ensure the safety of all, and minimize expense to the Town’s Public Works, in the design and implementation of this proposal”. i.e., The Fire Chief’s approach felt very ‘retrospective’ and ‘reactive’, whereas the Police Chief’s struck me as pro-active and prospective. Very disappointing and refreshing, respectively, in equal measures.
  • The Toll Brothers’ representative presented their estimates that 25,000 cubic yards of blasting was anticipated. I used this statement as an opportunity to present the PB with my 3D model of the topography of the area in question, to highlight just how much elevation would need to be removed to achieve the <5% grade that is required by the State for Senior housing developments. James Fenton suggested that the existing site plan did take that original topography into account, and directed us to pages 16-23 to see the profiles of the roads they are planning. I have tried to interpret the drawings and find them very hard to interpret, I may go into Town Hall to ask for Adam to help me read them.
  • There was a LONG debate between the developers, their lawyers, and the Planning Board regarding whether and what and when the details of the Purchase and Sale agreement between the current applicants and Toll Brothers would be made available to the Town. The boiled down version is that it likely won’t become public until after the property has been transferred to Toll – presumably not until Toll is ready to break ground (according to Mr Ballard). This decision seemed largely determined by the lawyers, despite the applicants having offered to provide this information at the previous Public Hearing. The Planning Board’s interest appeared to be based on reservations as to whether any conditional agreements being extended to the current applicants would be carried out / honored by the soon-to-be-owners, Toll Brothers. A resident raised a concern based on a recent (and ongoing) lawsuit in nearby Belmont, that alleges that Toll refused to honor a previous agreement with the Town to cover environmental expenses related to a new development, and instead pushed a multi-million dollar price tag back to the Town. Personally, I believe there are still some very important open questions at hand. I will watch to see if this discussion is resumed on Monday.
  • A great deal of discussion was also focused on the question of safe turning and stopping distances (and sight lines) at the proposed entrance onto 111. The Police Chief acknowledged that he is not a trained expert in this form of traffic engineering, but that one of his officers did have this specialist knowledge. (I did post a short video of the road from this location in the Facebook group on 9/27) The Planning Board decided to arrange to meet with this expert (or possibly another consultant – I wasn’t quite sure with whom they ended up deciding to meet), and to avoid needing to make it an open public meeting, they would meet in pairs with the consultant in question, to stand at the site of the new roadway. They offered to try to photograph that meeting, and also to pass along any questions that were submitted to the Planning Board in advance (via contact with Adam, the Town Planner). I am not sure if that meeting has been scheduled yet, but if you have any questions you would like to see included in that discussion, please direct them to Adam (aduchesneau@boxborough-ma.gov) asap.
  • Finally, the PB Chair made it clear that he intended to be a bit unconventional as to when he would close the Public Hearing component of the application. He said that while the Board is not yet ready to vote on their final decision on the proposed development site plan, they would start to shift into a phase in which they would consider possible ‘conditions’ that would be counter-proposed to the applicants and attached to a potential approval of their plan. Normally, that phase of consideration would be done in a public space – i.e., could be *observed* by the public, but not open for comment from residents. Instead, the Chair prefers to conduct that phase with the Public Hearing still open, so that we can contribute to the discussion before a set of potential conditions is finalized. The chair also encouraged residents to pass along any requests or input on that condition-setting process to the PB, again, via Adam.

This is good time to stress that while the Planning Board is considering possible conditions, that does NOT mean that they have committed to voting to approve this current proposal (with or without conditions). They may determine that they have grounds to deny the application (as has been encouraged by over 300 Boxborough residents, in a survey that was submitted to the Board last week), but that possible denial would have to be based either in an interpreted mis-use of the 2012 zoning by-laws, OR as Adam indicated back this spring if:

“A Site Plan where, although proper in form, may be so intrusive on the needs of the public in one regulated aspect or another that rejection by the Planning Board would be tenable. This would typically be a case in which, despite best efforts, no form of reasonable conditions could be devised to satisfy the problem with the plan.” 

Hence, it is an important stage of the process for the PB to ascertain whether any suitable conditions can be arrived at that suit both the applicants and the PB (representing the good of the town).

Finally, as mentioned above, we have a new public Facebook group where we will share news and updates (events, Live videos, opportunities to volunteer, etc) of interest to the entire community – and also beyond Boxborough. The existing Boxborough Town Center Facebook group will remain an active place for brainstorming about possible community actions surrounding the current proposal. We will also continue to update the website, and send periodic (but not too frequent!) email updates. Those email newsletters have also been archived , and starting next week will be sent using an email distribution program that will make it easier to format the messages in a visually-comfortable way, and also for recipients to ‘unsubscribe’, if they so choose.

The last thing that I will leave you with is a note about how encouraged i am to see the recent growth in both the number of residents who are actively involved in helping to raise awareness and objection to this proposal, but also the lengths to which these neighbors are going to make a difference.

Back in February, there were two households of abutters who got together to seek out ways to engage and inform the Town. Now, almost 8000 website views, 230 Facebook group members, over 6000 flyers delivered, over 1500 digital and in-person Public Hearing attendees, and 100 red signs around town later, we have an engaged community who are clearly invested in informing the Planning Board that they are NOT fighting a simple ‘not in my yard’ battle, but rather that this is a matter of principle, and of what is (and isn’t) right for *our Town*.

Please, continue to stay informed. Attend the Hearings to have your voice heard. Share your ideas with the Planning Board and your neighbors. 

Also, there are other meetings that are important to follow, and hopefully attend. For example, tomorrow (10/12), the Housing Board will discuss this proposal as their first item of business at 7:30pm (Town Hall).

We are also asking the BoS to weigh in. To date, they have failed to provide comments to the Town Planner to use in his Staff report (which, btw, is a great summary of the property, and the Town Planners first draft of proposed conditions), whereas other relevant Boards and Committees in town have shared their assessments.

Let’s hold on to what our community voted for in 1989. And if that isn’t possible, for logical, fact-based reasons… then why would a dense, luxury housing development be a better choice?

 

 

The real Town Center that Might Have Been…

One of the things that was most enlightening to me is that a REAL town center plan was in the works, as recently as June, 2000. We’ve obtained public record copies of those plans – both the original concept from March, and the detailed site plan drawings submitted only *3 months* later.

When you click on the plans, you’ll see that they included:

  • Commercial development
  • Municipal development
  • Residential development (totaling only 39 units)

What happened to these plans? Does anyone here remember? Please comment, to share with the rest of us. I wish that the Planning Board could insist that the applicants to at least re-explore this concept, and indicate why the plan was called off. I’m guessing it is due to lack of water?

I appreciate that there would still be MANY concerns regarding a development this size at the center of town, but a) THAT is what the Planning Board process is for, and b) I suspect a lot of the opposition to the current proposal would be tempered if the development was going to be a more obvious benefit to residents, rather than a ‘cash cow’ for developers who’ve already been proven to cheat Boxborough, and a MEGA-builder who is planning giant cookie-cutter luxury homes at a density that Boxborough simply does not welcome.

Besides, where is the DPW going to put the new Fire Station that we approved to plan at Town Meeting this year? What if the Town were to buy this land for Municipal Purposes? Have the BoS even explored that idea?

Tonight’s video is the best reason yet to join our Facebook group

Hello –

The latest Public Hearing installment was this evening, and we had a great turnout. (There are STILL people who are only just learning of this development proposal – amazing (and sad), but true.)

As has become our pattern, we managed to broadcast almost all of the meeting in our closed Facebook group, and had our best ever ‘digital turnout’, as well – with over 105 people watching at least parts of the evening.

Those videos are archived and available to anyone in the Facebook group. I particularly recommend the 1:13 min video posted on 9/11. It includes the entire Public Comment portion of the evening, and serves as the best, most concentrated summary of what this Development (and the Planning Board’s deliberation) is all about. It includes:

  • details about the process of what, how, and when the Planning Board will render a decision on the submitted Site Plan
  • additional discussion on the location and presumed stopping distances / sight lines for the new proposed roadway on 111/Mass Ave
  • enlightening history of how the Town Center zoning was first voted on by the Town, insight into the INTENT of that zoning, and even images of a 17-year old plan to build an *actual* Mixed-use Town Center… and a refusal by the Applicants to answer why that plan was scrapped
  • horrifying (to me) explanations as to why the Applicants are only being held to an outdated and flawed, 2012 version (see page 22-23; since corrected) of the Town’s zoning bylaws. The way it was explained tonight, the 2012 ‘proposal’ wasn’t for a development AT ALL. They received an approval from the Planning Board to build a road cut-out / culvert. That was IT. And, because of the timing of that minuscule request – the Applicants get 8 years of consideration under the 2012 by-laws. (the ones with the poorly chosen wording that did not *require* that a Town Center actually BE a Town Center.)

Argh. This is so Frustrating.

But, I have never seen such a vocal Public Comment period. We heard a lot about the history of Toll Brothers (recent and historical), and I suspect we will hear a lot more at the next Hearing on October 2nd.

And, your voices truly are being heard. The Town Planner read a giant list of letters he’s received this month from residents. All but one were in strong opposition to this proposal. I have a list of over 200 residents who have signed a petition to encourage the Planning Board to deny the site plan approval request, and that list is still growing (please keep spreading the word!). And the Planning Board chair raised a long list of the concerns we’ve been hearing about  – they ARE reading our letters.

Please keep it up, and please tell your neighbors. People see the signs, but haven’t all gone to the website (though we have almost 7000 page views, and over 210 people in the Facebook group!).

In any case, stay tuned for more news, as I (and others) have time to draft materials. There are a LOT of files to sort through on the Town website, too. This is the best current summary, but you can find more here.

good night!

New material alert – LOTS of new files from Developers

I have only started to wade through these files, but there are a LOT of new materials posted that will likely be discussed (at length!) at the Planning Board on Monday (9/11, 8pm, Library), including this Redlined version of on Updated Site Plan.

I think there are a few take-home points:

1. I think it is VERY farfetched to think that the Public Comment period can be closed on 9/11, despite the suggestion by the Worcester Business Journal. There are still too many documents that the public (and the Planning Board) need to have a chance to review. I can say, for one, that I will object loudly if the PB suggests it is time to close the comment period and make their decision.

2. There will likely be a LOT to hear on 9/11 – new material, from the developers and from the public. Please come! (or watch on Facebook, if you are a member of our private group.)

3. I have a lot of reading to do! 😉  I’ll try to get a summary / review of the materials up soon, but with the Harvest Fair on Saturday, I’m not sure how much time I’ll have. If anyone wants to help and write a post to share, please reach out!

In the meantime, you can navigate to the Town website page via our site, by clicking here to find the link that lists ‘all additional documentation‘ provided to the Planning Board by the applicants  (it is hard to find, otherwise!) Some of the documents listed include:

  • Consulting Engineer Memorandum – August 9, 2017
  • Applicant Responses to Comments – September 5, 2017
  • Site Plans – September 5, 2017
  • Site Plans Redlined from Last Version – September 5, 2017
  • Landscape Plans – September 5, 2017
  • Fire Truck Turning Paths – September 5, 2017
  • Stormwater Management Report – September 5, 2017
  • Traffic Consultant Peer Review Letter – September 6, 2017

Petition

With the Public Comment period likely drawing to a close in the coming weeks, we’ve created a non-binding petition to enable residents to weigh in on what decision they would like the Planning Board to make.

Click HERE for the Petition.

It takes less than 30 seconds to select your vote, and add your name and mailing address so that we can provide this community opinion to the Planning Board.

There are also optional spaces for you to join our email mailing list, and to provide comments addressed to the Planning Board themselves (you can select a preference to keep your written comments anonymous, if you choose). Instructions and examples of how to send letters directly to the Planning Board can be found here.

Letters from the Community

We’re using this page to offer links to a collection of letters from individuals that have been sent to the Planning Board from Boxborough Residents. Send us yours (hello@boxboroughtowncenter.org) and we’d be happy to include it here!

We hope you will consider reading these notes to a) learn about what your community members are thinking about the proposed development, and b) offer some guidance as to the letter(s) you might decide to write.

So far, we have been advocating for everyone in town to attend the Public Hearing meetings of the Planning Board – and that is still a vital part of the community’s involvement in their decision making.

However, since these Hearings have been ongoing since January, many of the issues that concern residents have already been raised, and in not too long, it is likely that the Public Hearing portion of the proposal consideration will be closed.

Before that happens, it is essential that the Planning Board hear from YOU.

  • What concerns you most?
  • What aspect(s) of the proposal do you like, or dislike?
  • What would you like to see the Planning Board decide, or offer as ‘conditions’ that accompany their approval of the application, if granted?

In this case, even if the letters raise the same points, the important factor is that the Planning Board can see how many people in town have things to say about this proposal.

Please consider sharing your voice.

(PS – I am trying to make this post a ‘tab’ on the landing page of the website, but am fighting technical ignorance – please stay tuned, and if you come back on a future date and can’t find this blog post, check the tabs at the top of the home page. thanks!)