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How to access digital media in Westwood

by GregAgnew

Over the past few months, your Local Television Network, WestCAT, has been working diligently to provide various types of access to our video coverage of community Events and Municipal Meetings. 
Our website onDemand Service, provided with the help of Vimeo, provides residents and other interested parties with 24/7 access to Board of Selectmen Meetings, Planning Board Meetings, Finance & Warrant Commission Meetings, School Committee Meetings, various other meetings of peak interest, basketball games, plays, and other events. Access is provided across a variety of media players including desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, BluRay players, game consoles, and tablets. 
For instructions relating to how to access the Vimeo App on a multitude of different devices throughout your home or office, please click on the Vimeo Help Link and navigate to find your particular issue. If more complete information is not available regarding the your specific platform, please contact your devices manufacturer to access the Vimeo Application.
If you're looking for videos chronicling the magical run of both the Westwood High School Girls & Boys Varsity Basketball Season, WestCAT has it covered. Although you can see some of the more recent games from the beginning of March and end of February 2015 on our Television Network's Community Channel, you can access the games anytime onDemand through our Channel on Vimeo.
Throughout the coming months, we'll be covering new community performances and sporting events from all over Westwood. We're pleased to announce that most of these scheduled covered events have come from our new Event Submission Page. Residents, Town Employees, and Business owners are all encouraged to ask if our services may be available to help them tape an event that might be of interest to our viewers. 
As always, please contact Executive Director Greg Agnew to obtain information regarding Membership, or if you have any questions or comments regarding WestCAT. His phone number is: 774.538.WEST, and his email is:

Why Residents Don't Want Senior Housing in Westwood

by Dave Atkins

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect the opinion of any town board on which I serve.

The planning board held an informative discussion of senior residential development (SRD) on September 30, 2014 (recorded by WestCAT, viewable online here). The first 45 minutes features a discussion of why some recent developments have prompted significant opposition from residents. Planning Board member Steve Rafsky repeatedly pressed residents to explain their overall concerns and to avoid the specifics of developments such as the Harlequin Stables project at 215 High Street.

Senior Residential Development is authorized in any residentially-zoned part of Westwood but subject to special permitting requirements spelled out in Section 8.4 of the Zoning Bylaw and governed by these rules. The bylaw provides the "ground rules" and process by which a developer (on behalf of a property owner) can propose to build a senior housing development in Westwood.

A pattern of concerns emerged from resident comments at the hearing. Seniors are not the issue; no one is concerned that it would be somehow negative to have senior citizens living in a neighborhood. The fundamental issue is that of multifamily housing.

My interpretation of the concerns I heard from watching the video of the meeting is that residents are upset about how any development of multi-family units will disrupt the existing neighborhood. As a homeowner in a great neighborhood myself, I know that when people talk about the character of the neigborhood, this is what we mean. We know our neighbors. The idea of a big, ugly structure full of people we don't know, upsets our assumptions and is a change we did not bargain for when we bought our property.

I think many people are afraid to say what they really think and this leads to multiple hearings and many attempts to satisfy residents on the details of the specific development. It is inevitable that once the complaints have been addressed, residents will come up with new complaints because, bottom line, they don't want ANY development in their neighborhood.

I understand the feeling--why is it MY responsibility to bear the burden imposed by what somebody else thinks is a good idea? It doesn't matter to me that the apartments or condos will be occupied by seniors--the point is that I am afraid that what was once a quiet street of families we know...of kids riding bikes and running through yards..will be forever disrupted and changed by the imposition of a commercial structure in the middle of all of that. Whether it is the small lots and quiet capes of a back street in Islington or the big lots and sprawling estates off Summer Street, ANY multi-unit structure is an unwelcome disruption. There is no credible mitigation that can make it better. And so, with this absolutist position, we are left to contest and oppose development based on the details: The traffic will be bad. The aesthetics will not fit the neighborhood. The density will result in additional children being added to the school system which will result in larger classrooms and more expense.

It should not be baffling to the Planning Board why these developments engender urgent doomsday email campaigns to turn out the abutters for hearings. Just because the development will be for seniors or have lots of protections, etc., it does not change the fact that it is like dropping a community bomb on the neighborhood.

I started writing this post over a month ago, but I was hesitant to post it because it is easy to be critical of "NIMBYism," when you ask yourself--what if it were MY backyard?. Since then, I saw another public hearing...take a look about 35 minutes in to this video to see the map a resident prepared to illustrate the true impact of the senior housing as multiple buildings are spread out right up to the property lines on all sides.

Planning Board Meeting - December 2, 2014 from WestCAT on Vimeo.

Nobody wants an apartment building going up in their backyard. It's really that simple. The homes affected most directly are not great mansions with horse pastures that would suddenly be blighted; they are above average properties with families who will see what is now a treeline become the back windows of apartments.

OK, so then what? Personally, I want to see more options for seniors. I want to see more rental options and better quality affordable housing in Westwood. I believe this housing should be a part of the community, not built off in some place we find that doesn't abut anyone who cares. My view is probably more activist than many: I think we need to do more. But the process we have in place now seems to doom that to failure.

I think we could do two things:

1. Re-open the discussion on alternative housing in Westwood to really understand what we want as a community. Do we want to find a way to provide options for seniors or not? How important is it that we design these options so they only benefit current Westwood residents? What is the real market like--are there local seniors who would buy/rent units? Can they afford them? What role does affordable and low income housing play in this: can we continue, with a straight face, to say that we satisfy any responsibility to those who cannot afford to buy in Westwood, when we facilitate the development of $1900/month one-bedroom apartments isolated from the rest of the town?

2. Revisit the zoning bylaw. Is it really the best approach to set up a special permit process for every potential development and then consider the unique characteristics each time? As it stands now, there is no predictibility; any property owner has the right to start the ball rolling on a development; then residents have to show up at hearings and make sure it "doesn't go too far." Why not create overlay districts to identify potential priority sites for such development? And please, can we agree that 55+ is NOT senior housing? The average 55-year old in Westwood could easily have kids in middle school and be decades away from retirement.

If residents decide there is merit to allowing the development of multifamily housing to serve our seniors and perhaps some lower income families, then let's assess the zoning tools we have available and set up a predictable and manageable process that is based on some general principles around which we can develop a consensus. Let's exclude long-standingly rural neighborhoods, but map out some places in town where we agree that as long as developers follow the guidelines, we will welcome the development. Maybe it is naive to think a propsective discussion could head off problems five years from now when a developer actually shows up with a plan, but why not at least try to be proactive? If we don't want any of this, then let's be upfront about that and tell people to go live in Norwood or Dedham if they are unwilling or unable to buy a house in Westwood.

WestCAT News and Updates

by GregAgnew

In October, I was hired as the Executive Director of WestCAT after serving three years prior as the Director of Operations at Dedham Television and Media Engagement Center in Dedham, MA. I had helped construct and design a 14,000 square foot state-of-the-art television studio, and I bring that same vision to Westwood, hoping to construct a unique studio that fits the specific needs of our residents.
First, I'd like to welcome all new members that have joined since my hiring in late October of 2013. We've made tremendous progress since then, making several changes and improvements to our website and social media outlets to better serve the residents of our Westwood Community, providing more information and allowing for more immediate contact to be made in case of questions. Beginning shortly, we will be offering serveral new programs for the consideration of our audience, and will be asking for membership input as we move forward with potential new studio plans.
In addition, we will be hiring a new Production Assistant and Engineering & Technology Assistant to our team, strengthening our level of service to the Town of Westwood. Currently, it takes us more than a full eight hour work day to shoot, edit, render, convert, and upload ONE program for broascasting. We expect within the year that we will be able to cut that time in half with more help and increased computing power.
During the Town Elections, WestCAT was able to cover the LWV Candidate Forum, and produce our own voluntary candidate spotlight at no cost to any candidate for any elected office in the Town of Westwood. We also covered several Selectman meetings, including the last meeting for outgoing Selectman Phil Shapiro and several Planning Board meetings, including Department of Transportation Forums at the Downey and Thurston Middle School.
Since then, we have been busy cleaning three year's worth of programming from our virtual hard drives and uploading newer programming. It is crutial to the health of each drive to continually take measures to ensure proper operation by suspending programming schedules and checking system functionality. This process is long and involved. We appreciate your understanding while we improve your local television network.
The past has allowed us to cover over 20 Westwood Basketball Association Games, with the assistance of several local sponsors. We would like to thank Michael Gay of Westwood and outgoing Director of Operations Adam K. Long for all of thier hard work on this important local project. We hope to re-engage in this type of television programming in the future with the participation of High School Level Athletics with similar foundation sponsorship. On average, it costs us over $450.00 to cover each event, and greatly appreciate any and all financial assistance to better cover local events.
In the future, we will be covering Town Meeting on May 5th. This event will not be live, considering that residential participation is crutial to the voting success and progression of our Town Government.
We welcome any and all input from Residents, Boards, Committees, and Business Owners as we move forward. Contact me, and I'd be happy to entertain any questions or comments you may have. My cell phone is: 774-538-WEST, and my email is:
I thank you for watching our Local TV Network, and look forward to meeting more residents as time moves forward. 
Best Wishes, 
Greg Agnew, Executive Director of WestCAT

Town Meeting

by Dave Atkins
May 5, 2014 - 7:30pm


Please visit the town web site for detailed information.

If you do not have a copy of the Warrant and Recommendations booklet, you may download it here.

Westwood Achieves Coveted AAA Bond Rating

by Dave Atkins

Standard and Poor's has upgraded its rating on Westwood's general obligation bonds from AA+ to the highest rating possible: AAA. According to a press release from Standard and Poor's:

"We believe Westwood's strong underlying economy, ongoing economic developments, strong management, and predictable operating profile will likely translate into strong budgetary performance and operating flexibility over the outlook period. In addition, we expect Westwood to maintain, what we consider, its very strong debt and liability profile because there are no sizable long-term capital needs. We also believe debt service costs and pension and other postemployment benefits costs will likely remain manageable and not pose an immediate budgetary challenge over the two-year outlook period," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Victor Medeiros. "For these reasons, we do not expect to change the rating over the next two years."

The AAA bond rating means Westwood can pay lower interest payments to investors on bonds, setting rates comparable to the most secure and stable bonds such as U.S. Treasury bonds.

Vote Today: Polls Open until 8pm

by Dave Atkins

Westwood voters will choose between Michael Walsh and John Wiggin for Selectman, Chris McKeown, Jim O'Sullivan and Alice Moore for Moderator, and two of three candidates for School Committee: Josepha Jowdy, Ellen Mason, or Charles Donahue. Other positions are uncontested, but feature such worthy candidates as David Atkins for Housing Authority.

It was a cold, wet morning to hold signs!

Updated election results on the town website

Congratualtions to Selectman-elect Michael Walsh, Moderator-elect Alice Moore, and new School Committee member Charles Donahue who will serve with re-elected incumbent Josepha Jowdy.

Town Meeting a Challenge to Moderate

by Dave Atkins

Controversial Line Items May Prompt Debate

By now, everyone has dutifully read the 105-page Finance and Warrant Commission report and recommendations for Town Meeting next Monday, May 5, right?. The Town Meeting process expects a lot from participants.

The Town does not have the resources to prepare detailed pro and con analysis of every warrant article. That laborious task really falls to the Finance Commission to frame what shows up on the warrant for disposition by a mass meeting of hundreds of residents in a 3-4 hour time frame. The warrant must be vetted so we do not end up with interminable meetings where residents nitpick over details. That’s why the role of the Moderator is so critical before the town appoint a representative group of residents to FinCom who can ask the detailed questions during the review process and encourage actionable warrant articles. The process has generally seemed to work, but I do wonder how the new moderator will handle debate over a few items that have potential to ignite controversy:

Tasers for Westwood

Article 5 is a supplemental appropriation for capital equipment including $42,500 for “Electronic control devices.” ECDs are tasers—weapons that deliver a jolt of electricity to a suspect rendering them non-lethally incapacitated. Article 5 also includes “automated license plate reader,” for $20,000. This is a scanner that will read and record the license plate numbers, location, and time of vehicles.

Being “tased” is preferable to being shot, but how often have our police needed to subdue someone and wished they could have taken them down with a taser instead of potentially drawing a firearm? I’m sure the police chief has an answer for that, but still, it’s an issue worth discussion as to whether this town has really changed so much as to justify such measures. The license plate scanner is controversial for privacy concerns—Do you want your whereabouts logged and stored in a database somewhere for analysis? The neighboring states of Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have passed legislation to limit the use of such technology.

Will we have a discussion at Town Meeting? If we do, will it delay the consideration of the many other warrant articles that need to be considered and voted upon in order for the Town to operate? What if someone stands up and demands a quorum call—potentially sending everyone home for the night and necessitating an expensive and inconvenient re-convening of Town Meeting the next day?

The moderator plays a vital but often unseen role in managing the meeting so a balance is struck between healthy discussion and unnecessary delay. Perhaps these items are noncontroversial to the majority...perhaps a couple of sentences from the police chief will allay concerns. We will see...

Sex Offender Ban

No one supports sex offenders or wants to see them in our town. Westwood is certainly taking that to heart in Article 27 which will ban the presence of level 2 or 3 sex offenders in many “child safety zones,” in town, including the public library. I posted more details here. Is it constitutional? Maybe. Is it enforceable? Well, I guess it will be a matter of “see someone, say something.” Or will we post photos of Westwood’s top 10 unwanted?

$275K to Study Safety Buildings

Article 16 asks for money to commission a feasibility study to determine the best solution for the inadequate police and fire stations. Originally, the task force had hoped to bring a solution to town meeting which involves possibly major changes to Islington Center. However, that is NOT on the agenda tonight; the study will consider as many as 15 possible configurations, some of which do not involve moving anything. The consensus of all parties up to this point is that our existing fire and police facilities are woefully inadequate and something needs to be done.

This website contains all the useful information from the Task Force:

The next meeting of the Task Force is Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 7:30pm at the Main Library.

During the Board of Selectman election, there has been some discussion of whether or not University Station is contributing enough to this effort. The town's current analysis is that University Station will add about 12% to the fire department’s workload and the project is required to contribute $900,000 toward mitigation.

The likely outcome of the study will be a more specific recommendation and a future Town Meeting vote which would include some kind of funding mechanism (borrow or tax).


The items above are only a few of the 28 Warrant Articles up for a vote next Monday. Other articles may or may not prove controversial, but it could be a long night!

Busy Agenda for Planning Board

by Dave Atkins

One way to get a sense of how much is happening with development in Westwood is to take a look at the agenda for the Planning Board meeting Monday, April 28, 2014 7:30pm at 50 Carby St. Here is my semi-informed commentary...

University Station – Conformance Determination for Bonefish Grill

Bonefish Grill is a seafood restaurant chain that started in Florida and has spread up the east coast. Their first Massachusetts location was Burlington and apparently, we can look forward to one opening in Westwood next Spring as the retail phase of University Station is completed.

Consideration of Proposed Minor Modifications to FMUOD Special Permit for Shields MRI – 40 Allied Drive

40 Allied Drive is actually in Dedham, near the Dedham Corporate Center commuter rail station off the East Street Rotary. But the Westwood town line cuts through this area resulting in some buildings that straddle the line and a small neighborhood in Greenlodge that is a part of Westwood only accessible from Dedham.

Consideration of Subdivision Performance Bond and Release of Covenant for 600 Clapboardtree Street

Something's getting built here.

Public Hearing for Consideration of Dedham and Westwood Bicycle and Pedestrian Network Plan

This network plan lays out a priortized map of bike paths and sidewalk improvements to guide future efforts. The plan was put together by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission--I've written about it before here. After Planning Board review, the finalized plan will be reviewed by FinCom just prior to Town Meeting and presented to the Town for approval on May 5.

Review of MassDOT 100% Plans for Downey Safe Routes to School Improvements

This is the culmination of YEARS of effort by Downey school parents. Back when I was first interested in improving walkability in Westwood, Linda Walsh and other parents at the Downey School had already completed the first year of a Safe Routes to Schools program. Over the years, that Federal program has been attacked by conservatives and survived budget cuts; now, it will help add sidewalks and crosswalks around the Downey school to make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school.

Review of MassDOT 25% Plans for Route 1A, Everett Street and Clapboardtree Street Intersection Improvements

I know that is is possible to inadvertantly run the red light at this intersection (the light for traffic going from Everett St to Clapboardtree over 1A turns green while the light under the bridge remains red). As a runner, every time I do my Norwood loop, I hope I don't get run over by cars from multiple directions. One of the first issues to come before the PedBike committee was a handwritten letter from a senior at the Maquire Housing development in Norwood who could not walk the unplowed sidewalks obstructed by telephone poles on Everett St on her way to Westwood. Sometime in the future, low income housing developments at Upland Woods (the old Polaroid campus) may add hundreds of new residents who will descend Upland Road into the melee at the Westwood Town Line. This intersection is overdue for serious improvement.

Informal Discussion - 1561 High Street - Reynolds Farm

Last month, a resident came to the PedBike meeting to describe how residents between Blueberry and Pheasant Hill are essentially landlocked due to a lack of sidewalk. Although they live within the walk zone (no bus transportation) of the Sheehan School, it is nearly impossible to cross High Street.

Town Meeting to Consider Sex Offender Ban

by Dave Atkins

Article 27 (download The Finance & Warrant Commission report for Town Meeting) would amend the Code of the Town of Westwood to make it illegal for any Level 2 or Level 3 registered sex offender to be present in a "child safety zone." A child safety zone includes "A park, playground, recreation center, library, school, camps, day-care center, private youth center, video arcade, bathing beach, swimming pool or wading pool, gymnasium, sports field or sports facility..." managed or leased by the town. Fincom voted 9 in favor, 4 opposed, to recommend the town vote in favor of implementing the restriction. Concerns about practical application of the rule and the risk of constitutional challenges prompted several members to vote against approval.

In 2012, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Federal district court ruling striking down a 2008 Albuquerque law banning all sex offenders from libraries as unconstitutional. The ban has been completely removed. However, the courts' criticism of the Albuquerque law was largely based on the overly broad nature of the prohibition. Communities that have drafted laws since have attempted to make them more specific in the hopes they would pass constitutional muster. The 10th Circuit ruling is not directly binding on Massachusetts, and the language proposed at Town Meeting is much more specific and will be reviewed by the Massachusetts Attorney General prior to adoption. For more background on legal issues, here is an excellent law review article by Jennifer Ekblaw.

Other Massachusetts towns passed similar legislation in the wake of a 2008 case in New Bedford where a 6-year old boy was assaulted in the library. In Lowell, offenders are banned during certain hours. In Westwood, to my knowledge, we have one Level 3 registered sex offender living in town and another Level 3 who works here.

More Details on High Street Senior Development

by Dave Atkins

I have obtained copies of the materials submitted by the developer in support of the proposed senior residential development at 215 High Street. These materials are available in the town planner's office for residents to review prior to the public hearing on Tuesday, April 8, 7:30pm at Thurston Middle School, but I thought some of these items would be interesting for people to download and read at home.

The most interesting document with applicability far beyond this particular development—and key to understanding the market conditions driving the creation of senior residential housing in Westwood—is a draft market study prepared by LDS Consulting Group of Newton.

The market study is, depending on your income perspective or bias, either a disturbing dose of reality as to the affluence expected of seniors who wish to live in Westwood, or an indication or a market ripe for development. According to the study, we are a community of close to million dollar homes (avg 2013 home sale = $845K) where most senior citizens (55%) make over $100K per year.

A market study has very little to do with residents' concerns about traffic and safety, but it does establish, with over sixty pages of data and analysis, a lot of facts that may inform discussion. It is healthy to review this data, and to read the analysis of neighboring developments to get a sense of the magnitude of a development boom that stands in dramatic contrast to the depression era of 2008 when the weeds began to sprout at Westwood Station.

Of greater interest to residents concerned with this development, here and now, is the RKG Associates draft report of fiscal and economic impacts. This report estimates the development will net the town $125K/year in property taxes after all expenses. A traffic impact and safety study "indicates that the existing roadway network can accommodate the additional vehicular traffic generated by the proposed development project, with minimal impacts on traffic operations." Additional materials commissioned by the developer and submitted as part of the application include a water system study, storm water planenvironmental site assessment, site plan, the special permit application, and a marketing package.

I am attaching the documents to this post. I am not taking a position on the project—nor do I believe this particular project is of special significance versus others—but I wanted to see if sharing the materials online would be helpful to the process and promote a thoughtful, constructive discussion.

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