When selectman Pat Ahearn announced he would not seek another term, he said the board had much to do in the coming months. That is a significant understatement. When I attended Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, I was struck by the positive outlook in Westwood...financially, the town is rock solid, with a AAA bond rating and discussion of what kind of tax relief to provide residents. No doubt “tax relief” will not go far enough for residents who have watched their taxes and assessments rise year after year, but it is clear the focus is on planning for the future, when it could easily have been dealing with difficulty.
I have tried to post things on Facebook but I feel that many of those posts go unnoticed because they are lost in the stream of everyone’s newsfeed. If you want to see what’s up in Westwood, take some time to browse through the posts at https://www.facebook.com/WestwoodBlog/
Here are some highlights:
WestCAT will be tackling an aggressive agenda to lease the Obed Baker house from the town and work with the Historical Society, the schools, and other organizations in town to create a community media center. By year’s end, our goal is to have people producing content and to have exciting, original programming on our channels online and broadcast.
The community will discuss the future of our elementary schools. A public meeting next Monday, February 8, 7pm at the High School Little Theatre will include a presentation of ten different options under review for how to deal with the deterioriating condition of our existing school facilities and the declining enrollment base in the town. Will we close the Sheehan and Deerfield and build a larger Hanlon? Or will we invest more money to maintain our existing schools? This will likely be the first of many on a years-long road toward difficult decisions.
Are we ready to scrap the Senior Residential Bylaw? The bylaw has been a failure; leading to contentious planning board meetings with developers wanting to build large apartment complexes adjacent to established quiet neighborhoods. Now the planning board has a proposal to include senior housing in the open space residential district bylaw. What exactly would that look like? Would a developer actually want to build such housing or is it more profitable to build more multi-million dollar single family homes in the woods? Public Hearing on Tuesday, February 9, 7:30pm at 50 Carby Street.
Islington Center. There is a task force to consider long term issues including town-owned properties and a developer who has been listening to resident concerns and adapting his plans. What comes next? We have a once in a generation opportunity to reshape the infrastructure of the community--hopefully preserving the village nature and creating improvements all along the way.The next task force meeting is on February 10 at the Main Library. The next public hearing for discussion of the Washington Street development is Tuesday, February 23. See the latest plans including outdoor seating, landscaping, and detailed floorplans for apartments.
I heard the design study for the East Street bridge has been completed; there is a meeting in the next couple weeks to review the work so far...stay tuned.
Housing. I am proud to have joined an active, motivated Housing Authority who will work to do everything possible to increase affordable housing options in town. Even if you are not a fan of moderate income housing, take a look across the town line to Norwood, where the town is below the 10% affordable housing inventory and therfore subject to 40B developments. Even if you think developments like Upland Woods are not "bad," I am glad we don’t have to have this debate in Westwood.
A Gay Street sidewalk is a real possibility. There will be a town meeting article to authorize design funding. If town meeting agrees, we could be a few years away from a continuous walkway that connects Islington Center to Deerfield and the Library.
The Islington fire station is taking shape. A new police station is next. It may be possible to fund the $14-16 million project without an override.
There is a lot going on in the town of Westwood.