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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.

Westwood Board of Selectmen Meeting Materials Online

by Dave Atkins

In addition to agendas and minutes posted on the town web site, Westwood is now using an online document management system that allows sharing and searching the materials for the past two years. Watch my screencast tour by following this link:

 http://screencast.com/t/3WVkq1qH9mN6

Then check it out for yourself at:

 http://westwoodtownma.iqm2.com/

University Station Construction Begins This Month

by Dave Atkins

The town has published an updated Construction Sequencing Plan showing the different components of University Station with anticipated construction start and end dates. All major construction should begin in the coming weeks.

New Senior Housing Planned on High Street

by Dave Atkins

Chestnut Hill Realty and CRP Development have filed permit applications with the Town of Westwood to develop a 72-unit senior residential development at 215 High Street. The attached marketing materials from the developer describe the project and what benefits they believe it will bring to Westwood.

The proposed residential complex will include 11 units of affordable senior housing. These units will rent for between $1000-1600/month depending on the size of the unit and the income of the resident.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, April 8, 7:30pm at the Thurston Middle School cafeteria to discuss the project. Because the buildings are within the buffer zone of a bordering vegetated wetland, a Conservation Commission hearing is also scheduled for Wednesday, April 9 at 7:30pm at 50 Carby Street. The Sewer Commission will also discuss the impact on the town sewer at their meeting Monday morning.

The developer will be hosting a wine and cheese Q&A session at Chiara Bistro (569 High St) on April 3 from 5-7pm. Some residents have expressed concern about the impact on traffic and safety on busy High Street.

WestCAT Video: Public Hearings on DOT Projects

by Dave Atkins

For those who were unable to make the public hearings last month, here are video recordings of...

proposed I-95 southbound off-ramp at the University Avenue interchange and Blue Hill Drive

One concern raised by residents in the above video has been addressed as the project is now at 100% design. In the reconfiguration of Blue Hill Drive—ending in a cul-de-sac and a one way route from Whitewood Road—the design has now been modified to extend a shared-use path from University Station all the way to Blue Hill Drive. This will allow bicyclists and pedestrians to easily travel from Blue Hill Drive instead of having to go off road or ride against traffic.

proposed improvements project under the “Safe Routes to School” program for the Downey Elementary School

This hearing describes the work to be done improving walking access to the Downey School. Downey was the first school in Westwood to join Safe Routes to Schools. Thanks to the hard work of parents and volunteers over the past 5 years, the school won grant funding for these improvements!

Westwood to consider Bike/Pedestrian Plan

by Dave Atkins

Westwood will soon have a prioritized list of sidewalks and bike accommodations to guide efforts at improving biking and walkability in the town. The Board of Selectmen and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee have approved a coordinated network plan and map of priorities for Westwood and Dedham developed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). This plan has been under development for the past two years in consultation with the DPW, police, and town departments and has drawn upon the experience of members of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Saftey Committee's work over the past 5 years. The plan will now go to the Planning Board for a public hearing on April 28 and be presented at Town Meeting for approval by the town on May 5.

Once approved, the plan does not allocate funding or commit the Town to build more sidewalks, but it does create specific priority recommendations to guide the ongoing maintenance and improvement of transportation infrastructure. As funds are allocated for pavement striping, the priorty roads listed in the report will have shared lane markings added, and bike lanes will be painted on the major routes including High Street from Walpole to Dedham and Washington Street from Dedham to Norwood. As funding is obtained for improving access to schools--as was done recently for the Downey school through the Safe Routes to Schools program--sidewalks will be built along Forbes Road and Downey Street in 2015.

Westwood Sidewalk Installation Priority Locations

Street Limits Length (ft) Providing connections to/from Status
Canton Street Rotary – University Ave 10,200 Commuter Rail, Dense Residential Area Limited ROW, Scenic Rd
Clapboardtree Street Pond Street – Washington St/Upland Rd 11,900 Commuter Rail, Xavarian Brothers High School, Westwood Lodge Hospital, Office Space, Conservation Land Limited ROW
Dover Road High Street – High Rock St 4,400 Downtown, Residential Area Limited ROW, slope constraints, Scenic Rd
Everett St Canton St - Norwood Town Line 1,977 Norwood Limited ROW, Scenic Rd
Forbes Rd Canton St - Everett St 2,976
Gay St High Street – Buckboard Ln 7,900 Two commercial districts and the Hanlon Elementary School Limited ROW
High Rock Street Dover Road – Westchester Drive 800 Downtown, Residential Area Limited ROW, slope constraints

 

Five years ago, the Board of Selectmen created the Pedestrian and Bicycle Saftey Committee. I had organized a walkability workshop in November 2008 where many of the same people who now serve on this committee first came together to talk about ways to improve walkability in Westwood. I was gone from town for almost three years and when I returned, I was amazed at the progress being made. We do not have sidewalks the length of Gay Street...but it has been moved from being an impossible or even crazy idea to being an item on the list of priorities. As this plan moves from the Planning Board to Town Meeting, we have an opportunity to come to consensus on a vision.

Affordability is Relative

by Dave Atkins

Second in a series of articles on affordable housing in Westwood...

Is a one bedroom “luxury apartment” in Westwood affordable at $1900 per month? That’s the premise of plans at University Station to set aside 69 of the 350 apartments to be built in 2015. Two bedroom units (for those with low enough income) will be available for $2400/month.

According to the University Station website, the planned units will be designated affordable as defined by Massachusetts guidelines. Affordable unit rents are determined by creating a "window" of affordability based on rents equal to 30% of 70% of median income.

The Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH HUD Metro FMR Area FY 2014 Median Income is $94,100. Recognizing the high cost of housing in the Northeast, the Federal income limits to qualify for low income housing are adjusted upwards so the actual income limit for a family of 4 is $67,750. For a single adult, the income limit is $47,500. A person at that income level would need to devote 48% of their income to live in one of the affordable units at University Station.

These units will count towards Westwood’s affordable housing inventory, along with units at Highland Glen, to bring the town back above the 10% threshold and avoid potential 40B development projects. In an earlier article I reported there was concern that Highland Glen might be looking to end its affordable housing program, but according to how the development agreements have been interpreted by the courts, the units at Highland Glen cannot be converted and cannot “lapse” into market-rate units. So it appears, for purposes of maintaining the town's inventory of affordable housing, these existing and planned developments should enable the town to avoid unfriendly 40B development.

A larger question remains as to what the town and developers could or should do to improve the opportunities for seniors or young people who do not want or need and cannot afford a $1900 or $2400 apartment.

Obed Baker Future Uncertain

by Dave Atkins

Westwood failed to receive any qualifying bids in response to the RFP that was issued earlier this year, but there is continued interest in finding a use for the property that preserves its historic character and adds value to the community. An article in the Boston Globe from March 2 outlined the town's optimism that developers would step forward with bids over $260,000 but as the deadline passed, no proposals had been submitted that met this threshold.

What I've Learned about Affordable Housing in Westwood

by Dave Atkins


First in a series...

Finding a place to live in Westwood is hard, but nearly impossible for a person on a limited fixed income. My mom lived in rural Virginia, but when she recently divorced, I wanted to help her move closer to us. She began scouring craigslist and apartment rental sites, but quickly found that social security and a small pension don't really cut it for living in Eastern Massachusetts. You can find one bedroom apartments in Virginia for $400/month and own a house for under $100K, but in Westwood, you are lucky to find a $1400/month apartment.

So, I thought, there has to be a way. I talked to several people I knew who had helped their parents move and learned they had landed at great rentals at a subsidized rate. Generally, when a person qualifies for subsidized housing, their rent is set at 30% of their income. However, tracking down how this actually works in practice is fairly complicated: the short answer is that it does not work very well since the realities of supply and demand make the dream of paying $300/month for a rental in Westwood a far away and increasingly unlikely proposition.

The bulk of affordable housing in Massachusetts is accessed through local housing authorities. Each local housing authority administers local rental properties and monitors deed-restricted properties when they are resold. For each town, managing the stock of affordable housing is important because every year, the Department of Housing and Community Development compiles a Subsidized Housing Index, calculating the percentage of affordable housing in each community. Communities where the percentage falls below 10% become vulnerable to 40B development—meaning a developer can propose to build an apartment complex and bypass the local planning process. As of 2013, Westwood had 9.2% affordable housing.

Westwood's affordable housing consists of a 38 owner-occupied properties that were built during the development of Cedar Hill and Chase Estates, 9 two- and three-bedroom rental properties managed by the nonprofit Westwood Affordable Housing Associates, Inc., and a portion of the senior apartments at Highland Glen and Westwood Glen. Recently, Westwood Glen stopped offering affordable units and there is concern that Highland Glen may seek to end its obligations as well when its contract with the Town is renewed. Some of the units to be built in University Station will be affordable and may bring the town back above the 10% threshold.

Given this reality in Westwood, I put my Mom on the list at Highland Glen (She's waiting for 76 people to move out), and started looking in Dedham and Norwood. These towns have Housing Authorities that manage properties with long lists of applicants. In each case, we were told 1-3 years for residents of the town. The best "plan" for someone looking to get in is to rent a "market rate" unit to establish residency in the town, then wait. In my Mom's case, the wait in Norwood is for 136 people to move out--pretty much 100% turnover. We were fortunate to find a nice apartment, although the two flights of stairs are challenging.

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