Hi, I’m Roland Van Liew, President of Hands On Technology Transfer, Inc. (HOTT). HOTT has offices right here in Chelmsford, and I also live in Chelmsford. So I’m constantly reminded of the poor management of our land, our town finances, our growth and attendant impacts on traffic, commercial space vacancy rates, tax rates, services, and obliteration of remaining open space.
So HOTT is launching a campaign called “The Better Not Bigger Alliance.”
The premise for overcoming bad public policy is to first speak out for policy change to our elected officials. For unless we are in fact speaking out, we can’t really know if they will listen to residents or not. After we do that, it becomes clear who is listening and who is not, and then we have the basis to hold them to account accordingly, and to remove from office those who act against the best interests and wishes of the residents.
We have now arrived at the latter point with regard to each and every incumbent member of the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board.
For decades, Chelmsford officials have supported a knee-jerk “growthist” mentality, culminating in oligarchical control by a small group of real estate lawyers and predatory developers.
Who the heck wants to live under an oligarchy? I sure don’t. But that’s where we are stuck today. Chelmsford’s the only town I know of in Massachusetts where this form of government has taken hold.
The dominant clan, the Eliopoulos family, has clearly reached the point where they feel they can do what they want. Here is a picture of Center Park, a part of the ever-shrinking Village Green located behind the Center Fire Station. Despite a historical restriction intended to protect Center Park in perpetuity, Phil Eliopoulos has shepherded through various town boards a series of special permits that are so unjustified and numerous it is enough to make your head spin. The permits include a parking setback waiver; landscape screening exception; historical architecture permit; extra dead end parking. And, of course, the big one: a permit to build a structure that violates the deed restriction itself. It’s a Planning Board decision that’s breathtaking in its combination of audacity and ignorance. In its decision, the Planning Board actually claimed that this destruction of Center Park “promotes the welfare of the town,” according to news reports.
The only way to break the power of the current oligarchy and to speed-bump the rush to build is to vote out the growthist incumbents at every opportunity.
With respect to unopposed incumbents on the ballot, simply don’t vote for them. Your filled-in oval isn’t harmless, it indicates false support. In any case, the most important seats, the Board of Selectman seats, are contested in this coming election. Voters have wisely turned out every incumbent on the Board of Selectmen for the last three elections. Even so, the current board still doesn’t get it. So, unfortunately, Pat Wotjas, the incumbent, continues to contend that 40B is a good law. She continues to defend the Town Manager’s incompetent performance, contending problems are not his fault because “the issues are complex.” Indeed, they are complex. That is precisely why we need a competent Town Manager.
The Board of Selectmen, with Wotjas as chief apologist, refuses to hold Town Manager Cohen accountable for multiple acts of malfeasance and obviously corrupt decision-making. And given the recent behavior of the Planning Board in first stifling and then ignoring public testimony, tolerating glaring conflicts of interest by voting members, and granting permit after permit to facilitate the obliteration of Center Park, certainly no incumbents on that board deserve reelection.
Unfortunately, other boards facilitating predatory development – the Historic District Commission, the ZBA, the Affordable Housing Committee, etc. – are appointed by the Town Manager, not elected. In fact, the Town Manager appoints three times as many committee members and board members as voters get to vote on. Town Manager Cohen has packed these committees and boards with unapologetic growthists who agree with the fatuous statement made by the consultant recently retained by Cohen to promote 40B development: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
I bet you didn’t know that. If we protect our open space – our watershed, our parks, our ballfields and soccer fields, our forests and fields, our farms – then, by gum we’re dying. I have real trouble following that “logic,” and I bet you do too.
But apparently the Planning Board members follow that logic just fine, having provided the Eliopoulos clan every tool they’ve required in order to obliterate Center Park.
Not a single town official has demanded an explanation from Town Manager Cohen for his acts of malfeasance in facilitating the destruction of what’s left of our Village Green. Here are central questions that are considered taboo by the Board of Selectmen and by the media:
Do none of the members of these boards realize the implications of their decisions on the quality of life for residents, wildlife habitat, watershed, park space, traffic, economic vitality? Do none of them realize the implications of trampling on deed restrictions intended to protect open space? Why would any well-intentioned land owner trust the town to act as a steward of open space moving forward?
Of course, all of this couldn’t happen without the complicity of a great number of officials. The entire Planning Board, with the exception of Bob Joyce (the sole vote against permitting the Eliopoulos development), is pretending it can’t read or hear. They are pretending they can’t read the Town Charter, which states that they are to consider a whole variety of impacts on the town, impacts which clearly indicate that the proposed development is deleterious. They are pretending that they can’t read the deed restriction, which clearly indicates that the proposed development is just plain unlawful. They are pretending they can’t hear members of the Curry family or former selectmen testifying about the intent of the deed restriction, regardless of the fact that the writing is clear enough.
Sensitive to charges that they are rubber stamping an unlawful project, they have imposed “conditions,” such as:
$5,900 to “mitigate” traffic. Are you kidding? $5,900?
But here’s the big one. The Eliopoulos LLC will have to install a bicycle rack that will hold “a minimum of three bikes.” Ouch, that must have hurt.
These people are having a jolly good time flipping us the bird.
Since the Town Manager has rejected all notions of repairing Center Fire Station, it’s clear that the station will eventually be shuttered. Do none of our officials realize the potential for Center Park once the fire station lot shielding it from access to Route 4 becomes available? The Village Green, sliced and diced and reduced to the size of a postage stamp, could for once be expanded a bit.
Newspapers reported a recent valuation of the fire station at around $330,000. Do you see how this works? The projected cost for a new fire station has consistently been pegged at $12 million. But the value of the current fire station, of immense interest to the Eliopoulos clan, has been allowed to fall through disrepair to just $330,000. Cohen has already publicly entertained the notion to sell the property for development, because “the town needs the money.” The town always needs the money! Please explain how $330,000 is going to replace the lost value of the Center Park open space to the residents, the wildlife, the aquifer over which it rests. Incidentally, the Planning Board may very well grant the final necessary waiver for the Eliopoulos family to obliterate Center Park: a special permit to override the protection that is supposed to be afforded to the aquifer that runs under that land. I submit that if the Planning Board grants that waiver, there can be no question that the fix is in, and the entire Planning Board should be recalled.
Now, the fact that I support accountability makes these officials angry, especially the Eliopoulos’. I and others who speak up are very much in the way of their efforts to make millions at the expense of the town. So Phil Eliopoulos has, for the past couple of years, attacked opponents by calling them names, fabricating stories, and has claimed – without material basis in fact and without producing any evidence – that opposition mailings are “full of lies” and inaccuracies. That’s just plain incorrect. He has called the dissemination of factual information “interference” in the political process, when in fact it is simply interference in his personal get-rich activities.
Most recently in support of the Eliopoulos’ plans to obliterate Center Park the Board of Selectmen got together a little gripe session, which they called a “public input session.” Except you didn’t see any “public,” just one town official after another proclaiming what a great job they’re all doing, validating each other, calling their opponents names, etc. Watch the whine-fest at public-input-farce. Despite the incessant and sanctimonious whining about name-calling by those who oppose their pro-growth plans, it is they who have engaged in pejorative name calling. This is classic fascist-style propaganda tactics: first accuse the opponent of the very underhanded tactic you want to engage in, then go for it yourself. And, in the case of Paul Cohen, let the attack dogs who surround you keep you from having to do any talking.
Phil Eliopoulos starts things off by stating that he “thought about not testifying because I was worried that my remarks might be perceived as self-serving.” He then launches into a set of self-serving remarks, climactically fulminating with the assertion that public advocacy by groups such as the Slow Growth Initiative “should not be tolerated.” Now, think about that. The Slow Growth Initiative’s mission is to advocate on behalf of the general public. It also produces fact-based letters informing residents of important background information affecting sustainability, growth, good government and quality of life. According to Eliopoulos this “should not be tolerated.” What is he proposing? That public advocacy groups somehow be prohibited from advocating on behalf of the public? That factual information not be allowed to be disseminated? That corruption and exploitation just be accepted as business as usual?
See for yourself at public-input-farce.
One way to deal with public input was articulated by Clare Jeanotte in her follow-up comments. “We hoped that if we ignored them long enough, that they would just go away. But they haven’t gone away.” It’s an interesting philosophy of government, don’t you think? The pro-development growthists are used to the opposition being disorganized and underfunded. But lately the opponents of mindless growth have effectively researched and debunked the B.S. (Bad Sociology) emanating from Town Hall. Their outrage is palpable.
For example, the resident abutters’ resistance to the ill-considered Hillside Gardens 40B project did eventually “go away” after years of stonewalling by the BOS and the ZBA. But the Slow Growth Initiative persisted in its opposition and it now certainly looks like that terrible project will not be able to go forward. Most importantly, Chelmsford is no longer perceived as a soft touch for 40B developers. With the repeal of 40B imminent this November, predatory 40B proposals have been furiously pursued in many locales across the state. But 40B activity in Chelmsford has been effectively stymied by fierce local resistance. This is in stark contrast to the situation prior to the formation of the Slow Growth Initiative, when Chelmsford had more 40B developments imposed on it than any other town.
Predatory developers are mad as hornets that their gravy train is not only being slowed down, it may in fact be completely derailed when 40B is repealed this November by ballot initiative. The attacks on the Slow Growth Initiative and me personally have been massive and well orchestrated. But we are not “going away.” 40B is going to be repealed. But that won’t solve the problem of corruption and cronyism in Chelmsford’s Town Hall. The obliteration of Center Park is not a 40B project; it is the act of a family of predatory developers and their cronies in Town Hall.
Vitriolic attacks on those working to slow development are the predictable result of false statements made over an extended period by Donald Van Dyne and Phil Eliopoulos, both clearly furious with those who have thrown a monkey wrench into their plans for self-enrichment from new construction. Sycophant Town Meeting rep, former realtor and misinformation talk-show host Tom Christiano regularly smears opponents of growth, and the BOS whine-fest was no exception. See for yourself: public-input-farce.
I sense that these people are more than a little bit upset that they can’t move as fast as they’d like in order to obliterate Center Park and exploit the Center Fire Station lot as well as other spaces – especially spaces owned by the town. If you’ve been at Master Plan hearings, you’ve heard the banging of drums by all manner of real estate lawyers and developers pressing the town to find a way to free up ball fields for development.
Clearly in his world view the obliteration of Center Park is just part of his selfless dedication to “serving the community.” Opposition to his exploitation is to be considered “propaganda.”
Clare Jeanotte chimes in that “Somebody's spending that money [for informational mailings]for some other reason." In other words, why on earth would anyone fund public advocacy if there’s no personal financial gain in it for them? It would appear that Town Hall decision-making is so reliant on cronyism that no other system can be imagined.
Following Phil Eliopoulos in the Town Official Gripe Session, Tom Christiano states that one"could not find a more honest, hard working individual than Paul Cohen... Please don't pay attention tostatements they make in these mailings about our town leaders... These statements are not true... They don't have the courage to come and speak publicly... Yet they write these things...and don't have the courage toback it up by appearing publicly..." What could be more public than writing and distributing information under the attributed byline of the Slow Growth Initiative, a group whose staff and supporters have appeared at dozens of public hearings and individual meetings? I personally have attended and spoken at dozens of hearings, meetings, and personal briefings of town officials – all to a completely hostile response because opposition to growth simply hasn’t been tolerated by any official in Chelmsford for years.
Folks, the cowards are predatory developers who hide behind cutely-named LLC corporations. The Eliopoulos’ role in working to obliterate Center Park went unreported until it was pointed out last summer that “Epsilon LLC,” the only entity being referred to in all public reports regarding plans for the Center Park lot, is in fact comprised of members of the Eliopoulos family. And the fact that “Epsilon LLC” planned to erect a large office building in violation of the deed restriction, was not publicly discussed until the Slow Growth Initiative broke the story prior to the vote regarding a move of Center Fire Station to the ball fields last October. Am I the only one who finds it curious that Paul Cohen subsequently stated that he knew about the Eliopulos’ plans, yet he had not publicly discussed them or indicated their relevance to plans for the Center Fire Station? Not even to the Board of Selectmen?
Opponents of the headlong rush into a poorly conceived plan for a new DPW facility successfully fostered a “no” vote last October and have saved the town millions of dollars. Last summer and fall, Town Manager Cohen insisted that “the price will only go up” and that the only alternative for the DPW facilities was a $32 million consolidation project. I submit that as evidence of almost unimaginable incompetence. Rather than request bids, he also insisted that the town rush to buy the building on Alpha Road – purchased by the current owners less than two years prior for $1 (one dollar) – at the then-asking price of $3.5 million. Interestingly, the price has come down since then.
In the months since voters rejected the plan, the building has been appraised at $2.5 million, a million dollars less than Cohen recommended paying in his no-bid process, and the entire proposed cost for a very comprehensive DPW facility plan has come down by millions. But don’t expect thanks from Town Hall any time soon. Selectman Sean Scanlon, for example, has responded by publicly characterizing the Slow Growth Initiative as “a disease.”
These name-calling officials have no credibility. To my knowledge, not a single town official has publicly objected to the obliteration of Center Park. Either they are fools and think it’s a good idea, or they are cowards and afraid to oppose the Eliopoulos Oligarchy. Either way, why would we want them representing us?
Vote to eliminate corruption and cronyism in Town Hall. Vote “no” to every incumbent on the ballot on Tuesday. Help make Chelmsford better, not bigger.
With sincere best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew