The Lowell Sun recently published an article entitled 'Chelmsford is still a great place to live, despite population dip'. Yet again, the Sun tries to cast stability in a negative light. Chelmsford's population is maybe 50 people different than it was 10 years ago. Chelmsford has had stable housing prices and a stable economic climate even through the difficult recession because of its stability, not in spite of it.
As an example of the benefits of stability, we do not need a new fire station with twice the number of bays (four) as the existing fire station (two). The selectmen danced around this question during the recent election cycle, but voters have common sense. Town officials shouldn't pretend that infrastructure needs to be expanded; the benefits of stabilization should be enjoyed in the form of tax relief, preservation of open space, and economic prosperity as they become the focus instead of mindless growth.
Yet with residential sites largely built out and 40B a dirty word in town, for the past four years our "planners" simply have advocated strongly for more commercial construction and a transition to facilitating elderly housing, which has not served working families. This has resulted in a significant school system enrollment drop even while the population stayed the same. With commercial space increasing and the number of local workers residing in the town declining, traffic continues to soar.
Despite unrelenting support by town officials for new construction, led by Town Manager Paul Cohen, Chelmsford is still a great place to live. But the proliferation of traffic lights due to the increased traffic has cost us millions and certainly does not add to the pleasant qualities that cause Chelmsford to rank high among preferred places to live.
Groups like Better Not Bigger have stemmed the flood of zone-busting "Chapter 40B" construction that overwhelmed Chelmsford in the late 1990s and early into this century. But commercial construction continued, leading to soaring vacancy rates and a strong drop in commercial property valuations. That led to substantial increases in taxes for residential property – 40% or more in just 7 years after 2000. (Proposition 2.5 doesn't say YOUR property taxes only go up by 2.5% per year, it applies to the taxes for the properties as a whole – so when commercial valuations go down, your tax rates go UP.)
But our appointed officials on the Zoning Board of Appeals continue to join the Planning Board in welcoming developers with the greeting, "Before you ask, the answer is yes." The ZBA upheld its previous issuance of permits for the infamous "Hillside Gardens" 40B project, even though plaintiffs' attorney Jon Witten showed that the building permits "were issued based on incorrect, incomplete and inaccurate information," as he put it. The attorney for the developers, Doug Hausler, relied on that old saw, "the plaintiffs lack standing," which is not the case – they are direct abutters. The ZBA had ample reason to repeal the permits, but upheld them. This will, of course, lead to more lawsuits against the town by residents harmed by the indifference of the ZBA officials appointed by – you guessed it – Paul Cohen. Read more at http://www.chelmsfordmassnews.com/zba-upholds-permits-issued-to-hillside-gardens-p2612-1.htm.
The recently released study by Eben Fodor of all the major "Metro Statistical Areas" in the U.S. has shown unequivocally that stability is beneficial. See the study here:
The Fodor study shows without exception that growth has negative effects on all measures of prosperity, including salary levels, unemployment levels, quality of life issues, property values, taxes, and so on. It's time that Chelmsford's officials accept that reality and allow us to enjoy the benefits of stability.
Yours with best wishes and hope for the future of our town,
Roland Van Liew