The Affordable Housing “Forum” last Tuesday provided little in the way of new information but was interesting nonetheless. It was interesting because it cemented home the fact that our top government officials have once again lied to residents for months while laying the groundwork for development that is counter to the public interest and directly in conflict with the expressed wishes of the town’s residents.
The person selected to present the current plan was long time 40B advocate and self-styled “economist” John Edward. As an “economist,” Edward has always placed zero value on open space despite the common knowledge – and all objective studies for the past 15 years, both local and national – that destruction of open space is financially destabilizing to communities, reduces property values for nearby property owners, eliminates wildlife habitat and of course is generally bad for the environment.
But the really striking thing about Edward is his lack of understanding that taxpayer-provided funding is not “free.” Even economists are supposed to understand that. But Edward has stated that funding a redundant “study” of the Oak Hill parcel with an eye for developing it (despite all obstacles already documented in a state-funded report last year) won’t cost taxpayers anything because the money’s coming from the Community Preservation fund.
The irony of using “preservation” funds to destroy open space notwithstanding, here’s the really big laugher, presented as a serious point by this dummy on behalf of our entire array of top officials: the proposal to destroy a second town village green, the 66-acre Oak Hill parcel owned by the town, by placing almost 200 units of housing on it, “will guard against unwanted development.”
You know, if I torch my own car that “will guard against unwanted theft.”
It’s just unbelievable.
Edward went on to incorrectly state that “reaching 10 percent affordable housing [provides] leverage when opposing projects proposed under Chapter 40B.” That’s just plain not true. There’s a regional standard that allows the state to rule in favor of developers even if an individual town is over 10%.
But the big lie is that the state DHCD’s 40B “court” is the final authority. The REAL courts are the final authority. That’s why Aspen Apartments was shot down in court, and why the BOS-proposed “Hillside Gardens” 40B is still in court after years of the town’s officials fighting against residents and businesses who understand what a stupid proposal it is.
Another lie is that 40B private developers pose any kind of current threat. The only 40B developer threatening us is the town itself, that is, the self-interested officials like Paul Cohen, Evan Belansky, Paul Haverty, Jim Lane et al who push this nonsense.
Edward went on to state that because Oak Hill belongs to the town, it presents a “good option” for 40B development. This is the same mentality that led to the only serious 40B development threat in the past six years: Hillside Gardens. That project was the brainchild of Sam Chase, Bill Dalton and Phil Eliopoulos, a town-proposed 40B in cooperation with a developer buddy that is still in litigation six years later because it was such a dumb idea. It’s proposed to be built on commercially zoned acreage abutting heavy industrial firms. Brilliant, eh?
Hundreds of residents signed petitions seeking to protect Oak Hill from development. So why is it a good idea to develop it? Where is the petition supporting development? Paul Cohen’s response is always the same: “If that many people signed petitions opposing me, the rest of the town must support my position.”
David Hedison, the handsomely paid Director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority, has never come up with a regional plan or redevelopment plans, despite the fact that the local and regional population is stable. Every unit he builds under 40B contributes to the housing glut and does nothing to ameliorate the need for affordable housing. Every unit he builds using public funds and public space consumes assets that could be used more efficiently for redevelopment and buydowns.
I don’t think that housing that requires an income of over $50,000/year is affordable, do you? But that’s our criteria under 40B. National economists – real economists – have warned that approximately 3 million housing units would have to be destroyed nationwide to restore health to the housing market. But here, instead of redeveloping or buying down existing properties, Hedison just keeps on proposing that we eat up more and more town-owned open space.
The way to fight unwanted 40B development is not to eat your own. The proper way is through common sense regulation and a focus on the real problems. You don’t see Hedison focusing on Carlisle, because Carlisle has instituted common-sense protections against unwanted development, 40B or otherwise. Chelmsford could do so as well. But the BOS has historically refused to even consider such a path, declining offers for free legal advice and refusing to spend even a couple of hours to protect the town. Instead they opt for multi-million-dollar high-density developments that do nothing to alleviate the real problems of low-income households in the area and create all kinds of problems for the community as a whole.
People like Hedison and Edward think wildlife and quality of life are worthless values. Hedison likes to boast of the millions he gets from the federal and state governments for new development as though that money is “free.” He sees eye to eye with “economist” Edward on this point. On average, he blows over $100,000 per unit of public funds on new unit development, sometimes closer to $200,000 per unit. For that kind of money, he could refurbish or redevelopment more total units, and they would be more affordable. Real affordable housing, imagine that!
But that would require mental effort, and real work. He’d actually have to earn his fat salary. That’s clearly out of the question. And no one on the Affordable Housing Committee, appointed by pro-development ignoramus Paul Cohen, is going to make him earn his salary either. AHC reps Paul Haverty, John Edward, Susan Carter, George Dixon all have a long record of knee-jerk “before you ask the answer is yes” approach to new construction.
These people never intended for the development of Oak Hill to be a public discussion until it was a fait accompli. The Affordable Housing Plan still isn’t on the town web site. If you click on the Affordable Housing Committee you get two-year-old information. You can’t get a copy of the state funded Oak Hill report, because town officials have instructed the consulting firm that created it not to hand it out. Town employees have been instructed not to hand it out without prior approval from Cohen and/or Belansky. That’s illegal, but what are we going to do, go to court every time we want a public document? Once again, Chelmsford public officials know that there’s no real penalty for breaking the law, and there’s no real downside to forcing citizens to sue just to retrieve information under the Freedom of Information Act.
It’s the same reasoning that keeps them from providing the town’s Ethics Bylaw on the town website. Too embarrassing! Top town officials violate the bylaw constantly. But Cohen has historically made it very clear the bylaws aren’t for town officials. They’re window dressing to be used only when convenient to harass opponents.
OK, so what do we do about the ongoing growthist mentality, petty dictatorship, and graft in town hall? Well, Town Meeting is supposed to act as a brake on this sort of corrupt and self-serving behavior on the part of top-level decision makers. But a lot of Town Meeting is made up of the same officials and their appointees who are the brigands making these decisions. So one of the most important things we need to do is elect Town Meeting members who will represent the values of the town’s residents rather than the small clique of real estate lawyers, developers and realtors, and the town officials who cater to them.
Town Meeting rep is an easy gig. It requires attendance at two meetings a year, one in the spring, one in the fall. To be a good Town Meeting rep is exceedingly easy: apply common sense, and reject special interest proposals like the Oak Hill proposal. We know who to replace; we simply need new candidates to replace them in each precinct. Regardless of your precinct, there is a need for good people to run in a few months for town meeting rep to replace the mendicants and brigands who are working so hard to destroy our community. Imagine if all the time and money they spend on creating conflict over new construction could be directed toward improving not only our community, but all of greater Lowell. The difference would be dramatic. It only will take a small commitment from a few individuals to serve at Town Meeting.
Roland Van Liew