Saturday, March 4, 2017

Vote "Yes" for a City Government On April 4

by Judith Grove
Town Meeting Member, Chair of Precinct 15

Any doubts I may have had about voting “Yes” for a City form of government were dispelled by what happened at the Special Town Meeting on February 28, 2017.


All three articles concerned Tax Incentive Financing (TIFs) for two downtown Framingham developments These TIFS amount to $8.7 million in tax breaks. The purpose of TIFs is to promote housing and commercial development in commercial centers. TIFs are rarely given to apartment buildings with little to no retail like these projects, because they do not create jobs. They are taxed at a lower residential rate and cost the taxpayers money for educating the children who live there.

Community and Economic Development estimated these 2 development would generate 65 students, a tax burden of about $1 million. The estimated yearly tax revenues from them is $1.37 million. In addition to school expenses, they will incur costs for other services such as Fire, Police, Inspectional Services, and the Department of Public Works.
Proposed Neighborhood Districts if Framingham becomes a city

Scant data was given to support the 65-student estimate which I believe is too low. The 467 apartments will include 22 studios, 227 1-bedroom, 186 2-bedroom and 32 3-bedroom units. Unlike the Staples CMU which was proposed for an office park on Route 9, these downtown apartments could appeal to families because of their proximity to transportation, restaurants, parks, churches, the library and schools. If there were no children in the 227 studio and 1-bedroom units and just one child in each of 2 and 3 bedroom units, the number of students could be as high as 218, adding about $3.4 million/year in educational costs, which is more than twice the tax revenue.

TIFs are usually given for the 1-4 years before the apartment are occupied. Ways & Means, the Finance Committee and TMMs expressed concern that the 75 Concord Street TIF is too long - 15 years. Economic Development was unable to negotiate a shorter TIF with the Developer.

Reasons why it is time to replace our Town Meeting Form of Government:

     Reason #1 - The Town Meeting Moderator and the 5-member Board of Selectmen make appointments to numerous Boards and Committees which do not fairly represent all our neighborhoods.

All members of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Moderator live in just 2 precincts (1 & 4) in the Northwest quadrant of Framingham. This geographic fact is reflected in the 43 appointments to Boards and Committees made by the Moderator:

77% of all appointments were made to residents of the Northside.

86% of the Capital Budget and Finance Committees appointments were made to residents of the Northside.

Only 2 appointments were made to residents of Precincts 15, 16, 17 and 18.

     Reason #2 – The Town Meeting Moderator has power to control and even manipulate the debate for a desired result.

     1. I was opposed to Article 2 (Concord Street) and stood for 30 minutes at one of the 5 microphones so I could speak against it.

     2. To ensure fairness, the Moderator is supposed to rotate calling on speakers and strive to ensure equal pro and con opinions, but she called on the other microphones and skipped the one where I stood.

     3. Before all the TMMs had spoken the Moderator recognized the public. She also called on speakers who got in line after I did.

     4. Of 11 speakers, 1 was “against” the article, 8 were “for” and 2 had questions. Against her own instructions, she allowed the 8 “for” speakers to repeat the same information. The debate was clearly not balanced. She shirked her responsibility by not asking if anyone else planned to speak “against” the article.

     5. Three of the speakers still standing at microphones were “against” the article but did not get to speak because the Moderator ended the debate, by allowing someone to “move the question.” She should have denied this request, as she has in the past, because of the gross imbalance. The Article passed.

After the meeting, I asked the Moderator why she did not call on me. She said she wanted to hear new voices and that she was entitled to skip me if she wanted since I often speak. I pointed out that I had a right to speak on each article and I am one of the few voices for the Southside precincts which is the area of town that will be seriously impacted by this decision.

Result: Town Meeting voted to give a developer an unheard of 15-year, $5.9 million reduction in taxes after a 30-minute debate with only 1 person allowed to speak against it. This cannot be blamed on lack of time, since the meeting had only 3 articles.

     Reason #3 – While important, thoroughly-vetted articles are delayed by Town Meeting others “not ready for prime time” are rushed through.

     1. At the Charter Commission meeting on February 27th, it was pointed out that Town Meeting voted against a thoroughly vetted proposal by the Planning Board for a CMU project requested by Staples Corporation, one of our top commercial tax payers, located in Northwest Framingham. The Town Moderator defended this decision, saying that we need to be sure the project will be right for the neighborhood resident who were worried about traffic and more school children. Despite a thorough traffic study and an estimate of only 10 students, TMMs drastically delayed this project by referring it back to sponsor.

     2. The same TMMs who opposed the CMU, enthusiastically supported the two downtown TIF projects even though NO TRAFFIC STUDY WAS DONE. One development is below the congested Dennison train crossing and the other is above the downtown, traffic clogged train crossing. They also showed little concern about adding at least 65 students to our schools.

     3. In sharp contrast to years of meetings for residents of the Nobscot, Saxonville, and Mt. Wayte neighborhoods, there were NO NEIGHBORHOOD MEETINGS for the Southside precincts impacted by these developments.

     4. The developers of 75 Concord Street had not yet presented their project to the Planning Board. Because the Waverly Street Project was thoroughly vetted by the PB and these meeting were attended by the neighborhood residents, a traffic study was done and mitigation offered among other improvements.

     5. As Jim Rizoli pointed out on February 28th, some Town Meeting Member demonstrated a flagrant case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).

     6. In addition to its inefficiency the Town Meeting form of government is not working for all our neighborhoods. Framingham is better than this.

On April 4, please vote “Yes” to become a City.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Board of Selectmen fails to respond to public pleas

A letter from Judith Grove to the Board of Selectmen following her presentation at the BOS meeting on February 14.

"On December 29, 2016 and January 17, 2017 I sent detailed e-mails to the Board of Selectmen about serious issues regarding 4 businesses at 350 Irving Street, which affect the residents and especially the taxpayers of Framingham. I received no response from you, so I spoke before you at your meeting on January 24th and gave you documents on the issues I raised. Still no response from any of you. This is my fourth attempt to get your attention.

Landscape Depot claims at ZBA meetings that their business is not considered a landscape business but says they are like Home Depot

"Here is a brief summary of the problems with the businesses operating on the toxic coal tar polluted property at 350 Irving Street, a former gas manufacturing plant:

     1. All the permit applications to the ZBA were incomplete or had false information.
     2. They applicants allowed their permits to expire for 6 years and paid no back fees or fines. Landscape Depot allowed 10 businesses to squat on the property and pay no taxes.
     3. No Personal Property (PP) taxes were paid for 15 years by the 14 businesses operating on this property and all of them were unknown to the Town Assessor’s office.
     4. Although being monitored by the Fire Department and the Board of Health’s Licensed Site Professional trying to teach them “Best Practices”, Landscape Depot had 2 more fires in 5 months.
     5. While they paid nothing to the town, we taxpayers paid the bill for the myriad Town services they consume from Town Manager to the Police, DPW, Inspectional Services, BOH, Legal Department and most of all the Fire Department (16 fires on toxic property in 6 years)

"I have repeatedly asked the Board of Selectmen the following questions:

     1. Will these businesses be made to pay their Personal Property taxes and back permit fees and taxes?
     2. Will they be charged for excessive use of our FD? (16 fires in 6 years)

"Since you did not respond I contacted the Assessor’s office and the Fire Department and obtained this information:

     1. The Assessor’s Department has billed LD $11,000 in PP taxes for the current year. They cannot bill them for missed PP taxes or Permit fees. Since LD has been in Framingham for 15 years, the Town has lost out on about $150,000 of tax money. This does not include lost revenue from the other 14 businesses that operated there.
     2. The Fire Department will now bill Landscape Depot for additional mulch fires.

"These questions remain unanswered. I am again asking you for a response:

        1. There is false information on the Treasurer’s form of the ZBA applications stating that Landscape Depot’s PP taxes were paid. Who will investigate how this happen and make sure the files are corrected?
        2. Why did the ZBA grant a permit to Landscape Depot when landscape businesses are a prohibited use according to our zoning by-laws? Does the ZBA really believe that Landscape Depot is just like Home Depot and is entitled to the same Use Category? The report I gave the BOS on January 24th listed other infractions of the zoning by-laws as well. Please see attachment.
       3. Why has the Town allowed the profits of LD coming before the welfare of our residents?
       4. Over 10 years ago Eversource paid the Town $2 million in back taxes and promised to clean it up and bring this property to a better use. Why has the Town not pursued these goals? If it were not for a dedicated group of SS TMMs there would be little progress on this important issue.
       5. A report from Eversource, estimates that clean-up of 350 Irving Street will cost between $11 and $93 million depending on decisions regarding the Remedial Action Plan which DEP is now reviewing. Are you members of the BOS, willing to accept the liability for the Town if any workers, customers or trespassers are harmed while being on this toxic property now, and even more so, while the clean-up is in progress?

"The taxpayers of Framingham are entitled to accountability from our Departments and Boards and especially from you, the 5 members of the Board of Selectmen."

Judith Grove
Town Meeting Member, Chair of Precinct 15
Member of S.T.O.P, (Stop Toxic Operations and Polluters)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Neighborhood frustrated with lack of responsibility, accountability and action of Government departments and Board of Selectmen

From a S.T.O.P. supporter to the new Fire Department Chief (December 30, 2016)

Hello Chief Hicks,

I am requesting a copy of the Fire Department report for the fire at Landscape Depot on November 28, 2016. We were unaware that this fire occurred until the December 13, 2016 ZBA meeting at which Mr. Mullen's lawyer made an opening statement that Landscape Depot should be given their Special Permit because they are following Best Practices and only had one fire, on July 4, 2016.

Mulch fire at Landscape Depot on November 28, 2016. Another mulch fire ocurred on July 4, 2016. Please read artucle here.

It was not until later, under direct questioning, that Mr. Mullen admitted a second fire occurred on November 28th. This additional fire made no difference to the ZBA. They read your statement of support for granting the permit because you wrote that LD is following Best Practices.

We presented the ZBA with a number of compelling reasons why the permit should have been denied. Since then, we have sent these reasons to the Board of Selectmen and now to the Fire Department. I have highlighted issues directly applicable to the Fire Department.

The ZBA's decision to continue to grant permits to Landscape Depot despite all the thoroughly researched information we presented to you at the December 13, 2016 ZBA meeting is appalling. We asked many questions and in the very least we deserve answers to them.

1. Why has the ZBA decided to grant a Special Permit to 4 businesses under the "Storage and Distribution" Use when according to the Zoning by-laws, this "Use" is only granted by the Planning Board?

2. When will you investigate the fact that Mr. Mullen is doing Asphalt, Brick and Concrete reclamation? (Please see attached photo). Shouldn't this zoning by-law "prohibited use" violate his lease? How much time will he be given to correct this? Chief Hicks - When you did inspections, were you aware the ABC is a prohibited use?

3. Attached are photos of the LD mulch fires on July 4th and November 28, 2016. There have now been 16 fires in 5 years which continue despite the monitoring by our Fire Department and the efforts of the Board of Health and its Licensed Site Professional to teach LD "Best Practices". According to Fire Chief, Hicks, the Fire Department has no record of mulch fires at any other landscape mulch operation in Framingham, including D & D which is a much larger business. How many fires are O.K. with the ZBA in this environmental justice neighborhood? How many more fires are needed to claim a violation of LD's lease? Chief Hicks - do you have a limit on the number of fires? Does LD have fire insurance? Have they filed any claims? Does the Insurance Company know about the excessive number of fires?

4. Who and when will the ZBA investigate to see who altered the data on the Treasurer/Collector Form in Landscape Depot's application packet after it was filed with the ZBA in September? This form falsely stated that LD had paid their personal property taxes. Go on-line to your ZBA site and you will find that this form is now blank. Perhaps this issue would be better addressed by the Town's Legal Department? Chief Hicks - The Treasurer form also asks if "Alarm Billing" is Current or Past Due. Has LD been billed for excessive calls? If not, why not?

5. Were you satisfied with Mr. Mullen's response when asked if he had paid his Personal Property Taxes? He said no one told him he owed any taxes even though he admitted he paid them for his businesses in other towns. After 15 years of not paying taxes and allowing 10 business to squat on his property and also not pay any taxes, when will Mr. Mullen inform the Assessor's Office that he is doing business in Framingham? Shouldn't non-payment of taxes violate a lease? Will Mr. Mullen also pay back taxes for the last 15 years?

6. The Purpose of Framingham's Zoning By-laws is "to protect and promote life, health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the residents of Framingham?" Please explain how the general welfare of Framingham's residents is being served by the ZBA giving another permit to Landscape Depot, a business that pollutes our air, pays no taxes and makes liberal use of the many departments our tax dollars support such as: the Fire, Police, DPW, Legal, Inspectional Services and the Board of Health? Chief Hicks - do you believe the ZBA if following the By-laws to provide for the general welfare of the residents of Framingham?

7. What, if anything, would violate Landscape Depot's lease?

8. Is the Town willing to accept the liability if any workers, customers or trespassers are harmed while being on the toxic 350 Irving Street site now and even more worrisome, while the clean-up is in progress? Chief Hicks - does it concern you that a fireman could be injured putting out mulch fires?

9. Why has the ZBA placed the profits of Landscape Depot above the interests of our community?"

Please watch the video of the December 13, 2016 ZBA meeting on the Town website for the complete story on this issue...

The taxpayers of Framingham are entitled to accountability from our Departments and Boards and especially from the Board of Selectmen since you are they appointing authority for the ZBA.

On January 4, 2017, Framingham Fire Chief, Joseph C. Hicks, had replied to these issues by saying, "I have faith that the Town's administrative entities are providing for the general welfare of the community" and "Safety is the top priority in every response."