Commentary by April Anderson Lamoureux
In some ways, the story behind the Hendries redevelopment project reads like a cheap novel worthy of a grocery store endcap. It’s got drama, intrigue and even a murder…of an already dead tree. At some point, many people in Milton just stopped listening, while simultaneously lamenting the dilapidated behemoth sitting in the middle of an otherwise revitalized business district. From a community development perspective, what has happened at this site is a disaster and we can be assured that no one will be looking at our handling of this project to develop a future best practice. The opportunity costs are huge and taxpayers deserve to know exactly what this mess is costing us.
The current tax bill for the Hendries site is about $10,000 per year. The permitted 40B is estimated to produce about $130,000 in property taxes once fully constructed. The proposed mixed use deal is estimated to produce $350,000 per year in property tax revenue. Clearly, the mixed use deal has a greater tax advantage for the community, which coupled with the fact that it’s the preferred alternative for neighbors, makes the mixed use deal a no brainer. The very deal that was rejected by the Planning Board in 2010. Had the Planning Board approved the mixed use project then, Milton would be about $1,000,000 richer today (setting aside 24 months for construction). Had Town Meeting approved the disposition of the town-owned portion of the building to the private developer in 2013, we would not be needing to spend $300,000+ now for demolition. We could do an awful lot with an extra $1,300,000.
Just last week Milton had another opportunity to right this ship. The Conservation Commission had the opportunity to approve the 40B site plan, and Selectwoman Katie Conlon testified at their hearing and asked them to do just that. She explained that approval of the site plan would unlock the mixed use development deal and enable the Town to proceed with the overwhelmingly preferred mixed use development alternative. The issuance of a site plan approval was well within the law and discretion of the Commission, but they actively chose not to do so in a 4-2 vote. In my opinion, the grounds for rejection are flimsy and more likely than not to be overruled by the state Department of Environmental Protection on appeal. So what did the ConComm gain from their action?
Well, they delayed the project for probably another year which means delaying any positive tax contribution to be gained by the property for several years. They threatened the potential for a mixed use deal at this site. And they demonstrated a distinct lack of understanding about the consensus opinion around Milton that this drama needs to end. They also demonstrated that ConComm, as it’s made up today, is incapable of working in concert with the Selectmen to achieve good things for our community.
What happens next is anyone’s guess but residents need to understand how the ConComm’s actions are impacting us all. The Prop 2 ½ override request is less than 12 months away, and it will be interesting to see how taxpayers feel about being asked to pay more when there have been revenue generating opportunities in recent years that various town bodies have actively rejected.
I still believe that the Selectmen have an ability to correct this debacle. I want them to direct the ConComm to reconsider their vote. And if that is not possible, then I want them to formally support the developer’s appeal of the ConComm decision and ask DEP for an expeditious review. I want them to do what it takes to salvage the mixed use deal, but if they cannot, then I want them to make sure the 40B project moves forward swiftly. I also want the Selectmen to appoint new Conservation Commission members who can fulfill their obligation to protect our natural resources while also being able to see the forest through the trees enough toward the best interests of the community. And because we all have a role here, I really want taxpayers to speak up and join me in saying “Enough is enough.” It’s time for us all to move on.
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