Billerica Selectmen Support Mixed-Use Plan – Lowell Sun Online

BILLERICA — A local attorney looking to bring mixed-use redevelopment to the town center is hoping the third time will be the charm.

Town Meeting has twice shot down town-center overlay proposals, but Stephen Lentine stood before selectmen Monday night and argued that his new warrant articles are different.By a narrow 3-2 vote, selectmen threw their support behind Lentines petitioners article, which, if passed, would create a piece-by-piece approach to mixed-use redevelopment in the town center.

“The safeguard is that were not rezoning a large acreage,” Lentine said. “You have to get each potential property through Town Meeting and you would also need a two-thirds vote on a site-plan special permit from the Planning Board.

via Billerica selectmen support mixed-use plan – Lowell Sun Online.

Of course, by leaving the final decision to Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen may have set the stage for keeping mixed-use overlay zoning out of Billerica while keeping them out of the sights of angry voters….I almost ruined my keyboard when typing “angry voters”…as if we really had enough of them to make a difference…oh, well, that’s another story.

You see, after the results of the most recent election and a session to caucus in people to fill empty Town Meeting seats, there is still a 1 in 6 vacancy to be filled. I have to wonder how many of those abandoned seats were filled by newer, more open minded members who voted for mixed use and who are now out of the picture. If that is true, then, there is no way this warrant article will get through the Spring Town Meeting Session. If by a miracle, it does get through as is [a much weakened and less helpful version of what is truly needed], the chances of any one project getting passes would be nearly impossible based on prior voting history.

But, then again, if electronic voting machines are approved for town meeting, member votes would be recorded and available for publication in real time. So, in future sessions, Town Meeting members would lack the anonymity they currently enjoy and would be accountable to voters {if we ever get any].

Now, on to the meat of the article regarding mixed use:

It comes as no surprise to see that Selectman Rosa remains opposed to mixed use; although, every time the question comes up, he uses a different reason for opposing it. This is a guy who is obviously not into doing his homework [unless it benefits him personally as in thumbing his nose at those he represents and suing the town because other members of the government won’t reward his “service” with a waiver]. After all, it took him 20 years to recognize that that town hadn’t raised water and sewer rates sufficiently to cover the cost of the service. He’s was also 12-15 years too late [depending on the story you read] in raising building inspection fees to again meet coverage of reasonable costs.

It’s hard to lend any credulity to a selectman as being up on the complicated issue of mixed use zoning overlays when he isn’t smart or diligent enough to implement a simple tickler file system, while Chairman, to remind him of ordinary, very basic and fundamental administrative functions such as periodic reviews of fees vs costs.

In the same vein, selectman Dave Gagliardi continues to be a disappointment. After supporting him in his bid for a selectman’s seat, I have become more aware of his do nothing, accomplish nothing history. He continues on that path as he persists in obstructing quality of life issues like a bicycle path that could connect neighbor with neighbor while giving everyone the opportunity to safely ride bicycles and improve their health as well as strengthen relationships throughout the town. He is resolute in that no mixed use zoning exceptions are to be allowed in Billerica – no matter that the town government still has much more control over project approvals than they should have.

Like the 8% – 10% of registered voters who turned out for the last election, selectman Gagliardi feels that the town is perfect as it is. There is no need to adjust the way Billerica does business or zones for proven values like mixed. His case is bolstered by the overwhelming backlog of businesses lining up to grab a piece of premium Billerica land, or one of the near one hundred or so empty business or corporation buildings that are no longer generating taxes for Billerica.

Homeowners are still being forced to cover the missing revenue with higher property taxes based upon phony “new growth” that can be use to demonstrate that there is no need to improve Billerica’s infrastructure and stifling regulations to draw new business. But those new growth figures show that we are a hot destination for business.

I suppose the only way Dave will approve mixed use is if the project is staffed by union workers, then agrees to make a donation to the town’s civil service unions, and finally, agree to only employ union workers when the project is completed. Yep, that selectman Gagliardi is truly a man of the world and expansive intellect.

The only person consistent on this issue has been selectman Deslaurier [he’s supported every attempt to install it], who nearly lost his selectman’s seat to a candidate too lazy and too arrogant to get off of his dead ass and campaign or to put up a website to explain his positions. Were I to have endorsed a candidate in the election just held, it would have been Selectman Deslaurier, because he is the only member on that board who is open minded enough to know when something of value is placed in front of him.

However, like the other selectmen, he is content to run on keeping costs down and being fair to taxpayers, but lacking the vision and guts to submit a warrant article for the purpose of conducting forensic audits of the school deparment and the corporate (administrative) side of town to compare revenue to spending to inventory and records involving the use of outside services, etc. A simultaneous warrant for a Proposition 2 1/2 underride to lower the total debt ceiling would be nice. It most likely would not pass, but the discussion about the possibility might be enough to stimulate citizen interest into the issues and on the importance of staying informed.

Either way, I think it is a good issue to have in one’s belt for future elections; an actual attempt is much stronger than an oft repeated insincere promise to cut taxes and an equally oft failure to keep it.

Like other selectmen, he is unwilling to demand a review of the town assessors office records to compare actual property value trends over the past 10 – 20 years or so and compare actual new growth (including tax revenue losses from departing and unfilled businesses and corporations in comparison to property tax increases shifted to homeowners) to see if our tax limit is actually in keeping with the standard of being at 2 1/2% of the full and fair market values of properties town wide [which is supposed to be done every three years!]. So, while selectman Deslaurier is by far the best we have; frankly, none of our selectmen are anything to brag about or to consider as true property owning taxpayer advocates.

I don’t expect any one selectman to fix the ills of Billerica’s tax and spend problems, or to restore some sense of integrity in the appearance and operation of town government, but I do expect at least one of them to come clean, stand up like a good leader would and provide the folks in town an honest assessment of the town’s finances, spending integrity, revenue sources, property assessments and inventories in a manner that brings clarity to the average citizen as to where we stand as a town; so, that, as a town, we may work together to fix what is broken and begin a turn toward a more secure future.

Did you know that there is not one private school in Billerica beyond pre-school programs? How about looking into a competitive charter school agreement to stimulate some competition with our broken, broke and corrupt public school fiascoes that periodically raise the stench of dead fish as in the embezzlement of millions from a program designed to help the learning disabled. Has anyone any document that shows any opinion or comment expressed by any member of the corporate town who grants the school department their budget funds? Town Manager? Any Selectmen? Finance Committee Members? No? How much noise have you heard lately concerning in-house public employee janitors possibly being replaced by contract workers? OoohWeee! have people been making a stink over that one. More dead fish…Billerica’s government is filled with dead fish wrapped in newspaper [generally, the Boston Globe].

Of course, I don’t expect more than 8% or 10% of the 8% to 10% of Billericans who voted to read this. Going through this article critically will certainly take much more time than was required to show up and cast a vote. Worse comes to worse, we might have a chance at convincing the billionaire who wants to build a replica of the HMS Titanic to buy our little town of 41,000 Rip Van Winkles. Were he to come here to reside, he would have a prime seat on a sinking ship.

For the record, I welcome comments from Selectmen Gagliardi and Rosa in particular, but will also welcome and proudly display all comment from any other selectman if they have the desire to respond.

For yet another opinion on this topic, read Jeff Parenti’s article, Mixed Use Up Again at Town Meeting

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