By: David A. Smith
Milton, as we’ve seen in preceding two parts, is a town where time – at least in the sense of real estate development – has largely stopped, though with the stasis of its built environment, three inexorable byproducts of Father Time are compelling slow change in its composition:
1. Aging of its population.
2. Obsolescence of its housing and real estate stock.
3. Appreciation in value of its homes, coupled with rising income relative to its neighbors.
Sources used in this post
Karen Sunnarborg housing study of Milton (February, 2006, pdf; green font)
Boston Globe (June 21, 2012; deep purple font)
Massachusetts subsidized housing inventory (April, 2013; caramel font)
Boston Globe (March 22, 2013; powder-blue font)
MyTownMatters blog post (April 15, 2013; midnight blue font)
Canton Citizen (June 27, 2013; mumble font)
Boston Globe (August 21, 2013; olive font)
Boston Globe (October 31, 2013; pink font)
Canton Citizen, (November 14, 2013; red font)
Boston Globe (April 27, 2014; buff blue font)
Boston Globe (July 24, 2014; robin’s-egg-blue font)
Town of Milton draft housing production plan, September 25, 2014; pdf, orange font)
Slowly, gently, and perhaps unthinkingly, Milton is squeezing out its poorer citizens:
An estimated 350 households [Out of 9,650 possible, or 4% -- Ed.] would qualify as low-income by HUD’s definition, with incomes within 60% to 80% of area median income (AMI) and potentially qualifying for affordable homeownership.
Not only is the town losing poorer people, it’s losing out on younger people:
Demographic trends suggest that those in the child formation period of their lives are decreasing, likely related to the difficulty that younger families and workers face in finding housing they can afford in Milton. For example, those age 25 to 34 decreased from 13.4% to 7.2% of the total population between 1990 and 2011.
Without affordable housing, a town becomes demographically and economically exclusionary. And without inclusionary zoning, a town falls short on affordable housing.
“Younger people prefer to rent, and we’re not filling that demand,” said Selectman Tom Hurley. “What rental properties we have are mostly old two-family houses, which are not attractive to younger people.”
Richer than its neighbors in every direction
The end state of that exclusivity is a population where all of ‘those people’ live somewhere else, which Milton has achieved, outstripping the median income of all its abutters, Norfolk County, and the state as a whole:
For historical reasons dating back 350 years, both Cohasset and Brookline are islands of Norfolk County surrounded by other counties
[Though Milton is in Norfolk County, Boston to its north is in Suffolk County: geographic niceties not being among the Pilgrims’ competencies – Ed.]
“The age gap is significant, and we’re losing out on generations of people unable to move in,” said Planning Board member Emily Innes.
Others encouraged officials to iron out the kinks in the planning outline sooner rather than later.
We’re ironing out the kinks now
In fact, that is clearly shown by the comparison of production over the last ten years:
Everybody else is growing … not Milton
Other than Braintree and Norwood (perhaps neighboring communities, but not abutters), both of which are laggards, the other communities found ways to do something rather than just talk about it. Dedham, Needham, and Randolph all doubled their affordable housing quotient, even as Milton stayed constant.
Milton is a town that wants to live in the past – and has a cavalcade of excuses why it can’t live in the present.
4. The anti’s and their cavalcade of excuses
The anti-development coalition has a mutable and in some ways mutating capability to generate reasons, each of them facially plausible, why development should be rejected, conditioned, modified, delayed, studied … or any combination of those.
Reason after reason after reason why we can’t we can’t we can’t
Building permit activity for new dwellings has dwindled to less than 20 new units annually.
This for a town of 27,000 people.
This trend is not surprising in consideration of the limited amount of developable land and the high costs associated with new housing development as the costs per home are up substantially from an average of $186,650 in 1990, down to $170,500 in 1995, rebounding to $315,000 in 2001 and up to $475,000 in 2004.
It is a remarkable cavalcade, and because the Miltonians are so innovative and dedicated, its exploration could serve as a how-to guide for NIMBY’s everywhere.
4.A. Zoning and setbacks
Zoning, as I’ve posted many times, is a community’s first line of anti-development defense. Anything that violates the zoning cannot be built, or if built can be forcibly demolished (provided the abutters persist).
74 Bubier Road, before it was torn down
… and after
Thus Milton has comprehensively zoned itself to prevent growth:
Challenges: As is the case in most American communities, a zoning bylaw or ordinance is enacted to control the use of land including the patterns of housing development. Like most localities in the Commonwealth, Milton’s Zoning Bylaw provides for relatively low housing densities and constrains the construction of affordable housing. The Bylaw contains four principal residential districts and four special purpose districts, each with its own requirements as summarized in Table IV-1.
If you don’t like acre lots, how about two-acre lots?
The Residential A requirements mean single-family dwellings on one-acre lots; AA puts that same manse on a two-acre lot, and between them, A and AA encompass most of Milton.
All those A and AA acres are out of bounds to affordable housing
Residential C, one-quarter-acre lots with narrower street frontages (75 feet), essentially recognizes the facts on the ground, the existing very old neighborhoods that abut Boston’s Mattapan (to Milton’s north across the Neponset River) and Quincy (to Milton’s east) – areas already built out and with less potential for growth or large-scale development.
Residential C is the red-lined sections abut Boston (to the north) and Quincy (to the east)
A town that down-zones inoculates itself against any development, and thus shunts the affordable housing into other communities (such as Boston) – whereas the state has a public interest in distributing affordable housing broadly throughout all the communities. Hence the public purpose of Chapter 40B: to enable the state (when proposed with a feasible pro-affordable-housing proposal) to override local zoning that is demonstrated to be exclusionary.
In today’s publicly transparent arena, where anything that can be gaffed is instantly re-gaffed via Twitter, no one wants to be on the record as opposing affordable housing; instead it’s much simpler to oppose the means of affordable housing – such as transportation. After all, if the people can’t get to our town from our wonderful town, that’s not a housing problem, is it?
Naturally, the larger the development, the worse the traffic, as best seen by the large-scale property whose developer will be for Miltonians the personification of evil, and their future is ‘self-begot, self-raised’:
By our own quick’ning power
The proposed development, put forth by Texas-based Mill Creek Residential Trust, would add 276 rental units on a 22-acre parcel between Brush Hill Road and Hemenway Drive — a private country way off Green Street. Most of the development site is in Milton, but a small portion lies in Canton, and abutters from both communities have been outspoken in their opposition to the project.
Of course they’re outspoken NIMBY’s; they benefit from the lovely woods, and they have no reason to care about families who don’t live in Milton or Canton right now.
According to Mass Housing, however, the project appears to meet the general eligibility requirements of the housing subsidy program, is financially feasible, and is proposed on a site that is appropriate for residential development.
The developers are also likely to face an uphill battle in the court of public opinion –
As discussed in earlier parts of this post, Milton has some of that Bostonian-style density in the areas close to Mattapan (now all zoned Residential C), but the farther south one goes from Mattapan Square, the bigger the lots, the lower the density, and the less affordability – and the Milton Mews location is in the less-developed and higher-value part of town:
In addition, the developers must also contend with the residents of Hemenway Drive, who have put together an entire binder full of information, complete with maps, charts, and other pertinent documents that outline their chief concerns, including traffic impacts on Route 138.
And think of the bicyclists!
Route 138 northbound, entering Milton
Remember, Hemenway Road is proposed only as supplemental access, not principal access.
Plans presented by the developer, Mill Creek Residential Trust, included Hemenway Drive as a potential emergency access road.
That’s potential emergency access, not regular access.
For local opponents of development, the traffic argument is the most beautiful to use, because it is infinitely renewable, it can never be categorically disproven (as it relates to the future), and, very occasionally, it might be right:
More than 130 residents came before selectmen Thursday night to protest the Mill Creek Residential Trust Milton Mews project on Brush Hill Road.
Yet the opponents occasionally reveal their prejudices when they go over the top:
Christine Seidman, a Milton resident and Harvard Medical School professor, said increased traffic could endanger seniors suffering from cardiovascular disease by delaying ambulances.
Seidman is only worried about the elderly, nothing more
Save the elderly! Keep traffic clear!
So it’s Pakistan … it could happen here!
MassHousing’s eligibility letter did mention Hemenway Drive in its recommendations section, stating that emergency officials had raised questions about emergency access and that the developer would have to “clarify legal rights in and obligations relative to” Hemenway Drive.
If indeed the traffic volume were to rise dramatically, Milton’s roads (Route 138 and Route 28) seemingly could be upgraded to handle the traffic:
Route 28 in Milton, looking north (Prudential Tower in the distance)
But if access is the solution … why that creates its own problem for the developers to solve!
[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]