Milton’s paradise lost? Part 6: Pay the tax, don’t use your land

October 24, 2014 | Affordable Housing, Boston, Chapter 40B, Cities, Development, Homeownership, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Milton, Rental, Zoning | No comments 73 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 5 and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.]

By: David A. Smith

“But what will not ambition and revenge
Descend to?”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

Just as guerrillas must eventually come down from the hills and fight a pitched battle if they want to shift from resistance to conquest, in the case of a Chapter 40 B Housing Production Plan, the town’s guerrillas cannot simply snipe from behind stone walls at developers marching back to Boston, they must eventually muster on the field of argument and propose how they will develop 48 affordable apartments a year.

Sources used in this post

Milton’s 2002 zoning map; pdf

Karen Sunnarborg housing study of Milton (February, 2006, pdf; green font)

Chapter 40B fact sheet, 2007; pdf

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)

Boston Globe (September 11, 2014)

CHAPA’s Chapter 40B fact sheet, pdf

Which, for months and months and months, Milton’s planning board has been trying, unsuccessfully, to do.  The current plan thus puts forward an overall strategy, every one of whose implementation actions the MIltonians reject:

Others griped about the current affordable development proposals included in the plan, which town officials have vehemently opposed.

It takes a special kind of client to proffer a plan of parts knowing that those parts are unacceptable – and to produce such a plan takes an eternally hopeful individual:


Maybe it’s just down the road

However, Ms. Sunnarborg also noted that the plan gives potential developers a more concrete idea of what the town wants in an affordable development.

“It would make [developers better aware what should be in their project to make the town] more amenable,” she said. 

There speaks a cockeyed optimist, one whose faith trumps her experience, as demonstrated over and over again.

7. The candidate affordable housing properties

Milton’s warm words about striving to add affordable housing, and the erudite concerns about traffic, wetlands, history, stone walls, and scenic lanes must be compared against the town’s actions, every one of which (as far as I can tell) has been implacably opposed to every single actual property brought forward.  (Though a town is comprised of many individuals, in the end the town acts in a unitary fashion, and by its fruits ye shall know it.)  Milton apparently doesn’t just dislike big greenfield properties developed by outsiders, it also dislikes little redevelopment properties done by locals.


One big fuzzy ball of nope

As each of the candidate properties has been thoroughly examined, and repeatedly rejected, we can learn what Milton doesn‘t approve as our inductive approach to concluding there is nothing Milton would approve.

7.A. The Dreaded Texas Developer

We begin with the bogeyman, the Dreaded Texas Developer:

The Milton Mews project, a controversial affordable housing development proposed on the border of Milton and Canton, is moving on to the next stage of permitting after it was declared eligible by the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MassHousing) last month.

Actually, there seems to be no controversy – no one in Milton is willing to express support for Milton Mews.  Rather, there is fear that despite the good neighbors wishing Milton Mews stopped, it might actually proceed.


Good God, man; is nothing sacred?

Location of proposed Milton Mews Chapter 40B development

Nevertheless, the town burghers have been fighting a Russian-front-war against Milton Mews:


Are the developers coming again?

Planning Board chairman Alexander Whiteside said a third affordable-housing project approved by the state, dubbed the Milton Mews and envisioning 276 units on 20 acres on Brush Hill Road, is effectively dead in the water, due to complications with [nearby Milton] homeowners [about] the proposed site.

“It’s my understanding that Milton Mews is not going forward,” said Whiteside.

Mr. Whiteside is likely referencing the facts behind this statement in the September 25, 2014 revised housing plan:

It is the Town’s understanding that some or all of the purchase and sale agreements that Mill Creek Development entered into with three (3) property owners have expired. Thus the project is inactive at this time.

Perhaps the land options have expired, but even if so they could be renewed (because what else are the owners going to do with that land?).

“The town has also made vociferous objections to Milton Mews — there are huge problems with this development, and it should never go forward as proposed.”

We previously documented, in lurid red font, the town’s many objections to Milton Mews as envisioned … but if I were exclusionary Milton, I’d want this one to go forward, because it’s away from downtown – virtually in Canton – and as it is a rental, all 276 apartments would count toward the goal, getting Milton within closing distance of the full 10% goal, and hence leave the rest of the town, and its acre and two-acre zoning, proof against future developer depredations.

Still, perhaps the Miltonians are simply intimidated by the size, and would prefer something smaller.


That’s too intimidating!

Perhaps Milton would like properties such as these two.

7.B The local greenfield condos: Holland and Hamilton

The state has also given site eligibility under Chapter 40B [And an initial financing commitment – Ed.] to developers at The Holland Companies to appear before the town for 72 units on about 8 acres at 711 Randolph Ave., according to state and town documents.

Randolph Avenue is on Route 28; directly south of the Milton Department of Public Works, which a satellite image suggests is a large paved area – so the location is on a suitable commercial street, and the abutter is certainly no prize in the greenery area.  Additionally, nine homes to the acre is fairly dense but not absurdly dense.

Officials have written to the state objecting to the Randolph Avenue proposal, citing “adverse impacts to traffic, public safety, the environment and town services.”

As I mentioned before, objecting to potential increased traffic is virtually de rigueur for locals wishing to oppose affordable housing without being revealed as bigots – because one can always conjure visions of gridlock … unless, of course, the developers fiendishly include parking on their property, and then one has to claim that the presence of parking will attract new cars.


Watch out, Mabel, I think that car’s stalking us

Similarly, Milton found reasons to object to another similarly sized proposal:

Milton is likely to face yet another proposal for a 40B housing development, this one for 77 two- and three-bedroom townhouse units on Hillside Street.

Todd Hamilton, former candidate for the Planning Board in April, told selectmen at a meeting Wednesday that he would apply for 40B status for the project on Feb. 5.

Mr. Hamilton had also previously accused Planning Board Chairman Alexander Whiteside, a Hillside Street resident, of abusing his position to block development near his home.

We met Mr. Whiteside when, as planning board chairman, he recused himself from voting on the matter, but then appeared as a witness urging rejection on the remaining counselors (who will, after all, be his colleagues on other votes). 

Hamilton, a Holland Street resident, previously tried to build three houses with four-acre lots, but was opposed by neighbors and the Planning Board. The Planning Board voted 2-to-2 in October regarding Hamilton’s petition for three houses, which was not enough to approve it.

On the Hillside site, Mr. Hamilton was willing to put up only three houses, and his neighbors, including Mr. Whiteside, objected to that, with Mr. Whiteside, acting in a capacity as a self-professed disinterested party (though an abutter of the abutters of Mr. Hamilton’s property), advised his planning board colleagues – as an individual, mind you, not as the planning board chair – to reject the proposal, but at the same time offered to broker a compromise.


Mr. Whiteside summing up his campaign platform at Fuller Village

Whiteside had sent Hamilton’s lawyer suggestions of ways to change the application that Hamilton took as demanding, he said at the time.

So offended was Mr. Hamilton what he interpreted as Mr. Whiteside’s busybody interference that he chose to run for planning board against Mr. Whiteside, a 25+ year incumbent on the board. 

Whiteside went on to defeat Hamilton in the election in April with 60% of the vote.


A developer, a candidate, and zero for two

Thus defeated, in the manner of George Lucas and his studio, Mr. Hamilton brought forward his 77-apartment Chapter 40B proposal on the very site rejected for three homes.

He said he was counting on the state to approve his project based in part on the fact that much less than 10% of Milton housing stock is classified as affordable. 

Under this Chapter 40B proposal, 25% of the units would be made available to those who make 80% or below of the average income in the area.  The other 75% would be at market rate, Hamilton told selectmen.

By that 25% set-aside, all of them will qualify as Subsidized Housing Inventory for the town, which to my way of thinking would be a win, not a loss, for Milton.

“I think the town is lacking some nice townhouses,” Hamilton said.

The town did not think so, though Mr. Hamilton accommodated another town request:

Hamilton’s proposed development would also include a bridge from Ford Ranch Road, something the Planning Board had suggested the development required during hearings, according to Hamilton.

The town still not supporting his proposed development. Mr. Hamilton took his recourse to the state:

“I’m pretty much done with that,” Hamilton said of listening to neighbor’s opposition. “I’ve tried everything, but their attitude is ‘pay the tax, don’t use your land for anything.’ That’s all I’m hearing from the neighbors.”


When Selectwoman Katie Conlon asked if Hamilton could be persuaded to return to his original plan, Hamilton said No.


“I’m done –I spent too many years on that,” he said. “I’ve never been through so much fight for three house lots that were four acres apiece.”

“The Planning Board fueled the fight is what they did,” Hamilton added.

[Continued Monday in Part 7.]


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Milton’s paradise lost? Part 5, Axing the oak tree

October 23, 2014 | Affordable Housing, Boston, Chapter 40B, Cities, Development, Homeownership, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Milton, Rental, Zoning | No comments 89 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 4 and the preceding Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

By: David A. Smith

“We live Law to ourselves. Our reason is our Law.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

As patient readers have seen up to now, the exhaustive treatment of this multi-part post on Milton’s allergy to any form of affordable housing has mirrored one of the better strategies for blocking development – wear them out with words, process, delays, and vaporous promises of success ‘just around the corner’, yet tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in its planning way from board to board, words without end, amen.


Words, words, word.  A lot of words

Sources used in this post

Milton’s 2002 zoning map; pdf

Karen Sunnarborg housing study of Milton (February, 2006, pdf; green font)

Chapter 40B fact sheet, 2007; pdf

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)

Boston Globe (September 11, 2014)

CHAPA’s Chapter 40B fact sheet, pdf

That is the beauty of little things – there can be an infinity of them. 


You’re almost there, just a few more hearings.

Connelly complained at a meeting earlier this year about the board’s demands and lack of resolution.

For instance, the Great Oak Arborist Battle:

But public support was tested when the developer cut down the old oak, citing an arborist’s report that the 50-foot-tall tree was decayed, posed a public hazard, and couldn’t survive any nearby construction. An arborist for the Planning Board said the landmark tree could have been saved. 

Remember, this is a derelict commercial property, in a predominantly commercial district, in a town that desperately needs affordable housing.

Since then, the Planning Board and developer have disagreed over other matters relating to the project. Whiteside said those issues include the height of the building, how to determine the number of stories allowed, and how the upper floors are set back from the street. There’s also a question of what the developer should provide in public amenities to make up for axing the oak tree, he said.

“Public amenities for axing the oak tree”?


I think you misunderstand the concept of planning approval

Whiteside remained optimistic that the impasse between the developer and the board could be broken. The height issue, for example, is only a matter of inches, he said.  The zoning rules allow the new building to be 45 feet tall; the design is just several inches too tall, he said. But those inches have to be cut before the building meets the requirements, he said.  “Next meeting, hopefully, the developer will come in with a plan that dots the I’s,’’ and the board will agree with that, Whiteside said.

Mr. Whiteside himself demonstrated the infinity of small things, as chronicled by careful Frank Schroth in MyTownMatters (April 15, 2013; midnight blue font):

Developer Todd Hamilton who was recently denied a special permit by the Planning Board for property he is purchasing off of Hillside Street. He has appealed that decision.


Mr. Hamilton’s Hillside property

The denial was a somewhat controversial decision because of Mr. Whiteside’s relationship with the property and the manner in which he managed that. Mr. Whiteside is an abutter to an abutter of the property and as such “is presumed to have a financial interest ” according to the appeal that has been filed by local attorney Marion McEttrick on behalf of Mr. Hamilton. Whiteside recused himself, the suit notes, but not until August of 2012. The hearing began in April, and though he recused himself, he continued to be present at the hearing and spoke before the board from the other side of the table in vigorous opposition to the permit.

The two board members who voted against the permit, Mike Kelly and Bernie Lynch, cited problems with the length, width, and safety of the driveway to the property.

This is not the first permit in that part of town to be denied and appealed. The Bosworth property was also denied. That decision was appealed and overturned in land court. The litigation cost the town over $150,000. (Note: There is a searchable database of Milton properties on the DPW web site. You can find their GIS look up tool here.)

We will meet Mr. Hamilton again, when he again clashes with Mr. Whiteside.

Burr Fatally Wounds Hamilton In Duel

At the ballot box, sir!

5. The housing-production tools

Should Milton be struck from its horse on the road to DHCD and discover that affordable housing is a goal the righteous should embrace, not only would it have HOME and CDBG funds, it could also tap an additional resource:

The town could also consider voting again on adding a Community Preservation Act fund through additional taxes, which could benefit affordable-housing projects.

When first enacted, I thought the Community Preservation Act intriguing and promising, as it gave localities the ability tax generally (above normal property taxes) and receive a 1-for-1 state match on the resulting funding.  So cities that wanted to preserve (say) open space) or to make green public improvements, would have a means of doing so without directly cutting into the normal real-estate-tax-funded operating budget.  Unfortunately, the CPA after having been created with good public-policy intent, has been increasingly used for pretty much anything – for instance, such ‘preservation’ activities as giving a football field artificial turf, replacing sidewalks (dubbed ‘recreational facilities,’ walking now being considered recreation), and so on. 

Then too, it’s not so much revenue sharing as revenue concentration, as I quoted back in 2008:

A report issued last year by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University indicated that CPA money flows predominantly to wealthier cities and towns because they can afford the property tax surcharge and their high property values tend to generate a higher state match. (See “Study Says CPA Steers Money to Wealthy Towns,” Inquiries, CW, Summer ’07).

The top 10 recipients of state CPA money include Cambridge, which has received nearly $34 million to date, and Newton, which has received $11 million.

Yet affordable housing is one of the explicit CPA funding goals, and to capture revenue sharing for that purpose is the sort of action a town genuinely interested in solving its problem would take.

But the potential revenue from a Community Preservation Act override is at best a sideshow, because Milton’s problem isn’t money, it’s political commitment – and that’s in very scarce supply.

6. The fig leaf of a production plan

The [housing] production plan, which officials are still finalizing –

That was a month ago, and thought he report was updated (September 25, 2014) and labeled final, I believe it hasn’t been approved yet.

– would outline specifically what the town could do to grow its affordable units, including listing potential developments and sites and stating how they would tweak zoning to encourage affordable development.

I emphasize ‘could’ because the plan doesn’t obligate Milton to do anything, and though Section V provides a year-by-year listing of properties that could be developed, many of them are air grabs that make reference to sites on which affordable apartments could be built, rather than firm pledges, much less zoning approvals.


Maybe.  Maybe not. 

When it comes to specifics, in fact, Milton has always found a way to say No, and keep saying No (as we will detail in Section 7 of this opus), because exhortations and wishes aren’t homes and aren’t commitments.


No, we’re the Commitments

[Town planning consultant Karen] Sunnarborg said the town must offer other viable options for affordable housing to the state, which proved a conundrum for officials at last Wednesday’s meeting.

Translation: We like housing in the abstract, but not in reality – why can’t we keep offering abstractions?

“There does have to be some specificity in the plan,” she said. “If you eliminate those projects [that is, actual properties that could actually proceed, and that Milton is actually obstructing], you need to insert something that has some reality to it.”

In effect, Ms. Sonnarborg is reminding her multi-headed multi-fearful client that that they can fail but they cannot fib – because fibbing can be exposed. 

“There are no demerits for putting something in that doesn’t work … but there have to be realistic goals and a time frame.”

Ms. Sunnarborg has been making a modest recurring income from preparing stillborn plans for Milton; here is one from February, 2006, which I will reference extensively, as it reveals both that Ms. Sunnarborg believes in affordable housing … and Milton’s elected officials evidently don’t:


Allow me to explain it slowly, using small words:

Ms. Sunnarborg presenting a housing needs assessment to Martha’s Vineyard

Selectmen and Planning Board members seemed anxious to approve the [proposed affordable housing] plan, which cost the town more than $5,000 in consulting fees [Actually, $20,000 plus over many years, money that Ms. Sunnarborg clearly has earned, if only for her patience.  – Ed.], so they could submit it to the state by October, said William Clark, Milton’s planning director.

The state then generally takes about three months to review it and decide, said Karen Sunnarborg, the consultant who prepared the plan.

[State Senator Brian] Joyce said the state is considering adding 49 units from Fuller Village, an independent senior living facility, to count toward the town’s affordable-housing stock.

Current homes in Fuller Village presumably will not count, as the ownership homes start at $338,000; the flats at $230,000; and the rentals at $3,300, “including dinner and housekeeping,” and Chapter 40 B is explicit that the homes have to be affordable by covenant, not by the income of who happens to live in them.


“It doesn’t have to be affordable housing, we just have to convince the state we can count it as affordable housing.”

I deduce that the senator thinks Fuller Village can add another 49 apartments, as rentals, and that these will all count toward the inventory.

Coupled with an approved housing production plan, “we will be able to control our destiny for another year,” he said. 

‘Control our destiny’, in this context, means ‘prevent any of the actual developments from actually moving forward.’

However, the plan is not without its obstacles. Some officials said that even if the state approves their vision, adding a half-percent of the town’s 9,641 total housing units to get a year of control might prove unreasonable.

“Getting anywhere near 48 units a year is absurd,” said Planning Board member Michael E. Kelly, referring to the amount of affordable units Milton must add annually.

At least Mr. Kelly is willing to state that even if the town creates a plan, it will not meet the minimum threshold required, and thus is an exercise in delay, not development. 


Not going anywhere soon

[Continued tomorrow in Part 6.]


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Milton’s paradise lost? Part 4: Eleventh-hour attempt

October 22, 2014 | Affordable Housing, Boston, Chapter 40B, Cities, Development, Homeownership, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Milton, Rental, Zoning | No comments 114 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 3 and the preceding Part 1 and Part 2.]

By: David A. Smith

 “A mind not to be changed by place or time.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

It might seem, to judge by the statement of Milton’s leaders, that the town’s shortage of affordable housing is due to forces beyond Milton’s control:


Practice the phrase; “It’s beyond my control”

However, as we saw yesterday, the town has at every stage adopted land-use and development rules to thwart affordable housing, density, rental housing, and indeed almost any kind of change.

Sources used in this post

Milton’s 2002 zoning map; pdf

Karen Sunnarborg housing study of Milton (February, 2006, pdf; green font)

Chapter 40B fact sheet, 2007; pdf

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)

Boston Globe (September 11, 2014)

CHAPA’s Chapter 40B fact sheet, pdf

Many and varied are these obstacles to change, including an all-purpose builder-repellent.


They’re attracted by the land

4.C. Wetlands and ‘the environment’

If one cannot stop a development with traffic, where the problem is too little infrastructure, stop the development with wetlands, where the problem is too much infrastructure:

– potential damage to the ecosystem of nearby Fowl Meadow — designated by the state as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern


A volunteer beetle rancher releases purple loosestrife biocontrol beetles into Fowl Meadow

But what happens if the ambulances are forced to run over loosestrife beetles?

– particularly among neighbors and local environmental groups, including the Neponset River Watershed Association and the Friends of the Blue Hills.


Southwest to Northeast, ending in Boston Harbor

In terms of greenery, Milton is incredibly well favored by both the Neponset River and the Blue Hills Reservation. 


6,000 acres – 10 square miles – most of it in Milton

The Blue Hills represent a wonderful hiking/ walking recreational area for a score of towns around Boston’s South Shore, culminating in Great Blue Hill.


Great Blue Hill from the air


The Boston skyline, from the top of Great Blue Hill

At Milton’s north is the Neponset, a wide stream with largely granite banks that for a portion of its course forms the border between Boston and Milton, including Boston’s Baker Chocolate Factory, a wonderful complicated historic-rehab affordable housing property developed by none other than ursine urban architect Bob Kuehn, about whom I wrote an obituary when he suddenly died in 2006.


The Neponset at Dorchester Lower Mills: Baker Chocolate on the left, Milton on the right

NepRWA had hoped to persuade MassHousing to deny the project eligibility application, and while ultimately unsuccessful, the association “remains committed to opposing the project through the many steps of the permitting process which remain,” including the comprehensive permit review by the Milton ZBA and wetlands permitting before the Milton Conservation Commission.


Boston at left and up; Milton at right and below

The contrast between Boston and Milton is starkly illustrated by the Neponset River boundary; in the photo above, the large intersection is Mattapan Square, which is also the terminus of the Red Line’s Mattapan Extension line, and the leafy green below is Milton.

And even if it isn‘t green, maybe it’s scenic:

Canton Town Meeting next month will vote on whether to designate Hemenway Drive a scenic way, an eleventh-hour attempt by residents to slow or stop a large housing development just over the border in Milton.

Denise Swenson and her Hemenway Drive neighbors are seeking the new classification, which, if approved, would require Planning Board approval for certain changes to the street.


Denise Swenson, checking her yard for Lyme disease ticks

Thomas Farmer, a spokesman for MassHousing, said that a scenic way designation is a matter for the local government, and would not affect the eligibility letter unless the developer made major changes to its proposal.

Thus Milton has well more than its share of free public amenities (paid with state funds, one should not, not local) – but if one starts from the premise that every bit of currently green space must be green forever, then nothing can ever be built except in places where it has already been built – and that leads to the next objection one can raise.

4.D. History

If one can’t stop a development on traffic, try the environment; if not the environment, try history.

Ms. Swenson has submitted an application to the US Department of the Interior to add Hemenway Drive to the National Register of Historic Places.

The mile-long private road, which connects to Brush Hill Road, has changed little since it was constructed as part of Blue Hill Farm, owned by Augustus and Harriet Hemenway dating back to 1882, according to the application.


The entrance to 70 Hemenway Drive in Canton

Mill Creek spokeswoman Margaret Murphy said the company had no comment.

The warrant article originated from the neighbors themselves, who began meeting weekly after the development was proposed more than one year ago, according to Swenson.

“As this proposed development came forward, all the neighbors came out with their treasure trove of information,” she said.

Funny how the road’s scenic or historic nature was unimportant until it could be used to argue against an affordable housing development.

4.E. Novelty objections

Residents in both Milton and Canton have objected to the density of the proposed development, which would be built under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law, and have said it would change the area’s rural character.

Once a group of people have decided they want to stop a development, there is seemingly no end to the reasons they can identify why everything must remain exactly as it is:

According to Comeau, state law enables a town to designate any road within its borders as a scenic way as long as it is not a state or federal numbered route. If the Town Meeting article is approved, any attempt to cut or remove trees or stone walls adjacent to the street would need Planning Board approval, he said.

The United Kingdom shows the consequences of letting anti-development preservation run amok – minimal building:


Skyrocketing home prices, housing unaffordability, labor immobility, and a stultifying economy.


Increases in housing prices per year

Avril Elkort, vice chairwoman of Canton’s Board of Selectmen, who lives on a scenic way herself, said she believes that giving this designation to Hemenway Drive would make it more difficult to widen the road, which could be required for the development.

So these residents don’t want to ease traffic congestion; if the development were to go forward, they would want traffic to increase.


Ms. Elkort receiving a Canton Spirit Award Recipient

All these neighbors want to control the use of property that they don’t own, in order to protect their lifestyle and the value of the property they do own.  Never once do they suggest using their own money to buy the property in question, nor do they offer any alternative solution to Milton’s affordable housing shortage.  They are content to oppose, not to propose.

Because the state agency that oversees implementation of the law has cleared Milton Mews to proceed, opponents face long odds in derailing it.

That doesn’t stop them from trying.

4.F. The death of a thousand cuts

As by now will not be surprising, not only had Milton opposed every single affordable housing development that I could find in the record, Milton also have been unable to develop a Housing Production Plan of its own.


“I never did mind about the little things.”

Somehow, the devil was always in the details.


Hiding in plain sight

“It was little terms, little things, that seemed to make this thing somehow go off track,” said Alexander Whiteside, chairman of the Planning Board. “So it’s very frustrating seeing this 40B application go ahead, because it didn’t have to be like this.”

Mr. Whiteside, if my Googling is correct, lives in a house built in 1870 on a 15-acre lot.


As Alexander Whiteside didn’t say to Milton:

“The developers could just never satisfy our infinite list of little things …”

Once a town kills as-of-right zoning, then the process has no mandatory resolution, which means it is infinitely protractible:

Two years is “on the high side” for a project to get through a municipal permitting process, according to Kingston’s planner, Thomas Bott , the regional representative in the state’s chapter of the American Planning Association.

But “there isn’t an average time,” Bott said. “We have had instances where somebody was in and out in two meetings, and we’ve had some that have dragged on for a year or more. It’s dependent on the project, the applicant, and, to some extent, the board. There are some boards who are more friendly to growth” than others.  “As we say in parenting and in government, it all depends,” he added.


“It all depends.”

For a developer, it all depends is a death knell, because it all depends means spending money, spending time, and never reaching action. 

In Milton, it’s four years plus and counting. 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 5.]



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Milton’s paradise lost? Part 3: Endanger seniors by delaying ambulances

October 21, 2014 | Affordable Housing, Boston, Chapter 40B, Cities, Development, Homeownership, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Milton, Rental, Zoning | No comments 130 views

[Continued from yesterday's Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]

By: David A. Smith

“What is dark within me, illumine.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

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

Milton’s 2002 zoning map; pdf

Karen Sunnarborg housing study of Milton (February, 2006, pdf; green font)

Chapter 40B fact sheet, 2007; pdf

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)

Boston Globe (September 11, 2014)

CHAPA’s Chapter 40B fact sheet, pdf

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.

4.B. Traffic

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’:


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 –

Development is never favored in the court of public opinion of rich towns; only poor towns want to bring in construction and revenue. 

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.]


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Milton’s paradise lost? Part 2: You will be hard pressed

October 20, 2014 | Affordable Housing, Boston, Chapter 40B, Cities, Development, Homeownership, Housing, Inclusionary zoning, Milton, Rental, Zoning | No comments 78 views

By: David A. Smith

[Continued from Friday's Part 1.]

“We know no time when we were not as now.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost

As we saw in yesterday’s Part 1, the Town of Milton is currently grappling with the challenge of preparing, approving, and then submitting to DHCD a Housing Production Plan, in hopes that DHCD will approve the plan to produce more housing in general, and thereby enable Milton to stop the production of more affordable housing in specific, by defeating or delaying the many development proposals pending before the Milton’s Planning Board.

Sources used in this post

Milton’s 2002 zoning map; pdf

Karen Sunnarborg housing study of Milton (February, 2006, pdf; green font)

Chapter 40B fact sheet, 2007; pdf

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)

Boston Globe (September 11, 2014)

CHAPA’s Chapter 40B fact sheet, pdf

Even within the quirky communities of Massachusetts, Milton has its points of uniqueness, particularly its combination of a streetcar suburb bordering Boston along the Nepnoset River and an enclave of the horse-hiking, and homesteading set whose land use patterns are little different from antebellum New England.


Norfolk County statistics from 1858, included just for the heck of it

7,590 horses

18,851 cows and oxen

976 sheep

6,763 swine

94,448 people

2,656 people in Milton

The rural Milton is en-moated by natural and human barriers: the Blue Hills Reservation, the absence of Route 138 exits (except for Route 138, about which much later), the Neponset River and its magical public-transport-repellent properties.


Few ways in, few ways out

As the map shows, the commuter roads Route 128 and Route 3 (the Central Artery) skirt Milton: Route 28 goes through the town’s east side, and Blue Hill Avenue (Route 138) runs along the way, with the old Dorchester Railway line having been converted into the Red Line’s right-angle extension to Mattapan and Lower Mills.

Inside that conveniently under-accessible space are Milton’s 9,650 housing units, so to have 10% affordable housing, the town will need 965, and its current 4.5% translates to roughly 435 affordable housing units, leaving 530 as its deficit.  To boost supply one half a percent per year means adding 48 affordable homes a year, and if achieved, it would take Milton eleven years to get to its 10% minimum requirement.

In fact, available evidence suggests that Milton is actually shrinking its affordable housing supply, because population is level, the town is not building, and the town is becoming richer.  Statistics from 2006:

Milton is growing slowly, gaining only 996 residents [3% of population – Ed.] from 1990 to 2004.

Milton is becoming increasingly affluent. The median household income in 1999 was $78,986, up almost 50% from the 1989 median income of $53,130 and well above the median income for the Boston region of $55,200.

A total of 259 new homes built in a decade

In the entire decade from 1990 through 2000, Milton built 259 homes.  Even if every single one of them was new, that’s an average annual supply increase of 26; and even if every single one of these new homes was affordable, that’s still less than half the rate required for Chapter 40B one-year safe harbor.

In fact, Milton hasn’t grown appreciably in fifty years:


Carefully not growing for five-plus decades

During that half a century, the relationship of suburbs to cities has changed dramatically, while Milton has been resisting that change.

3. The need

Massachusetts, like every urban or urbanizing political unit, has an ongoing chronic need for affordable housing; and because urbanization drives up land value, that need requires affirmative public policy.  Throughout the whole state, out of 2,692,000 housing units, 247,100 are in the Chapter 40B ‘Subsidized Housing Inventory (SHI)’, or 9.2%.

Only 43 (12%) have met the 10.0% threshold, and were it not for large leaders like Boston (18.5%), Springfield (16.2%), Cambridge (15.2%), Worcester (12.8%), New Bedford (11.8%), and Fall River (11.3%), our production would be sorry indeed.

Lest you think that the 10% standard is impossible to meet in Milton’s vicinity, consider Milton relative to all of its abutting communities, as drawn from the Massachusetts subsidized housing inventory (April, 2013; caramel font):

                                    Dwellings          Affordable        Percentage

Boston                         269,482                 49,971              18.5%

Canton                            8,710                       870              10.0%

Dedham                        10,115                    1,096              10.8%

Milton                              9,641                       426                4.4%

Quincy                          42,527                     4,089               9.6%

Randolph                      11,980                     1,288             10.8%  

Milton’s affordable housing percentage, even on the generous standard allowed by Chapter 40B (which counts all rental at affordable), is less than half any abutting community, and the evidence of Canton, Dedham, Quincy, and Randolph, suggests that all those communities used the goad of the Chapter 40B crowbar threat to find ways to produce the needed housing. 

Nor, sad to relate, is Milton Massachusetts’ worst offender.  In fact, it’s just about median: 166 of the 352 cities and towns that DHCD tracks (47%) have worse affordable-housing percentages than Milton, including my home town of Marblehead (3.9% affordable). 

Milton’s affordable housing shortage is no sudden phenomenon.  Milton has had this shortage for at least a decade (probably longer), to judge from the 2006 statistics:

·         Those living in poverty remain a significant population comprising almost 700 individuals and approximately 100 families and should have access to public assistance to meet their housing needs.

·         The population has remained predominantly white, but minority residents more than doubled from 6.2% in 1990 to 14.6% of all households in 2000.

·         The town’s aging population is decreasing somewhat, to 4,234 residents 65 years or older in 2000 from 4,512 seniors in 1990.

·         Population growth was highest in the 45 to 54 age range, suggesting that aging baby boomers will create a need for more housing that is smaller and easier to maintain.

The situation is no better today:

The [2014] housing production plan also outlined a stark picture of Milton’s neediest residents. Nearly one-fifth of local households were earning less than $35,000, compared with more than half who earn more than $100,000, according to the report.

The gap exists, and is widening, because of two factors distinctive to Milton:


The widening gap

1. Milton is two towns intermingled – one blue-collar urban, the other white-collar suburban verging on landed gentry.

2. Milton has been fiercely anti-development for half a century.  Perhaps it initially feared becoming another Boston, when in the 1950s and 1960s its southern and southwestern neighborhoods – Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan – had a big influx of ‘those people’, most of whom weren’t white.

The town has a negligible supply of purpose-built affordable housing.  The Milton Housing Authority owns 39 elderly one-bedroom apartments at 65 Miller Avenue, and 12 three-bedroom family apartments throughout the town, plus 144 Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, and the only affordable property in the town is Unquity House, 139 elderly apartments (probably Section 202) developed by Milton Residences for the Elderly, a local non-profit founded in 1968.

The result is a town whose housing stock is aging, whose people are aging –


Residents of Fuller Village, Milton

The town also has a population comprising mostly families and senior citizens, with the latter segment projected to grow rapidly as the baby boomer generation ages. Coupled with high rents and rentals typically being in older homes, Sunnarborg said Milton hosts relatively few young adults and is not attractive to older folks looking to downsize.

– and whose inequality is rising, as natural forces of the market (scarcity of supply) and demography (people die) are changing the town’s income mix:

And Milton needs affordable housing, because its absence of new supply is slowing squeezing out the middle and lower classes:

Approximately 45% of Milton’s households do not have sufficient income to afford the median sales price of $460,000 as of March 2013, and about 34% of households cannot afford the lowest rent advertised for a two-bedroom unit of $1,600.  These high housing costs obviously have the most severe impact on those on the lowest rungs of the income ladder, but the effects of such high housing prices have spread well into the middle class. Clearly if you do not already own a home or are not earning a substantial salary, you will be hard pressed to purchase a home in Milton.

This is exactly the phenomenon Ms. Sonnarborg observed eight years ago:

Almost one-third of the total population five years of age or older moved to different housing during the last five years. Housing turnover drives up housing prices in an escalating real estate market, and typically the buyers are more affluent than sellers, fueling demographic changes in the community within a relatively short period.

The result is a town whose bottom quintile can live in Milton only because they have been living in Milton, and when they move, for economic or biological reasons, they will not be replaced:

The median home price in Milton hovers around $460,000, which would require an income of about $96,250.

Milton has few if any homes priced at $200,000 or less and accessible to those earning at or below 80% of area median income.

Milton, and towns like it, are the reason Chapter 40B exists – because natural land-use economics, coupled with normal human like-lives-with-like clumping, results in towns becoming exclusionary without having to vocalize the desire to do so.


“If you don’t already live in this town, you probably can’t afford to.”

[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]



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