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February Town Update

by Dave Atkins

When selectman Pat Ahearn announced he would not seek another term, he said the board had much to do in the coming months. That is a significant understatement. When I attended Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, I was struck by the positive outlook in Westwood...financially, the town is rock solid, with a AAA bond rating and discussion of what kind of tax relief to provide residents. No doubt “tax relief” will not go far enough for residents who have watched their taxes and assessments rise year after year, but it is clear the focus is on planning for the future, when it could easily have been dealing with difficulty.

I have tried to post things on Facebook but I feel that many of those posts go unnoticed because they are lost in the stream of everyone’s newsfeed. If you want to see what’s up in Westwood, take some time to browse through the posts at https://www.facebook.com/WestwoodBlog/

Here are some highlights:

WestCAT will be tackling an aggressive agenda to lease the Obed Baker house from the town and work with the Historical Society, the schools, and other organizations in town to create a community media center. By year’s end, our goal is to have people producing content and to have exciting, original programming on our channels online and broadcast.

The community will discuss the future of our elementary schools. A public meeting next Monday, February 8, 7pm at the High School Little Theatre will include a presentation of ten different options under review for how to deal with the deterioriating condition of our existing school facilities and the declining enrollment base in the town. Will we close the Sheehan and Deerfield and build a larger Hanlon? Or will we invest more money to maintain our existing schools? This will likely be the first of many on a years-long road toward difficult decisions.

Are we ready to scrap the Senior Residential Bylaw? The bylaw has been a failure; leading to contentious planning board meetings with developers wanting to build large apartment complexes adjacent to established quiet neighborhoods. Now the planning board has a proposal to include senior housing in the open space residential district bylaw. What exactly would that look like? Would a developer actually want to build such housing or is it more profitable to build more multi-million dollar single family homes in the woods? Public Hearing on Tuesday, February 9, 7:30pm at 50 Carby Street.

Islington Center. There is a task force to consider long term issues including town-owned properties and a developer who has been listening to resident concerns and adapting his plans. What comes next? We have a once in a generation opportunity to reshape the infrastructure of the community--hopefully preserving the village nature and creating improvements all along the way.The next task force meeting is on February 10 at the Main Library. The next public hearing for discussion of the Washington Street development is Tuesday, February 23. See the latest plans including outdoor seating, landscaping, and detailed floorplans for apartments.

I heard the design study for the East Street bridge has been completed; there is a meeting in the next couple weeks to review the work so far...stay tuned.

Housing. I am proud to have joined an active, motivated Housing Authority who will work to do everything possible to increase affordable housing options in town. Even if you are not a fan of moderate income housing, take a look across the town line to Norwood, where the town is below the 10% affordable housing inventory and therfore subject to 40B developments. Even if you think developments like Upland Woods are not "bad," I am glad we don’t have to have this debate in Westwood.

A Gay Street sidewalk is a real possibility. There will be a town meeting article to authorize design funding. If town meeting agrees, we could be a few years away from a continuous walkway that connects Islington Center to Deerfield and the Library.

The Islington fire station is taking shape. A new police station is next. It may be possible to fund the $14-16 million project without an override.

There is a lot going on in the town of Westwood.

Developer Revises Plans for Islington

by Dave Atkins

Following a standing-room only public hearing at the Islington Community Center on December 1, 2015 (WestCAT video), Petruzziello Properties has modified the special permit application for 301-315, 317, & 323 Washington Street to reduce the number of apartments from 16 to 12, build a dedicated underground parking garage, and install landscaping to buffer the rear of the property from neighbors on Beacon Street. See the links below for complete details from documents on the town web site.

  • Read the cover letter summarizing the revisions made based on Planning Board and public feedback,
  • parking summary which describes the legal requirements and how the developer addresses them, and
  • Revised Plans and Renderings, including before and after photos/renderings of how the new structure will look from Washington Street and Beacon Street.

Note: All current planning board applications are posted on the town website at this link.

The next public hearing and Planning Board meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 12 at 7:30pm at the Islington Community Center. (official meeting notice) The Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee (a subcommittee of the Planning Board) will also discuss the application at their meeting Wednesday, January 6 at 7pm at 50 Carby Street (official meeting notice).

Islington Discussions Continue

by Dave Atkins

Here are links to the WestCAT recordings of the Islington Center Task Force meetings and the public hearing on the development of 301-315, 317, & 323 Washington Street.

The next meeting of the task force is Monday, January 25, at 7:00pm: agenda. The hearing on the development was continued to the January 12 meeting of the planning board: agenda.

WestCAT to Create Obed Baker Community Media Center

by Dave Atkins

Westwood Community Access Television, Inc., is engaged in discussions with the town of Westwood to lease the Obed Baker house for five years and renovate the space to house a studio and offices. The Town issued an RFP earlier this year and selected WestCAT as the developer for the property. WestCAT will preserve the historic features of the building and coordinate with the Westwood Historical Society for their use of the property for meetings, events, and potential collaborative projects with WestCAT to produce historical content.

WestCAT has operated out of a small room in the basement of town hall since its inception in 2008. Today, WestCAT has outgrown its space and is in the process of completing remote broadcast capabilities at Carby Street and the Main Library which will eventually allow live broadcasts of meetings in those locations in addition to the current live broadcasts of Board of Selectmen meetings.

WestCAT is acutely aware of the changing viewing habits of residents and has made all recently produced content available on demand through a vimeo channel at http://vimeo.com/westcat. The vision for a community media center is not only to produce television shows, but to work with residents to produce media content which may ultimately be distributed online. The Obed Baker Community Media Center will provide a physical space where different generations of residents can come together and share stories using the latest technology and most appropriate media for different audiences.

PedBike Committee Considers Sidewalk Plan for Gay Street

by Dave Atkins

This summer, BETA Engineering conducted a feasibility study for a sidewalk to run from Deerfield Avenue to Buckboard Lane, connecting Islington and High Street with a 5-foot wide paved path. The draft study is currently being reviewed by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee and will be discussed at their next monthly meeting on December 2 at 7pm at 50 Carby Street. BETA also considered a sidewalk between Pond and Millbrook, closing a gap in sidewalk that would provide a safer path between the Sheehan school and neighborhoods on the north side of High Street to the west of the school.

The Gay street sidewalk would begin with a crosswalk at Deerfield Ave, then continue entirely on the south side of Gay Street, crossing Thatcher, Milk, and Buckboard to join with the existing sidewalk leading towards the Hanlon School and Pine Lane to Islington Center. In some sections, the sidewalk would pass behind existing stone walls or be separated from the roadway with a grass median strip. At Milk Street, the sidewalk would cross Purgatory Brook via a path behind the guardrails and supported by a retaining wall above the wetlands.

The Gay Street study provides engineering designs that can now be used to understand whether a sidewalk could be constructed within existing right of ways and without disrupting the historic stone walls. The study also estimates order of magnitude of costs: $1.6 million.

The next step in this process will be for the Pedestrian and Bicycle Committee to discuss the study with Westwood's Department of Public Works and begin gathering community feedback and brainstorming about funding possibilities including application for funding under the state's Complete Streets program.

First Public Hearing on Islington Redevelopment

by Dave Atkins

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing December 1, 2015, in the Islington Community Center Hall (ground floor) starting at 7:30pm on the special permit application for  301-315, 317, & 323 Washington Street. The permit application, traffic study and all other current permit applications can be found on the town website at this link.

Video: Watch the WestCAT video recording of the pre-permit discussion from August.

Scouting For Food

by Dave Atkins

On Saturday, November 7, Cub Scouts from Westwood will go to neighbors’ homes to distribute flyers for the annual nationwide Scouting for Food drive. All items collected are donated to the Westwood Food Pantry, located at the Senior Center. The Scouts will be asking residents to donate canned goods and other non-perishable food items. Residents will place these donations in bags and on their front steps for collection on Saturday, November 14th by 9am.
The Westwood Food Pantry is currently in need of the following items:

  • Canned/Jarred Fruit
  • Baking Products
  • Cleaning Products
  • Canned Meals (spaghetti, lasagna, raviolis)
  • Juices
  • Coffee
  • Tea Bags
  • Instant Coffee
  • Macaroni and Cheese

Please check the expiration date of any food item prior to submitting for donation. The Food Pantry cannot accept food that is out of date, so please check the expiration dates on food items.
Last year, the Westwood Cub Scouts collected over two tons of food for the Food Pantry, which serves between 50 and 60 Westwood families during the year. This collection represents a significant portion of the Food Pantry’s supplies for the year. According to the Westwood Food Pantry, supplies are low and this collection always comes at a time of greater need within the community.
Approximately 100 boys from Grades 1–5 participate in Cub Scouts in Westwood. Please join these boys and support this community service project by accepting these flyers on November 7 and leaving a food donation for collection on November 14. If your home is not visited and you would like to make a donation to the Westwood Food Pantry, please call (781-929-5850) or email Pack 1 Islington cubmaster Dave Atkins at datkinsg@gmail.com. Arrangements will be made for a Cub Scout to collect your donation.

Join the Westwood Young Women's Club

by Dave Atkins

The Westwood Young Women's Club is a community of local women interested in enriching the town of Westwood—and having fun while doing so. The group meets on the first Wednesday of every month.

The club plans events each year including Winterfest in December–a holiday celebration of arts, crafts, and games–plus a photo-with-Santa opportunity, an annual Easter Egg hunt, Touch-a-Truck in June, and the summer concert series at the Senior Center in July.

Like the club on Facebook and email wywc2008@gmail.com for more information about joining.

Cub Scout Registration

by Dave Atkins
Date: 
September 15, 2015 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Cub Scouts Ready to "Launch" New Year

Elementary school boys interested in cub scouts should not miss the town-wide registration and information session happening Tuesday, September 15, from 6-7:30pm at the First Baptist Church at 808 High Street. If you are unable to attend, contact the cubmasters for registration information which will also be available at elementary school curriculum night.

Cub scouts are open to all boys in grades 1-5. It is not necessary for a boy to have been involved in scouting in a prior grade; they are welcome to join in any year to complete the requirements for that rank. Pack meetings are once per month; boys meet weekly in their respective dens (e.g. Tigers, Wolves, Bears, and Webelos) for a wide range of activities as they complete achievements towards earning the badge for their rank.

Westwood has two very active packs organized around the school districts: Pack 1 Islington (Hanlon and Downey Schools) and Pack 1 Westwood (Sheehan, Deerfield, Martha Jones). One of the highlights of the scouting program in Westwood is a campout where boys and parents pitch tents, build a campfire, roast marshmallows and go on a night hike or other activity. Other activities throughout the year include a rocket launch, collecting food for the Westwood Food Pantry, and the town-wide pinewood derby. Those who are unable to attend the registration and parents interested in volunteering should contact cubmasters Dave Atkins (Islington) (datkinsg@gmail.com) or Alex Goodwin (Westwood) (WWCubScouts@gmail.com) for more information.

East Street Bridge Design Underway

by Dave Atkins

In my capacity as chair of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee, I was invited to attend a meeting last Thursday where bridge design consultants met with town officials to discuss redesign of the infamous East Street bridge. Our town departments were unanimous in their desire to see a design that includes ample sidewalks on either side. The issue of bicycles is bit trickier because to include bike lanes (which do not exist on East Street yet) would require almost doubling the width of the opening. The design consultants will consider the dimensions and their implications with respect to the abutments and neighboring property. I believe that a protected (e.g. with some physical curb/barrier), multi-use sidewalk is preferable to bike lanes and narrow sidewalks: if we can make the sidewalks ample enough for pedestrians to be safe and then encourage vulnerable bike users (e.g. kids going to Morrison field) to use this same path, it would probably serve all users well.

Widening the opening is critical to improving the connectivity of the neighborhood. Years ago, residents opposed the MBTA's plan to fix this bridge because they feared it would damage the character of the neighborhood to have a big opening like what is under the tracks at Everett Street, about a half mile south. Over the years, some have supported the current situation as a sort of perverse form of traffic calming and justice against trucks they don't believe should be allowed on the street. However, the current bridge is also a community barrier, dividing Islington into the Downey and Hanlon (school) districts. When the bridge is rebuilt and a safe passage for pedestrians and bikes opened, I believe we will create a more connected community with more people crossing back and forth...going to Morrison field on foot instead of driving and parking in the CVS lot, and perhaps walking down to Roche Bros, Wild Blossom, the Post Office, and barbershop.

However, the fundamental issue for the East Street Bridge is the low 10' 6" clearance and the dozens of truck accidents that happen every year. The MBTA's goal is to raise the bridge to 14' 6" which requires finding four feet of vertical space.

There is not likely much room to go down. The town lowered the roadway a few inches to help fire trucks pass and found buried sewer lines and various pipes that would be complicated to disrupt. (You don't want to mess with the sewer line or residents are likely to experience a different sort of "back-up" than currently results from traffic accidents.)

The most obvious way to increase the clearance is to raise the track. As I reported earlier in my post with information from the MBTA, they believe this would affect the track "for miles," requiring the Islington station platform to be raised which would then trigger requirements that the station be built to current accessibility standards. Suddenly it's a $32 million project (in addition to the bridge itself). But why? If we need to raise the track by 4 feet, then we need to increase the grade/slope of the track. For example, with a .5% grade increase, the track would ramp up 1/2 foot for every 100 feet leading to the bridge. With 800 feet of track, you could achieve a 4 foot rise.

The Islington station platform is located approximately 700 feet from the start of the bridge. There may be other engineering factors I've not considered, but it would seem that some elevation, maybe not the full 4 feet, is possible without touching Islington station. If a greater grade is tolerable, then it would seem mathematically possible to raise the track.

Westwood town administrator Mike Jaillet introduced another idea that he pressed the MBTA to consider. Apparently, for many years, the town has been interested in the possibility of moving Islington station south closer to Everett street. Mr Jaillet suggested there is a developer interested in building a primarily residential property in the area of Everett Street who might be motivated to collaborate on a transit-oriented development.

There was some enthusiasm for the relocation idea--based in part on the assumption that residents would prefer a new project be done away from the neighborhood. Some claim that the population density at the new location is better for a train station. I personally believe moving Islington station to the industrial area on Everett street, next to Progressive Insurance and across from Norwood senior housing would be a huge setback for walkability in Islington. Moving 1/2 mile puts the station more than a mile away from most Islington residents; while it would be a short drive, it is no longer walkable.

I do not have specific details on this station relocation idea--and it is important to remember that it is not the focus of the bridge redesign, but only a possible solution to the problem that would exist if raising the tracks requires rebuilding the station. The design firm will likely answer the engineering questions and present options and alternatives for further discussion. Town representatives will remain involved throughout the design process and public hearings will be held at various points in the design process to solicit resident feedback. Even if the relocation idea were to be actively considered, it could not be funded as a part of the bridge redesign.

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