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WestCAT News and Updates

by GregAgnew

In October, I was hired as the Executive Director of WestCAT after serving three years prior as the Director of Operations at Dedham Television and Media Engagement Center in Dedham, MA. I had helped construct and design a 14,000 square foot state-of-the-art television studio, and I bring that same vision to Westwood, hoping to construct a unique studio that fits the specific needs of our residents.
 
First, I'd like to welcome all new members that have joined since my hiring in late October of 2013. We've made tremendous progress since then, making several changes and improvements to our website and social media outlets to better serve the residents of our Westwood Community, providing more information and allowing for more immediate contact to be made in case of questions. Beginning shortly, we will be offering serveral new programs for the consideration of our audience, and will be asking for membership input as we move forward with potential new studio plans.
 
In addition, we will be hiring a new Production Assistant and Engineering & Technology Assistant to our team, strengthening our level of service to the Town of Westwood. Currently, it takes us more than a full eight hour work day to shoot, edit, render, convert, and upload ONE program for broascasting. We expect within the year that we will be able to cut that time in half with more help and increased computing power.
 
During the Town Elections, WestCAT was able to cover the LWV Candidate Forum, and produce our own voluntary candidate spotlight at no cost to any candidate for any elected office in the Town of Westwood. We also covered several Selectman meetings, including the last meeting for outgoing Selectman Phil Shapiro and several Planning Board meetings, including Department of Transportation Forums at the Downey and Thurston Middle School.
 
Since then, we have been busy cleaning three year's worth of programming from our virtual hard drives and uploading newer programming. It is crutial to the health of each drive to continually take measures to ensure proper operation by suspending programming schedules and checking system functionality. This process is long and involved. We appreciate your understanding while we improve your local television network.
 
The past has allowed us to cover over 20 Westwood Basketball Association Games, with the assistance of several local sponsors. We would like to thank Michael Gay of Westwood and outgoing Director of Operations Adam K. Long for all of thier hard work on this important local project. We hope to re-engage in this type of television programming in the future with the participation of High School Level Athletics with similar foundation sponsorship. On average, it costs us over $450.00 to cover each event, and greatly appreciate any and all financial assistance to better cover local events.
 
In the future, we will be covering Town Meeting on May 5th. This event will not be live, considering that residential participation is crutial to the voting success and progression of our Town Government.
 
We welcome any and all input from Residents, Boards, Committees, and Business Owners as we move forward. Contact me, and I'd be happy to entertain any questions or comments you may have. My cell phone is: 774-538-WEST, and my email is: greg@westcat.tv.
 
I thank you for watching our Local TV Network, and look forward to meeting more residents as time moves forward. 
 
Best Wishes, 
 
Greg Agnew, Executive Director of WestCAT

Town Meeting

by Dave Atkins
Date: 
May 5, 2014 - 7:30pm

CHECK-IN BEGINS AT 7:00PM, MEETING STARTS PROMPTLY AT 7:30PM

Please visit the town web site for detailed information.

If you do not have a copy of the Warrant and Recommendations booklet, you may download it here.

Westwood Achieves Coveted AAA Bond Rating

by Dave Atkins

Standard and Poor's has upgraded its rating on Westwood's general obligation bonds from AA+ to the highest rating possible: AAA. According to a press release from Standard and Poor's:

"We believe Westwood's strong underlying economy, ongoing economic developments, strong management, and predictable operating profile will likely translate into strong budgetary performance and operating flexibility over the outlook period. In addition, we expect Westwood to maintain, what we consider, its very strong debt and liability profile because there are no sizable long-term capital needs. We also believe debt service costs and pension and other postemployment benefits costs will likely remain manageable and not pose an immediate budgetary challenge over the two-year outlook period," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Victor Medeiros. "For these reasons, we do not expect to change the rating over the next two years."

The AAA bond rating means Westwood can pay lower interest payments to investors on bonds, setting rates comparable to the most secure and stable bonds such as U.S. Treasury bonds.

Vote Today: Polls Open until 8pm

by Dave Atkins

Westwood voters will choose between Michael Walsh and John Wiggin for Selectman, Chris McKeown, Jim O'Sullivan and Alice Moore for Moderator, and two of three candidates for School Committee: Josepha Jowdy, Ellen Mason, or Charles Donahue. Other positions are uncontested, but feature such worthy candidates as David Atkins for Housing Authority.

It was a cold, wet morning to hold signs!

Updated election results on the town website

Congratualtions to Selectman-elect Michael Walsh, Moderator-elect Alice Moore, and new School Committee member Charles Donahue who will serve with re-elected incumbent Josepha Jowdy.

Town Meeting a Challenge to Moderate

by Dave Atkins

Controversial Line Items May Prompt Debate

By now, everyone has dutifully read the 105-page Finance and Warrant Commission report and recommendations for Town Meeting next Monday, May 5, right?. The Town Meeting process expects a lot from participants.

The Town does not have the resources to prepare detailed pro and con analysis of every warrant article. That laborious task really falls to the Finance Commission to frame what shows up on the warrant for disposition by a mass meeting of hundreds of residents in a 3-4 hour time frame. The warrant must be vetted so we do not end up with interminable meetings where residents nitpick over details. That’s why the role of the Moderator is so critical before the town meeting...to appoint a representative group of residents to FinCom who can ask the detailed questions during the review process and encourage actionable warrant articles. The process has generally seemed to work, but I do wonder how the new moderator will handle debate over a few items that have potential to ignite controversy:

Tasers for Westwood

Article 5 is a supplemental appropriation for capital equipment including $42,500 for “Electronic control devices.” ECDs are tasers—weapons that deliver a jolt of electricity to a suspect rendering them non-lethally incapacitated. Article 5 also includes “automated license plate reader,” for $20,000. This is a scanner that will read and record the license plate numbers, location, and time of vehicles.

Being “tased” is preferable to being shot, but how often have our police needed to subdue someone and wished they could have taken them down with a taser instead of potentially drawing a firearm? I’m sure the police chief has an answer for that, but still, it’s an issue worth discussion as to whether this town has really changed so much as to justify such measures. The license plate scanner is controversial for privacy concerns—Do you want your whereabouts logged and stored in a database somewhere for analysis? The neighboring states of Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have passed legislation to limit the use of such technology.

Will we have a discussion at Town Meeting? If we do, will it delay the consideration of the many other warrant articles that need to be considered and voted upon in order for the Town to operate? What if someone stands up and demands a quorum call—potentially sending everyone home for the night and necessitating an expensive and inconvenient re-convening of Town Meeting the next day?

The moderator plays a vital but often unseen role in managing the meeting so a balance is struck between healthy discussion and unnecessary delay. Perhaps these items are noncontroversial to the majority...perhaps a couple of sentences from the police chief will allay concerns. We will see...

Sex Offender Ban

No one supports sex offenders or wants to see them in our town. Westwood is certainly taking that to heart in Article 27 which will ban the presence of level 2 or 3 sex offenders in many “child safety zones,” in town, including the public library. I posted more details here. Is it constitutional? Maybe. Is it enforceable? Well, I guess it will be a matter of “see someone, say something.” Or will we post photos of Westwood’s top 10 unwanted?

$275K to Study Safety Buildings

Article 16 asks for money to commission a feasibility study to determine the best solution for the inadequate police and fire stations. Originally, the task force had hoped to bring a solution to town meeting which involves possibly major changes to Islington Center. However, that is NOT on the agenda tonight; the study will consider as many as 15 possible configurations, some of which do not involve moving anything. The consensus of all parties up to this point is that our existing fire and police facilities are woefully inadequate and something needs to be done.

This website contains all the useful information from the Task Force:
https://sites.google.com/site/westwoodpublicsafety/

The next meeting of the Task Force is Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 7:30pm at the Main Library.

During the Board of Selectman election, there has been some discussion of whether or not University Station is contributing enough to this effort. The town's current analysis is that University Station will add about 12% to the fire department’s workload and the project is required to contribute $900,000 toward mitigation.

The likely outcome of the study will be a more specific recommendation and a future Town Meeting vote which would include some kind of funding mechanism (borrow or tax).

Summary

The items above are only a few of the 28 Warrant Articles up for a vote next Monday. Other articles may or may not prove controversial, but it could be a long night!

Busy Agenda for Planning Board

by Dave Atkins

One way to get a sense of how much is happening with development in Westwood is to take a look at the agenda for the Planning Board meeting Monday, April 28, 2014 7:30pm at 50 Carby St. Here is my semi-informed commentary...

University Station – Conformance Determination for Bonefish Grill

Bonefish Grill is a seafood restaurant chain that started in Florida and has spread up the east coast. Their first Massachusetts location was Burlington and apparently, we can look forward to one opening in Westwood next Spring as the retail phase of University Station is completed.

Consideration of Proposed Minor Modifications to FMUOD Special Permit for Shields MRI – 40 Allied Drive

40 Allied Drive is actually in Dedham, near the Dedham Corporate Center commuter rail station off the East Street Rotary. But the Westwood town line cuts through this area resulting in some buildings that straddle the line and a small neighborhood in Greenlodge that is a part of Westwood only accessible from Dedham.

Consideration of Subdivision Performance Bond and Release of Covenant for 600 Clapboardtree Street

Something's getting built here.

Public Hearing for Consideration of Dedham and Westwood Bicycle and Pedestrian Network Plan

This network plan lays out a priortized map of bike paths and sidewalk improvements to guide future efforts. The plan was put together by the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission--I've written about it before here. After Planning Board review, the finalized plan will be reviewed by FinCom just prior to Town Meeting and presented to the Town for approval on May 5.

Review of MassDOT 100% Plans for Downey Safe Routes to School Improvements

This is the culmination of YEARS of effort by Downey school parents. Back when I was first interested in improving walkability in Westwood, Linda Walsh and other parents at the Downey School had already completed the first year of a Safe Routes to Schools program. Over the years, that Federal program has been attacked by conservatives and survived budget cuts; now, it will help add sidewalks and crosswalks around the Downey school to make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school.

Review of MassDOT 25% Plans for Route 1A, Everett Street and Clapboardtree Street Intersection Improvements

I know that is is possible to inadvertantly run the red light at this intersection (the light for traffic going from Everett St to Clapboardtree over 1A turns green while the light under the bridge remains red). As a runner, every time I do my Norwood loop, I hope I don't get run over by cars from multiple directions. One of the first issues to come before the PedBike committee was a handwritten letter from a senior at the Maquire Housing development in Norwood who could not walk the unplowed sidewalks obstructed by telephone poles on Everett St on her way to Westwood. Sometime in the future, low income housing developments at Upland Woods (the old Polaroid campus) may add hundreds of new residents who will descend Upland Road into the melee at the Westwood Town Line. This intersection is overdue for serious improvement.

Informal Discussion - 1561 High Street - Reynolds Farm

Last month, a resident came to the PedBike meeting to describe how residents between Blueberry and Pheasant Hill are essentially landlocked due to a lack of sidewalk. Although they live within the walk zone (no bus transportation) of the Sheehan School, it is nearly impossible to cross High Street.

Town Meeting to Consider Sex Offender Ban

by Dave Atkins

Article 27 (download The Finance & Warrant Commission report for Town Meeting) would amend the Code of the Town of Westwood to make it illegal for any Level 2 or Level 3 registered sex offender to be present in a "child safety zone." A child safety zone includes "A park, playground, recreation center, library, school, camps, day-care center, private youth center, video arcade, bathing beach, swimming pool or wading pool, gymnasium, sports field or sports facility..." managed or leased by the town. Fincom voted 9 in favor, 4 opposed, to recommend the town vote in favor of implementing the restriction. Concerns about practical application of the rule and the risk of constitutional challenges prompted several members to vote against approval.

In 2012, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Federal district court ruling striking down a 2008 Albuquerque law banning all sex offenders from libraries as unconstitutional. The ban has been completely removed. However, the courts' criticism of the Albuquerque law was largely based on the overly broad nature of the prohibition. Communities that have drafted laws since have attempted to make them more specific in the hopes they would pass constitutional muster. The 10th Circuit ruling is not directly binding on Massachusetts, and the language proposed at Town Meeting is much more specific and will be reviewed by the Massachusetts Attorney General prior to adoption. For more background on legal issues, here is an excellent law review article by Jennifer Ekblaw.

Other Massachusetts towns passed similar legislation in the wake of a 2008 case in New Bedford where a 6-year old boy was assaulted in the library. In Lowell, offenders are banned during certain hours. In Westwood, to my knowledge, we have one Level 3 registered sex offender living in town and another Level 3 who works here.

More Details on High Street Senior Development

by Dave Atkins

I have obtained copies of the materials submitted by the developer in support of the proposed senior residential development at 215 High Street. These materials are available in the town planner's office for residents to review prior to the public hearing on Tuesday, April 8, 7:30pm at Thurston Middle School, but I thought some of these items would be interesting for people to download and read at home.

The most interesting document with applicability far beyond this particular development—and key to understanding the market conditions driving the creation of senior residential housing in Westwood—is a draft market study prepared by LDS Consulting Group of Newton.

The market study is, depending on your income perspective or bias, either a disturbing dose of reality as to the affluence expected of seniors who wish to live in Westwood, or an indication or a market ripe for development. According to the study, we are a community of close to million dollar homes (avg 2013 home sale = $845K) where most senior citizens (55%) make over $100K per year.

A market study has very little to do with residents' concerns about traffic and safety, but it does establish, with over sixty pages of data and analysis, a lot of facts that may inform discussion. It is healthy to review this data, and to read the analysis of neighboring developments to get a sense of the magnitude of a development boom that stands in dramatic contrast to the depression era of 2008 when the weeds began to sprout at Westwood Station.

Of greater interest to residents concerned with this development, here and now, is the RKG Associates draft report of fiscal and economic impacts. This report estimates the development will net the town $125K/year in property taxes after all expenses. A traffic impact and safety study "indicates that the existing roadway network can accommodate the additional vehicular traffic generated by the proposed development project, with minimal impacts on traffic operations." Additional materials commissioned by the developer and submitted as part of the application include a water system study, storm water planenvironmental site assessment, site plan, the special permit application, and a marketing package.

I am attaching the documents to this post. I am not taking a position on the project—nor do I believe this particular project is of special significance versus others—but I wanted to see if sharing the materials online would be helpful to the process and promote a thoughtful, constructive discussion.

Westwood Board of Selectmen Meeting Materials Online

by Dave Atkins

In addition to agendas and minutes posted on the town web site, Westwood is now using an online document management system that allows sharing and searching the materials for the past two years. Watch my screencast tour by following this link:

 http://screencast.com/t/3WVkq1qH9mN6

Then check it out for yourself at:

 http://westwoodtownma.iqm2.com/

University Station Construction Begins This Month

by Dave Atkins

The town has published an updated Construction Sequencing Plan showing the different components of University Station with anticipated construction start and end dates. All major construction should begin in the coming weeks.

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