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Residents Express University Station Concerns to Selectmen

Residents filled the room at the Downey School to voice their concerns with the University Station development in an open forum-style setting before the Board of Selectmen.

 

Over 100 Westwood residents filled the cafeteria at the Downey School last night as the Board of Selectmen held a meeting with the main topic of discussion being the University Station development.

With the Planning Board and Finance and Warrant Commission also in attendance, and some residents forced to stand because there were no more chairs, the Selectmen ran the meeting as an open hearing to give residents the opportunity to voice their concerns with the project. 30 people had the chance to speak, with the most often mentioned concerns being traffic and the effects the residential portion of the project would have on the school system.

“I’m glad that other people have the same concerns- housing, schools and traffic,” Pam Peckinpaugh, who lives right next to the proposed development site, said after the meeting.

Board of Selectmen Chairperson Philip Shapiro moderated the meeting and kept it civil despite the number of people in the room who were clearly unhappy with aspects of the project.

“This is for you,” Shapiro said when the University Station portion of the meeting began. “If there are problems you see and ways to fix them we want to hear about them.”

The effect this project will have on the school system was brought up several times. The school department is something everyone in Westwood seems to value very highly, and one resident even mentioned the fact that Westwood High School had been nationally recognized with a Blue Ribbon award, which they just accepted this week in Washington, D.C.

Those facts, coupled with the fact that the developer’s financial expert, Connery Associates, just released their Fiscal Impact Analysis this week, upset several people in attendance as they strongly disagreed with Connery’s method of calculating the financial effect on the Westwood Public Schools, particularly because people don’t feel the school districts they used as comparables to do the calculations are comparable (Superintendent of Schools John Antonucci also expressed those same sentiments in a meeting several weeks ago).

Another issue related to the schools isn’t simply financial, but also a matter of space. Connery estimates that the residential portion of the project, which is currently slated for 650 one and two bedroom units, will bring about 55 additional students to Westwood. Again, many residents found his method “flawed,” specifically noting that the comparables he used don’t have the T access that Westwood does.

“If schools are affected by the number of students, it affects the quality of education,” one woman in the crowd said. “That will then affect the real estate value.”

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The other issue that seemed to be mentioned the most was traffic. Several people mentioned before, during and after the meeting the previous proposed project that failed a few years ago. There were two things they liked about that developer: they were more approachable and willing to talk to them, and they were willing to pay for the traffic mitigation.

“I was involved in traffic mitigation 4-5 years ago,” resident Robert Ross said. “The new developer is not amenable to traffic mitigation. We should make them do it.”

The Selectmen were mostly neutral throughout the night, not giving their own opinions of the project, but simply listening to the people who came to the meeting. One person asked them their opinion, so each did say a little, although they seemed like they haven’t made up their mind at this point.

Selectman Nancy Hyde said it’s how you look at each thing, and she thinks it’s a matter of the overall picture.

“I have a different approach,” Shapiro said. “It’s important to know how many condos, how many one bedrooms and how many two bedrooms.”

“I’m troubled that there are some rental units,” Selectman Patrick Ahearn said. “I’m troubled that the numbers move every time we talk to the developers.”

Possibly compounding the issue for many people is they feel New England Development won’t talk to them. One woman asked near the end of the meeting if the developer would come to a meeting like this to answer the public’s questions. Residents pointed out that several members of New England Development have attended all the other meetings related to University Station except for this one, when the public had the opportunity to ask questions for nearly two hours.

“New England Development wants to push it through,” resident John Harding said. “They don’t talk to us. There’s no one here from them tonight. They basically have a strip mall with apartments at the end… The schools are undervalued. I don’t think anyone is willing to see the quality of the Westwood schools decline just to get this developer in.”

The date that is still being mentioned for the Special Town Meeting is February 28. With that date approaching quicker each day, many in attendance last night seemed concerned.

Jack Wiggin, the Chairperson of the Planning Board didn’t seem concerned after the meeting. He said that many of the concerns that were brought up he was aware of, and that some of the things can’t be done yet until a final design has been completed. This is includes the noise study, as where the buildings are and how they’re designed will change how the noise travels.

Wiggin also said that, while it’s a slow process, it’s not over in terms of negotiations. On Tuesday the Planning Board will receive a presentation from Connery on the Fiscal Impact Analysis. In addition, Westwood hired their own expert, BETA, who will make a presentation with their Fiscal Impact Analysis on Tuesday night as well. BETA’s report won’t be available ahead of time as part of their job is to rebut, if necessary, things they disagree on with Connery.

Westwood Resident November 19, 2012 at 01:00 AM
55 students from 650 rental units, that seems like a ridiculously low estimate. I haven't run any analysis myself, or find a comparable case study (yet), but here is my big concern and way of thinking (would love to hear others thoughts and if you think I'm crazy). Of the 650 residential units, let's say 40% go to those with kids (it is the ideal opportunity for a family to try to get into Westwood's schools at low-cost). That is 260 families with kids. If avg family has 1.5 kids that is 390 kids. Now let's assume these kids are aged 6 years apart (logic being that families w/older kids probably already engrained in existing school system and less likely to move). That is 65 kids per age group. Westwood High has ~900 kids enrolled or ~225 per class (using this as a proxy for elementary enrollment per age class). Thus, on the math above, these rental units could increase class size by 65 or almost 30%. Am I missing something? If you think my numbers are crazy, change % residents with kids to 25%, avg 1.25 kids with age span of 8 years and you still get more than 30 kids per class, or about a 14% increase. -Concerned New Resident
Robert Rosen November 19, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Thank you for your comments. I wanted to clarify something about the residential units in the most up-to-date proposal. Of the 650 units, 325 of them are 1-bedroom. The other 325 are 2 bedroom. Most (if not all) of the residents with kids would end up living in the 2-bedroom, which eliminates about half of your estimate (if I understand it correctly). Also, I wasn't completely clear on your estimates- were you saying you think the #s would be 65 more kids in each grade, or overall in the school system?
Westwood Resident November 19, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Robert, thanks for the prompt response & clarification. I was saying 65 more kids in each grade, with 390 kids in the total school system. I believe Connery's 55 additional students was for the entire school system? That just seems far too low and unrealistic. My 40% of units with kids tried to adjust for some 1 beds, but I did not realize it was 50/50 between 1 & 2 beds. So let's say 50% of the 2-beds have kids with an avg of 1.5 kids in these units and across a 6 year age span. That adds about 40 kids PER class (240 kids in total). While I may be off on my estimates (and possibly way-off), the assumptions don't seem unreasonable. All I'm trying to say is (i) the potential exists for a meaningful increase in students to the school system, and it would likely get concentrated within a few year age span, taxing the elementary schools first (ii) Westwood is not getting properly compensated for this risk (iii) is there a link to the study / assumptions that Connery used to say only 55 more kids will enter the school system from all of those rental units?
Blueview Resident November 19, 2012 at 02:07 PM
I agree with Westwood Resident that the potential exists for a large increase in students to the school system. I think the apartments would primarily appeal to couples and families, not "young professionals". As a parent of several "young professionals" (unmarried, good jobs, 25-35), their needs/interests in housing are better met living in Cambridge/Back Bay/South Boston/Brookline. Transportation costs from living at University station would be 3X the cost of red or green line trip ($6 per day each way on commuter rail vs $2 per day each way on red or green line). Red/green line transportation is much more frequent at night than commuter rail. On Saturday nights, there are only a 9PM and 11PM trains out of Boston - could lead to very expensive cab trips! The Cambridge/Back Bay/South Boston/Brookline area offers an abundace of casual restaurants and bars within walking distance or short MBTA trip that is more appealing to young professionals than a hotel bar or take-out from Wegmans.
Robert Rosen November 19, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Thank you again to both, Westwood Resident and Blueview Resident, for sharing your comments. Westwood Resident, I've actually attached Connery's report that was released about a week ago to this story. If you click where the photos are, there's a PDF document that you can view online right on this page. The report is long and includes many other things as well, but it does have what you're looking. I believe there's a search function, so hopefully it will speed things up if that's the only thing you want to look at right now. Blueview Resident, I'm very interested in your comment, as you sound like someone who is obviously very familiar with the "young professional" demographic with your children falling into that category. I'm wondering if you've attended any of the meetings to express these views to the Planning Board and/or Board of Selectmen? Your point about the cost differences in transportation is particularly interesting, as I don't believe I've heard anyone mention that (at least not to or in front of me).

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