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Woodworkers override: VOTE NO – Part 1

May 18, 2011

Part 1 of 3

On June 4, Walpole voters will be asked to decide whether they want a tax override to purchase a portion of the Walpole Woodworkers property on East Street.

I will leave this ballot question blank. Because I am not a property taxpayer, I do not feel comfortable voting to affect everybody else’s property taxes for a project I won’t have to pay for myself.

However, I urge voters to vote NO on this override.

I will note that I think the Board of Selectmen deserves credit for engaging residents for an open and honest discussion about this ballot question throughout the last few months. The Board has held numerous public meetings to answer questions from town residents, and this clearly took a lot of work and effort on the Board’s part. The Town Administrator and Selectmen answered residents’ questions concisely and directly, without lecturing them.

I changed my mind frequently on this issue during the past several months. The Board made a good case for why we should buy the land. While there are certainly benefits to the acquisition of this property, I ultimately decided I was opposed. I may change my mind again, in fact.

If the voters do end up approving the purchase of the property and it turns out not to be contaminated as some in town fear, I will be just as happy as anyone else at Town Hall that the purchase went through.

Over the next week or so, I will be explaining my reasons for opposing the override.

Here is one:

40B

First of all, the argument that we must buy this land or else a 40B developer will buy it first sounds like a reasonable justification but I can see a lot of problems with this argument. For one, until the 40B law is completely repealed, there will always be a potential for vacant land to open up in Walpole and for a 40B developer to move in and swipe it. By buying the Walpole Woodworkers land we are not eliminating 40B, we are just prolonging its arrival. We will still meet the quota of affordable housing necessary to allow a 40B developer to come to Walpole.

In buying this land, we appear to be setting a precedent where every time a swath of open land, or any real estate for that matter, becomes available, the town must race to try to get it before a 40B developer can. I don’t like the idea of the town setting up a strategy of defeating 40B where we must engage in a never-ending competition with developers for property.

We can all see that this is an unsustainable strategy – there will be a time when we will LOSE to a developer whether it be because the price is too high or because the voters get sick of approving overrides. When that happens, we will be right back where we started – with a net tax loss on 40B housing being built in our town and a whole lot of empty land that we kept purchasing in hopes of blocking 40B developers.

I hear Sunnyrock Farm may be sold off to become new house lots or a subdivision at some point, perhaps in the near future. When the South Street superfund site is cleaned up, perhaps that will have the potential to be affordable housing. Any number of other sites throughout town could become housing if the owners decide to sell it off someday. All of this new housing will undoubtedly represent a tax loss in some form.

Judging by the argument being employed to pass the Woodworkers override, the town will have to literally race to pick up all of these properties before a developer does. Will the town’s voters approve overrides to buy all of these properties? I hope not, and I think we all know they will not.

The well-intentioned 40B law has some ugly side effects, but I think the town should accept that we have to live with it for now. The best way to repeal 40B is to go directly to your legislators and urge them to get it off the books – not buy up every piece of open property.

I don’t hear any of our selectmen urging residents to write letters to their legislators about 40B. State Representative John Rogers, who is running in what could be a tight race for re-election next year, has a lot of pull on Beacon Hill and should be told very forcefully that if he wants the Walpole vote next year he needs to press for 40B to be eliminated.

This year is becoming quite a reform year for our state legislators, with the State Legislature and Governor each pushing for major changes to municipal health care plans and implementing major spending reforms and spending cuts statewide without raising taxes. This would be the year, if any, to push through 40B reform or repeal.

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