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Town Manager

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Dec 22

Town Manager Updates per Select Board Meeting on December 15th

Posted on December 22, 2021 at 11:43 AM by Ashley Place

Town Manager’s Special Town Meeting Recap

December 1st we did have traditional fall town meeting where we conducted a number of business items including allocating our free cash, setting the senior exemption amount, had a few CPC articles, and we adopted a resolution to send to Legislature regarding Green House Gas emissions.

It was a good meeting. It was certainly efficient. I want to take a moment and thank everyone who played a part in getting it up and running and then conducting it. I just want to take a moment to opine a little bit on some of the correspondence that we had received about maybe being happy in the fact that it was a relatively brief meeting for a Town Meeting and that we are the only town that does it. First, I feel safe saying for everyone [here on the Select Board Meeting] that we encourage participation, we appreciate robust participation, we appreciate questions, but we also- I think it’s fair to say, that we appreciate civility and we appreciate asking things in a respectful way and I do not think asking things in a respectful way minimizes the magnitude of question or the effectiveness of questioning it’s just good decent human behavior.  That being said, I also know a number of other town meetings- Jay Tallerman, from Lisa Mead’s firm, was our representative council at Special Town Meeting actually said that he had two earlier town meetings that had the exact same situation and basically ran the exact same length. That about wraps it up.

Update: Development at 10 – 50 Main, Ashland Mills

After feedback from the last meeting with the working group, the owner has revised his proposal and proposed plan to conform with the zoning already in place. Mainly that consists of reducing the height of the buildings, and removing one story. For informational purposes, he is planning on keeping the two original granite buildings and renovating those. What that means by conforming to the zoning is that he will be submitting an application to the Planning Board for Site Plan Review. That means there will not be a Town Meeting Vote associated with this, and there will not be a special permit. It will be Site Plan Review, which is pretty standard. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. A community is supposed to come up with zoning that they feel is characteristic of the town best, and if there are exceptions that are being proposed, than there is a special permit process, and that in itself, has its own criteria, or you could even go for a zoning change. If a proposal meets the criteria, that that supposedly means that the town is okay with what is being proposed and that why is the process is a Site Plan Review process.

To sum it up, the two original granite buildings are going to be saved and restored and the rest of the development’s being reconfigured to conform with the current zoning.

Priority Project Updates

- No Update to Rail Transit District Project

Downtown

They are really trying hard to get all of the infrastructure underground that they can before they button up for the winter, because next year they want to start the street scape work, and also the utilities, start installing their equipment. What you will being seeing is that they are starting to install the foundation for the mass, for the traffic signals. We are starting to see some visible progress. On a good financial news front, we did receive our invoice from Eversource for their equipment and the amount was lower than the estimate. I will say the Town of Weston recently completed their downtown improvement project, and it does have a very similar scope to ours. Their town center is more green oriented – in terms of greenery, but they did the same thing as far as new sidewalks, underground utilities, making sure everything is ADA compliant, and putting up decorative lighting.  If you have a chance to drive through there, I encourage you to do so. It’s gorgeous. Fortunately that contractor is our contractor, so they’re certainly experienced in this. If you need a little inspiration, I encourage you to go over to Weston.

126 Project

They’re going to be buttoning up a lot of their road work going into the winter, but what they do hope to do is continue to work on the retaining walls at the intersection of Eliot and Pond Street, and then also the one on Spyglass Hill Road.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Construction Update newsletters to receive updates directly to your inbox, here

Mindess

We had a very nice groundbreaking ceremony last week. It was really nice having the kids incorporated as part of the program. Everyone there summarized what it took to get there and how excited we are. Again, I want to thank the Select Board, the Building Committee, the School Committee, FinCom (Financial Committee), also our State Rep. Jack Lewis, Senate President Spilka, and of course MSBA.

They’ve started doing some of the clearing necessary and already started constructing the access point off Fisk Road, so you’re seeing that activity happening right now.

Public Safety Building

I think all of you can see the progress for this one. It’s a very big and very purple building right now. I promise that is not going to be the final color. We are making good process. We just held a meeting where we started getting into more detail regarding the lobby and vestibule area and finalized that, but progress is still happening on that. We got a cost for design for solar on the roof as well. We did approve moving forward with the design and engineering for the system and however we choose, whether we go out to bid, or include it in GC’s contract is to be determined.

Valentine Estate

We did start the cabling this week, and I believe it’s going to take two or three days, but no one can go inside there while it’s being done, because of concern and liability. It’s a pretty involved effort, but the hope is once that is completed we’ll have a secure superstructure for the barn and give us a little time to determine what the future moves are.

Town Manager Report

-Housing Guidelines and DHCD Guidelines (discussed earlier in the meeting), summary is the State approved legislation to require an increase in housing for areas near Train Stations. We need to determine how we will adhere to this guidance to receive grant opportunities. It’s open for public comment now, and one of the things I wish to bring to attention is if existing housing opportunities count.

-Our State Tax Rate Recap Sheet was submitted and our tax weight was approved at what we projected

-We have a Planning Board Opening, it will be a joint appointment between the Planning Board and Select Board. We are hoping to appoint a full member and an associate member as well. We are hoping to have these in place for January 13th. We do have few talent bank forms submitted.

State ARPA Funds- Ashland will receive $500,000 to complete Riverwalk section from the Northside of Sudbury River to the Southside. $750,000 reconstruction of the Warren Barn. Thank you to Senate President Spilka for securing these funds to reconstruct the barn and for her advocacy, and a thank you to Representative Jack Lewis. Some funds for FSU and the Warren Conference Center. $500,000 water and sewer upgrades. 
 
Framingham State University- FSU is looking to establish a University Club Concept. I was originally invited to sit on the board and hear the proposals, but council advised otherwise. They have a proposal from Flicks Compass Group. FSU is looking to make some heavy investments in that area. I have a meeting with them to hear the proposal.

Clinics- Vaccination Clinic on December 1st distributed 600 doses and 580 for the second dose, thank you to Ed and volunteers and Holliston for your collaboration.

Ashland Holiday Events- It was great to get back to the holiday programs that we’ve done. Some of them have been long-standing traditions that have adapted based on COVID, some are relatively new- but you know one of those that we’ve had to adapt with COVID which seems to be very popular is the tree lighting in the town square followed by Santa’s ride all throughout town and give everybody an opportunity to see him as he goes by in his sleigh. Thank you to the Fire Department, Santa, Jeff Bell, Marley, and Beth Reynolds who helped put all of this together and some of the decorations. It’s really great.

Illuminate Ashland, despite the weather, was a great event, thank you to Beth and Chrissy Reynolds. We were also able to have our menorah lighting, again many thanks to Jeff Bell and Roy Correria, and Joe Lacroix for getting that thing up and running with minutes to spare. It certainly was a Hanukkah Miracle.

The Holiday Program we distributed food and gifts to 106 families so that’s always incredible. I have to give a shout out to our community center staff. They pulled together as a team, and I want to give some special thanks to Candi Wilson, Kelly Rund, and Joanne Duffy. Everyone played a role, but I really want to highlight them it just really came together well and do solely to their efforts of our Community Center Staff, so many thanks to them.

Finally, not necessarily a holiday event, but I know many of you got to view some of the auction items at the library. Meena Jain, our Library Director, as well as the Trustees, and the Friends of the Ashland Public Library participated in putting an auction on of different Children’s Illustrators work. There were prints and books. I was fortunate. I was a lucky bidder for two items that I’m really happy about. One of them is actually own children’s librarian’s work, Lois McAuliffe. She’s done a couple of books already so you have some artwork in a book form there, and then I have a nice Todd Parr print. Thanks to everybody who put that on as well as well.

Aside from that, I just want to wish everybody a Happy Holiday and looking forward to the new year!

Sincerely, 
Michael

Watch the Select Board Meeting on December 15, 2021, here, https://youtu.be/FN9MHyoD5uc

Dec 17

Building Projects and January Special Town Meeting

Posted on December 17, 2020 at 12:20 PM by Ashley Place

12/17 
Michael Herbert 

In January, Ashland voters will head participate in both a Special Town Meeting and a Special Election to vote on two transformative projects: the Public Safety Building and the Mindess School. For many residents in Ashland, the need for both buildings is clearly evident. I also believe that Ashland both understands and wants to invest in itself to make it a better community for everyone, but especially for its kids, seniors, and first responders. That being said, taxpayers will bear a cost for both projects, and voters will need to decide what they can afford when they go to the polls in January. 

The consequences of the pandemic have been as bad as any as we've seen in the country. The health impacts have been devastating, and the resulting financial impacts have reverberated throughout the economy. Combined with a form a government that is built on direct democracy, one would wonder why would we even consider moving forward with something this consequential right now. But moving forward now is the prudent financial decision for many reasons.  

Ironically, the negative economic impacts lead to a public bidding and construction environment very favorable for towns like Ashland. The combination of exceedingly low-interest rates with the lack of public construction work in other communities is saving Ashland millions of dollars on constructing a public safety facility, which translates into direct  cost savings for taxpayers. For additional taxpayer relief,  we are redirecting funds to help pay for the public safety building in order to reduce the increase in taxes necessary to fund the project. This strategy itself will result in the tax burden for the average taxpayer going down from $241 to $159/annually. 

Building a public safety building will also free up two key downtown parcels for redevelopment. Who hasn't thought the fire station would be a great place for a brewery or restaurant? The adaptive reuse of the fire station would also result in further economic benefits for the town. And Ashland can be even more creative with the police station parcel, or simply convert it into more downtown parking for existing businesses.

For the Mindess School, similar strategies are being utilized. The impact for the Mindess School will gradually increase from $17 in 2021 to $441 in FY2025, so as not to dramatically impact taxpayers all at once. Also, as part of the MSBA process, we are in line to receive over $27 million dollars in state reimbursement from that established program. The costs will only go higher the longer we wait. Even pushing this vote out one more year could see costs escalate by $2 to $4 million for such a project. 

Both projects are coming at a time when debt from previous projects is falling off (starting in FY25). Taken altogether, both projects combined with the subsequent drop off in existing debt, will result in a net tax increase of $360. Again that is for two brand new buildings. 

Of course, the numbers only tell part of the story. There is a human element here as well. Again, the condition of the buildings speak for themselves. Please ensure that you vote later in January.