Guest Commentary: The price of development

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Editor’s note: The following guest column, written by Hemenway Drive resident Denny Swenson, addresses a proposed 40B development on the Milton/Canton town line. The developer, Texas-based Mill Creek Residential Trust, is seeking to build 276 apartments on a 22-acre parcel on Brush Hill Road—across the street from the Fuller Village senior independent living community. State Senator Brian Joyce, who serves as vice president of the Fuller Village board of directors, has voiced his opposition to the project, which he called too large and too dense for the site in question. “It would impact both Milton and Canton,” said Joyce in an interview with the Citizen. “It would have a seriously adverse impact on an area of critical environmental concern, and the infrastructure is just not there to support a project with this level of density.” Calls placed to the Mill Creek office in Boston were not returned.

When my husband and I moved onto Hemenway Drive, straddling the towns of Milton and Canton, it wasn’t your usual show up and unpack the boxes. The couple that sold us our house threw a party for us at a neighbor’s home and all 14 families residing along Hemenway Drive brought potluck and welcomed us to the neighborhood. Then the previous owner gave us a final tour of our new home, and as he hugged us goodbye, he said, “This little place in the world is special. People either get that or they don’t.”

I try to go for walks every day, and as I walk by huge 200-year-old trees, meadows and small brooks, I feel like a hobbit might peak around a tree or balance on a timeworn stone wall alongside me. Neighbors passing by are friendly but not intrusive. A neighborhood dog often joins me as I stroll. With a speed limit of 10 mph, there’s no need for a leash.

How did this place come to be?

The neighborhood’s history starts with Augustus Hemenway Sr., who worked his way up from a meager childhood to own eight large merchant ships, amassing his wealth by shipping goods to and from South America. His wife, Mary Hemenway, was left with a large estate. Known as the quiet philanthropist, she helped save the Old South Meeting House in Boston, which began the historic preservation movement.

Their son, Augustus Jr., was also a quiet but generous philanthropist.

Augustus Hemenway Jr.

Augustus Hemenway Jr.

Among numerous gifts, he donated the Canton library structure and assisted with building one of the first high schools in Canton. He served the Massachusetts Legislature as a representative from Milton in 1890 and Canton in 1891.

His wife, Harriet, and her cousin, Minna B. Hall, were horrified by the runaway trend of ladies wearing feathers, wings and stuffed birds on their hats. Birds were being slaughtered in droves so women could feel stylish. The rarer the bird, the more prestige for the woman wearing it. Harriet and Minna enlisted their friends over tea. They drew on high society women from the Boston Social Register, including names like Cabot, Agassiz, and Peabody to join them in their quest. These efforts helped form the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Word spread around the country and numerous other states founded Audubon societies to combat the feather trade and advocate bird protection. This was one of the first modern conservation campaigns. Four years after the women started their influential teas, Congress passed the Lacey Bird and Game Act, which brought an end to this needless slaughter of birds.

Hemenway Jr. owned the land from Brush Hill Road in Milton to Royal Street in Canton and called it Hemenway Farm. This land includes the current Green Street, Green Lane and Hemenway Drive. The area has one of the little hills that is part of the Blue Hills. For this reason most residents in the area belong to a neighborhood group called Friends of Little Blue.

This Google Maps marker is on Little Blue Hill.

This Google Maps marker is on Little Blue Hill. (Click to enlarge)

As Hemenway’s family grew and new generations were born, parcels were given or sold modestly to various family members. Eventually a trust was formed that donated land for conservation, created covenants, documented shared rights of way, and added restrictive land-use language to deeds. These efforts continued through the generations and the language is still in place for many of the current property owners, most of whom have no relation to the Hemenways. The intention was to preserve wildlife, nature and open space — something all seemed to agree on.

Tom Palmer of the Neponset River Watershed Association (NepRWA) explains that this large area is unique in that it has the “marshy Neponset floodplain, a mature upland forest, and open fields.” He says “there is nowhere else in the eight-mile-long Fowl Meadow where so much undeveloped upland abuts so much protected swamp and marsh.”

Palmer “can’t imagine why it would make sense to break into this area and undo the combined long-term investments of the private property owners, state conservation, and local townships.”

It is ironic that one state agency could be at cross-purposes with another. Very soon, one state office might approve a huge, nearly 300-unit rental development amid the wetlands of this historic neighborhood. This development would directly impact the abutting DCR property, including the Fowl Meadows, some of which was given to the state by Hemenway Jr.’s trustees.

A key reason that the town of Milton has been recognized as one of the “best places to live in the country” by Money Magazine year after year is because it borders the Blue Hills Reservation, a treasured 7,000 acre park. It is rare to be minutes from a city like Boston yet feel like you are in a country getaway.

But the residential zoning and planning that has taken this into account for hundreds of years in Milton would get bypassed for a project like this one. The developer’s proposal includes a relatively small percentage of “affordable” rental units, making the entire project a “40B” development.

(Click here to read part 2)

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avatar Posted by on Mar 1 2013. Filed under Featured Content.

7 Comments for “Guest Commentary: The price of development”

  1. avatar
    John Belskis

    Since the 80′s the so called affordable housing law MGL 40B has been used and abused by predatory developers, many of which hail from out of State.

    The original law was explicitly focused on providing affordable rental housing but the influence of the lobbyists working for the development industry convinced the agency responsible for the regulations governing 40B’s use, allowed it to be used for ownership units. This was the hole in the dike that precipitated the 40B project flood.

    Profits on rental unit development being much more controlled than the ownership unit projects they were no longer the development of choice by the industry, as it was an opportunity for greater profits with little or no oversight or control. A steady parade of out of state developers delighted with the ability to override all local codes and regulations, overwhelmed our towns.

    When a coalition of members from over 200 of our cities and towns sought first to reform the law and make it more effective and controlled they saw three sessions of the Legislature failing to move any of the reform Bills to the floor for debate and a recorded vote. The reform Bills never got out of the Joint Committee on Housing which for a number of years had Senator Joyce as a Chair. I guess he had no reason to change 40B as it was imposed on towns other than Milton. Amazing how an appreciate for 40B changes when it is applied to your town.

    In 2010 when in frustration with the Joint Committee failing to move reforms, the Reform Coalition, through the Initiative Petition process got on the ballot with an option to repeal 40B and force the Legislature to address and promulgate a new and more effective affordable housing law. Despite obtaining almost 900,000 votes it failed to pass.
    The opposition to the referendum was heavily funded by the development, banking and real estate industry, with over 90% of the $1,000 or more contributions coming from out of state interests.

    I find it interesting that the Chair of the Joint Committee that never moved reform Bills and who appeared in the media vigorously opposing the repeal, now is outraged about a 40B development in his town which by the way opposed the repeal by an almost 2 to 1 vote. I guess some folks are now regretting how they voted and who they listened to.

    Welcome to the world of 40B!

    • avatar
      Joe D

      He is on the Fuller Village Board what do you think the resale values of those Condos will be if a 300 unit 40B (AKA Welfare) development is across the street

  2. avatar
    Rob Doyle

    Well that is about 600 people where there are now one deer and a raccoon. What greed. 400-500 more cars daily on a one lane road.

    Go back to Texas.

  3. avatar
    John C.

    As a nearby resident, I agree that the rush hour traffic along Brush Hill Road and Rte 138 in the vicinity is already at maximum capacity. Tearing down three abutting residential homes and replacing them with nearly 300 apartment units within these traffic constraints doesn’t make sense. Where the only public transportation is a commuter rail station (Readville) over a mile away, with no sidewalks for half the distance to the station, there will likely not be an alternative to vehicle travel for the apartment residents. Adding in considerations about the environmental conservation issues and the historical character of the neighborhood, the size/density of this proposed project certainly seems to be a bad idea.

  4. avatar
    Carol H

    As a neighbor to the Fowl Meadow section of the Blue Hills Reservation, I know the area well. This proposal would be devastating to the local environment and the community. Please keep us apprised of the situation and let us know of anything we in the local community can do to show our opposition to the proposal.

  5. avatar
    Judith Houghton

    This is a very special piece of land on the western slopes of our Great Blue Hill
    and the norther side of Little Blue Hill that needs protection.
    At this time of year the water sheets across
    it’s fields, acres of blueberry bushes, maples and a little road as it
    rushes to the Fowl Meadow and into the Neponset River. This is a
    wetland and connecting land considered by the State as ‘critical
    habitat’ necessary for wild life to move and live in the different
    environments it provides.
    I know the land, the soil is thin over the volcanic granite of these
    hills, the water runs quickly, the doe bring their fawns to feed in
    these fields, turkey in flocks three and four dozen strong, I have
    also seen fisher and the beautiful little ermine with a black tip to
    it’s tail.
    There is also great history to this immediate area of native peoples
    living here as shown at the Trail Side Museum just up hill from here.
    Just to the east on the slope of Little Blue Hill was the summer home
    of the Hemenway family, Mrs. Hemenway was one of the founding forces
    of the Audubon.
    This special place deserves continued protection and to be treated as the treasured resource that it is.

    Judi H

  6. avatar
    Joe D

    Must be nice to have a Senator who cares about your Property Values. When I had a problem with the DCR where they discriminated against me due to my age I was told to DROP DEAD and I was on my own. The Town of Milton could have had 40B housing at Elliot and Central Ave BUT NO . Look at Fuller Retirement orginally a retirement home for elderly Servants to the rich, well until the changed the will to make it the “NEW” Fuller retirement home.

    Guess property values and Blue spotted Salamanders are more important then People

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