Category Archives: Interesting Stories

Student Government and the Responsibility of Representing 28,000


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Student Union in undated photo, (presumably late 1950s-early 60’s)

At a public university with 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, UMass is enormous. When students are distracted from their individual, everyday lives by issues such as the gang rape of a freshman student in 2012 or allegations of police brutality at the 2014 “Blarney Blowout”, they look to the administration and the SGA for answers. While these answers often aren’t obvious or easy enough to address immediately, the SGA has made sure that the student body is always represented effectively and in for what it is – a group of men and women making an investment in their future.

The Student Government Association (SGA) is aware of how large the student body is on campus; according to its website, “administrators often look first” to them to “quickly assess how students view an issue”. The SGA constantly reminds students to be vocal about what goes on around campus so they are represented correctly, although this is often difficult. According to Hayley Mandeville, Chairwoman of the SGA’s Ways and Means Committee, “everything we do has has to be signed by the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs” putting the SGA in “a tight spot.”

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Smartgrowth in Wrentham, Pt. 3: What Do Residents Want?


Wrentham might not have the burden of having a large population, but its residents have always been actively involved in the town’s development process. While they’ve had more than a few major proposals over my lifetime, most of my memories associated with Wrentham town hall meetings have to deal with the rejection of proposals.

Planning Board member Alex Lyon commented on the lack of truly noticeable development in Wrentham. According to him, many different factors have played into the inaction between town residents and the planning board. One misconception that Lyon believes townspeople have is that the planning board has the ability to initiate and prevent projects from moving forward.

“We merely guide projects along. Ultimately, the (towns) people have the tools to promote and stop development,” Lyon argues. “Disagreement will only limit growth in the town.”

In addition to disagreement, Wrentham’s developmental progress has been hindered by the lack of funds for many of the proposed projects. This is surprising, considering that towns with less development usually have lower property taxes. In any event, the lack of funds might also be attributed to Wrentham’s inability to attract any new sources of revenue. (ex. commercial development)

According to a 2013 report by the Town Finance Committee, Wrentham’s unappropriated funds, called “free cash,” have been used to fund recurring town expenses over the past few years. This has severely limited the capital budget (needed for development). It’s notable to mention that our free cash amounts to just a little over $1 million. The fact that town residents have rejected several potential revenue-producing projects in the past decade has almost certainly contributed to such a predicament.

In 2008, Wrentham residents chose to reject the construction of a CVS on an empty plot of land behind the Mobil station in the center of town. One resident cited her reasoning to vote against the proposal: “We have a quaint little downtown Wrentham. I want it to stay that way…who’s to say Walmart’s not following behind?”

Perhaps residents are truly satisfied with their low taxes, or maybe they just aren’t looking at the whole situation. Yet another proposal to bring money into the town has been met with hostility.

A roughly 50 acre parcel of land on Madison Street has attracted the interest of several developers for commercial use, due to its close proximity to Route 1 and Patriots Place in Foxborough. For years, landowner Joe Lorusso has strongly advocated for the rezoning of this area – 37 residential acres and 6.7 C-1 acres – to C-2, under Article 9 of the Town Zoning Bylaws. Section 9 gives a developer (within health and safety regulations) the ability to request a special zoning permit. Check out this Q&A document prepared by the Wrentham Economic Development Commission to get a better idea.

Madison St. proposal map

 

(Sorry the image is rather small, it’s bigger if you click on it)

The land has gained interest from a major hotel brand that would be developed by Madison Properties. Another developer, Wluka Real Estate, listed the area on it’s website as a “great opportunity for mixed use retail/commercial/hotel/residential development,” that “requires rezoning”. Both proposals can only be fulfilled if the residential area is rezoned to C-2. Of the roughly 50 acres, 6.7 in neighboring town of Plainville are already zoned commercially: a relatively easy second choice for the hotel brand if Wrentham rejects this proposal.

These 6.7 acres in Plainville are already being developed into a plaza that includes a Market Basket and two other stores. Not to mention, the Plainville Racecourse is attempting to install slot machines on its premises. In a statement issued by the Wrentham Economic Development Commission on June 10 of last year, the “Madison St. Development” is estimated to generate around $700,000 in annual commercial tax revenue for Wrentham. This would make it the 2nd largest commercial taxpayer in town (the first being Wrentham Outlets).

Madison Street residents strongly oppose this proposal, claiming that the street is small enough to be considered residential. Most point to the influx of traffic that a commercial development will drag along with it. Residents who purchased property on the street did so on the understanding that it would be considered residential. “It’s on Madison. It’s off a residential street. It’s our residential street,” claimed one Madison Street resident.

So, if C-2 commercial development is out of the question, what do Wrentham residents want? For one, claims Lyon, residents want to see more local businesses that are convenient for the individual and the town as a whole. At the office of his self owned company, Lyon Landscape Nursery Inc, Lyon has planted his own christmas tree farm, an example of what he believes townspeople want.

“People want to see more farmer’s markets, local businesses that reduce the cost of transportation and promote local production.”

 

 

Here’s where I did my homework:

http://www.wickedlocal.com/x2136928866/TOWN-BUDGET-Revenues-vs-expenses/?Start=1

http://wrentham.ma.us/files/Wrentham%20Website%20Files/Board%20of%20Selectmen/Town%20Meetings/2013%20Town%20Meeting/June%2010,%202013%20ATM%20FinCom%20Recs.pdf

http://www.wickedlocal.com/x1020256238/CVS-eyes-Wrentham

http://www.wickedlocal.com/x776189627/LETTER-Wake-up-Wrentham-look-to-Madison-Street

http://www.wlukarealestate.com/address.php?property_ID=125

http://www.wrenthamtimes.com/wrentham/2013/03/opponents-to-madison-st-development-sound-off-.html

http://www.wrenthamtimes.com/Rte%201%20Madison%20Rezoning%20Q%20%26%20A%20May%202013%20V7%20FINAL.pdf

http://wrentham.ma.us/edc

http://wrentham.ma.us/files/Wrentham%20Website%20Files/Planning/Forms%20and%20Template/Zoning%20Bylaws%2006-11-2013.pdf

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Addressing “Smartgrowth” in Wrentham, Pt. 1: An Overview


On the East and West coasts, urban sprawl is everywhere. You may not have heard the term “sprawl” before, but you’ve almost certainly grasped the idea of it. The most popular (yet indirect) depiction of sprawl can be seen in AMC’s “Breaking Bad”. The urban sprawl in Arizona and New Mexico is incredible – nearly one million lots were prepared for use in Arizona at the time of the market crash – yet, those who couldn’t afford such expensive property simply halted development.

For example, the Laveen Farms community in Central Arizona contains lots that were in the early stages of development, yet were abandoned as the project got more expensive. Fire hydrants, utility stanchions, and even manholes sit in the sand of empty lots, strikingly out of place.

RioRanchosprawl

Sprawl outside of Rio Rancho, NM (the balloon really tells the story here)

This the most obvious, yet underreported story outside of major cities on the East and West coasts. Whether land is unused or pre-developed, unresolved economic shortcomings have truly exposed the rate at which sprawl is affecting states. Thankfully, more and more city planners have come up with the idea of Smart growth as a viable social and economic solution to unnecessary neglect of usable land.

For those who are unfamiliar with Smart growth, it is a method that originated in cities, with the purpose of reducing sprawl. An ambiguous term, sprawl is most commonly associated with decentralization of an urban center as the population moves outward.

Many people have the perception that suburbs are “cleaner” and more community-oriented than cities. This is a complete misperception. Unlike cities, most suburbs are not planned out with community in mind. Nothing is within walking distance. Houses are either built in isolated clusters, or with at least an acre of lot space. Workers commuting to their city centers flood state and interstate highways, creating traffic and the potential for injury (not to mention they pollute the air)!

 

“While densely-populated cities produce less greenhouse gas emissions per person, the suburban sprawl around these cities — and the increased driving, bigger homes, and higher emissions from goods and services that accompany suburban living — essentially cancels out that benefit, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley.” (Think Progress)

 

Although it seems like a straightforward process, it isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution, according to Daniel Kammen, a professor of Public Policy at Berkeley’s Goldman School. For example, Portland, Oregon has reduced it’s CO2 emissions by approaching Smartgrowth through transportation policies; as a result, it has the lowest per-capita vehicle ownership of all large cities in the US.

My hometown, Wrentham, is a great example of a town that hasn’t experienced the full effects of sprawl, but is en-route to such an end result. (GPL as example) I remember the dangerous and lengthy process of riding my bike from the East side of town to the West as a teenager. The discontinuous sidewalks on a major roads had me checking over my shoulder for cars for the entire 30 minute cycle. MOST residents in Wrentham commute and get where they want by car. Aside from the daily joggers, our town-center is usually devoid of pedestrians – but there’s ALWAYS traffic impatiently edging forward at a four-way intersection.

 

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss an interview that I conducted with a town planner, and how Wrentham (and other towns around us) are approaching Smartgrowth and sprawl.

 

 

Some sources for my “general knowledge” statements (unquoted information)

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/07/3126481/suburban-sprawl-emissions/

http://www.fronterasdesk.org/content/beyond-sprawl-southwest-zombie-problem

http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/print-edition/2013/09/06/visitors-to-valley-want-to-see-desert.html?page=all

 

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