The Opinion Page
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|IN OUR OPINION:
Got Any Ideas for the Nichewaug?
On Nov. 13, 2017, the Worcester Telegram published a story bearing the headline "Got Any Ideas for an Old Inn?" The question has still not been answered.
The year 2017 was a banner year for the old place. The town committed slightly more than $500,000 - a half million dollars - to remove asbestos from the buildings. That would make the place more attractive to a hopeful redeveloper. So now the floor tiles and ceiling tiles have been ripped out and -- except for some pesky groundwater in the large auditorium -- that work is done. Now we face a series of informal meetings intended to determine whether there is town-wide agreement on the way forward.
For the record, the town accepted ownership of the buildings with the notion that a citizens' committee would be better able to come up with a redevelopment plan than the handful of private owners who had tried since the girls' Catholic school was shuttered in the mid-70s. That two-year effort did not go so well and finally sputtered to a stop.
Most residents are understandably weary of all this. Misinformation abounds. Some voices proclaim that the buildings are decrepit, neglected by their owner (the town) and should be demolished; that any redevelopment would destroy the center of our town. The facts do not support that opinion. One after another, experts who have looked at the structures report that the complex is in surprisingly good shape despite years of no maintenance and shameful neglect. As a school with more than 100 students and a full staff, the place did not ruin our town center.
will we find a white knight with a magical solution? Magical thinking.
Ideas? Absolutely. The property could deliver solutions to any number of pressing problems and without taking away from the beauty of our town center. Any development could be predicated on providing a low-density mixed-use opportunity to meet several needs.
Petersham's town offices are presently housed in an antique building that could only be brought up to code at great expense. They could move to the Nichewaug buildings and easily be made accessible to all.
The town has no senior housing. Senior apartments could be created at the Nichewaug.
Moderate income housing is also lacking. State law gives developers who include low and moderate income housing in their development plans a pass on local zoning rules. Petersham currently has no low or moderate income housing. The Nichewaug could include a number of units
Other proposals have included condominiums.
More than 100 home-based businesses have no place in which to grow. A Boston consultant recommended considering a few condominiums but didn't really think much about a mixed-use project that could blend accessible town offices, senior housing, private housing units and other units to meet community needs and generate income at the same time - all without disrupting the look of the common.
Even the rooftop has value and could produce new revenue. It could host about 3,500 square feet of solar panels to produce an estimated 85,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year and new revenue. A redevelopment could even provide some relief to the nearby library by supplying water and sewer services. The library could provide modern broadband service to the complex.
The town owns the building. It could continue to do so while working with groups like the Petersham Committee (meeting the needs of our seniors) and others who might want to take on small pieces of what could become a mixed-use facility. The town could create an Economic Development group or a Redevelopment Authority to serve as landlord for several tenants. Leasehold improvements could be the tenants' responsibility.
The town has convened a community meeting to see if a "consensus" can be agreed upon. If the answer is NO, then we go back to square one and the "tear it down folks" will come back in force with a recommendation to spend another half million for demolition -- to throw away a building that could meet several needs and generate new revenue for the town -- a building which the town presently values at $600,000.
Demolition would bring the out of pocket cost of creating a big blank spot in our town center to somewhere around $200,000 an acre.
What's really missing here? Simply put - the town is suffering from a lack of imagination and an absence of willingness to take direct responsibility for a complicated task. It is past time to stop looking for a saviour. The Nichwaug is not a monolithic big problem. Rather it is an opportunity that should re-defined as a set of small opportunities that could work together to meet several pressing local needs.
This time, a "Let some other guy do it" strategy is just not going to work.
Where Are All of You?
The US Census Bureau says 1,234 people live here. Our town government spends a bit more than $3 million each year on roads, schools and all that other stuff.
Two people attended a recent Selectboard meeting. Three Selectmen, two town employees, two newspaper reporters, the transfer station assistant and the animal control person were among them. Two just plain residents? Where is everybody else?
Drunk - On (Our) Money
So how about Congress and the President? The US spends 10X more
than anyone else in the world for weapons and soldiers, billions on aid to other
countries, billions for agencies that spend their time writing more rules and more
regulations designed to "fix" everything that could possibly go wrong.
IN OUR OPINION...
The System Is Broken - 1
"We are sorry for the delay but all of our representatives are helping other customers. Please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly." How many times have you heard that and waited 20 or more minutes to get a simple question answered? Are call volumes "unusually high" or do these companies simply not have enough folks answering the phones? Here's an idea -- hire a few more call center representatives. Answer more calls in less time. Give a few folks badly needed jobs and give the rest of us a little well-deserved relief..
DAY - D. Tatlock
Send all snail mail to: The Honorable (name of your state representative/state senator) State House, Boston, MA 02133. Your representatives all have e-mail addresses as well.
Sometimes it is a good thing to live at the top of a hill.
IN YOUR OPINION:
Bring Residents' Opinion to Bear on Solar Proposal
August 12, 2019
On Tuesday August 6, 2019 I attended a public hearing held by the Petersham Conservation Commission regarding Sunpin’s intent to clear cut a forested area for a commercial undertaking. At this meeting I learned that the scope of the Conservation Commission’s regulatory role is limited to the aspects of the undertaking that apply to the enforcement of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.
The forest, which has an inseparable relationship with surrounding wetlands, has value that could not be considered by the Commission in the context of the hearing. One such value is that it is healthy wildlife habitat, providing food, water, cover, nesting places, and migratory corridors for our wildlife. Another important value of healthy, growing forests is that they are needed carbon sinks. Yet another value, perhaps closest to my heart, is that the continuity of our town’s forested areas forms a critical part of our local culture and our community’s setting.
I ask that all concerned Petersham residents attend the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing(s) about this project and provide the information and perspective that the Board will need to make the right choices.
Mark Bishop, Petersham Resident
Biomass or Trash to Energy? One is Better
I find it disturbing that well-intentioned, environmentally conscientious individuals are equating the effects of biomass to trash to energy plants. Trash incineration can have devastating effects. As a former environmental monitor and technical writer, I've noted that people include just about everything that can be purchased in their trash. When burned at high temperatures, compounds such as dioxins can be emitted. Such toxic stews may indeed result in higher risk for asthma, heart disease, and cancer just from breathing the air. But biomass derived from clean wood (not waste wood that may contain paints and varnishes), does not have the same environmental impact.
Think about it, do neighborhoods, where wood stoves, fireplaces, and pellet stoves and furnaces are utilized, have a higher risk of early death due to these emissions? These same neighborhoods also use oil and gas whose fumes are far more toxic. Wood has been burned since the dawn of man. And modern biomass use typically involves scrubbers to extract particulates and gasification when used for heat and electricity.
I agree with those who demand sensible and sustainable forest management. Biomass utilization for schools, hospitals, and municipalities in forest-rich areas makes sense, especially when heat and power can be generated from the same source, displacing the use of fossil fuel. Though solar and wind are powerful tools in the fight to mitigate the impact of climate change, they are only useful when the sun shines and the wind blows. Biomass operates in all weather conditions and so should be seen as a valuable tool in the renewable category.
On March 21, 2019, the Historic District Commission approved a plan to install solar panels on the roof of the Country Store
8 East Street
Henry David Thoreau once said “what’s the use of a house if you haven’t got a
tolerable planet to put it on?” Indeed.
Especially in this time of drastic climate change, with a government that denies
that our environment is in great peril, it is up to all of us to to do as much as we
can to Do the right thing, not only for the present, but for our future generations.
Historic districts are important assets to towns fortunate enough to have them,
and no one wants buildings cluttered with badly designed solar installations, but
to not allow well designed systems makes historic buildings unsustainable in
the future energy economy.
Charles Fritts, born in Boston in 1850 was an American inventor credited with
creating the first working selenium cell in 1883. The worlds first rooftop solar
array using Fritts selenium cells, was installed in 1884 on a New York City
rooftop. 1884! One can only imagine how pleased Mr Fritts would be to see
that solar power is finally being implemented worldwide, and how puzzled he
would be to know that there Is also opposition, because in 1884, he knew the
importance of solar power.
Fritts was born around the time that many of our historic district buildings were
being constructed in Petersham, including my own house, built in 1850, and my
barn, built in the late 1800’s. I will be installing solar panels on the roof of my
barn sometime this summer, and I would love nothing better than to walk out my
door and see solar panels on the Country Store as well.
I wholeheartedly endorse the East Quabbin Land Trust application for solar
panels. They will be a win for the environment and a win for the community by
supporting sustainable and economically viable energy solutions in our town
This is the responsible thing to do, and responsibility does not end with the
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