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.
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. A few 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 provide a small 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.
In October, the town 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 is the Argument?
Putting aside the question of how the Commonwealth might regulate pot shops - and collect staggering amounts of new revenue - there seems to be a contingent in Boston that wants to delay the whole thing.
But here's the deal - with black helicopters hovering and reports of law enforcement swooping down to confiscate small quantities of home-grown pot from people with medical marijuana permits - the people voted YES to allow home-grown pot plants. December 15, 2016 is the date when home-grown becomes legal.
In Petersham, the vote was 465 Yes to 329 No. Pot shops might require a regulatory "infrastructure" and creating that might cause a delay. But statewide, the electorate voted yes for small amounts of home-grown dope.
Our legislators should step back and respect the voters action. Simple as that. There is no need to delay that part of the new law.
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.
Eleven people attended the Oct. 21 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.
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