This Monday our community meets for a Special Town Meeting with an opportunity to direct the future housing plan for Pepperell. Affordable housing. is the focus, as well as commercial growth. The possible community services cost increase that comes with high density affordable housing in our local population raises important questions on the future affordability of living here and the challenge of maintaining our rural character. It also likely increases our carbon footprint and there is no current plan for Pepperell to reduce our carbon numbers.
More and more families are finding and moving to Pepperell due to our small town feel, a fairly quiet , safe community atmosphere and our abundant natural resources in forest, farmlands and waterways. We are lucky to live here.
I believe every town struggles with how to grow in population, housing, commercial and industrial development but somehow not loose the qualities that drew them to the area. I have yet to find the answers to that dilemma. I do have some questions that I hope you'll consider as they might lead us in the right direction.
Like many other communities, Pepperell has not kept pace with the State of Massachusetts expectations of ten percent of community housing meeting their affordable criteria. We are somewhere around three percent. For social justice reasons, I wish we had done better over the last few decades. Housing is now considered a State crisis. Our Governor has ordered that towns do better. All MBTA communities are now required to adopt a 40R overlay zoning by-law which incentives towns to welcome and plan affordable housing projects. Because Pepperell is not approximate to public transportation we are not an MBTA community and are free to decide whether or not the 40 R model fits Pepperell's needs.
Adopting a 40R overlay zoning district is being proposed by our Planning Board, with support of Fin Com, the Affordable Housing Committee, two Select Board members and our Town Administrator. It is being opposed by a group of citizens organized under the title, Grow Smart Pepperell. Concerns are expressed from the Agricultural Commission due to population pressures, Climate Change Committee due to potential natural habitat loss and carbon costs , and Conservation Committee due to habitat loss and aquifer protection.
Since being elected to the Select Board I have increasingly found myself as a dissenting Board member mostly due to my environmental positions. I understood from my start that my goal was to protect Pepperell from transforming from an affordable mill town/farm town to a gentrified backfilled semi-urban community. I understood that I would be opposed by a segment of community leaders who don't share my goal, instead working to grow our community with more housing, businesses and offering more municipal services.
40R presents as a worthwhile tool to help municipal officers and town planners to build more affordable housing, and incentivizing developers as well. 40R is promoted as protecting open green spaces by requiring zoning areas to be located in existing high density neighborhoods, which I support as an environmentalist. However, since taking my seat at the Select Board table I have been frustrated in my attempts to create policies that address and protect our open spaces. My repeated asks to schedule a meeting with my Select Board members, town administrator and Conservation agent to discuss actions to purchase potential conservation parcels have been answered with, "before discussing specific properties we need to meet to prioritized types of properties we want to look at", to then, "we'll meet on conservation planning when a proposal is made", the line item, land planning, being struck from the list of future Select Board topics. Other like examples of an unwillingness to value and discuss the importance of preserving Pepperell's natural assets leads me to believe I face leadership that wants open space to be available for development.
In the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environment 0 Carbon by 2050 plan, preserving open forest and working lands is cited as our best tool in fighting climate change. Recent federal and state legislation has directed funding to protecting those resources and Pepperell will soon have an opportunity to access that funding. To gain favor in the competition for that funding I ask our residents to send messages to our leadership that you want environmental protection efforts to to be the municipal priority.
My worry is that 40 R, while potentially a valuable tool, with town meeting consent as a control on future 40R zones, can be used to advance the wishes of those who want Pepperell to become a more urban and or gentrified community. Identifying the Senior Center property as a 40 R site, so far from community downtown resources worries me. Where else in residential and rural areas in town municipal leaders might want to locate a future 40R site. I can not, at this time, vote for 40R. 40B's have helped Pepperell to build affordable housing in the past. We also now have an affordable housing committee with many other tools for promoting housing. I rely on those processes to help us reach our ten percent goal and the housing our residents so need. 40R May be welcome sometime in the future. First I need demonstrated actions at protecting our open spaces. And I hope our municipal leaders will demonstrate a dedication to environmental efforts that will offset the carbon impacts of a growing population.
Again, please let your Select Board know your wishes on protecting our community from burdensome development and guaranteeing the qualities of Pepperell life we embrace.
Climate Change is a Crisis
So many people struggle to accept the fact that Climate Change is our responsibility to solve. I remember when it was called Global Warming. That, someone decided, was too direct, too scary a label and it was postponing actions to solve such a huge, threatening problem. The term "Climate Change", it was hoped was less threatening. Perhaps it has helped people to stop looking away, reduced resistance to going to work on the solutions. We have made some start up progress.
Article 6 on our town warrant, a citizen's petition- Declaring a Climate Emergency, is an important step that Pepperell needs to make to trigger increased consideration by town Boards and Committees, Town staff and Pepperell citizens of the harms of climate change and the actions we need to take to stop warming our climate. Such a declaration will also gain the attention of State and Federal purse holders who will allocate funding first to those towns that have demonstrated their will to join in the fight to replace our fossil fuel living with an environmentally responsible lifestyle.
Our Climate Change Committee needs community support. In the past year they have learned a measure of the challenging size of the work to be done and this declaration increases their influence in our town governance. Conservation Commission needs this crisis declaration to help advocate for protecting open lands, a priority asset for carbon sequestration and aquifer protections. The Planning Board needs to ask how all development proposals help reduce our carbon footprint. The Select Board needs to be in constant search for policies that help the Town to prepare for and reduce our carbon footprint. The Finance Committee needs to assess the long term cost of neglecting climate change and support financial decisions that are a wise investment in Pepperell's future. And most important, our citizens need to embrace the challenge and join in a community that demonstrates it's worry and care for our future. Pepperell can join other communities leading in climate change actions and be a proud model for our municipal peers and New England citizens.
I am very happy that two Pepperell youth, brother and sister, have sponsored this citizen's petition. I have joined their family many times in their living room to learn about the feelings, thoughts and wishes of our children. It is primarily their future we are trying to protect from an existential harm. To fail to act on their behalf is unthinkable.
Thank goodness that in this growing and busy world there is still room for small town, "town meetings". where voters get to argue for the visions they wish to see to fruition in bettering life in our town. It's a beautiful thing, colored with heated debates, with group successes and and woes. And there is always next Falls or Springs Town Meetings.
Select Board discussions and votes, two for, one against, support the Lighting By Law. Voters express concern that it is difficult to enforce, creates undue hardships for some and denies the rights of individual home owners. How imperfect it is, I believe, will be open to future improvements. In my experience in Pepperell, there is far more patience than rigidity in our town staff, both the police Department and Zoning/Building Commissioner offices. Both offices have the option to respond to help resolve lighting questions. I have had the benefit of a very independent farm life style. However, I yield to the needs of the many as we have come to live so close together and adjusting lifestyles to accommodate neighbors is our kindest choice.
I urge all to support the Light By law. As science has continued to inform us, humans create pollution problems that are better solved sooner than later. Over use of lighting creates human and biosphere health problems, increases energy pollution and shuts us out of our star and planet filled night skies. Moving communities to a stronger cultural welcome of environmental protections is our best assurance of happy lives ahead for all.
Adaptive Use Overlay District Zoning By-law (AROD)
Imagine living in a residential neighborhood, in proximity to a Church in town. Sundays are busy with families attending services. There are a few special days, highlighted with a seasonal holiday church happening, yard sale, craft fair, and there are occasional weddings and funeral gatherings. Under certain circumstances, the church, by an AROD special permit, can become an expanded commercial business property. Home owners may find themselves living next to a seven day a week business, with customer and delivery activities. Ouch, that's a big change and quiet is no longer part of your home life. The Church facade is preserved, however the residential character is compromised. And neighboring home values may drop.
Our history of recent town governance is important to consider in assessing zoning changes. AROD was the Peter Fitzpatrick School Collaborative (PFC) answer to their zoning change need to accommodate more lessors and an anchor tenant and especially a community shared commercial kitchen facility, a very popular project. People with an interest in expanding Pepperell business numbers added onto the PFC zoning needs, first advocating for business opportunities in historic homes all over town with a long list of allowed uses. They raised the protests of town officers and citizens opposed to such an expansion of businesses that lay outside of the downtown corridor, and far exceeding the needs of the PFC.
Jenny Gingras, our new town planner was open and accommodating of feedback that drew back the reach of the initial AROD proposal. However, I share the opinion of others that it still overreaches on what we want our town to look and feel like. Too many buildings remain on the the list of possible use changes and the use options are also long. The Master plan asked for some use changes to create "Village" appeal and especially the addition of hospitality inns and bread and breakfasts, in keeping with our rural aspirations. More professional offices, banks, medical buildings, and retail businesses in residential neighborhoods will steer Pepperell to a community resembling the towns of Chelmsford, Littleton, Acton. or Westford, giving up. any "village" and rural character.
The question circulating in Pepperell, and many towns, is what our growth over the next decades will look like. While our Master Plan describes the wish to remain a rural community there are those that see open lands as barriers to the advantages they seek from commercial and residential development. This is an age old struggle. The towns mentioned earlier all had parties fighting for and against development. Developers won.
Climate change is the new party in the fight. Rules we have used to carry out growth debates no longer meet the needs of the future. All communities are best served by working to mitigate it's carbon output that our conventional growth has traditionally generated. AROD doesn't consider the impact on climate change.
AROD, if limited to the Peter Fitzpatrick School property is helpful. Anything more risks unwelcome growth in Pepperell.