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.