In your opinion, what are the most pressing land use and development issues facing Brookline?
The complexity and subjectiveness of Brookline’s special permit and preservation bylaws is the most pressing land use and development issue. If property owners cannot understand Brookline land use law, trust breaks down as to whether it is being enforced fairly. Attendees of recent ZBA, Planning Board and Preservation meetings have seen this breakdown of trust happening. Members of the public, both applicants and abutters, question whether the law is being applied impartially. Proposals are put forward that are unanimously supported by one board, only to be rejected by another. Owners see neighboring properties granted similar special permits, or nearby existing structures similar to their proposal, and wonder why their case is not supported by the Town. This is partly driven by ambiguity in state zoning law, an issue that we will not solve at the municipal level. What we can do is improve our municipal bylaws to allow property owners as much clarity as can be provided.
As Town Meeting evaluates proposals to increase residential and commercial density, what factors do you consider important for Town Meeting to consider and why?
Town Meeting should seek frameworks that create, to the greatest extent possible, visible fairness in zoning. This is important not only for homeowners, who are often limited in what they can construct because they cannot hire great lawyers to protect their interests, but also for developers, who must increase costs to offset the risk of building in Brookline. Clarity also decreases the administrative work required for zoning enforcement and decreases the risk of costly lawsuits against the town. Town meeting should also recognize that unclear policies and extended approval periods have an impact as well. The costs of delays, legal fees, reductions in units, and reductions in square footage are ultimately passed on through sale prices and rents to homeowners, renters, and business owners. Creativeness and compromise may be needed to enact fair zoning, but I believe Brookline is capable of achieving this goal.
What role should the preservation of buildings and landscapes play as we plan for Brookline’s growth?
Preservation of certain landscapes and buildings in our town maintains the look and feel most residents love. The current process for building preservation, however, is surely not the only, much less the most efficient, way to create a pleasant built environment. For many reasons, preservation should be proactive and not reactive. MGL 40C gives broad power to Brookline’s Preservation Commission, and this power should be used responsibly. For instance, the current preservation process is to wait reactively until someone purchases a property for redevelopment to decide that a building is significant or to propose an LHD. Instead, a clear tabulation of buildings in Brookline that are ‘historically significant’, and therefor subject to a demolition delay, could be proactively created. If preservation is about design control, as mentioned by some, then clear design guidelines could accomplish this outcome. Overall, preservation should be part of our comprehensive growth goals, and reviewed so as not to unnecessarily restrict them.