Economic development and redevelopment is the #1 issue plaguing Framingham. The Economic Development Department is broken and dysfunctional. As the Chair of the Planning Board I know this to be true since I experience this continually by being faced with difficult, "unpopular" residential projects seeking permits that the Planning Board continues to be faced with for review. Without new commercial development and thoughtful, careful redevelopment of existing commercial sites there is no relief in sight to reduce the tax burden that is experienced by residential and commercial taxpayers. No additional revenue is brought into the municipality without this essential element injected into the existing tax base. In addition, property values suffer from the lack of new construction and the municipality’s inability to attract highest and best uses.
The continued practice and failure of the Community & Economic Development Department to develop a sales and marketing approach and plan to new business partners nor any clear approach to providing assistance with existing and possible new business partners has hurt Framingham badly. This Department continues to sit back and accept whatever comes in the door - in turn this results in accepting what often is not recommended to be the best nor most desirable use indicated by our Master Land Use Plan. We must solicit both new business opportunities while strengthening the position of our existing partners, both small and large.
Framingham missed a huge opportunity to grow our commercial base with GE moving to Marlboro. Bose, headquartered in Framingham and reported to be the 5th largest private company in Massachusetts, recently announced it is negotiating to lease 100,000 sf near New Balance in New Brighton Landing. Amazon has announced it is looking to locate in the Boston area. Again, where is Framingham's voice in this opportunity? Sadly, without a mayor we have little chance to capture this huge business development opportunity. Employers like Amazon not only increase our commercial tax base but also bring employment opportunities while attracting those in connected markets to the community - thus increasing our business vitality and regaining our competitive edge as a business leader in Metrowest.
The Planning Board is an autonomous Board and as such is the Authority for all zoning and land use in Framingham as provided by MGL c41A sec 81B. Selectmen do not have any authority over the Planning Board. The current policymakers, the Board of Selectmen, are those in charge of directing the Town Manager and those departments serving under him such as Community and Economic Development . There has been no leadership in the area of economic development on their part. Consequently this has resulted in land use applications that the Planning Board is responsible for reviewing and permitting that most often are not the best nor highest use desirable for redevelopment. Applications for land use that meet all legal and zoning requirements do not necessarily meet the needs or indicated land use goals and objectives found within the Master Land Use Plan recently adopted by the Planning Board. Consequently, this lack of cohesive municipal planning results in conflicts with the goals set forth by land use planners and does not resolve zoning conflicts but rather lends to increased difficulty in redeveloping the municipality with those goals and objectives desired by the Planning Board. Consequently, property values do not increase at the rate necessary to regain an economic competitive edge with our neighboring communities in Metrowest.
Finally, low property value is attractive to those in the tax-exempt, non-profit sector since it costs them less to build in Framingham - therefore non-profits will continue to target Framingham since it is affordable to build in and they are exempt from taxation. Clearly, property values need to rise to a higher level!
This article appears today, October 20, 2017, in the Metrowest Daily News - there is no excuse for Framingham's absence from soliciting a giant business opportunity to partner with Amazon. This proves my case that the Economic Development Department continues to fail Framingham in every possible way. First, GE, now Amazon, what next? Taxpayers pay attention to this pattern.
All About the bid war for Amazon: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/news/20171019/metrowest-joins-effort-to-land-amazons-hq2
Although the City Council will have a limited role in working with the School Committee it is imperative that the Council is able to ensure that its efforts are cooperative, collaborative and towards a positive goal to provide the schools with the support and necessary funding needed to retain and increase property values. It is imperative that the Council is provided all the information necessary to work with the Mayor to evaluate and make informed decisions regarding properly funding the needs of the school district. Level service funding must be applied to the budget with a cost plus approach to ensure that the school districts are all adequately funded with programs that address educational needs for all our children - those with learning disabilities, gifted children and other enhanced programs should remain available to afford our children the best possible education that provides the building blocks for success in the future. An excellent school system provides the necessary integrated skill set that is a "must have" for adults entering the job market and society in general. Education should provide our youth with multidisciplinary problem solving skills as a basic foundation for our kids to have the best possible chance for success when entering the world as adults.
On a final comment, the issue of overcrowding in the schools and transportation costs for our children must be addressed. Busing must be revisited to discuss the possibility of returning to a model that employs neighborhood schools to decrease expenses. The need for new schools and how we are to fund them to meet our children's needs must be a top priority while addressing unfunded educational mandates. Our kids deserve the best education that we can provide them to ensure success in the future when they eventually integrate into an adult world.
The Framingham Planning Board has contributed $60,000 from mitigation funds towards the Master Transportation Plan and Municipal Traffic Study to be able to understand and make educated decisions when permitting projects. Framingham leaders must engage and work with MADOT to build a transportation network to alleviate traffic congestion while at the same time, utilize the opportunities that Framingham possesses as a transportation hub in the metrowest area.
Phase I of this study is due to report in the next few weeks. The purpose of this study is to provide an educated engineering analysis that can be applied to zoning in order to ensure that development and redevelopment is properly executed. Zoning ensures that buildings and use of private lands promote desirable outcomes for the community and is consistent with the neighborhood context.
Zoning is the critical piece needing to be amended in order to redevelop those sites that are currently stagnant and blighted. The Planning Board has worked diligently to follow directives laid out in Framingham’s Master Land Use Plan adopted and revised in 2014. Moreover, the Planning Board continues to follow a workplan that is based on the Master Land Use Plan to upgrade, improve and amend zoning to address areas of blight, decay and in need of rezoning. The Planning Board and a collaborative working group worked very hard to create the Central Business Zoning in 2015. This change in zoning incorporates mixed used and a variety of offerings to attract new business to the downtown area. Framingham leaders need to engage owners of these parcels in meaningful discussions that include public participation of all those stakeholders to come to consensus as to the best and highest use for the redevelopment of these sites. Private property owners of these plazas must have a reason to want to engage with the City to redevelop these properties. Tax incentives or other municipal credits should be considered to encourage plaza owners to redevelop their parcels.
As the world economy changes internationally, nationally and locally, market trends shape our lives. Currently technology, health care and related industries lead to drive the economy world wide. These much needed industries dictate how we live and communicate in today's world. Consequently many business models that were thriving in the past are struggling today. These corporations must reinvent their structure to survive these cyclical market changes.
Staples is Framingham's fifth largest commercial tax payer. As such, Staples and other retail businesses have felt the pressure and financial pain linked to this change. The increased demand by users of online services offered by Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba, Etsy and others have flagged the need to consider zoning changes to assist our struggling business partners to stay and grow. Zoning must be flexible and well thought out to meet the everchanging needs of businesses, residents and the municipal government for both short and long term goals of the community. Delays in decision making only excaberates redevelopment efforts - Framingham voters must choose leaders that are confident, proactive and not afraid to make a decision based on experience, knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. I am one of the few current elected officials that has never been afraid to act on critical matters - and more importantly make decisions with successful outcomes.
As the Chair of the Planning Board and former owner of several small business corporations, I understand the complexities, costs and obstacles that business, particularly small business, has when trying to establish and successfully execute an enterprise. Small business is the needed base to any community - comparable to the foundation of a house. It supports all of the vital integrated parts of a community to create a vibrant environment that can plan, build, grow and attract potential residents and businesses to partner with the City. In this way Framingham regains its former competitive edge and begins to strengthen its position in metrowest with a renewed vitality. We need to fix the permitting process so that it falls under one agency, eliminates delays, confusion regarding the process, reduces cost and streamline the process to be clearly understandable, predictable, time sensitive and inviting to those wishing to establish business Framiingham. Numerous deficiencies exist within the current structure of government structuire – We need to separate the economic development department from zoning and permitting departments. Provide clear direction to those working in the Economic Development Department as to the mission and description of the scope of work that they are being charged with. The business community has continually complained that there is no clear understanding of who or what department they need to contact to address issues with business growth, development and the need for partnerships.
I have watched the budget grown substantially over the past two decades with the changing needs of the municipality. However, being the Chair of a revenue generating Board, the Planning Board, I am at a loss for where the increase in tax base shows a decrease in spending. Alternatively, I have seen a steep increase in the number of employees being hired, an increase in managers in all departments, and a great increase in salaries, in turn leading to a large increase in spending. With a new administration coming in on January 1, 2018, it would be the responsibility of those elected to review the budget to identify those expenses that can be eliminated and those essential services that must be retained. I am confident that a departmental restructuring will provide the elimination of overlapping non-essential personnel as well as provide an opportunity to identify and retain essential personnel needed to maintain a top quality performing government.
Framingham has several blighted commercial properties such as Nobscot Plaza that have been problematic for redevelopment. This is a long standing issue that has plagued Framingham yet municipal "leaders" have failed to work with property owners and residents to come to a resolution to move forward. Those elected to a Council need to have a commitment to taking positions to solve problems and execute a plan that meets the needs of all stakeholders and goals of the Master Land Use Land Plan rather than continuing to push off issues for future administrations to handle fearing they will not be re-elected. I have a long track record of taking strong positions and executing well thought out plans to successful completion. Please visit the Framingham Planning Board website linked below and read our annual report for 2016 that provides detailed information on Planning Board accomplishments, Master Land Use Plan, Projects that are permitted and revenues generated. On a final note, the Planning Board continues to generate large amounts of revenue and amentities through projects permitted but for unknown reasons that revenue stream does not seem to reduce the cost of municipal operations. This is an issue I intend to address if elected to the Council.
As a former small business owner of 30+ years, current Capital Improvement Coordinator for a State agency, and long time Planning Board member, I have a unique skillset and perspective unlike anyone else running for a seat on the Council or Mayor. I bring my many years of business experience, land use and zoning knowledge to the table at a time that is most critical in tne history of Framingham. This transition to a City form of government will need those most experienced in working in the municipal and private business world - those who have a proven track record of working in groups of all sizes to build partnerships, cooperative collaboration with management, business partners, residents and all other interested stakeholders to find permanent, reasonable solutons in the best interest of all parties to long standing problems plaguing Framingham's growth and redevelopment.
Although I know there are many folks who felt Framingham should remain a Town for many reasons the reality is that on January 1, 2018 we will now be a City.
Going forward, I will work to provide the smoothest transition possible in a cooperative manner. I see this is a bright opporunity to forge new relationships, correct long standing deficiencies and move forward at a pace that is in sync with the current economic and market movement. No longer will Framingham be the second or third choice for those residents and businesses looking to locate in Metrowest Boston.
Yes - we have multiple issues - but these problems can be solved with the right people being elected to the Council.
I respectfully ask for one of your 2 votes on NOVEMBER 7, 2017 - the CITY election - for COUNCILOR - AT- LARGE.
Please visit www.411.org for more information on voting and my candidacy.
Please visit the videobroadcast site linked below to the League of Women Voters forum for candidates for Councilor at Large and Mayor presenting questions and answers regarding the candidates positions.