Select Board Candidate Question and Answer, Bernard Greene

Brookline by Design sent a questionnaire posing five questions to all five candidates for Brookline Select Board on Monday, April 19, asking for responses by Thursday, April 22.  As of Tuesday, April 27 we have received responses from three candidates.

Here are the questions and the responses offered by Bernard Greene:

1) In October 2020, Brookline’s Planning Department reported that since 2015 we have permitted 1,132 units of new housing in Brookline, which is an increase of 4.3% in our housing stock (which does not include the Waldo-Durgin or Welltower projects).  What impacts to our Town’s infrastructure, services, schools, parks, and quality of life, in general, would you expect were there to be an additional substantial increase in housing in Brookline, such as a 10% or more total increase between 2015 and 2025?

 

Massachusetts’ population has increased by 7.4% since 2010. The rate of increase is probably higher since 2015. Brookline’s population undoubtedly has increased by an even larger percentage. Brookline is also a prime location for professional workers moving into the area to work at the medical facilities, universities, science and technology companies, etc.  And we will experience growth of our professional, non-professional, and low-income Black population as we take intentional steps to reverse the historic racial restrictions that kept many Black families from moving to Brookline and similar suburbs.  So, the 4.3% increase in our housing stock or even a 10% increase by 2025 may not be sufficient to keep up with the Town’s needs. But increasing housing growth cannot be done without planning and structure.  We must especially resist proposals to willy nilly increase residential growth and density that do not take account of the needs of neighborhoods. We also must resist developers who come in with high-end luxury buildings and use various means to trample over the protections that our neighborhoods have with zoning and other planning tools and make Brookline even more unaffordable. But we also must accommodate all new families even though they may put pressure on our schools and other Town resources such as parks and open spaces and recreational facilities. Brookline is not now and will never be just an island in the middle of a growing Boston metropolitan region.

 

2) Our commercial areas are characterized by frequent door ways, small shops, transparent store fronts and no driveways crossing the sidewalks.  The Economic Development Advisory Board has proposed redeveloping our commercial areas to allow for 4-6 story buildings with commercial on the ground floor and housing above.  How might such a redevelopment process impact our existing businesses, including our locally owned businesses? How would newer, larger, and more expensive modern buildings and residential parking change our human-scaled, walkable commercial areas?  Examples of this approach can be seen along Harvard St. in the JFK area and the 14 Green St. redevelopment proposal. 


These examples are areas along important public transportation corridors where development of multi-family housing should be concentrated. Of course, any development even in these corridors must be done in such a way that the surrounding neighborhoods are not adversely impacted.  Our regulatory bodies, planning and economic development department, and the Select Board must be active in balancing economic development with the needs of surrounding neighborhoods.

 

3) The Advisory Committee hosted Somerville’s planner Dan Bartman, to discuss how Somerville went about developing a comprehensive plan, neighborhood plans, and a new form-based zoning ordinance.  If you have not seen the presentation, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/cO9UUAZgKq0  We learned that there are many progressive zoning tools and techniques that can yield better, more predictable development outcomes that are more context sensitive and bring more benefits to the community.  What are your thoughts on whether or not Brookline should pursue a comprehensive community planning process leading to an updated zoning by-law?

There is a lot to learn from the process that Somerville used in its planning process so long as we recognize the unique issues that present themselves in Brookline, such as our transient populations. Of course, a comprehensive planning process that includes updating our difficult to use zoning bylaw would be useful. The problem will be to balance the sometimes-conflicting interests and concerns of different neighborhoods, business districts, property uses, and lifestyles that comprise the Town. The unique ways that Somerville involved different communities in its SomerVision process can either be replicated or prompt us to develop our own tools to engage different communities.

4) We’ve come to understand the historic and deeply discriminatory practices of the past that have severely limited access to opportunities for BIPOC to gain an economic toe hold and build generational wealth, such as through home ownership or entrepreneurship.  These same individuals have often had their voices marginalized in the land use and development decision making processes in Brookline.  How might these facts be taken into account as we try to improve our planning and zoning? 

 

Just as the exclusion of primarily Black families from suburban communities like Brookline resulted from intentional actions by federal, state, and local governments and private institutions and individuals, we must reverse segregated housing patterns with intentional actions to integrate Brookline. This will require planning for significant numbers of new affordable and middle-income housing, while also addressing the impact of new housing on Town infrastructure and legitimate concerns of neighborhood character. We also need robust marketing of the Town to especially Black families and individuals across the income spectrum that highlight the unique benefits of living in Brookline.  These potential residents include professionals who are new arrivals to the Boston area who may not face significant financial impediments to owning a home or renting an apartment in Brookline and residents of communities adjacent to Boston who want to enjoy the benefits of living in Brookline either as homeowners or renters. An essential component to such an approach is to work with regional governments and organizations to ensure housing access across the region for Black families.  We must also ensure non-discrimination in housing by continuing to work with such organizations as the WestMetro HOME Consortium (HOME), which is a regional effort to enforce fair housing laws and reduce segregated housing in Metro Boston.  And, of course, these initiatives must also apply to other people of color, but the historical intentional segregative actions targeted the Black community of Boston.

5) One of the duties of the Select Board is to provide recommendations on how to vote on various warrant articles that come before Town Meeting.  Warrant Article 18 is proposing to extend the Lawrence Local Historic district far enough to include 2 properties formerly owned by Wheelock College at the corner of Kent and Colchester Streets.  All affected property owners are either in support or are neutral regarding the LHD extension.  What is your recommendation to Town Meeting Members on Warrant Article 18? Could you state your reasons for the recommendation?

 

I voted favorable action when this came before the SB because it was a reasonable proposal to address community concerns regarding specific historical properties and it had the support of the relevant neighbors, including property owners who could be impacted by the article.  The article also did not preclude multi-family or other reasonable development, which would in any event be subject to the zoning and other protections that neighborhoods have.