Select Board Candidate Question and Answer with Mariam Aschkenasy

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 Saturday, April 24 we have received responses from two candidates.

Here are the questions and the responses offered by Miriam Aschkenasy:

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?


How much of the new housing is affordable?  To be clear, by affordable I mean for our sons and daughters who are graduating BHS, finishing college, and have professional educations and professions yet still cannot afford to live in Brookline. We are not even talking about low-income housing.  The new housing stock is overwhelmingly high-end luxury housing.  We are seeing teardowns that are changing the middle-class neighborhoods that have made Brookline the ideal community we cherish.  The increase in high-end housing is not a meaningful increase in housing stock, as it has not “trickled down” to lower prices.  Quite to the contrary.  We need to step back and address how we can retake control of a development from developers who make their money destroying what have been stable middle-class neighborhoods.


We also need commercial and business development to temper the rise in real estate property taxes.  Once we are past COVID, we can continue to grow our commercial tax base with the new vision of restaurants with sidewalk seating and revenue from cannabis shops.  There are ways to grow town revenue and ways to grow affordable housing that overlap and intersect, but none of this will come without a plan to follow.  The creation of such a plan is one of my first agenda items upon getting elected. 


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. 


The new building at the corner of Harvard and Fuller, with the new Tatte and two other storefronts, is an example of how we can increase housing and density while maintaining a walkable streetscape with street level small storefronts.  We need masterplans for our commercial areas that encourage this kind of growth, not just on Harvard Street, but in Coolidge Corner, in Brookline Village and Washington Square, and along Beacon Street.  The new housing will provide customers that support local businesses, but right now we lack the master plan that lets us plan commercial development. 


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:  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?


See my answer above: we need to establish a development plan.  We can do that  through a comprehensive community planning process. We can use that plan to take control of development that is addressed to what we want Brookline to be in 10, 20, and 50 years. There is a lot to be learned from the Somerville process that we can apply here in Brookline. 

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? 


As we now recognize, single-family homes on large lots have been one of the many discrete ways of segregating housing.  Denser growth, as described above, not just in Coolidge Corner and along  Harvard and Beacon Street, but in all Brookline neighborhoods, not only makes communities more livable but also fosters more diversity.  We need to create a housing production plan with these historical exclusions in mind, thoughtful to build housing that is accessible and along the continuum of affordable housing from low to middle income. We need to plan for the Brookline we want and not only the Brookline we have. 

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?


While I have made my views clear on the need for density and growth, I also recognize the need to balance this with the preservation of historic Brookline and there are common-sense limits to the extent of density.  More importantly, there has been a good deal of smart development in the nineteenth century, by Olmstead’s contemporaries that created many of the exquisite neighborhoods that make Brookline what it is today.  But these developers all built neighborhoods for themselves and their friends and neighbors. They had commitments to the neighborhoods they were building.  


This is very different from out-of-town developers we see today, who make their profits and run, with no commitment to Brookline neighborhoods.  LHDs are one of the few tools we have.  A comprehensive plan like what Somerville has put in place will give us the tools to take better control of development. That said, I don’t support the retroactive assignment of an LHD or property of historical significance without the express support of the current homeowners. We need to develop a transparent process by which homes are declared historic or LHD’s are designated. In the case mentioned above, all families are either in support or neutral, and therefore as a SB member, I would not be opposed to supporting this designation. In general, again, I would press for a transparent process for the preservation commission and a broader plan for Brookline with a lens on affordable housing, development, and historic preservation.