By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- A Needham state representative said Gov. Deval Patrick was misinformed and his staff declined to meet with her before he vetoed a bill last Friday that would have authorized the state to purchase a highway buffer zone along Interstate 95.
Patrick vetoed the bill saying it would effectively "prevent the construction of a much needed affordable housing project." He said "on its face" the bill would authorize the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to purchase land through eminent domain for a buffer zone.
"I am deeply concerned that speculation, and not specifics, have influenced this decision," Rep. Denise Garlick said in written comments released to the News Service. She said the 150-foot buffer zone on a six-acre lot "cannot and will not impede any future development on this property."
Garlick said she is "stunned" that "despite my urgent appeals" her request for a meeting or a phone call with Patrick's staff and town officials "was denied." Garlick said realty organizations, such as the Citizens Housing and Planning Association, contacted Patrick's office about the bill (H 3851) but did not reach out to her, the lead sponsor.
"In a discussion with the Executive Director of CHAPA three days after the Governor's veto, in which she apologized for never contacting me, I shared my belief that being pro-affordable housing and pro-respect and sensitivity to a community's needs, present and future, should not be exclusive positions," wrote Garlick, who said she had previously worked on affordable housing as president of Needham Opportunities.
Needham Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick said the town issued a comprehensive permit for 108 units of housing on Greendale Avenue, and said the buffer zone will not interfere with that project. Mill Creek Residential Trust, the developer, had applied for a larger number of units and appealed to the Housing Appeals Committee, she said.
The developer is using the sometimes controversial law known as 40B that eases the permitting process for developers who include a portion of affordable housing in the construction. Fitzpatrick said Needham is on track within the next five years to achieve the 10 percent affordable housing town-wide that would exempt Needham from the development law.
"I know the Governor is committed to providing affordable housing to all, but the absence of this buffer zone puts the health and safety of residents at risk," said Sen. Michael Rush, a West Roxbury Democrat who co-sponsored the bill and responded jointly with Garlick. "Needham has been working carefully with developers to modify plans for housing or any other development in the vicinity of Interstate 95."
Garlick and Fitzpatrick said the state had promised to create a highway buffer zone when Route 128 was constructed, though Fitzpatrick said she has no documentation of that.
"No one was here when I-95 was built so I can't speak to any 'promises' made," said MassDOT Assistant Secretary of Communications Cyndi Roy Gonzalez in an email. "We already have the power to create buffer zones - we don't need legislation. We have a waiting list for buffer zones. MassDOT has no interest in the land."
Garlick said the buffer zone would address local concerns about stormwater drainage and ensure that future residents have a barrier between them and air pollution from the highway, though Patrick said the law would be used to block a housing development.
"(T)his legislation would set a bad precedent by permitting the use of restrictive and unnecessary local zoning laws to prevent the development of much needed affordable housing for lower-income residents of the Commonwealth," Patrick wrote.