Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Vote NO on Article 23

Below is the proposed ARTICLE 23 (including summary) that will be considered at the Annual Town Meeting on May 12.

To see if the town will vote to amend as follows Section 2-601(f) “Water and Sewer” “Water Service” of the General Bylaws of the Town, or take any other action relative thereto.
  1. Delete the phrase “and shall charge for water by measure” from the first sentence of Section 2-601(f) so that, as revised, the Bylaw would read as follows:

    The Department of Public Works shall install and maintain in proper working condition a water meter on each service. The DPW shall require a separate connection for each estate.
The bylaw, as currently written, only allows water related costs of the Water Department to be covered through metered water usage. The change will allow the Select Board, acting as Water and Sewer Commissioners, options on how to cover the costs of the Water Department.

The following was submitted by Curt Freedman of 24 Ridge Road, Longmeadow, MA for consideration....

Citizens of Longmeadow:

There are several reasons that everyone should have concern for Article 23 at this year’s town meeting that will call for an amendment to our General By-Law that has historically established water and sewer fees based on measured use.   Chapter 600, Public Works and Services, section 2-601.f states, “The Department of Public Works shall install and maintain in proper working condition a water meter on each service and shall charge for water by measure.” The By-Law amendment proposes to eliminate the phrase, “and shall charge for water by measure.” 

REASON 1)  If the By-Law amendment passes on May 12th, the plan is for our water bills to have an unprecedented large fixed fee plus a charge for each unit of water that is metered (variable cost).  Our Board of Selectmen have again demonstrated that they do not understand fair and equitable water and sewer (W&S) rate policy.  We will likely never forget the ascending water rate fiasco that the Board of Selectmen unleashed on our community in the summer of 2007 promising only a 15% increase while many customers instead received increases of 40% to 90%.  On 3/4/08, at a special town meeting, the Selectmen then had to give back some $300,000 in refunds to all the customers that were over-charged.  Before our public confidence on W&S rates could be restored, the Selectmen and/or Town Manager then established the Water & Sewer Advisory Task Force to think of other ways to unfairly raise our rates for water and sewer.  The Task Force report confirmed the concerns that I had brought forward to the Water & Sewer Commissioners in 1997 for the sewer cap policy.  Our on-going sewer cap policy causes those who water their lawns to unfairly pay additional sewer fees since excess sewer fees are paid for watering grass and washing cars with no water ever discharging into the sewer.  The existing policy can result in an annual subsidization of over $500,000.  Although our sewer rates are advertised to be $2.35/ccf, the true sewer rate is approximately $3.25.  Based on the Water and Sewer Advisory Task Force report that was submitted to the Board of Selectmen in 2008 and 2011, to make up the $500,000 subsidization, new rates were recommended that would convert the annual customer charge of $34 to a fixed charge of $360 plus a water use charge of $2.00 per ccf (1 ccf = 100 cubic feet = 748 gallons).  It is noted that the above water fee would have to be modified from $2.00/ccf to $2.30/ccf to meet our present revenue requirements.  The problem with this new recommended format is that many customers that have chosen to have minimal outdoor watering could face annual increases of 30% - 145%.  A typical household with one person may have their yearly rates go from $173 to $423, an increase of 145%.   A typical household of two persons may have their rates go from $311 to $487, an increase of 56%. The average household of approximately three persons may have their annual rates go from $408 to $531, an increase of 30%.

REASON 2) The Task Force report specifically stated they did not evaluate how the new policy would affect commercial, institutional, or municipal customers.  Based on detailed analysis, those increases could be 12%.  Not only have the non-residential customers not been notified of such increases, many cannot even speak at the Town Meeting to represent their interests because they may not be registered voters in Longmeadow.  It is unlikely that our public schools budgeted for such increases in their water bills.  I feel that the complete lack of notification and the displacement of appropriate due process are grossly unfair to the non-residential sector and are not democratic.

REASON 3) A much reduced incentive for conservation is another problem with the water and sewer rate changes.  The proposed By-Law amendment could change our incremental unit costs from $5.13 per ccf to $2.00 per ccf.  A unit of water conserved would only save  $2.00 instead of $5.13; any investment in low flow toilets, water efficient washing machines, conservation shower heads or other household water conservation equipment will now have an economic payback some 2.5 times longer.  The new rate is anti-conservation and also serves to economically dis-incentivize the investment and installation of wells for irrigation.

REASON 4) The Task Force in trying to justify the $360 fixed fee, inappropriately claimed that households that do not consume a minimum quota of water do not create enough revenue and do not pay their fair share to the system.  The Task Force is saying that normal household water use is not enough; the Task Force view is that significant irrigation water use is necessary to provide enough revenue to pay a customer’s fair share.   There is no relevance to the Task Force philosophy what-so-ever.  Based on long-standing internationally accepted policies for utility rate design that have also been adopted by the American Water Works Association, preferred utility charges are based on overall variable or marginal costs; the best tariff policy bills a customer for the quantity of product/service that is used, period.  There is no minimum fixed fee other than a customer charge which traditionally is just the cost of administrative billing and the annualized cost for maintaining the meter.  The Task Force with its recommendation for approximately half of the W&S budget to come from the $360 fixed fee per household apparently did not understand, recognize, or observe that for other utilities such as natural gas, or electricity have only a modest customer charge plus a variable charge, billing customers simply for what is used.   A utility based rate is like traveling the Massachusetts Turnpike; a toll is charged only when a vehicle travels or uses the roadway.

REASON 5) Based on globally accepted standards for utility tariffs, the six fundamental features of a good rate design include the following:  simplicity, revenue & rate stability, fair cost apportionment, avoidance of undue discrimination, efficiency, and conservation.  Our present sewer cap and proposed fix fee rate with the By-Law change are:  Revenue and rate unstable, characteristic of unfair cost apportionment, discriminatory, and discourage conservation. 

REASON 6) The traditionally and properly accepted practice is to establish a COST-BASED approach and calculate water/sewer tariff components that are based on marginal costs, not lump sum fixed amounts.  The amended policy is inappropriate and in fact is a textbook example of UNDUE RATE DISCRIMINATION.  A lump sum fixed fee rate creates an unfair level of subsidization and would not be consistent with MGL c. 41: § 69B  and MGL c. 83: §16 that require that W&S charges be  “JUST (FAIR) AND EQUITABLE.”  Furthermore, as Longmeadow’s W&S accounts were approved in 2007 at Town Meeting to be established as “ENTERPRISE FUNDS,” we are also required by law to abide by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision: Emerson College v. City of Boston (1984), that mandates that our W&S sewer fees be fairly substantiated; the revenue from one customer cannot unfairly subsidize the costs of the utilization of the system for another customer.  The judges ruled that an unfair subsidization effectively becomes a “TAX” and no longer a “FEE” and would be contrary to Massachusetts law.

Yes, we need change, but the Task Force recommendation requiring our By-Law to be amended is not the answer.  In order to establish fair water rates for all customers, residential customers need to be given the opportunity to utilize irrigation water meters since the cost of service for irrigation (only water, no sewer service) is different than household water use (water & sewer).  Irrigation water meters will provide the only method of accurately documenting irrigation water use which is approximately 40% of the total annual use.  Irrigation water meters have been utilized by commercial customers in Longmeadow for several decades.  Irrigation meters for residential customers are common practice in Agawam, Chicopee, Ludlow, and Springfield; it is long overdue that Longmeadow W&S policy become “fair and equitable”.

As an economic good, our water/sewer system must be managed and maintained properly and remain financially accessible through fair and equitable rates for maximum utilization to minimize cost.  A By-Law change is clearly not needed, a 2nd water meter for irrigation is; we also need our Water & Sewer Commissioners to hold public hearings to exchange information with the public and to enable fair opportunity for all customers to have their interests represented.  A new rate policy allowing irrigation water meters will establish “fair and equitable” water and sewer charges as well as create reasonable pricing signals for conservation and would be consistent with: MGL c.41: §69B, MGL c.83: §16, and Emerson College v. City of Boston.

In 2007, the Water Commissioners with the ascending rates, punished people for watering their lawns, now with the proposed $360 fixed fee, they want to punish people who don’t.  Let us restore fairness, equity, and clarity to our water and sewer rates, please vote “NO” on Article 23 at the May 12th Annual Meeting.

-Curt M. Freedman, PE, CEM, CEA, LEED AP

~ Registered Professional Engineer in:  CT, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, & VT
~ Certified Energy Manager (CEM) as endorsed by the Association of Energy Engineers
~ Certified Energy Auditor (CEA) as endorsed by the Association of Energy Engineers
~ LEED Accredited Professional as endorsed by the U. S. Green Building Council
~ Adjunct Professor of Energy Management, Western New England University

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Mansion on the Green

This column was submitted by Betsy Huber Port for posting on the LongmeadowBuzz blog.

What is the Fate of the Mansion on the Green? 

Quality schools are what we are known for, plus good services, a fine quality of life, safe neighborhoods and an appreciation for history.  And on the surface this place looks pretty perfect lately, enveloped in a cool blanket of snow.  Almost perfect that is.  Look across the way from our local Community House and what do you see? A beautiful and stately old house that looks sad and abandoned.

What is the story?

Long ago in 1884, the house was built for Yale trained minister Samuel Wolcott. The house was built for Dr. Wolcott by his sons Henry and Edward. Reverend Wolcott lived in the house only two years and died in 1886. Soon after in 1889 it changed hands to a new resident named State Senator George Brewer. For over twenty years Brewer owned this magnificent mansion on our town green until after WWI.

Mrs. Mary Ida Young, wife of Wilbur F. Young the inventor of the liniment Absorbine Jr. became the new owner in 1922. Founded in 1892, this local company enjoyed success for more than 30 years before she moved to Longmeadow.  Following the stock market collapse of 1929, the house was secured by iron grids on the windows, and a fortune of valuables was stored inside.  The 10,907 square foot home with 11 bedrooms survived the long years of the Depression and also the WWII era.

At some point in the 1970-80s this antique house was restored to its former glory. I can only imagine the grandeur of the formal dining rooms and wonderful parties and events took place there. There is a uTube video showing how the place used to look.  House tours occurred to benefit Center School, but in the past five or so years the place has been slowly deteriorating.  It is my hope that this house can be saved. The bank that foreclosed on the property does not seem to be caring for it. J.P. Morgan Chase has a responsibility to protect this asset, don't they? As we all know, our homes need love and maintenance, especially in the bitter cold winters.  What can be done to prevent further rack and ruin? What can town leaders do? Can local state representatives and preservationists step in? This house has "lived" for over 130 years - but this year could be one of its last. Someone with a vision could transform it again, but they must act swiftly.  This is sad and tragic to see it every time I drive north or south on Longmeadow Street. Ideas anyone? Let's think outside the box to preserve our history! What are the priorities of our community? It is a piece of our history and I hate to witness its complete destruction!

Betsy Huber Port

Here is a link to a video of the house during earlier times.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What happens next at the Longmeadow Shops?

Now that the zoning change required for expansion of the Longmeadow Shops was approved at last night’s Special Town Meeting, the Planning Board will be waiting for the detailed plan to be delivered by Grove Property.

 Longmeadow Planning Board, Bruce Colton, Chair (center)
According to Walter Gunn, long time member of the Planning Board, an application for expansion of the Longmeadow Shops places the entire Shops facility under scrutiny through a rigorous site and design review.  This opportunity will allow for public input and action to correct any present as well as future deficiencies with the site including such issues as traffic, parking, noise, light and odor.  Article XI (Site and Design Review) of the Longmeadow Zoning By-laws states:  The purpose of this section is to protect the health, safety, convenience and general welfare of the inhabitants of the Town by providing for a review of plans for uses and structures which may have significant impacts.

Mr. Gunn also stated that the west lot parking covenant at the Longmeadow Shops will be examined by the Planning Board’s land use counsel as to its relevance in calculating required parking spaces.

Where the Planning Board can lose control of the development is through the applicant’s choice to seek the avenue of special permitting / variance authority held by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).  The ZBA authority can create restaurants, new parking spaces through Article XII.b.3 or allow signage specifically forbidden under the Longmeadow Sign By-Law.  Hopefully, public scrutiny of any such maneuvers would cause the ZBA to proceed on the side of caution.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Another Prospective on the Shops Expansion

This Letter-to-the-Editor was submitted to the Longmeadow Buzz blog by Lindsay Coughlin Gill.

I hesitate to write this. I'm a newcomer to town, after all.  My husband, son, and I just moved to Longmeadow in December.

Heck, I'm no newcomer.  I grew up in this town. And I am not happy.

If this was about me, I would probably stay quiet as I am not one to speak up.  But here comes mama bear, watching out for her cubs.  I am writing this for my son.

We moved to Longmeadow this past December.  We knew the school system, we knew the quiet streets, we knew the sidewalks.  It was a no-brainer that we wanted our son to grow up here.

But since December, we have already talked about moving on multiple occasions.

Before the seasoned Longmeadow residents start talking about being progressive and getting a whopping additional $82,000, let's talk about how to sustain a beautiful town.  In order to sustain a beautiful town, you need to make it a place where newcomers want to come.  Where they want to raise children.  This is not the only family friendly town around.  There's Wilbraham, there's Granby, there are plenty in Connecticut.

I am new to the part of town past the shops. I didn't realize how the shops can allow people to congregate, but probably more so, how it can separate the sides of town.  I avoid the area!  I want my son to avoid the area!  Now we're voting to make this a larger commercial area.

How could one suggest this will not increase traffic?  If any of the offices or shops are remotely successful, they will obviously add more cars, more traffic.  Granted, the novelty of a few new stores will wear off.  But we are voting on the unknown.  Even if it starts as a JCrew, who knows what it could be in the future. 

When I went to college, my peers actually knew of Longmeadow as the legendary town where parents actually encouraged a mass sleepover after prom, on a field.  Surrounding towns know Longmeadow for the school system.  Many know us for the successful athletes, Hollywood stars, and prestigious doctors and lawyers.  Now we're fighting to add a "JCrew" and drive-thru CVS to the list?  The successful people that went through the Longmeadow school system came here for the quiet residential town.

At this point, we have to cross five busy crosswalks to get to Blueberry.  I've only seen a crossing guard at one of these. These are not regular cross walks...these are high traffic areas. 

I think "progressive" is getting prescriptions sent right to your doorstep as many people do already. "Progressive" is walking and biking around town to save gas and our environment, not adding places to buy homogenous clothes at JCrew. Just like any new store or restaurant, the novelty will fade and we will be left with destroyed land and a traffic hub with accidents waiting to happen. Even the best laid traffic plans don't work. Have you ever been to a shopping center with good traffic flow? Never.  And this is all assuming the area is not sold to another developer once it is approved for commercial zoning.

A drive thru CVS may sound wonderful in theory. But this services one car at a time. We had one in my previous town and I used it once. As a brand new mom with an infant, I used it once.  It's not that exciting.  Perhaps we can focus more on something similar to Meals on Wheels in which volunteers could deliver necessary items and medications to the elderly of the town.  I did Meals on Wheels, I would do Medication on Wheels.

Vote NO.  If you're apathetic because this is so far from your home, vote no for me. Vote NO for your children's friends who won't be able to bike to your house through this intersection.  Vote NO for my grandparents whose dream to move to this beautiful town was fulfilled six years ago.  Whose dream to have my son walk to their house that will be compromised by the town's desire to have new shops.  Just like moving to this town was a no-brainer, it will be a no-brainer to move out.  We knew about the high taxes coming into this town.  We accepted them in anticipation of a safe and quiet area for our son.  Our house will certainly be appraised lower...hence lower taxes.  It simply doesn't make sense.

Vote NO. If you have kids, vote no for their safety. If you don't have kids, vote no for my kids! And vote no so that new families continue to want to move here. Ten new families make up for the whopping 82k in anticipated taxes everyone can't wait to get. Don't be so short sighted!

I love this town. I grew up in this town. I want to stay in this town, vote NO on Tuesday.

Lindsay Coughlin Gill

Steve Walker/ The Longmeadow Shops Responds....

We’ve been very clear and transparent as to what our intentions are with the proposed expansion at the Longmeadow Shops--21,000 square feet of new retail space including a CVS drive-thru as well as parking and pedestrian safety improvements.

I wanted to provide you some background to educate you and followers of your site in regards to our parking lot.

In 1982, the former owner of The Longmeadow Shops agreed to construct a parking lot on land owned by the shops. The lot would be used by the shops and available to the public for parking. We remain grandfathered into this commitment that the former owner made to the town.

This isn’t a municipal parking lot, but rather a lot that we own and pay taxes on that is also shared with the community for parking. What this means is that parking isn’t restricted to only patrons of the shops.  A good example would be to come to the shops on any Friday night during the football season or even weekdays during the spring or fall during athletic practices or games, and you’ll notice that a significant amount of the public utilizes the lot.  This arrangement has been discussed publically and is fairly well known in town. We welcome this traffic to our shops. 

In the past, we’ve had parking attendants during heavy parking periods in an effort to prioritize parking closest to our retailers for patron parking and closest to the fields for event parking.

The parking spaces created by this agreement have always been included in the parking calculations for the shops by the planning and zoning boards over our 20 years of ownership.

We appreciate your sites attention to tomorrow night’s important vote, and also appreciate the opportunity to clarify the facts to your readers.

Steve Walker/ The Longmeadow Shops

Town residents deserve transparency...

It seems that we have been here before with expansion plans for the Longmeadow Shops….

Some interesting information has surfaced in the last couple of days including some court documents from more than 30 years ago.  It turns out that the Longmeadow Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board filed a complaint in the Hampden County Housing Court seeking to nullify a Zoning Board of Appeals decision allowing S. Prestley Blake to expand the west end of the Longmeadow Shops.  Here is a link to a Springfield Union news article (February 27, 1982) about this controversy.

As a result of this court suit, the owners of the Longmeadow Shops agreed to the following (excerpt from Housing Court Dept Case No. LE-1914-L-82, signed and agreed- July 7, 1982):
  1. The parking lot as presently constructed, both on the business-zoned land and residential-zoned land, shall be at all times open to the public and shall not be restricted to patrons of the so-called Longmeadow Shops.
Here is an aerial photo of the Longmeadow Shops showing the specifics of this agreement as best can be determined.
[click photo to enlarge]
It is interesting that the Longmeadow Shops and/or the nearby retail establishments in recent years have occasionally hired private "attendants" to police their parking lot and to block town residents and others from parking in this west lot during sporting events if they were not customers of the Longmeadow Shops.  This issue is particularly of consequence during Friday night Longmeadow HS football games.  This enforcement was deemed necessary because of the increased parking needs for the patrons of Max Burger and other establishments.

In addition, the Longmeadow Shops did not allow the School Building Committee to use any of their parking for teachers/ students during construction of the new high school forcing the town to construct temporary parking lots.

With the limited parking spaces available in all of the surrounding retail areas (including Big Y and the Williams Place mall) there is nothing to prevent these other businesses from asking their employees to park in the "municipal lot" "public lot” so as to provide more space for their own customers.

  1. Is the current owner of the Longmeadow Shops (Grove Property Fund) still bound by this Hampden County Agreement for Judgment?  If not, why not?
  2. In consideration of the increased retail space being proposed, how can this “municipal” "public lot" be considered at its full potential when calculating the retail space/ parking ratio?
  3. Why was this court agreement between the Town of Longmeadow and the Longmeadow Shops not disclosed during the Planning Board Public Hearings?
We need to hear some answers before we vote at the Special Town Meeting on February 3.