STATE REP RACE Q&A: Judy O’Connell Discusses District’s Infrastructure Needs & Affordable Housing Needs

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple is asking weekly questions to the seven candidates running in contested primaries for the Wilmington/Tewksbury State Representative seat (19th Middlesex).

Below, in her own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Judy O’Connell (D-Wilmington).

#17) What are some of the major infrastructure needs in the district? Can you point to specific streets/areas within both towns that “need work?” What will you do as State Rep to ensure certain roadway projects, sidewalk projects, etc. finally get addressed?

First, I would like to say that both Wilmington and Tewksbury do an excellent job maintaining the infrastructure of the 19th Middlesex District with the current personnel and budgets available to manage this vital necessity in both communities. As expected, there is always room for improvement and like other districts, we need the support of both towns and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in providing funding and programs to assist in the process. Our roadways, sidewalks, traffic signaling, bus transportation and railroad operations need regular oversight for maintenance, enhancement and improvement on an annual basis beyond just the budgetary process. For example I was pleased to see in Wilmington’s 2019 Budget that there is funding appropriated for the maintenance and upgrades to 755,662 square feet of building space, maintenance of 102 miles of accepted roads, 85.75 miles of sidewalks, 60 acres of parks and public spaces, 29 acres of burial plots, 73 miles of drainage pipe and 1,242 fire hydrants. Tewksbury continues to do the same in allocating FY’19 funds for infrastructure maintenance and improvements as well which is critical especially with a lot of recent development on the Route 38 corridor as one example.

Regarding specific streets and areas within both towns that need work, I would like the to see the Route 38 project in Tewksbury completed that was started as the roadway is not in the best condition to drive on. Traffic especially on this route continues to be problematic and there is no easy solution to this issue. However, having roads that are in quality condition to travel on are certainly a great start! Many would like to see Route 38 improved right through Wilmington as this is the main access road that connects the two towns and offers primary access to some of the major exits off of Route 93. Also, I am looking forward to the completion of the sidewalk project on Lawrence Street in Wilmington as well as the roadway work that is currently underway over near the North Intermediate School also in Wilmington. It is important in both communities that we have ample sidewalks to allow for pedestrian traffic as well as providing wheel chair access for residents. I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with some very passionate residents in Tewksbury who believe sidewalks are a big topic in town that continues to be a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Also, I would like to note that Dascomb Road could benefit from some roadway improvements as this road is heavily traveled and is substandard in keys areas with multiple residential properties and commercial businesses in the area. Also, the Tewksbury intersection at South Street and Salem Street continues to be very dangerous and needs to be addressed. Finally, Wilmington has been on the TIP program for improvements from the Route 62 bridge down Route 38 to Woburn for years and town funding has already been appropriated to get this design process started. I would like to see this project expedited to the extent possible as this is long overdue. As part of this process, the intersection of Butters Row and Cross Street needs to be restructured as this continues to be an extremely dangerous intersection with limited views and sight distances. With the additional traffic and use of the Yentile Farm Recreational Facility this project is even more critical now than ever. I am pleased with the work that has been completed thus far, but in my opinion the state timelines are simply too long. The Wilmington Butters Row bridge has had recent work, but this bridge will need additional work in the future and still remains an unsafe area for pedestrians.

If elected as State Representative, I will assist in any manner possible to ensure the roadway projects, sidewalk projects, etc. continue to be addressed. Through my leadership meetings with both Wilmington and Tewksbury it is clear that both Town Managers know the importance of town infrastructure for the 19th Middlesex District. Both towns continue to put short-term and long-term plans in place to maintain and enhance infrastructure to the extent that is fiscally possible and responsible. As State Representative, I am committed to helping the district receive the maximum Chapter 90 funding possible which are funds for capital improvements such as highway construction, preservation and improvement projects. Also, I would be committed to assisting the district with determining and applying for any opportunities relative to the Complete Streets Funding Program, the Public Works Economic Development Grants Program and the State Transportation Improvement Plan Program (TIP).

#18) As State Rep, what will you do to increase affordable housing opportunities for seniors, veterans and young adults right out of school? Also, what are your thoughts on the Governor’s proposal to promote more dense housing developments by changing the 2/3 majority vote to a simple majority vote for rezonings at Town Meetings? (Background: https://www.massachusettslandusemonitor.com/zoning/governor-baker-proposes-zoning-changes-to-promote-more-housing/) Finally, do you feel the state’s 40B laws need to be updated? Why?

To increase affordable housing for seniors and veterans there needs to be a collaborative effort at the municipal, state and federal levels. I believe the Commonwealth of Massachusetts needs to evaluate every state parcel available and determine the viability for affordable housing projects. One example of how this has been done in a neighboring town is when the state through a signed bill conveyed to the Town of North Reading the 36.7 acres of state-owned land on Lowell Street in North Reading that was once part of the John T. Berry State Mental Health facility that closed in 1995. This bill allowed North Reading to acquire the land in exchange for compensating the state for a portion of the “sunk costs” associated with the property. In December of 2017, it was reported that the Town of North Reading sold the parcel to a national developer (Pulte Homes) for approximately $30 million dollars with North Reading receiving almost $21 million and the state receiving almost $9 million. In addition, the town will receive approximately $3 million dollars in annual tax revenue based on 2017 numbers when the sale was reported. As a result of this joint effort, there is an over-55 development in process that offers housing for seniors which includes veterans with an affordable component as part of this project. This is one project where everybody wins and is an example of what is possible in other communities like Wilmington and Tewksbury.

The housing provided in Wilmington at Deming Way and in Tewksbury at Saunders Circle are operated through their respective Housing Authorities and are run very well with the buildings, personnel and budgets they have to work with on an annual basis. The wait lists for both housing complexes are 1-2 years out without enough units to fulfill the needs of the district. This is a problem that does not come with an easy solution. This problem has been identified for quite some time and there appears to be no interest at the town level to be in the housing business which means this falls back on state based housing programs that lack the amount of units needed. I am hopeful solutions will be strategically designed to address this issue in the near future, but frankly there is still a lot of work to be done in this area.

Regarding affordable housing for young adults, this continues to also be an issue as house prices continue to be on the rise. Government based programs for affordable mortgage financing options need to continue which will assist first time home buyers and others with entering into the market as prospective homeowners. Also, it should be noted that the cost of purchasing house lots and new construction building costs continue to increase which results in developers needing to build a bigger house structure resulting in premium pricing. One way to assist with this is through zoning and allowing for more density relative to the number of house units allowed which will drive a more diversified housing stock and more affordable pricing if planned, approved and managed correctly. This type of development comes with concerns relative to population growth, impacts on the community infrastructure, the impact on the local school system(s), the impact on public safety and the potential increase in traffic to name a few. My position is that smart economic development makes sense when it is done at the right scale and in a way that is ultimately beneficial to the residents of the community who are also the taxpayers. This is a very difficult and delicate balance to strike and manage and the pro’s and con’s need to be fully evaluated with every housing project proposed.

Regarding the Governor’s housing proposal which would change the 2/3 majority vote to a simple majority vote for rezoning at town meetings, I would support this proposal as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is in a housing crisis. We do not have enough housing stock across the state relative to single family homes, condominiums and multi-units to meet the demand that currently exists in Massachusetts which continues to drive pricing up due to supply and demand. In addition, we do not have the diversified housing stock needed to address affordable, senior and veteran housing needs. As a result, there are many that are crossing our state borders to live which means revenues are going elsewhere which is not good for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and for our economy for many reasons.

I fully recognize the concern that a simple majority will make it easier for a project to be approved as 2/3 is obviously a more difficult metric to meet. Also, I recognize that the town meeting process is an open process that is available to all residents of the town. All residents will continue to have an equal opportunity to attend, to have their voices heard and to have their respective votes counted. A change like this will reaffirm the fact that the responsibility is on all of us to attend town meetings and to participate.

Finally, the 40B formula does need to be looked at for necessary changes. There have been many statistics and stories reported for decades about 40B projects. Also, there have been studies conducted and researchers have identified the key controversies and concerns raised during the permitting process of 40B projects. Among the fears and concerns that were uncovered were the detrimental impacts on municipal services, schools, density, neighborhood change, environmental impacts, health and safety, property values, and the preservation of open space. The research showed that the controversies surrounding these cases were not realized to the extent feared. The concerns raised varied for each project, but it can be concluded that the underlying roots of these controversies are the loss of local control over zoning. These same researchers have also reported that cities and towns who have successfully endured a 40B project are now more aware of the need for affordable housing and more proactive in the planning for the development of that housing. This new, proactive approach will likely involve working with developers, town government officials and with residents which will result in less controversy relative to future projects. This is key as it has been stated for example in 2020 that Wilmington is projected to fall below its 40B requirements. In my opinion, I would rather see Wilmington be proactive and get out in front with crafting plans to address this fact rather than having to accept 40B plans. The topic of 40B will continue to be a “hot topic” for the 19th Middlesex District now and in the future. As State Representative, I will be committed to supporting smart economic development that is designed for the betterment of the communities I have been entrusted to serve while striving to preserve the character and open space that exists in both Wilmington and Tewksbury.

(NOTE: Do you have a question for the candidates? Email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com and it may be asked in a future Q&A or in a debate.)

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One thought

  1. There is too much in here not to comment on a few observations.
    The candidate would like to see the Route 38 job completed and that the section of Salem, South and Main continues to be very dangerous.
    Well who wouldn’t want either completed? The second project is slated to begin in 2019.
    With regards to the first it is being done in 1 mile increments because the state doesn’t project out (funding) more than two years and the irreparable harm that would be caused to businesses during such a shutdown.

    Lastly being in favor of our corporatist Governor Housing proposal that included the change from 2/3 to simple majority at town meeting.
    This would add another tool in the already FULL toolchest. And something to this candidate’s supporters ie lawyers, lobbyists, contractors and builders that has been a main concern of mine since day one with this campaign and not the candidate per se.

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