Municipal leaders talk about health of communities

May 16, 2019 by

Published May 15, 2019

By DAN TOMASELLO

WAKEFIELD — Lynnfield and Wakefield are both doing well.

That was the message Lynnfield Town Administrator Rob Dolan and Wakefield Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio gave during the Wakefield Lynnfield Chamber of Commerce’s first annual Small Business Resource Expo on May 9. The Savings Bank, the Massachusetts Office of Business Development and the Chamber hosted the event in order to kick off Small Business Month. Chamber Executive Director John Smolinksy served as the master of ceremonies during the event.

“The Chamber of Commerce plays a role in helping a community remain strong and vibrant,” said Smolinsky.

Dolan said it’s been “an incredible honor serving as Lynnfield’s town administrator for the past year-and-a-half.”

“Having been the mayor of Melrose for almost 17 years, or as some would say the benevolent dictator of Melrose, my introduction to democracy has been wonderful,” Dolan joked.

THE WAKEFIELD LYNNFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE held its first annual Small Business Expo on May 9. From left, Chamber Co-President Christopher Barrett, Wakefield Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio, Lynnfield Town Administrator Rob Dolan, Assistant Secretary of Business Development Nam Pham, Chamber Executive Director John Smolinksy and Chamber Co-President Janice Casoli.

Dolan said, “Town Meeting in Lynnfield has been very eye-opening in a positive way.”

“The introduction has not been that dramatic,” said Dolan. “I have learned from great town administrators like Steve Maio. We have been friends for many years except on Thanksgiving, when Melrose continuously beats Wakefield.”

Dolan said, “The people of Lynnfield are wonderful.”

“If you were to build a community out of scratch, what would it be?” Dolan asked. “The first thing you would think about is an exceptional school system in which people, young and old, are committed to providing the children of Lynnfield with an excellent educational experience. Lynnfield is that place.”

Dolan noted the town is committed to providing excellent recreational facilities, which he said is highlighted by the state-of-the-art Lynnfield High School fields complex and the Lynnfield Middle School track and field complex. He also said the Lynnfield Senior Center is “the best senior center in the region.”

Additionally, Dolan said the town is committed to providing excellent programs for veterans and protecting the environment. He said Lynnfield’s volunteers go above and beyond to make a difference in the community.

“Residents want a town that when you drive into Lynnfield from any other direction without seeing a sign that says ‘Welcome to Lynnfield,’ you know visually, spiritually and physically that you are in a different place,” said Dolan. “That is the charge that I have and the citizens of Lynnfield have to preserve. It’s not exclusionary, but it’s a place where the people feel at home, safe and nurtured whether they are young, old or anywhere in the middle.”

Dolan said the challenge Lynnfield is facing is that many residents believe their way of life is at “risk,” as people have become increasingly concerned about development proposals and traffic. He said that fear exists in other communities such as Wakefield, Melrose, Everett and Somerville.

“It’s honest and it’s okay, but it is divisive,” said Dolan. “An example of that is MarketStreet. MarketStreet is a really good thing in many ways, but it must be acknowledged that it was a dramatic change for the people of Lynnfield and how they live their life. There is a breaking point for a town that doesn’t want to be defined by a mall but be defined by its history and what it’s core values are.”

Dolan noted the town recently approved a non-binding referendum backing the Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail. He said some Lynnfield residents are concerned about the project because they “have lived in a certain area and now that area is going to change.”

“That is a natural human reaction,” said Dolan. “The Recreational Path Committee has done a tremendous job trying to educate and explain to the people the long-term benefits because this is not the first trail built in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Rail trails have been wildly successful from the Berkshires to Newburyport. There is still much work to be done.”

Dolan noted Town Meeting rejected the Sagamore Spring Golf Club redevelopment project last year and Town Meeting rejected the Woods of Lynnfield elderly housing development in late April. He said it’s important to find a balance between residents’ concerns and developers’ property rights.

“I have heard that Melrose is not the city I grew up in and Lynnfield is not the place that it used to be,” said Dolan. “Nothing is the place that it used to be. Things that don’t progress die and die slowly. So how do we create a balance between traffic and the rights of individual property owners who want to build where they want to build? I am not Vladimir Putin and this is not Cuba. People have property rights within a set form of zoning. But what do we want to do with that zoning? Do we want to loosen it or do we want to tighten it? That is a community discussion. But with those discussions come consequences for business, property owners and a town.”

Moving forward, Dolan said Lynnfield “needs to regroup and pause.”

“We need to respect the opinion of people who want to keep Lynnfield a livable community in terms of less development,” said Dolan. “It’s an honorable and good position. But what is also honorable and good is the idea that people have property rights within zoning. When we don’t vote for an elderly 55-plus community and houses are built, it means more children, more school capacity and more spending on education. Despite the efforts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Lynnfield and Wakefield receive very little state aid. We are not Brockton, Cambridge or Chelsea. When you have very little state aid and very little new growth, you are overly reliant on property taxes and therefore the burden is on the homeowner. I hope we can come together and talk about balance in a fair and equitable manner.”

After Dolan concluded his remarks, he was given a round of applause.

Wakefield

Wakefield Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said the town has “a great history of trying to get people” to go downtown.

Maio noted Wakefield has held a number of events downtown such as the Holiday Stroll and Festival Italia. He said the town recently held “pop up” events that included a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in March and a block party on North Avenue last month.

“What impressed me most is that there were people in the businesses,” said Maio. “It’s not a bad day when the kids are outside eating ice cream and parents are going into the stores.”

Maio agreed with Dolan that getting initiatives passed at Town Meeting is tough, but he noted that Wakefield Town Meeting has supported several initiatives. He said the November 2016 Town Meeting approved a tax incentive program that “forgave remediation on contaminated properties.”

“What happens with contaminated properties?” Maio asked the crowd. “They sit. People don’t want to buy them and the town doesn’t want to take them over. In November 2016, Wakefield accepted a state law that allows the Town Council to forgive back taxes on a piece of property if the property was cleaned up and was used in a way the council wanted.”

Maio also noted Town Meeting adopted a state law that allows personal property exemptions for companies that specialize in research and development.

While the rail trail has received mixed reviews in Lynnfield, Maio said it’s “very popular” in Wakefield. He noted mixed-use and housing developments are being built near the Wakefield portion of the trail.

“We are so thrilled Lynnfield is on board with us now,” said Maio. “I think this is going to be a great, great program for both of our communities.”

While Maio noted there is a “tension between old Wakefield and new Wakefield,” he said the town has benefited from new mixed-use developments, market rate housing and affordable housing.

“We have new developments coming in where 18 percent need to be affordable,” said Maio. “You have people in our community who can pay $200,000 or so for a one-bedroom condo. Those are new police officers, firefighters, DPW workers and teachers. It’s great being able to bring these people to our downtown. There is a real multiplying effect.”

Maio said new developments such as Wakefield Station have transformed old buildings that were no longer being used into mixed-use developments.

Looking ahead, Maio said he is excited about the Envision Wakefield program. He recalled that Wakefield hired engineering firm VHB in order to help conceptualize transportation improvements for people who travel to and from Wakefield Center in cars, on foot, by bus or on bikes.

“Improving multimodal transportation is absolutely essential,” said Maio. “We have had a number of outreach programs. We are looking at what the downtown could be. There could be larger sidewalks so there could be outdoor activities. There could be bike lanes and much more handicap accessibility. It will make crossing the street much easier. Main Street in Wakefield is very wide, and some people are afraid to cross the street. We want to take care of parking because parking is an issue in the downtown. I think this is a great step forward.”

In closing, Maio thanked the Chamber for supporting the town’s initiatives.

“A broken chair will not support you in your efforts,” said Maio. “I always thought a successful downtown has three components: Business community, Chamber of Commerce and government. When all of those are working together, our chair works much better.”

After Maio concluded his remarks, he was given a round of applause.

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