After a number of years, I came back to town government, because of inaccuracies related to town center. Saving our town center was a just cause. To my surprise, it was disappointing that a small number of people previously voicing legitimate concerns on town center had turned to disinformation regarding needed changes in office parks. By the time many will see this, we will know if people in Boxborough acted constructively at an important Boxborough Planning Board Public Hearing on March 11nth. We have a tremendous opportunity in Boxborough to increase business and shift the tax base away from residents. We have the opportunity for amenities that will benefit all town residents, e.g., restaurant, coffee shop, a village green, and conservation trail access, and a gift of land for municipal purposes. Unfortunately, despite multiple public meetings across many dedicated boards and committees, narrow interests prefer raising the same issues repeatedly instead of providing feedback for improvement.
Some history. Changes in connectivity, a distributed workforce, different business models, and the pace of innovation show fundamental shifts in commerce. Using occupancy data (49 percent) and participating in metro-west planning, it is clear that the Office Park district in our bylaws require flexible use or will become a relic of empty space with declining tax revenues for Boxborough.
To be proactive, the Select Board reestablished the Boxborough Economic Development Committee in 2017. The goals are part of the community-defined Boxborough 2030 Master Plan, creating a long-term vision for the town's commercial areas, prioritizing enhanced quality of life across an expanding the commercial tax base, investigating potential zoning amendments, and catalyzing investment and public-private partnerships to stimulate commercial activity.
After a number of months looking at our shrinking business base and slow speed of permit ting, the EDC was already working on zoning changes when a property owner came to a public meeting interested in making their land more usable, increasing occupancy, and providing amenities to prospective lessors and available to residents. To keep Boxborough competitive, many suggestions made sense. Still, the EDC cut down many recommended "by right" categories (all still subject to site plan review), included design review as part of the process in keeping with the town's rural character, and provided inputs to the Planning Board in November 2018.
Through feedback from additional open meetings and public hearings, the Planning Board significantly scaled back the proposed redefinition of the Office Park even further, to a much smaller overlay district and with even fewer by-right uses, sizing limitations, and the elimination of separate residential uses.
Doing "something better" requires constructive feedback. Doing nothing is a prescription for rapidly emptying office park buildings, dark buildings with significant abatements, and shifting higher taxes to residents, including those on fixed incomes and with limited means. Emotion vs facts and repetition vs recommendations is not progress. The propaganda of fear is not a plan. We all want good warrant articles for the town, but good articles require solutions and suggestions.
Public hearings are an opportunity for feedback to be incorporated into the warrant articles before Town Meeting or demonstrate the need for more changes. Let's hope the narrow interests take advantage of the hearing to collaborate and offer improvements and do not sabotage the benefits to all residents. Through balanced multi-use flexibility Boxborough can realize a gift of additional public land, increased commercial revenues, and usage benefits for the residents, all in character with the town.
Tim Rudolph is chairman of the Boxborough Economic Development Committee