Wednesday, July 2, 2014
On July 9th, the Town Council will vote on the second reading of an ordinance to adopt the Vision Plan as the town’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan contains a provision for 880 new apartment and town house units within 5 blocks of Town Hall, surrounding the Historic District to the north and east. Residents of the Historic District have asked the Council and the Planning Commission for more information and more time to consider the impact on traffic, low-income housing, housing density and pedestrian safety. Nevertheless, both bodies recently voted to approve the plan without amendment.
The Comprehensive Plan raises some serious questions about the future of Summerville as well as its adverse impacts. How will the Town pay for the proposed new library, convention/meeting center, police station, courthouse, performing arts center, and make-over of Hutchinson Square? Will our taxes increase or will the Town use a TIF (Tax Increment Finance) to lock up new taxes in the zone to issue bonds? Who is on the hook if the Town cannot pay off the bonds? Will tax money be used to pay developer incentives to buy up surrounding land and build high-density housing? Will the Redevelopment Commission use eminent domain to force residents from their houses to build apartments? The Town says the targeted properties could be developed now. That is true if the property owner wants to sell. This Plan could be used to force them to sell, or entice developers with tax money or reduced impact fees to move in and take over the property.
The potential impacts of the 880 new units raise serious questions as well. It could add thousands of new children to the Dorchester school system with no new tax dollars to pay for them. Their tax dollars would be restricted to use inside the development zone under a TIF. There is nothing in the Plan addressing the added 1,000 plus new vehicles on the Downtown streets or the increased risk of pedestrian safety. The Town is still reeling from the recent explosion of growth in the outlying areas of Summerville. Do we need more downtown?
We have one more chance to seek the answers to these questions before the Plan becomes immutable law. The Town Council will vote one more time to finalize adoption on Wednesday, July 9th at 7;30 pm. Those who share our concerns should attend and ask for answers to these questions before the Plan is approved.