Needham LWV hosts Candidates

March 30, 2023
• Meet the candidates running for Needham Select Board and Planning Board.

reported by Yuxiao Yuan

The annual town election is once again rapidly approaching. This year, Needham voters will be presented with two contested races. In the Select Board race, three candidates are vying for the two three year term seats, including incumbent candidate Marianne Cooley, Town Meeting member Kathy Dowd from Precinct G, and Finance Committee member Joshua Levy. Ten year board member Matt Borrelli had decided not to seek reelection. Meanwhile, for the Planning Board Race, Town Meeting member from Precinct A, Robert Dangle is challenging Board Chair Adam Block for the five-year term seat.

At the Candidates Night Forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Needham on March 27th, both Planning Board candidates acknowledged the importance of providing more housing options and upgrading zoning codes for energy efficiency. Robert Dangel also emphasized his desire to make the board more approachable.

Robert Dangle: Number one, I think that regular Zoom office hours similar to what other boards do in this town (are) a really great way in any large project that comes before the town. I think Planning Board members should be more proactive in going out to the community where these projects may affect them and solicit the residents. I would like to write a blog or some sort of very simplified message on what the Planning Board is working on, what they’ve decided on,and the things that come before them.

Adam Block spoke about expanding business opportunities in town.

Adam Block: …really unlock the Charles River as community making space with a boardwalk and vibrant micro retail restaurants, housing, perhaps some commercial office space or that helps keep a residential tax burden low.

When asked what the Planning Board could do about rising housing prices due to teardown activities, both candidates agreed the town is on the right track by increasing the housing supply.

Adam Block: First, we must support the Needham Housing Authority’s redevelopment plan. We also, I would recommend supporting the Planning Board’s ADU proposal. It will help our seniors, it will help singles, it will, will help local workforce as well. In addition to that, we have the MBTA Communities Act, which the town will comply with, and that’s an important opportunity for us to produce additional housing that will create affordable housing options and diversify our housing stock.

Dangel specifically emphasized the need to revise policies for the Large House review process.

Robert Dangle: I’ve read some zoning bylaws for the Large House Review in other towns such as Wellesley, and they have a very simple-to-digest plan and set of bylaws that I think that Needham could emulate in some degree. We need to address the Large Housing process and possibly implement another large housing review.

Addressing the housing crisis is also one of the top priorities for the three Select Board candidates. In addition, they shared their commitment to reducing Needham’s carbon footprint and funding the school buildings project.

Cathy Dowd: The Pollard and the Mitchell schools are both overcrowded and outdated, to such an extent that this is compromising their educational mission. We must approach the rebuilding of these schools with an eye both to the needs of those students, but also to fiscal prudence.

Joshua Levy: For me, it’s important to look at starter homes, that we have starter homes being torn down and just not being replaced. If we can really incentivize developers to build small starter homes, that is a huge entry point for a lot of young families, me included. It’s also a really great opportunity for seniors to downsize.

Marianne Cooley: Climate action is important. We’ve prioritized this on the Select Board, working on community electric aggregation now, thinking about funding for a sustainability coordinator, and now the committee is looking at the zoning and the building code.

The candidates were asked about their positions on the two ballot questions, and the single use plastic bag ban petition. They expressed support for leaving the state’s civil service process for the hiring of Needham Police officers, however, Joshua Levy expressed the reservations about increasing alcohol licenses up to the state quota, citing concerns from the Board of Health about the impact on minors.

Joshua Levy: I’m going review that in more detail because I want to really understand their position more before taking a vote.

Regarding the single use plastic back ban, Marianne Cooley expressed concern about alternative choices that could still have a negative effect on the environment.

Marianne Cooley: A single use bag is a single use bag, whether it’s plastic or whether it’s paper.

She suggested that charging for bags would be a more effective way to change people’s behavior, but noted the state has not given towns permission to do so.

Marianne Cooley: If all of us towns could buy in together and get the state to act on our behalf, we might actually change behavior.

Having already served on the Select Board for 10 years, Cooley has openly stated that if elected, it will be her last term. Since the board has seen recent turnover with the departures of former members John Bulian, Moe Handel and Dan Matthews, as well as Matt Borrelli stepping down this year, Cooley hopes to facilitate a smooth transition to a new generation of leaders. In an interview with The Needham Channel, she talked about how she envisions her role in this transition.

Marianne Cooley: At this point, I am looking forward to running one more time and to working with them to be sure that they all feel really ready, and have the history behind different things, and talking about what the background is on all the topics so that they can go forward and also educate and mentor new people who come to the board after me.

Cathy Dowd has been actively involved in promoting civic engagement through her work with the League of Women Voters and as a teacher at the Needham High School, teaching History and the Government.

Cathy Dowd: I value civic participation, so I really want to understand what the community wants. You know, the local government should be a vehicle for getting done what the community wants.

Joshua Levy has served as the Finance Committee Chair for the past year. He works with other members to oversee the town’s budgeting process and fiscal impact of warrant articles.

Joshua Levy: I think that I have a reputation for asking probing questions, being able to get at the heart of an issue or understanding the impact, to residents both pro and con. I think that I am really good at interacting with residents, answering their questions. I’m very approachable in that respect.

You can check out the League of Women Voters of Needham voter guides, as well as the Candidates Forum and the Candidates Interviews here.

This story ran as part of the Needham Channel News, a weekly newscast airing on The Needham Channel every Thursday at 7:30pm. The Needham Channel News can be found on the Community Channel: Comcast 9, Astound 15 and Verizon 29. Most Thursdays it also can be viewed on our HD Channel on Verizon 2129, Astound 613 and streaming on this site.
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