Select Board Studies Public Transportation; Ponders New DPW

July 26, 2023
At the July 25th Select Board meeting, members took a look forward at new plans for improving public transportation and addressing the shortfalls of the current Needham Department of Public Works infrastructure.

Meeting Recap

There was a little bit of everything happening at the Needham Select Board meeting on Tuesday night. Starting off with a proclamation that Needham is a Purple Heart Community and asking residents to display American flags on August 7th, in honor of Purple Heart Day, the meeting mostly centered on new and future projects. The board officially welcomed the incoming Building Commissioner, Joseph Prondak, to Needham, and acknowledged the transition of Amy Haelsen into her new role of Director of Communications and Community Engagement, which was formerly the Public Information Officer position held by Cyndi Roy Ganzalez.

Improving Public Transportation Across Town
The board heard the findings of a Transportation Study conducted by Via Strategies on behalf of the Town. They were charged at looking at the current public transportation needs of the town, and to explore ways of supplementing the commuter rail and bus line currently serving the town and making the green line more accessible. They presented on the addition of three alternative bus routes, introducing a microtransit (shuttlebus/rideshare) system, and a fifth alternative which combined the proposed microtransit system with a new Green Line shuttle. Reviewing the potential ridership, operational costs, and potential costs for the commuters, the board questioned whether there was the potential for collaboration with other communities to reduce the expense and broaden the reach of a local transit program. No immediate action was taken on this item.

RTS Fees May Change
The board also heard from the Town Finance Director, members of the Department of Public Works and other committee members as they opened a public hearing on user fees and charges at the Recycling and Transfer Station. They suggested three changes to the fees they impose. Under their proposal they would eliminate the $1 charge for disposing florescent tubes, double the $2.50 charge for throwing away printers to $5 in order to cover the actual costs involved, and increase the $140/ton tipping fee to $200/ton. Commercial haulers have increased dramatically in Needham, as the tipping fee rate has not kept pace with those of neighboring communities. While keeping this fee on the lower end, the adjustment would bring rates more in line with other communities, which may encourage fewer clients from outside the town. The Select Board is expected to close the hearing and vote on the proposed changes at their August 15th meeting.

Alcohol License Public Hearings
There were two actions regarding the town’s alcohol licenses on Tuesday night. The first was a transfer to accommodate a new manager at Vinodivino, a step that is necessary before the application goes to the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) for final approval. The other was a hearing to formally revoke the alcohol license granted to the Hungry Coyote restaurant. The move was made after a series of appearances dating back to January 2022. The license was first suspended when it was discovered that the license manager was no longer working for Hungry Coyote, and they failed to appoint a qualified replacement.

The Future of the DPW
Perhaps the most aspirational part of the evening was a presentation by Weston and Sampson, outlining the results of a DPW Complex Feasibility Study. It provided the board with a first look at several scenarios being explored to update the facilities being utilized by the Department of Public Works. In order to avoid an oversized and unaffordable project, the study favored embracing a phased approach that spreads current DPW functions across five to seven sites, including the Recycling and Transfer Station, the three buildings at the Town Reservoir on Dedham Avenue, the Daley Building behind Fire Station #2, the current Hillside School location and a lot known as Parcel 74, located on Greendale Avenue. They walked the board through four scenarios which are being explored. The board expressed caution with proposals that involved developing Parcel 74 and the RTS sites, both of which have been subject to the objections of abutting neighbors. However, they acknowledged that all alternatives have to be explored at this stage. No decisions had to be made that evening, and the next steps would include selecting a preferred concept and finalizing an assessment of existing buildings.

New Town Seal and Branding Committee Proposed
Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick brought up a number of items for the board to consider. She continued the conversation on the fines that the Town can impose on people and businesses for committing various non-criminal offenses. This discussion was in anticipation of presenting a revised, comprehensive schedule to the October 30, 2023 Special Town Meeting. They also discussed the formation and constitution of a new ad-hoc committee to explore the appropriate use and possible redesign of the Town Seal. Long-used in everything from street signs to important documents, the town seal is a common and recurring image throughout town. This committee would be charged with examining what uses would better be served with a new town logo and make recommendations for improving the design and accuracy of the existing town seal.A full recap of the Needham Branding agenda item will be presented in a report on the July 27th Needham Channel News.

The evening also included an update on the Needham Municipal Electricity Aggregation program. Fitzpatrick shared that a working group has been pulled together and that the Board needed to make certain decisions before a draft plan can be pulled together and proposed at at December 2023 public hearing. Those decisions are scheduled to be made at the next Select Board meeting on August 15th.

The Select Board meeting of July 25th can currently be watched on the Needham Channel’s Municipal Channel and HD Channel, and may also be watched on demand on the Needham Channel’s Roku App or by following this link.

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