Planning Board Faces Tight Timeline Ahead of Annual Town Meeting

November 13, 2023
• October’s Special Town Meeting has just wrapped, but the Planning Board already has its sights on the Annual Town Meeting six months from now.

While discussing proposed redevelopment of Linden/Chambers — Needham Housing Authority’s housing for elderly and disabled residents — at their Tuesday meeting, Chair Adam Block mapped the path to Town Meeting, where either the NHA or the board itself would present on the project.

Block expressed his intention to get the article onto the annual warrant, but a big question remains: Could they get it done in time? Looking at their estimated schedule and timelines for different projects, the answer is: Maybe.

To get Linden/Chambers into the Annual Town Meeting means first holding a community meeting, then receiving feedback on proposed language from the Select Board around December, holding a hearing likely in January — which could extend into February with a second hearing — before finalizing the warrant language by March 20.

While he said he hopes to only require one hearing, Block said issues may arise and residents may voice the need for further deliberation. If the meeting is well-attended, Block said a second hearing could possibly be avoided.

“We could be in a scenario where people say, ‘We didn’t know about this,’ and that there’s a loud chorus that we need another meeting,” Block said. “I want to be prepared for that.”

This isn’t the board’s sole project in the lead-up to May. They’ll be contending with a series of community meetings on the MBTA Communities law and revising language to present a parking bylaw change at a future meeting, according to their schedule. They’ll also need to resolve issues from a public hearing on the proposed 50,000-square-foot medical office building at 629-661 Highland Ave, which they discussed and closed earlier in the meeting.

Artie Crocker stressed the need to “save time” for those other matters. He mentioned climate initiatives and the redevelopment of the Foster Property — which is currently paused after a new buyer purchased the parcel — as examples.

“We have to save oxygen for that,” Crocker said. “We’re going to do this.”

With the Planning Board’s weight behind a future feedback meeting, NHA Commissioner Reg Foster said he expects a significant showing. At two recent Linden/Chambers community meetings, just 16 to 17 people attended each, Foster said.

Holding a joint meeting with the NHA would also be a more successful and efficient process, Block said, as it may curtail a potential “time obstacle” that could further delay a town-wide vote.

Member Paul Alpert seemed doubtful of the timeline.

“I’d like to do it, but I’ve got $5 that says that we’re going to have a lot more people at the formal hearing who aren’t going to show up at this community meeting,” Alpert said, “and they’re going to walk in knowing nothing.”

The collaborative community meeting is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 6, with location to be determined.

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