League of Women Voters observing town government in action

Members of the League of Women Voters of Marblehead, front row from left: Shari Pressman, Marta Bach, Alexa Singer, and Tom Krueger; second row from left: Judy Gates, Bonnie Grenier, Lee Mondale, Kathy Breslin, Polly Whitmore, and Mimi Hollister; and third row from left: Don Gardner, Kathy Leonardson, Nancy Powell, and Phil Blaisdell, gather in front of the Old Town House. Photo by Spenser Hasak

Observation reports are submitted by Marblehead League of Women Voters members who have attended meetings of various town boards and commissions. Observers are solely responsible for accuracy of the information.  Complete reports can be found on the LWV of Marblehead Website www.lwvmarblehead.org.

MARBLEHEAD DISABILITIES COMMISSION – January 12, 2023

LWVM Observer: Nancy Powell

 

  1. Collins Institute Survey

At the December 22 MDC meeting, Representatives from the Collins Center, a state entity located at UMASS/Boston, presented an overview of a grant-funded ADA Transition Plan they are partnering with Town of Marblehead to develop. The plan includes getting public comment via a survey tool that was launched the first week in January 23 to look at problematic access issues in town. Commission members expressed concern that survey questions seek input only from those who are disabled or are providing direct care for someone with a disability thereby overlooking input from members of the community at large and possibly skewing results. Members of the Commission will review the survey and provide feedback to the Collins Institute as needed.

  1. Sidewalk Parking

Ms Hirschkron raised concern about pedestrians having to move onto the street because of drivers who frequently park their cars on sidewalks around town. She noted this is especially dangerous for those with auditory, vision and mobility impairments. The police, when called, will ticket illegally parked cars but this doesn’t seem to be a routine procedure they follow. Ms Blaisdell proposed inviting the police chief to a future meeting to discuss this issue and in addition seek more robust enforcement of handicap parking violations and ensure that cars are parked at least 20 feet from an intersection due to visibility concerns for pedestrians when crossing streets. Ms Hirschkron proposed increasing public and law enforcement awareness regarding this issue. Ms Blaisdell will contact local news outlets to see if a friendly reminder could be published that would highlight the sidewalk parking problem.

  1. Future Projects

An open discussion brought forth the following ideas for the Commission to undertake in the coming year:

  • Harbor planning ideas including a kayak launch and enhancing accessibility for community members who would like to swim.
  • Provide remote access to Town Meeting as is in the works in several other municipalities in Massachusetts that seek to offer voting via biometrics/vetted remote voting companies. 
  • Increase the Commission’s visibility by doing such things as tabling at Farmers’ Market, reinstituting MDC’s “Accessibility Awards” for Town businesses, and creating a more active Facebook page.
  • Revisit the map of accessible locations around town and ensure there is an ample supply available.
  • Suggest the Post Office install a push button door opener outside of the building. The interior door has recently been made accessible.
  • Increase awareness of Council on Aging wheelchair accessible bussing program for trips in town and to venues/appointments in neighboring communities.
  • Invite Thatcher Kezer (Town Administrator) and Jenny Armini (State Rep) to future meetings.

FAIR HOUSING COMMITTEE (FHC) – January 26, 2023 via Zoom       

LWVM Observer – Bonnie Grenier

This was the first meeting of the reconstituted Fair Housing Committee with Thatcher, Becky and Erin having been voted in as new members.

The first order of business was to vote in a Vice-Chairperson and Secretary.  Debra Larkin, having chaired the previous committee, was voted in as Vice Chairperson. Mimi Hollister was voted in as Secretary.

The next agenda item was discussion of existing goals of the FHC.

One of the main goals is to educate the board and the community on affordable housing.  What is it? What would that look like in Marblehead?  Where can people turn to get more information.  Who is eligible and what assistance is available for those seeking affordable housing?  Updating the FHC website is critical for providing general and timely information.  Public forums and listening sessions are other avenues for community education. Reaching out to other communities to learn what they are doing could also be very helpful. Teri mentioned that Harbor Homes (formerly Harborlight) has a series of educational videos on affordable housing available. 

Another goal would be to sort out the responsibilities of and relationship between the Fair Housing Committee, Housing Production Plan Implementation Committee (HPPIC) and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). (The last meeting of the HPPIC was October 28, 2021. Their next meeting is January 31st. The AHTF has yet to meet.)

Thatcher mentioned that housing is a priority in the Healy administration and given the State’s strong financial position there will likely be significant funds available to build housing across the state.

For this reason, staying on top of housing grants and other funding sources is critical.  Teri mentioned that the North Shore Housing Consortium has a significant amount of ARPA funding available for the creation of affordable housing. However, with the specific criteria and timelines that come with many of these grants, the town must be ready with projects and proposals to take advantage of these opportunities as they come along.

There was discussion of the Coffin School property and its availability for development for affordable housing. (This project was one of the main recommendations of the Housing Production Plan.)  The School Department would have to declare the Coffin School surplus property before turning it over to the town, which they tabled for this year’s town warrant and hopefully will happen next year.   In the meantime, the next step would be to develop an RFI (Request for Information) from developers for their ideas as to how they would develop affordable housing at that location.  An RFP (Request for Proposal) would follow the RFI in preparation for moving quickly on this property when/if it becomes available, likely 2024. In the mean time, the focus is on the 40R property soon to be developed at Vinnin Square with 11 units of affordable rentals and the 40B Sailmaker Place Condominiums that will have 12 affordable units.

The Planning Board is working on a Warrant Article for this year’s Town Meeting about permitting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’S) by right in hopes of creating more affordable housing.

The bike park at the corner of Beacon Street and West Shore Drive, and the Eveleth School are both possibilities for affordable housing in the distant future. 

Public Comment: Renee Keaney informed the committee that the Marblehead Democratic Town Committee will be having a forum on affordable housing on March 27th.  She was asking for recommendations/volunteers from the FHC for panelists to participate in the forum.  Becky, Teri and Cathy Hoog from the Salem Housing Authority were suggested panelists.