November 28, 2023
Select Board approves tiered rates for trash haulers
After much discussion at multiple meetings of both the Select Board and the Solid Waste Disposal & Recycling Advisory Committee, the Select Board has approved new rates to be charged for disposing of municipal solid waste at the town’s Recycling and Transfer Station (RTS).
Over the summer, a suggested 43% rate increase from $140 per ton to $200 per ton met with strong resistance from the four main local trash haulers and their customers. The dramatic increase reflected the fact that the rate had not been raised in a decade.
The local haulers are JT Trash, Dalton Disposal, Junk Removers and Needham Recycling.
Both the Select Board and the Solid Waste committee agreed to consider lessening the sticker shock, as well as agreeing that local “backdoor haulers” handling mostly local solid waste should be treated differently from commercial haulers whose loads may contain material largely from other communities.
Haulers from the surrounding area were making heavy use of Needham’s RTS, incentivized by the town’s significantly lower fees and disposing of trash originating from other communities.
The Select Board ultimately opted for a two-tiered, phased-in rate system. The four local haulers will be classified as “Tier One” and all others as ‘Tier Two.” This acknowledges that the local haulers have customers who are already subsidizing the RTS through their property taxes.
The increased fees will go into effect on Jan. 1 and will be $160 per ton for Tier One and $180 per ton for Tier Two. On July 1, 2024, a second increase will go into effect, increasing the rates to $180 per ton for Tier One and $220 a ton for Tier Two.
November 23, 2023
Housing, housing and more housing
Having attracted some 300 attendees to its Nov. 9 community meeting, the Housing Needham Working Group (HONE) showed there is significant appetite for discussions around housing in Needham.
Residents who missed the HONE meeting or who wish to continue the conversation can satisfy their interest by attending an open meeting hosted by the Needham Housing Coalition on Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. the library’s Community Room. The evening will begin with a presentation about housing in Needham in general and current housing initiatives in particular. The balance of the evening will be dedicated to discussion.
On Dec. 6, the Planning Board and Needham Housing Authority (NHA) will jointly host a community meeting at 7 p.m. at the Linden-Chambers Community Room at 5 Chambers St.
The NHA will provide information on the status of the existing Linden/Chambers housing development including designs and site plans for the proposed redevelopment of the site.
Planning Board members will present zoning modifications the project will likely require in anticipation of the Annual Town Meeting vote in May.
November 9, 2023
Residents to get first look at land-use options for MBTA Law compliance
The first of three community workshops to discuss the town’s approach to expanding multifamily zoning will take place at Town Hall tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. and via Zoom.
Residents will have a chance to do a hands-on review of the town’s initial land-use plans in connection with the MBTA Communities Law at an event organized by the Housing Needham Working Group (HONE).
The session will begin with a brief presentation followed by “interactive exercises in which HONE members and Town staff will host stations specific to different districts being considered for the zoning changes with a focus on areas along the Highland Avenue and Chestnut Street corridors. The Town is seeking feedback on things such as height, density, lot coverage and preferences for mixed-use versus stand-alone housing.”
Pre-registration is required to receive a Zoom link. No registration is required to attend in person.
Democratic and GOP town committee candidates up against deadline
With Town Hall closed tomorrow in observance of Veterans Day, the deadline for potential candidates to submit their nomination papers for both the Democratic and Republican town and ward committees, state committeemen and state committeewomen will be at the end of business today.
Candidates who wish to submit nomination papers on Friday can take them to the Needham Police Department at the Public Safety Building at 99 School St.
Town Hall will be open today until 5 p.m., its usual hours.
Veterans Day Ceremony at Memorial Park
The town will hold its annual Veterans Day Ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. at Memorial Park.
The Needham Exchange Club will provide complimentary coffee and donuts.
Following the ceremony the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2498 invites the public for a collation at the VFW Hall, 20 Junction St.
November 2, 2023
Housing a popular topic
Town residents will have a chance to do a hands-on review of the town’s initial land use plans in connection with the MBTA Communities Law when the Housing Needham Working Group (HONE) meets Nov. 9 from 7-9 p.m. at Town Hall.
This will be the first of three community workshops where the town’s approach to multifamily zoning will be discussed. It will be held in person in Powers Hall and via Zoom. The goal of the workshop is for residents to learn about multifamily zoning, review the town’s zoning plan options and provide their input.
A brief presentation will be followed by interactive exercises. HONE committee members and town staff will be stationed at separate tables to discuss the districts being considered for zoning changes along the Highland Avenue and Chestnut Street corridors. Residents will be asked for feedback on factors such as height, density and lot coverage, as well as preferences for mixed-use versus stand-alone housing.
Pre-registration is required to receive a Zoom link. No registration is required to attend in person. Two additional community workshops will be held on Jan. 18 and March 7, 2024.
The Needham Housing Coalition, an ad hoc citizen group, also will host a discussion of upcoming housing issues today from 3-5 p.m. at the Center at the Heights.
To hear Needham podcasters Aaron Pressman and Doug Fox discuss Needham’s options for changing its zoning laws to satisfy the requirements of the MBTA Communities Act, listen to their lively repartee at their Needham Say More series on Spotify.
October 26, 2023
Select Board sets rates for town’s EV charging stations
Electric vehicle owners using the town’s charging stations will start paying 25 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) next year. On Tuesday, the Select Board approved a policy and established fees for users of the seven town-owned electric vehicle (EV) charging stations that had been free as a condition of the grant that funded their installation.
With the expiration of that requirement, the new fee, which is based on a calculation that the town pays an average of 22 cents per kWh for its electricity, with 15% added to cover related costs, will likely go into effect after the first of the year.
The board also approved a related policy that governs the amount of time a vehicle can occupy the charging space. The limit is four hours or once the vehicle is fully charged, whichever comes first. After that there will be a $3 hourly fee, with a 30-minute grace period. Enforcement will be managed by the ChargePoint system, which is capable of calculating for power usage, the parking fee and penalty fees if applicable.
Town and school employees can charge their personal vehicles for free while at work, but the parking limits will apply.
“We want to incentivize our employees to use less fossil fuels for their commutes,” said Carys Lustig, director of the department of public works and a member of the committee that studied the fee schedule. “The vast majority of our staff commutes from outside the community.”
Pre-owned: Art’s Automotive gets a jump-start
Good news for customers of Art’s Automotive Repair on Clyde Street. Owner Arthur Ficcardi Jr., who retired Oct. 18 after 46 years at that location, said Jack Sarkas of the Needham Service Center has agreed to take over the business.
“I am leaving this shop in his very capable hands,” Ficcardi wrote in a printed notice posted on the door of the shop.
The business will be known as Art’s Auto Service, and will even keep the old phone number. Ficcardi told the Observer that he and Sarkas have agreed on a price for the shop’s lifts and other equipment, and are still working on a deal for stock on hand such as automotive parts and fluids.
The transition should be completed by mid-November, Ficcardi said. A bonus for longtime Art’s customers: One of the shop’s three bays will be devoted to vehicle inspections.
“I just want my customers to be treated fairly and honestly,” he told the Observer. Once the transition is complete, he said he’s confident they will be.
Ficcardi said he has heard from hundreds of his customers since the Observer reported his plan to retire. “I am blessed to have been a part of your families for so long,” he wrote in his announcement.
Although Ficcardi plans to take several months to unwind at his homes in Medfield and Falmouth, he told the Observer that Sarkas has invited him to come back any time if he has a project of his own to work on.
“I’ll be around,” he said.
Local leaders comment on terrorist attack on Israel
Following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, local state Rep. Denise Garlick, State Sen. Becca Rausch and Select Board Chair Marianne Cooley shared statements with the Needham community. As the traumatic events continue, we asked Rep. Garlick and Sen. Rausch if they have additional comments, and here are their responses.
War is senseless and awful, with deeply tragic loss of life. As we bear witness to the shocks and horrors of Hamas’s physical terrorism and its bloody aftermath, we must also battle Hamas’s war of disinformation. It is essential to check the facts and avoid perpetuating dangerous propaganda campaigns. It was grossly irresponsible for several members of Congress to fail to do so, and fail to subsequently retract.
Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization that has inflicted barbaric, heinous atrocities on the people of Israel. There is no excusing or justifying these savage acts, indiscriminately and intentionally slaughtering, ravaging, and terrorizing civilians. I strenuously and unequivocally condemn Hamas and its ongoing assault. Hamas has zero interest in peace or Palestinian rights; its explicitly stated purposes are to annihilate Israel and murder Jewish people. I stand firmly with Israel’s right to exist, to defend herself and her people, and to respond to acts of terror. My heart is with Israeli and fellow Jewish people in our communities here in the Commonwealth, in Israel, and everywhere around the world. And I pray that one day there will be a generation of Jews who will not personally know such horrific antisemitism.
I am profoundly moved by the deep sadness, horror, fear, anxiety and anguish of our friends and neighbors in Needham, Dover and Medfield and across our country. In my words and actions I strive to be a source of solace and reassurance in these perilous times for the people of Israel, people of the Jewish faith and our world.
I abhor the acts of terrorism by Hamas on the people of Israel. I stand with President Biden in our country’s support of Israel’s right to defend itself. My thoughts, words and actions also include the people of our country, Commonwealth and District who are grieving and may also be traumatized in these perilous times.
I just want to start this [Select Board] meeting with a personal comment. I know that we are holding this meeting in the backdrop of yet another seemingly war going on in our world. And I do note that in that environment that I believe firmly, and I don’t speak for the Board, that both Israel and Palestinians have the right to live peacefully. But none of us can condone acts of terror on civilians and that is horrific to watch and to learn about and I hope that they find some resolution to that soon.
October 12, 2023
Meet the FinCom on Wednesday
The Finance Committee (FinCom) has invited all Town Meeting members to an information session on the town’s budget process and the role the FinCom plays in advising Town Meeting.
The event will be held Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the Needham Public Library in advance of the upcoming Special Town Meeting on Oct. 30.
FinCom plans to address a range of topics such as how the town budget is prepared, the FinCom’s role in the budget process and how Town Meeting warrant articles are developed.
The meeting is open to the public, and there will be a Q&A session after the presentation.
The meeting will be accessible via Zoom.
Town hires new Economic Development Manager
The town has hired J.P. Cacciaglia, most recently the economic development director for Woodhaven, Mich., as Needham’s new economic development manager.
Cacciaglia spent 15 years in his economic development position in Woodhaven, a city of 13,000 located about 25 miles from Detroit. He has an extensive IT background.
He succeeds Amy Haelsen, who was elevated to the town’s director of communications and community engagement on July 3 but retained her duties as economic development manager.
Cacciaglia began work on Tuesday and was introduced at that evening’s Select Board meeting.
Walk-about for Fentanyl Awareness
Volunteer walkers will distribute door hangers to households in Needham with life-saving information about the risk posed by fentanyl-laced pills and powders. Organizers note that knocking on doors is not required.
The Becca Schmill Foundation funds research, sponsors community programming, and advocates for policies that promote and safeguard the emotional wellbeing of adolescents and young adults.
October 5, 2023
HONE to offer first look at town’s MBTA Law compliance needs
The Housing Needham Advisory Group (HONE) will provide a first glimpse of what compliance with the MBTA Communities Law may look like in Needham at its planning meeting tonight at 6 pm at the Public Service Administration Building.
Established as a joint effort of the Select and Planning boards, HONE is leading the effort to inform and engage the community around the town’s efforts to comply with the state’s MBTA Community Law.
The state has developed a model that communities can use to measure zoning rules for their level of compliance with the new law’s requirements. Consultants hired by the town have run Needham’s Housing Plan through the model and will discuss results of that analysis at tonight’s meeting.
“It’s going to tell us how our existing zoning fares and where the existing zoning framework puts the town relative to compliance,” said Lee Newman, the town’s planning director.
The committee will review and discuss different scenarios and how they might have an impact on current zoning in areas such as the Avery Square, Chestnut Street and Hillside Ave. business districts.
The HONE committee will present the results of its review and receive community input at its first community meeting on Nov. 9 at Town Hall.
September 28, 2023
Select Board settles on plan for long-term DPW improvements
The Select Board voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with a long-term plan to upgrade DPW facilities over the next decade.
The board signaled its strong preference for one of the four options presented by the Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC) at its Sept. 12 meeting. Its vote allows the PPBC to do a more thorough analysis of that particular proposal, including more detailed and likely much higher cost estimates.
“It makes a lot of sense, particularly because it’s phase-able,” said the town’s director of design and construction Hank Haff of the option chosen by the board. “It is constructed on sites that are currently utilized by DPW functions.”
Preliminary cost estimates are in the vicinity of $65 million with a timeline that could extend beyond a decade. The addition of soft costs for design, engineering and other elements not part of the physical program could increase that total by upwards of 25%.
State Sen. Rausch to hold Town Hall meeting on Monday
State Sen. Becca Rausch will host a town hall meeting Monday, Oct. 2, at 6 p.m. at Needham Town Hall. Joined by local officials, she will provide updates on legislative matters of interest to her constituents and offer an opportunity for discussion.
Rausch represents 11 towns comprising the Norfolk, Worcester and Middlesex district in the Massachusetts Senate. Needham is the northernmost community in her sprawling district, which extends south to Plainville and west to Milford. The meeting is intended for residents of Needham and other communities in the district’s northern region.
Town to start charging for charging
The Select Board held a public hearing Tuesday on the rates it plans to set for the public to charge electric vehicles at town-owned and operated charging stations that are currently free to the public.
This policy will apply to EV charging stations owned by and/or operated on behalf of the town. It currently has six stations but more are likely to be added in the future.
The fee is based on the town’s current cost of electricity, which averages 22 cents per kilowatt hour. The policy proposes a 15% markup to cover related costs such as maintenance, leading to a proposed fee of 25 cents per kilowatt hour.
There is also a proposed charge of $3 per hour for users who overstay their time, with time limits varying by location.
The board expects to finalize the policy and rates at its Oct. 10 meeting.
September 14, 2023
HoNe launches with ambitious goal for community engagement
The Housing Needham Advisory Group (HoNe) held its initial meeting last Thursday and set the ambitious goal of getting the entire Needham community engaged in the work required by the MBTA Communities Law.
The meeting included discussion on the status of housing in Needham, an overview of the MBTA Communities Law and the plan for a robust public engagement process.
Karen Sunnarborg, housing specialist in the town planning department, presented a vivid example of the intense demand for affordable rental housing in Needham. She said the four affordable units recently available at 1180 Great Plain Ave. attracted 483 applications, 157 from Needham residents or workers.
HoNe will hold its first community workshop on Nov. 9. There will be additional workshops in January and March before the group submits recommendations that reflect community input to the Planning Board for review.
“The community voice needs to be heard,” said Amy Haelsen, director of communications and community engagement.
“This is a very lofty goal, but I would love it if there’s never one person in Needham who says, ‘I had no idea what was going on. I never heard of it.’ We are going to make every effort to ensure that everybody knows what HoNe is all about.”
Needham hires new head of HR
Tatiana Swanson has been promoted to director of human resources replacing Chuck Murphy-Romboletti, who last month accepted a position as South Hadley’s assistant town administrator/human resources director. A town employee since 2012, Swanson had previously served as assistant director of human resources since July 2021.
August 31, 2023
School project makes first cut in MSBA process
The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will visit Needham on Oct. 4 to conduct a senior study on the town’s application for state funding for major capital improvements at Pollard Middle School.
Needham applied to the MSBA in April for funding to improve both Pollard and Mitchell Elementary School, listing Pollard as the higher priority in its statement of intent (SOI) on the requests.
At a meeting this past Tuesday, the Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC) said the MSBA received applications from some 60 communities and plans to visit half of them.
The MSBA team will include architects and engineers with school facility and educational programming experience. They will tour the Pollard campus along with town officials. The visit is part of MSBA’s due diligence phase and does not signal approval of a project.
The MSBA program is described as a “non-entitlement competitive grant program.” Grants are distributed based on need and urgency “as expressed by the community and validated by the MSBA.”
MSBA is expected to make up to $2.5 billion available for school construction and renovation projects over the next five years. The PPBC indicated this would likely cover eight to 10 projects statewide.
Planning Board to hold hearing on Highland Ave. project
The Planning Board will hold a public hearing Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. on a permit request from a Newton developer. Boston Development Group is seeking to construct a two-story, 50,000-square-foot medical office building along the stretch of Highland Avenue between the former Three Squares restaurant and Cross Street.
The developer intends to demolish the five existing buildings they have owned since 2000 at 629-661 Highland Ave. The site is slightly more than two acres and is located in the industrial zoning district.
The medical office building use is allowed by right, but Boston Development is applying for a special permit due to its scale of more than 10,000 square feet.
The buildings are mostly vacant, and Boston Development is assisting its remaining two tenants with their relocation efforts.
August 10, 2023
Library director departing
After less than two years as director of the Needham Free Public Library, Kim Hewitt is leaving to become director of the Watertown Free Public Library. Her final day is Sept. 1.
Hewitt was hired in November 2021 following the retirement of Ann McFate, who had served as library director for 29 years.
At Tuesday’s meeting of library trustees, Chair Jay Fialkov thanked Hewitt for her accomplishments. In a separate statement the town expressed gratitude for her service and wished her well. Deputy Town Manager Katie King told trustees the town expects to post the job next week and hopes to have a new library director in place by early December.
Chamber Celebrates Needham
The Charles River Regional Chamber will hold its sixth annual Needham Night on Aug. 16 to celebrate and recognize businesses, community organizations and individuals in Needham. This year’s honorees are:
- Ivan Millan-Pulecio, Hearth Pizzeria, Business Person of the Year
- Needham Community Farm, Community Impact Award
- Needham Council for Arts & Culture for the pansy mural, Sparkle Award
- Pancho’s Taqueria, Pivot Award
Needham Night begins at 5 p.m. on the grounds of TripAdvisor. Tickets are required.
July 27, 2023
Town and YMCA offering places to cool off
While Needham is not expecting temperatures to reach the triple digits other parts of the country are experiencing, the forecast for the coming days anticipates temperatures reaching close to or into the 90s. And August can usually be relied on for more of the same.
Residents seeking relief will have some options for air-conditioned spaces, as the town and the Charles River YMCA will make the following facilities available:
Needham Free Public Library
Monday – Thursday: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday: 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1-5 p.m.
Charles River YMCA
Monday – Friday: 5:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday: 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The Center at the Heights Monday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tuesday: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Wednesday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thursday: 9 a.m.- 8 p.m.
Friday: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
ZBA grants Just Salad zoning relief
The Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to provide Just Salad relief from certain parking restrictions that the fast-casual restaurant requested for the 669 Highland Ave. site, most recently occupied by Three Squares restaurant. This is another step in the process that will allow Just Salad to move forward with its plans to open in Needham early next year.
Select Board fills last seat on key housing committee
On Tuesday the Select Board made the last of four allotted appointments to the nine-member Housing Needham Advisory Group (HoNe), selecting Elizabeth Kaponya to fill the slot designated for a resident who is a renter. In addition to being a renter, Kaponya is chair of the Needham Republican Town Committee. The other Select Board appointee, Michael Diener, is chair of the Needham Democratic Town Committee.
Established jointly by the Select Board and Planning Board, HoNe will lead the town’s community engagement process as it works to meet its Dec. 31, 2024, deadline to comply with the MBTA Communities Law. Among other things, the law requires the 177 communities in the MBTA service area to have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multifamily housing is permitted as of right.
The other HoNe members are John Connolly from the Finance Committee, Heidi Frail and Kevin Keane from the Select Board, Natasha Espada and Jeanne McKnight from the Planning Board and Michael Diener, citizen-at-large.
July 13, 2023
Just Salad looking to come to Needham
A New York-based fast-casual restaurant chain plans to open its first Massachusetts location at 669 Highland Ave., the site formerly occupied by Three Squares restaurant that closed in 2020.
Just Salad, which has more than 60 locations nationally, applied to the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for relief from certain parking requirements to facilitate operations. With a focus on “everyday health and everyday sustainability,” it will offer both dine-in and takeout services.
The ZBA will hold a public hearing on the request on July 20. Just Salad is seeking to waive “strict adherence with off-street parking requirements; strict adherence to parking plan and design requirements and any other applicable sections of the By-Law.”
The Planning Board raised no objections to the request at its Tuesday meeting.
Quiet Zone Working Group
In its initial meeting on Tuesday, the town’s Quiet Zone Working Group set the goal of bringing a recommendation to next spring’s Town Meeting on how to proceed — if at all — on a comprehensive plan to address noise and safety concerns at the six commuter rail crossings in town.
The group was established following a vote at Town Meeting (TM) in May. TM appropriated $100,000 to study the merits of creating a town-wide Quiet Zone, most of which will be spent on engaging a consulting firm.
At its Tuesday meeting, the committee laid the groundwork to send out an RFP (Request for Proposals) before the end of the month to hire an engineering consultant to update a Quiet Zone study the town completed in 2015. The goal is to have the consultant on board before the end of September.
The working group consists of Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick (an ex officio member) along with five others appointed by the Select Board:
- Marianne Cooley from the Select Board
- John Connolly from the Finance Committee
- Lars Unhjem from Safer Quieter Needham
- Justin McCullen from the Mobility Planning and Coordination Committee
- Duncan Allen, town representative to the MBTA Advisory Board
Planning Board makes four appointments to HoNe
On Tuesday the Planning Board made its four allotted appointments to the nine-member Housing Needham Advisory Group (HoNe).
Established jointly by the Select Board and the Planning Board, HoNe will lead the town’s community engagement process as it works to meet its Dec. 31, 2024, deadline to comply with the MBTA Communities Law. Among other things, the law requires the 177 communities in the MBTA service area to have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right.
Two of the Planning Board-allotted positions were for its own members, and the board voted unanimously to appoint Natasha Espada and Jeanne McKnight – both of whom also represented the Planning Board on last year’s Housing Plan Working Group.
There were six applicants for the board’s other two appointed slots, which seeks individuals with the credentials of an architect, land use planner, land use attorney or real estate developer.
The board voted unanimously to appoint Ron Ruth, a former Planning Board member and real estate attorney. After considerable discussion on the merits of choosing either a land use planner or developer for the second seat, the board voted 3-2 to appoint William Lovett, executive director of real estate development at Claremont Companies, a Bridgewater-based real estate investment, development, and asset management firm.
The other HoNe members are:
- John Connolly from the Finance Committee
- Heidi Frail and Kevin Keane from the Select Board
- Michael Diener, citizen-at-large appointed by the Select Board
The Select Board has yet to appoint a resident who is a renter to complete the board composition and is still actively accepting resident applications for this seat.
June 29, 2023
Water & Sewer rates to rise 2.6%
The Select Board voted Tuesday to accept the recommendation of the Water and Sewer Rate Structure Committee to raise the FY24 water and sewer rate by 2.6%. The increase, which will go into effect July 1, is partly attributable to the withdrawal of the Coca-Cola bottling operations. The massive water consumption under the former use of that facility effectively subsidized the average ratepayer’s bill.
The town’s Climate Action Plan Committee (CAPC) is soliciting community input (Climate Survey) as it develops its recommendations for possible town responses to a wide range of climate concerns. The CAPC is identifying climate action goals for each decade through 2050, initially focusing on the next decade.
Board of Assessors adds a member
In a unanimous joint vote of the Select Board and the Board of Assessors at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, former Assessor Arthur Tzouros was named to fill the unexpired term of Barry Pollack, who resigned from the Board of Assessors in April. Tzouros had previously served on the Board before opting not to run for re-election in May. He will now return to the board and serve until next year’s town elections.
Town Annual Report
The town’s 2022 Annual Report has been completed. A print copy of the 233-page report is available at Town Hall and the Public Services Administration Building on Dedham Avenue.
We at the Observer are especially fond of the theme, “Remembering Print Journalism in Needham.”