Select Board candidates (from left) Josh Levy, Kevin Keane, Tina Burgos, following their participation in a League of Women Voters forum/ Credit: Needham Observer

All three candidates for Select Board see the need for more and varied housing in Needham and support the MBTA Communities Act at some level. The HONE committee, formed to address the Communities Act, created two strategies to meet the requirements, the “base compliance” strategy and the broader “neighborhood housing plan.” Tina Burgos wants to do more than the minimum required and considers the effect on small businesses. Kevin Keane, who served on the HONE committee, also favors the broader version and focuses on what will actually get built. Josh Levy also served on the HONE committee. He leans toward meeting the baseline requirements while also looking at housing options outside of the designated MBTA areas. Here are comments they shared with the Observer.

Tina Burgos: “I’d like to push it a little bit more. It makes sense. It’s not an affordable housing act. It’s just about creating more housing. It’s going to have an effect on housing stock, obviously, it’s going to have an effect on values, and prices. It gives us an opportunity to expand in the future. I think that’s part of the job of the Select Board: You think about immediate needs, but you also have to be forward thinking. Housing will also affect the small business community. If you’re bringing more apartments into the commercial areas, that’s going to have a positive impact on small businesses, because it’s just going to bring more people into those areas. So I agree with something that’s a little bit more aggressive than the baseline because I think, looking toward the future, we have to keep all of these other things in mind.”

Kevin Keane: “The [baseline strategy] meets the letter of the law; the [neighborhood housing strategy] meets the spirit of the law. And I also think we’re trying to make stuff that would be built. In talking to builders, if you’re going to put the limit at two-and-a-half stories or something like that, with retail below, no one can afford to build that building. It won’t be built. So you have to make it three or four stories. They actually judge the propensity to be built. Only Chestnut Street has a high propensity to be built, and even there, the east side is lower than west because it backs up to the tracks. One big housing issue in Needham is, it’s really hard for seniors to downsize and stay in Needham, because there’s just no housing stock. All that building will have elevators and handicapped-designed bathrooms. That’s where people can downsize to and stay in town. Keep your network, your connections. We want this to be a vibrant downtown.”

Josh Levy: “The housing needs that we have in Needham are not restricted to the MBTA Communities Act. The MBTA Communities Act has really clear restrictions, like it has to be within a half-mile of one of the four train stations. It has to be multifamily, three or more dwellings per building. So that’s part of the solution. But you know, we have areas in town outside of the half-mile that probably would be really good for housing. The Muzi property would be a prime example. Starter homes are really important. So my thinking right now, and we haven’t made a final decision, so, as of today, I’m thinking to go with the base compliance scenario, allowing for 1,800 units. That complies with the law, allows for more housing to be built, and we can also look at all the other ways that we can help increase the housing supply in Needham.” 

Teardown Restrictions?

TB: “You have to think about all of the different categories of housing. So it’s starter homes, it’s seniors and empty-nesters. The invisible middle class. I would not be able to live in Needham if I tried to buy my home now. [Teardowns are] a tricky issue, because you’re telling people what they can or cannot do with their property. And I’m not necessarily opposed to teardowns. But thinking about what goes onto those properties is something that maybe we need to be more thoughtful about. How can you tell somebody, particularly a senior who needs the income because they’re moving into an assisted living program, or they have unbelievable health costs, ‘You’re not allowed to sell this as a teardown, right?’ But at the same time, you need to be responsible about what is going into those lots to make sure that we’re thinking about climate, we’re thinking about storm drains, we’re thinking about the resources that we’re using. And even just what do we want the town to look like? You move into an area because it’s cute. You like the historical properties. We have to keep all of that in mind.”

KK: “I think we have to discuss knockdowns. I think Needham has to right-size itself. Joe Matthews has a citizen’s petition about the floor-area ratio [of new single family homes] and how we calculate it. I’m still studying that one. I love it in principle; I fear the details of it are going to be problematic. But the price of the average house in Needham far outstrips the average income in Needham. We’re not without means, and we can’t afford our own town. So this is dichotomizing the town. We’re basically making it that no one can move in, because you can’t buy a million-dollar house in Needham. You can only buy a $3 million house.

JL: “There’s a citizen’s petition to do regulation with the floor-area ratio. I haven’t decided yet. I’ve been thinking about it. So basically, what it would do is, it would count all floors. Right now only the first and second floor are counted in the floor-area ratio.I want to understand the implications. What would it incentivize developers to do? I understand the problem that it’s trying to address, that we’re building very large buildings on very small properties. I want to understand if the proposed solution actually solves it.[We can also consider] minimum lot size. I think we can look at lots that are, say, 15,000 square feet. If you can allow that to be subdivided and allow two small homes to be built on them, I think that would be an incentive to developers. Because those two houses in aggregate would be worth more potentially than one large house to the town. The tax base could be worth more in taxes to the town, and then individually, you can have people move into a smaller house at a lower price point.” 

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