WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 20 discussed the need to set up a meeting on Aug. 24 with the town’s consultant on strategic planning.
Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman had emailed Selectmen ahead of the July 20 meeting, indicating consultant Ann Donner would like input from the board.
“What she requested was the board’s sense of the ‘long-term primary strategic initiative over the next five years,’” Heineman said.
“Frankly, I think she’s been given a lot of information already,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski. “I hope she’s been given our community survey we did two years ago. I hope that she’s been given the report of the override budgetary committee that [Selectman Randy LaMattina] ran. I know she’s been given the report of the Capital Planning Committee. There’s a lot of material we have that she should have had by now. She should have it.”
Heineman said Donner has been forwarded the constituent survey, job classification information, Housing Production Plan that has not yet been adopted by Town Meeting, the most recent Town Report, the most recent (through fiscal 2022) budget and the most recent capital plan.
He said he would like to see some progress made by the Aug. 24, meeting, noting she has already set up meetings with department heads.
“It’s a good start,” he said. “Strategic planning is important — it takes some energy, it takes some time,” Kowalski said, noting he had done quite a bit of it at Massasoit.
He said he also looks forward to some discussions similar to those recently undertaken by the School Committee in recent weeks.
LaMattina also said the town has been specific that the schools should be involved in strategic planning discussions.
Heineman also reviewed the MGL 40R and 40S provisions.
Local zoning, specifically density and whether it includes affordable units was reviewed.
“In one law, it’s built around a transit-oriented area — in our case a commuter rail operation,” Heineman said. “It’s certainly a complicated topic that govern this.”
He explained that the state Legislature had passed, and the governor recently signed, a bill called the MBTA Communities Act, which requires communities that have a transit station to have a particular zone within a half-mile of the station with a zoning ordinance providing one reasonably-sized district where multi-family housing is permitted as a right. Each such district must have at least 15 units per acre.
The state’s Department of Communities and Development is tasked with implementing regulations that govern the issue.
“They haven’t done this,” he said. “We not know yet when they will do that. We do not know yet when they will do that, but we do know that, at some point, they will have to, according to this new law.”
Noncompliance with the new zoning regulation would render a community ineligible for three different types of state grants MASSWorks, the Housing Choice initiative and the Local Capital Projects Fund. None of the zoning areas within the Commuter Rail zone in Whitman currently allow that kind of population density.
“This is the stick vs. the carrot,” Heineman said. “The carrot, that has previously existed for 40 years is MGL 40R, 40S and that allows … for increased density either/or and around the commuter rail station or, in our case, around our downtown business district.”
Density bonuses would be available to the town for creating more housing in the business district if the town is preapproved by the state for its plan.
Selectman Randy LaMattina said he would prefer to see something from the Planning Board on the issue before he considers any action on the proposal. Kowalski agreed that such a request made sense.
Selectmen also discussed redesigning the town website to make it more user-friendly.
“People are constantly complaining on Facebook on issues like that,” Selectman Dan Salvucci said of information residents request about notification on changes to trash schedules and the like.
“I personally don’t want people going to Facebook for answers about the town,” LaMattina. “They should be able to go to the town website to get their answer.”