SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

March 1, 2013

Shortsighted thinking in Peabody

Even as they wage war against another giant billboard towering over Lowell Street and Route 1, members of the Peabody City Council just don’t seem to get the fact that in many cases it’s been their own intransigence that has resulted some of the city’s most vexing development issues.

The latest evidence of this shortsightedness comes with the negative reaction to a proposal by Community Development Director Karen Sawyer that the city encourage construction of a relatively few low-income housing units spread among various neighborhoods rather than have a more massive and onerous project forced on it by a developer using the provisions of the state’s infamous Chapter 40B regulations. The law allows developers to bypass local zoning rules if the number of dwellings considered affordable falls below 10 percent of the total in any given community.

Peabody is currently below that threshold, and Sawyer has proposed submitting a plan to the state for a “friendly 40B” that would encourage construction of affordable units throughout the city, rather than having one or two larger projects forced down its throat. It makes sense, which may be why Sawyer’s proposal received such a negative reaction when she brought it before the council recently.

Several members advocated resorting to the gimmickry of having mobile homes counted as affordable housing rather than risk the wrath of those neighborhoods that might have to accept a sprinkling of new, low-cost units in their midst.

Won’t work.

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Those same city councilors also showed very poor judgment recently in raising School Committee salaries to the point of making members of that body eligible for public pensions.

Some claimed they did not realize the increase, passed in conjunction with raises they awarded the mayor and themselves, would trigger pension benefits. But given the number of councilors and School Committee members taking advantage of the city’s generous health benefits, it’s hard to believe that most were not fully aware of the money to be gained. But then it’s only taxpayers’ money, and there are some among these groups who believe city residents pay too little in taxes now.

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