2019 State of the Town Address
Delivered to Braintree Town Council on Thursday, February 7, 2019, by Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan
Tonight, as we gather, I feel a sense of great pride in the work that we have been able to accomplish over this past year, and I am confident in reporting to you that the state of our Town remains strong.
For twelve years now the people of Braintree have entrusted me with the responsibility to act on their behalf as the executive officer for our Town. I have been honored and humbled to serve as our Town’s first Mayor. It is — and remains a daily effort to offer stewardship and direction for my hometown. In working with our Town Council, our School Committee, and the many important municipal boards, as well as the work of our department heads and their teams, I believe that we can look back with satisfaction in all that we have accomplished. Our financial strength is stronger, our schools academic performance is stronger, our capital programming in the investment in our roads, municipal buildings, recreational spaces, and our schools — we have built a very sturdy and sustainable future for our Town — and we have done all this while offering the lowest residential tax rate in the region. I’m proud of all that we have accomplished and thankful for the work of my colleagues in government — and the many voices of residents who have helped shape our community efforts over these past 12 years.
As optimistic as I am of our present operations and our Town’s future, we like every municipality, face challenges that we are required to address. And so we will:
Our approach to governing has always started with the importance of planning. Most management experts would underline that the successful operation of any organization would be to plan a strategy and implement it. Our motto — which we have publicly declared many times, has been to “plan the work and work the plan.”
We have done just that in the financial plans of our Town with strong daily operations and healthy reserves.
We have planned well with the current build-out of our East Middle School, with South to follow next year, to accommodate the 5th-grade shift to the Middle Schools in September of 2021, a planning step that will free up 23 classrooms at our elementary schools.
We have planned and implemented a highly successful 100 Roads program throughout our Town improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
In planning to respond to new Federal and State regulations, we have created one of the first municipal stormwater management divisions in our region. Under the purview of our Department of Public Works, Braintree’s Stormwater program is essential in mitigating the negative impacts of stormwater runoff by maintaining and improving our aging drainage system, implementing pollution and flood control measures. Through these measures, the Stormwater program keeps Braintree in full compliance with the US EPA Clean Water Act and helps make our rivers, ponds, and other waterways swimmable, fishable, and drinkable for many years to come. In short, we are planning for and protecting our environment and being responsive to the reality of climate change.
I could cite other examples — but I think you get the picture.
Planning our work is the guide book that minimizes surprises and maximizes benefits. It may sound like a simple recipe, but in fact, it is hard work. To plan is to think hard about our current circumstances and offer direction in planning our future.
The Planning and Community Redevelopment Office, with my support, has embarked on a multi-year review into revising and updating the Town Zoning Bylaws and to adopt a new revised Zoning Map. We have had three public hearings on this initiative with the 4th meeting to be next week — February 13th.
The primary focus on the rezoning effort is first to standardize the current zoning regulations to reflect the economic and planning practices and needs of Braintree in the 21st Century. The second objective of revising the Town’s zoning regulations and standards is to ensure that we can continue to advance the quality of life standards that we have grown accustomed to. This creative and diligent approach is being made to see that we can control our future and that we must plan for it.
I know that there is apprehension by some about this planning process. That the effort we are making is an invitation for more housing and development for our Town. It is not. In fact, our goal is just the opposite. It is to manage the growth of our Town. Change is a constant — and Braintree has seen many changes in its history. Neighborhoods where people now live were not there decades ago or even more recently. The Town has evolved in many ways and will continue to. We have the “exciting opportunity” today to see that we can get it right.
A more comprehensive and straight-forward set of zoning regulations will better equip our Town’s planning to focus more efficiently on minimizing and regulating the impacts the Town faces relating to land use and development. Particularly those conditions affecting our quality of life, including traffic congestion and public safety, while at the same time creating a prosperous economic environment that provides a level of municipal services our residents wish to experience in their own community. Simply put, this comprehensive undertaking is an action plan for our future. We need to ensure, with good public policy and good proper planning that we are being responsive and focused on the housing needs of 27-year-olds and 77-year-olds. Those who live here today and those who are desirous to live here in the days ahead.
Attractive communities attract attention. Our Braintree is a desirable place to live — In fact, today in Braintree purchasing a home is one of the best investments you can have. To raise a family, and to be part of a historic, thriving, and livable community. Families who have settled here, their children want to stay — yet, many cannot afford to do so. We need to correct that.
A report that we commissioned in 2015 in partnership with Northeastern University, which is available on our Town website reminds us to be mindful of the changing age demographics of our population. Based on current trends, the next decade will see the number of Braintree residents who are 65 years and older grow at a much faster rate than any other group. We must be responsive to that change. In focusing on opportunities for 55+ housing so that those who have long been part of our community, can remain in our Town and maintain all the friendships and connections they have spent a lifetime building. We anticipate this type of housing to be in the offering this year.
Housing opportunities for the younger members of our community who rely on public transportation will be looked at with a focus of transit-oriented development. This type of housing — which will be generational — will position us for a well-planned and well-managed future. Let me be clear, our future steps in the planning of our Town are to preserve the residential climate of our existing neighborhoods while providing 21st-century housing opportunities.
Allow me to offer a fact about the correlation of housing to our economy. Job availability is far outpacing the housing stock. The family unit once defined as four or five members is now two or three members. In short, a growing population with smaller family sizes underlines the need for more housing. The South Shore Chamber of Commerce has done a tremendous amount of research on the need to encompass housing as a part of a forward-thinking agenda for the economic health of our region. Braintree should be a participant.
Our Town’s location, at the intersection of highways, state roadways, and both rail and road public transit is a benefit. A thriving business community means our population more than doubles on an average weekday. Our vibrancy is an asset — yet it presents challenges with increased traffic on our roadways.
Over the past year, we have taken multiple steps in our plans to address this traffic issue head-on. We hired a traffic-engineer whose primary responsibility is to identify and improve the flow of traffic throughout the Town. Several initial steps to be implemented this year will include the re-timing of lights at our busiest intersections, improving lane markers, as well as making our streets and sidewalks safe for all forms of usage including full ADA compliance. An example of this will be the implementation of an adaptive signalization plan along with our Granite Street corridor this year. Adaptiveness means that with the use of technology, the signalization along the corridor can be adjusted in real time to manage the volumes and flow of traffic. We have lowered the speed limit to 25mph in our neighborhoods, and we have created a traffic calming neighborhood program — in recognizing that each neighborhood has its own characteristics. We have empowered neighbors to talk amongst themselves in devising a plan that best suits their needs. Our initial phase of this program has seen us partner with seven neighborhoods to begin the implementation of this exciting initiative. Again, I believe this planning exercise will offer strong results for our neighborhoods. In understanding that all forms of mobility are important to our quality of life, we have had initial discussions with Lime Bikes, a bike-sharing company, on the possibility of a pilot-program for Braintree which could have a noticeable effect on the number of motor vehicles used for short-distance travels.
Our recreational spaces over the past years with the addition of the Highlands playground on Route 37, “Lee’s way” walking trail connecting Watson Park to the Smith Beach waterfront, the many upgrades we have made to our neighborhood parks are an indication of thoughtful planning and our commitment to enhance the quality of life for all.
During the past year, we acquired over six acres of land along the Monatiquot River near the intersections of Middle and River Streets. In doing so, we saved this property for generations to come. There will be no development. Instead, it will always be an open space. This act of preservation — well planned — will allow us this year create a looped walking trail along the river banks, providing an area for all residents to walk, exercise, and enjoy this valuable recreational space and nature that the Monatiquot River provides us.
The Braintree Community Partnership on Substance Use continues to perform important work for families in our community. The Partnership is comprised of public safety and school officials, healthcare providers, parents, youth, business, government, faith, and civic organizations. The group works diligently to minimize youth access to alcohol, nicotine, vaping, marijuana, opioids, and other drugs.
Research shows that 90% of people who abuse or are addicted to drugs began using before the age of 18 putting themselves at risk for addiction.
Because of this, as a community, we have a moral obligation and plans in place to support and protect our young people in Braintree from using these dangerous substances.
The undeniable fact remains that opioid addiction continues to be a reality. This year, with the endorsement of the partnership, the Braintree Police Department and Manet Community Health Center will be offering a program to prevent fatal overdose and minimizing family stress. The outreach program will offer residents support, healthcare and access to treatment, as well as our continued use of the lifesaving drug, nasal naloxone.
Our Braintree police department established a “Family Services Unit” which includes a particular emphasis on serving our growing senior citizen population and other family-related initiatives. Our people are our most valuable resource and we as a community must do all that we can to assist all those who need our help.
Many of these substance use prevention initiatives are made possible by the support of our local legislators; Representative Mark Cusack and Senators Walter Timilty and John Keenan. The Partnership and I are most grateful for their ongoing support.
At times, our planning and thoughtful approach to governing extend beyond our borders — the opportunities and challenges faced by our region often call us to partner with our neighbors on a multitude of initiatives and issues. The year ahead will see none more important to the long-range quality of life for the South Shore than our fight against the proposed Compressor Station at the foot of the Fore River Bridge in Weymouth. Well over 200,000 people call the communities that border the Fore River basin home.
Let me be blunt, in planning for our future; we have no plans to allow this compressor station to be built.
Last year, we solemnly marked the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War. On Veterans Day hundreds of residents gathered in front of Town Hall, and we paused at 11 am that morning to remember those from Braintree who gave their lives a century ago. I want to offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to the members of our Veterans’ Posts for all that they did in 2018 to help us mark this centennial and for their service to our nation and our community that they continue to offer every day. I can also announce tonight, that as part of the centenary of the founding of the American Legion in March of 1919, we will be hosting, in partnership with Post 86, a 100th Anniversary commemoration here at Town Hall on March 16th.
Our Braintree is and has long been a community of inclusion. Every resident, no matter how long they have lived here, what their background is, what their abilities are, has a part in our Braintree story.
We have two members of our team that I would like to recognize tonight and thank for their contributions to our work here at the Town Hall. Over the past few months, our office has welcomed Drew Doherty, a student at Braintree High School, who joins our team several times a week to provide much-needed assistance. With his commitment to a job well done, Drew has quickly endeared himself to our team, and we look forward to many years of doing the people’s work here at Town Hall with Drew’s help.
In 2011, my office first partnered with the Cardinal Cushing Centers, and through that partnership, we welcomed Julie Ann O’Connell to our team. For eight years now, every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Julie has worked here at Town Hall as part of the team. She has graced us with her upbeat attitude, hard work, and her welcome to anyone who visits Town Hall. I say that I am the Mayor and Julie is the Deputy Mayor, but when I see her in the Town hall sometimes I think it’s the other way around!
I fully realize that as we move forward, there will be differences in how we should proceed. Such is the nature of our democracy. In striving to shape our community let us be cognizant of the need for civility in our public forums. In the era of social media, when some prefer to communicate through a keyboard — the need for honest and factual public discourse, to have thoughtful and respectful dialogue is needed more than ever.
We all feel fortunate to call Braintree our home. Our community occupies a unique place in our Commonwealth, with many advantages not afforded to other Towns while still maintaining a strong community feel and a high quality of life.
I believe that we are the premier community on the South Shore.
Every day we have the chance to make our community a better place. And that one day unfolds into another — and then another — until the days amount to weeks, months, and years. Let us acknowledge that opportunity that we have today to shape tomorrow — the work is not easy, in fact, it is hard — Yet the meaningfulness of the work and the effort to do it is the challenge that we must embrace. To do anything less would be a disservice for those we serve.
So, as we look towards the third decade of the 21st Century, let us be mindful that we live in a community like no other, one so rich in history, and so blessed with a thriving present, we now face the 2020s with hope and confidence that the state of our Braintree is strong and shall remain so.