Just like the term "Smart Growth", the term "Smart Sewers" sounds great, right?
Not so fast.
The "Smart Sewer" program which narrowly garnered Littleton's Town Meeting support on October 29th raises a lot of concern.
While I am not living in Littleton, I have concerns about the "Smart Sewer" project being proposed in Littleton. I have concerns that this project would push corporate costs onto residents, and harm the environment, with little if any benefit to the residents. It's quite possible, based on the results of similar projects in other towns, that the project will actually harm residents. I have concerns that residents are being "wooed" with terms like "walkable town center" and "small shops", and will instead get highly dense, unnecessary development that will hurt the most vulnerable by devastating their property values, and increasing congestion. Instead, it's quite possible that they will get expansion of HUGE businesses, already too big for the town center. And few, if any of these folks will actually live locally. I worry that, while proponents may "hope" that this will result in what the proponents promise, that this is, at the core, a play to help the large corporations in the center of town expand, at the cost to residents.
General sustainability principles dictate that we should not centralize (concentrate) human waste unless necessary. In other words, if people's septic systems are failing and the water is at risk, such a condition, would prompt the need for centralization of waste. Personally, I'm against using tax money to further economic development unless the municipality is in severe economic distress, and/or the locals really want it. If only a few septic systems are failing, why not put in a tiny system to serve them? why create a HUGE project that benefits the corporations more than the residents?
The project is entirely paid for by users, says the brochure: [https://www.littletonma.org/department-public-works/smart-sewer]]
But this is where it gets suspicious immediately, because "who" created the brochure? are the "users" paying the staff time for Town Hall to do this advocating? It's possible they are. But it's a question in my mind, especially since in other towns, such as in Acton, where Town Hall staff spend a much higher percentage of staff time advocating for development, sewer expansion, Kelley's corner expansion, and very little time on preparing zoning proposals to reduce the impact of development.
Looking at this presentation: https://www.littletonma.org/sites/littletonma/files/uploads/littleton_smart_sewers_public_meeting_presentation_031918_final_0.pdf
I see that a significant number of residents are impacted. Will they all vote "yes"? If not, I am against this. I am against government forcing unnecessary costs on people of modest means.
I noticed that according to the Littleton town website, there are only three people actively on the "Smart Sewer" committee. There is a long list of empty seats on the committee. Why would a town vote to promote environmental destruction that only three people are advocating for?
The "Smart Sewer" project appears to be primarily an economic development play. Note that the "impact area" is mostly commercial in "geography", but in the number of parcels, it impacts a significant number of small houses. So the cost would be very low to the businesses, and very high for residents. Why would we put this cost onto modest income residents, if they don't want it?
I think it's a travesty of justice/democracy for a Town Meeting consisting mostly of people who do not live in the impact area to vote to force this on the impact area.
BACKGROUND CONCERNS about "Smart Growth"
Generally, I have concerns any project that MAPC is pushing with "smart" in the name. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, too often, is led by industry, and driven by growth, any growth, without figuring out whether a town needs it or wants it. Often the projects are greenwashed to make people feel like they are good for the environment, when the most environmentally friendly project would be no project at all. I review almost every public document that MAPC releases and have found little, if anything that recognizes the limits of nature, or studies the impact to the water.
The planning documents I've read presume harm to the environment, and presume "growth as a solution" and then tries to minimize the harm. This strategy is like limiting the amount of poison you should drink. Why drink any poison?
MAPC promotes "Smart Growth". What is "Smart Growth"? it's an industry generated term to try and get you to support the idea of growth. The growth may or may not be less environmentally or social justice offensive than regular non-Smart Growth, but virtually every project with "smart" in the name is unnecessary. MAPC does not distinguish between growth that is a "public necessity" and growth that is "to satisfy market demand". It looks at "market demand" as something that MAPC should be advocating for government to chip in for.
In my view, anything to satisfy market demand should be left to business people, not subsidized with zoning relief, environmental destruction and/or tax dollars. Of course, if we need something, like public necessity housing or a fire station, or a community center, I'm all for subsidizing. IF the townspeople really want something, or if we have a social obligation to do something, I am all for it.
But I think it's important to be honest. In Acton, where I'm from, we were promised "walkable town center" and "quaint, slow growth" in West Acton. And a lot of people got excited by the idea and voted for high density zoning. Instead, we got more of the same. We had important historic structures razed and luxury condos erected. We got more traffic. In the West Acton Mall project, we were promised that traffic would be mitigated. Instead, local businesses tell us that there are parking wars, pitting residents against small business workers. We have had to have police stings busting people for aggressively driving in crosswalks. While some people may like the few new shops, how do you think the neighbors feel? It's chaos, we're told… loud, and dangerous.
MAPC has designated the Littleton Common area as a "target zone" for various state economic development programs. The leaders of the Smart Sewer program are incidentally, also, the leaders pushing zoning relief in the statehouse, which would allow developers to bypass local zoning without requiring open space, affordable housing, and a ban on evictions. We must be very wary of unintended consequences by allowing growth, smart or not so smart. Until we actually understand the worst case, let's not be fooled into falling for the pretty words.
READ MORE about the dangers of "Smart Growth" and what we can do about it.
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