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Milton divided on park plan as Town Meeting draws near

Milton’s Town Meeting members will be asked Monday to decide whether a park will be built and more parking constructed at East Milton Square.

Selectman chairman Thomas Hurley backs a $300,000 article — Article 18 — to pay for the design phase of the estimated $2.4 million East Milton Square project, but the Warrant Committee is recommending against the appropriation.

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Hurley said a $1 million US Department of Transportation grant earmarked for the project would be lost if Town Meeting votes down the article.

“The likelihood of us getting money again is very slim,” Hurley said last Wednesday. “If we lost the million, there would be no park and there would be no improvements.”

The square is currently a bottleneck and has high traffic because of motorists cutting through from nearby areas, Hurley said. Some of the money would be used to help coordinate traffic lights and put in new traffic signals, he said.

“A million [dollars] isn’t going to do an awful lot, but we think we can do something,” he said. “It needs more parking, and the project will make the square flow better and look better.”

East Milton Square is one of Milton’s few retail districts, and Hurley said he hopes that making it more attractive could help bring other businesses there.

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But the Warrant Committee will recommend against funding the project through Article 18, mainly because it does not address issues raised by the recent East Milton Square Parking and Access Study. The committee also said that a more detailed plan is needed and that construction should be delayed until after the town’s master plan is completed, a process currently underway.

“You can throw a million-dollar grant at it and $300,000 of the town’s money and you’re not going to get an outcome substantially different than what you have now,” said Ted Hays, secretary of the Warrant Committee.

Town Meeting will also consider several other articles, including a proposal to raise taxes to pay for a firefighter’s on-the-job injury, and another to create a housing production plan to help head off future affordable-housing developments in town under the state’s Chapter 40B statute.

Selectmen originally requested $30,000 to complete the housing production plan in Article 19. But the Warrant Committee expressed concerns in its recommendation on Article 19, saying the master plan should be completed first and proceed in tandem with a housing production plan.

“We think a housing production plan would benefit from having the master plan completed, but the feeling in Town Hall was that it couldn’t wait,” Hays said.

Milton’s main purpose for having such a plan is to increase its affordable housing each year and take advantage of the law that protects the town from Chapter 40B developments if a yearly quota of new affordable units is met, according to Hurley.

About 4.4 percent of Milton’s roughly 9,800 housing units are classified as affordable, Hurley said. To be fully protected from Chapter 40B developments, Milton needs 10 percent of its housing stock deemed affordable.

Hurley said there are a number of Chapter 40B projects being considered in town, including a controversial project on Brush Hill Road that would create 276 housing units near Fuller Village. One of those projects would get Milton up to its quota, he said.

The Warrant Committee said it was doubtful the town could meet the quota put forth in a housing production plan.

However, even if the money is voted down at Town Meeting, Hurley said selectmen had another alternative to create a cheaper document using this year’s funds.

“The housing production plan is going forward, regardless of the Warrant Committee’s recommendation,” Hurley said.

In Article 15, the selectmen and Warrant Committee both recommend appropriating $1 million of the current year’s free cash toward legally obligated medical expenses for a Milton firefighter who was injured on the job about five years ago.

The $1 million will be used to start a fund that will be added to as the expenses continue into the future.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at eisen.globe@ gmail.com.

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