Upcoming Meetings: Dispatch and MBTA Transit Oriented Development
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Selectmen further advance discussions on two important topics at meetings next week. On Monday, 3/21, as part of their regular meeting the Board will receive and discuss the feasibility study the North Shore Regional 911 Center completed regarding the possibility of the Center providing dispatch services for our public safety operations. On Tuesday, 3/22, the Board hosts a special forum on the new State law seeking zoning changes near transit stations that allow for more housing units.
The last major piece of the complex puzzle over how best to provide public safety dispatch services in town has been received. At the request of the Selectmen, the North Shore Regional 911 Center has completed its feasibility study of the Center providing dispatch services for Manchester. The study, which is available on the Town’s website on the Dispatch page, concludes that the Center can provide dispatch services for Manchester at no cost to the Town. The study goes through various technical aspects of providing the services, detailing the equipment that the state will provide to us and the Center’s capacity to handle our calls.
The study spells out over $550,000 of capital equipment needs that the state is willing to provide to us as part of the new services. These needs include new records management software, radio system upgrades, and mobile data terminals for all police and fire vehicles. In addition, the study notes that some $81,000 in annual operating expenses associated with this equipment will be paid for by the State. This is all in addition to the staff and facility costs that would be provided at no cost for the 10 year contract the state is offering. While there are no guarantees, the State has said it does not plan to charge for their dispatch services in the future.
Lastly, the study explains the dispatching services they provide. They use a “horizontal” staffing model where one person handles call-taking while another person handles the actual dispatch function with automatic data transfer via the computer aided dispatch software. This allows more rapid dispatch while the call taker remains on the line with the caller, continuing to collect often critical additional information.
The Selectmen will formally receive the feasibility study and review its findings at their meeting on March 21.
On March 22 at 7PM the Selectmen will host a special meeting focused on the new State law that seeks to have towns with transit stations adopt zoning regulations that allow multi-family housing units by right within a half mile of the station. For Manchester, this means that we need to take a new look at our zoning near the commuter rail station.
The law seeks a minimum density of 15 units per acre. We have numerous developments at a higher density than this, but they have either been approved by a special permitting process or pre-date zoning. We currently do not allow multi-unit housing as a “by right” use. The draft regulations that the State has crafted for the new law specifies that a community must have a minimum of 50 acres eligible for the multi-housing units. This is 10% of the land area within the ½ mile radius of the station. Whether this stipulation remains in the final regulations that get adopted later this year remains to be seen. Many smaller communities are pushing back on this minimum, advocating instead the State stick with the goal of adding 15% of current housing stock. For Manchester this would mean creating zoning with a maximum potential of some 375 units, not 750.
Of course, creating the zoning does not mean that the new maximum density gets built. Much of our zoning is decades old and we are not near the maximum density allowed. None-the-less, we need to proceed carefully as we explore ways we might comply with the new State law. Efforts must be taken to preserve the beloved characteristics of our core village area.
The draft regulations state that communities that do not comply with the new law will no longer be eligible for certain state grants, some of which we have been awarded in the past and hope to receive in the future. The Selectmen’s forum on Tuesday marks an initial community discussion about the new law. We have the next two years to decide how best to respond in ways that fit our community and our housing needs.