Framingham’s decision

Rick Holmes

Those who care about politics in Framingham – a small and shrinking number, I suspect – will be watching a single contested race in the town election today, but it’s an important one.

Four good candidates are vying for two seats on the Planning Board. The results, people on all sides contend, may determine how Framingham develops (or doesn’t develop) in the next few years.

Our editorial endorsements are here, but let me offer a personal addendum. I like and respect Sue Bernstein a lot. She and I agree on state and national politics, on many planning and zoning issues, and on some specific projects that have come before the Planning Board.  I don’t object to her emphasis on landscaping and aesthetics in the permitting process, her sensitivity to neighbors’ concerns, or even her nit-pickiness.  But I’ve heard too many stories over too many years about her over-reaching, her tendency to work better with developers she likes and punish by delay those she doesn’t, her ethical baggage (she’s a real estate broker doing business in town) etc. And I’ve heard too often, over too many years, that developers are hesitant to invest in Framingham because the Planning Board is too hard to deal with.

There’s another side to that argument, which is that a lot of companies have in fact invested in Framingham since Sue has been on the board, especially on Rte. 9 and in the industrial parks. Framingham is actually doing pretty well.  But another wave of development is coming, and this time I’m really hoping it won’t leave downtown Framingham untouched. There is tremendous potential down there.  I’m sick of hearing that traffic is the problem.  Waltham has traffic, Boston has traffic, Manhattan has traffic; they also have thriving businesses.

But Framingham has an anti-business reputation. It’s not all Sue’s fault. I’ve heard complaints from businesses about the Fire Dept. regulations, the intrusive Board of Health, the building inspectors and the ossified bureaucracy in the Memorial Building. All of those should be addressed, and I’m hoping the new town manager, Bob Halpin, is working on it. Halpin has a background in economic development, and I’m hoping he can help recruit the kind of signature project that can do for downtown Framingham what Cronin’s Landing did for Waltham.  But when Halpin has a prospect on the line with the imagination and finances to do something great in Framingham, and the developer says “Yeah, I’d like to, but I’ve heard awful things about your planning board,” the best response he could possibly make would be: “I know what you’ve heard, but Sue Bernstein isn’t on the board any more.”

Sue brings hard work, intelligence and experience to the Planning Board. She’s a civic entrepreneur as well as a PB member, and can continue to serve the town.  But others can represent well the people of Framingham in the permitting process – without bringing the baggage Sue carries.

There have been endorsement decisions in which I’ve had little confidence in any of the candidates. This time, I like them all – Sue Bernstein, Lew Colten, Andrea Carr-Evans and Victor Ortiz. Nobody expects a big turnout, so we’ll see which candidate has the most effective organization. Should be interesting.