Jake Freivald’s comments to the Town Council meeting of 3/20/12—TEXT

March 20, 2012

I’m not anti-development in principle. And I acknowledge that this plan could work out fine.

Ten years from now, we could be looking back happily at how things worked out.

But we might not. Anything worth doing involves risk. And I’m not against some risk! But I don’t want to be naive. I want to be responsible. I want to know, as well as I can, what the risks are.

And I’m concerned.

I’m concerned because the plan’s supporters talk about hope, while the detractors talk about concrete risks.

I’m concerned because when I ask, “Why do we have high taxes?”, there are a lot of people who say, “It’s because we have a lot of residences compared to commercial ratables.” But when I ask, “What do we need for this redevelopment program?”, the same people say, “Residential development.” That seems contradictory to me.

I see projections that show this plan will bring huge benefits to the town, but I don’t see the projections that show the risks.

— What happens if we can’t achieve 95% occupancy?

— What if we can’t rent a studio apartment plus parking space for $1800?

— What about our COAH [Council on Affordable Housing] obligations if Prism decides to forego phase 2?

And because we don’t have projections for those things, we don’t really understand how likely it is that we’ll be happy when we look back ten years from now, vs. how likely it is that we’ll look back and say, “Do you remember how *that* happened?” And by then, it will be too late.

There’s a problem here, in that many people think this whole project is a foregone conclusion. “Anything would be better,” they say. We heard the same thing three years ago. We also heard then, as now, the question, “If not now, when?” But of course, it doesn’t need to be tonight. And of course things could be worse. If we had listened to these calls four years ago, things would almost certainly be worse now.

Moreover, you [addressing the council directly] probably think it’s a foregone conclusion. You have a vision of yourself saying “Yes.”

But when the clerk calls your name, you don’t have to say “yes.”

Picture yourself saying, “No, I don’t know what an 80% occupancy means to us.

“No, I don’t know what happens if we have to lower the rents from $1800 to $1300 — and if the rents are lower, how that will affect the number of children who come from that development. (Yes, we have studies that show 17 or 26 or 33 students coming from the development as it exists now, but if the prices decrease, that may increase the chances that young families will move in. So even though we have studies that tell us that there won’t be many children, I have a lot of sympathy with people who doubt that when I consider the contingencies here.)

“No, I don’t know what will happen if there’s a default and legal issues tie up our cash flow — even if there’s a lien that eventually makes us whole.

“No, I’m not ready to accept the risks without understanding them fully.”

Given the information we have available to us, you should have some doubts. Trust your doubts. Adjust the plan.

Remember this moment when the clerk calls your name. Remember that it’s okay to say “no”. Remember that it’s not only okay, but it’s the responsible thing to do.