Missed Opportunity - Carlo DeMaria

Missed Opportunity

H. Jackson Brown Jr. once said, "Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity." 

For over a year I have been appealing to my colleagues on the Council to consider a proposed Linkage Fee Program.  And while I understand their concerns regarding the current economy, I still believe that such a program would be a valuable asset to our City.  I will never waiver on my belief in Everett’s value, on it’s potential as an attractive place to develop.  With our proximity to Boston, waterfront access, and business-friendly climate, large, quality developments want to establish themselves here.  This is evident by current developments, such as the relocation of L.Knife & Son, the return of Cumar Marble, and the impending construction of the Broadway Lofts.  And while I am excited to see these projects come to fruition and know they will be of great benefit to our community, I still can’t help wondering if we missed out on a worthwhile opportunity by not having a linkage fee in place.

More often that not, this administration is challenged with finding ways to pay for the long-term investments necessary for our infrastructure and our long term vision of a bigger and better Everett.  In order to keep our City from falling behind on expanding and improving its capital facilities in the face of growing demand, we need to search for alternate sources of funding for needed public improvements.  We all want more quality development in our City, we all want current and updated infrastructure, and yet there is hesitation when we must allot funding to pay for it.  As an additional source of financing for public facilities and infrastructure, a locally adopted linkage fee could have be an integral part of our capital investment plan. 

Today, a weak economy and public opposition to higher taxes have whittled down the public dollars available for infrastructure development.  Municipalities are faced with the challenge of developing creative, equitable, and legal methods of funding infrastructure. Under the concept of public/private partnership, many cities have adopted creative funding methods such as linkage fees.  Currently Boston, Somerville, and Medford all utilize a linkage program to share the cost of public facilities with new buildings or construction.  Boston has had a program in place since 1983, while Medford began their program in 1989 and Somerville started their program in 2005. 

New developers participate in such a program, usually in the form of a yearly fee, to help mitigate the impact of new or expanded construction on the city’s streets, parks and recreation facilities.  And while the City does benefit from the taxes collected from these new developments, that money must go into the general fund, and cannot be earmarked for specific projects. The advantage of a linkage program could have been to guarantee investment specifically into the surrounding infrastructure, a clear means for corporations to give back and participate in the community.      

I will use the Broadway Lofts development as a specific example.  This long overdue development is an obvious gain for our City; an $80 million dollar project which will redevelop a vacant site on Lower Broadway and complete the proposed Charlestown Chew Lofts project.  Combined, the project includes the rehabilitation of the historic mill building, the construction of two new additional buildings, and the inclusion of a parking structure.  Approximately 329 units of housing will be added to our City.  It’s a huge gain for Everett, a fine quality development that will no doubt enhance the gateway of our City.  And based on current estimates, will generate almost a million dollars in tax revenue.

What we should also remember, however, is that this development also brings along the possibility of at least 329 new residents to our City.  Residents that will depend on our police, fire, public safety, public health and city services.  Residents that will use our roads, sidewalks, and public facilities.  Consider the vast array of city systems and services that will be utilized by these buildings: water and sewer system connections, storm sewer drainage, police and fire protection services, public health services, recreation and park areas, not to mention the increased traffic on existing roads and the wear and tear to streets from the additional vehicles. 

The development area for the Broadway Lofts is approximately 4.7 acres.  If the City had decided on a linkage fee program based on a flat rate of $3.00 per square foot, for example, we could have gained an additional $614,194 to put toward infrastructure costs.  A small amount compared to the $80 million dollars being invested by the developer, but a large help towards the burden placed on City facilities and services.

Despite the rejection of the program, I still believe that it is appropriate for developers, regardless of their scale, to help bear the cost that their developments impose on the community. It is unfair and unrealistic to increase property taxes to fund new public facilities that are directly being affected by new developments.  Therefore I will continue to research and push for continual consideration for a Linkage Fee Program in our City.  I hope that in the future the City Council will work with the administration in seizing such a valuable opportunity for Everett’s future.

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