Interviewer: Michael N. Kline
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Nick Martin
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Audio file is in .mp3 format.
Michael N. Kline: Okay, we're at the Concord Free Public Library. And it's June 15th. And it's raining today. Or it's a rainy day. It's not raining at the moment. But it has been a rainy time, hasn't it been a rainy summer?
Judith Walpole: It has been. Yes.
MK" And maybe you would just introduce yourself. Say, "My name is."
JW: My name is Judy Walpole.
MK: And we never ask people their ages, but maybe you'd tell us your date of birth, so we could put this in some sort of perspective, historical--.
JW: My date of birth is April 7, 1944.
MK: All right. And if you would please, start out and tell us about your people and where you were raised.
JW: I was raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut and came up to Massachusetts to college at Tufts and then went on to Simmons to get a master's in Library Science and worked at MIT in the library, where I met my husband. And we had our first child and moved to Concord in 1972.
JW: Umm hmm.
MK: That's not like being born here though I guess.
JW: No. We always tell me daughter, my second child, that she's the only true Concordian, because she was born here.
MK: How did you find Concord when you arrived?
JW: Basically, we were very lucky. We were living in MIT housing, and my husband was on the faculty, had taken a position at Lincoln Lab, so we knew we wanted to come out away from Cambridge and basically found the house we liked in Concord and soon discovered that we had made a wonderful choice.
MK: How did that come to you?
JW: Oh, immediately by getting involved in the town. I got involved with the League of Women Voters and then went on the Town Finance Committee in I believe it was 1976. And form there on I've been involved in town government ever since then. I served on the Planning Board, the Finance Committee, Natural Resources Commission, Historic District Commission, Board of Selectmen for two terms, and I'm currently serving on the Personnel Board.
MK: Wow. Were you always a, sort of a political go getter in your earlier years?
JW: Certainly in school activities involved with committees and student government and things like that. Yes.
MK: So tell us about how Concord people accepted you, and what has it been like to raise a family here?
JW: Oh, I think it's a great place to raise a family. I think despite what everyone says and we just said about having to be born a Concordian, that people are really very friendly and very open and willing to include people if you want to work, you pitch in and you're included.
MK: So in these various functions you've served--. Do you feel like you've sort of jumped around a bit, or have you, has your work followed a--?
JW: Being on the Finance Committee was my first committee. Various members serve as liaisons to other town boards and committees, so it's really, at least in my time--. I don't know if it's still the same, was a very basic tutorial basically on town government. I was observing at various points either the School Committee or the Recreation Commission. But other people would be observing perhaps the Personnel Board, or the Planning Board, or Public Works, and would come back and report on what was happening there. So I have picked up a great deal of extraneous knowledge from that. I've actually learned how the houses are numbered in Concord by someone reporting that the Fire Department was changing the numbering system so that they could plus into their trucks when they got to an intersection, and they'd know if they were looking for 520 on Monument Street it was going to be 520 feet from this intersection. So strange little bits of information like that!
MK: And that was from serving on the Finance--?
JW: On the Finance Committee. So that's basically, as I say, almost an introduction to town government, to the various levels. And then I got involved with the Planning Board. And planning has really been my love of my town government service, so form there I went on and served a short term on the Natural Resources Commission and then on the Board of Selectmen where, again I was involved in a number of issues that were involved with town planning, and then later on Historic Districts, which also is somewhat in the planning sector. And now I'm on the Personnel Board, which has nothing to do with that, so I'm learning a whole different set of things.
MK: We come from a town which seems to have a very short patience with any kind of planning, and so I don't have much of a sense of what happens in a functioning, a really highly functioning place, as far as planning. Can you talk about the history of planning since you became aware of it?
JW:I think planning is something that you always aim to do and you're always trying to do, and I think Concord has done a lot of proactive planning. I think sometimes it feels like you're reacting to things, rather than planning, but certainly the Planning Board back when I was involved with it was seeing a lot of development in town and was very concerned particularly about the lack of affordable housing. And I worked on a number of initiatives of trying to address that problem through changes in the subdivision bylaw, through including some inclusionary housing provisions, so that when a development did occur that the town either had the option to buy a lot r two to use them for affordable housing, or the developer had an option to provide some affordable housing and thereby gained a bonus in terms of the number of units that could go in there. Now all of those were good efforts. They didn't result in any large numbers of housing units. So I think it's always frustrating to try to put a plan in place and try to find exactly the right plan that is going to produce the results. And sometimes you have exactly the right thing and the economy changes and it's no longer serving the job. In the years that I've been involved with the town there have been a number of major planning efforts. A lot of time spent looking at open spaced planning. And the town has certainly acquired a large number of open space parcels, which I couldn't be more supportive of. But the town has also been making, especially in the last ten years, a real concentrated effort to try address the diversity of housing in town.
MK; The diversity of housing?
JW: Yes, to see that there's a number, that, basically affordable units. And there's been a lot of concern about the mansionization of Concord and the fact that houses being built were so large and so unaffordable, or that houses, small houses that might have been affordable were being bought up and expanded, so that they were basically filling in on small lots and becoming really very expensive.
MK: What was the attitude of the developers through all of these various stages of--?
JW: The developers I think varied. There certainly was one developer who actually served on one of our inclusionary housing task forces. He was a developer who built very large homes on very large lots, but he was very sympathetic to the issues of trying to provide something for people that couldn't afford million dollar houses, which many of us can't.
MK: So he would, he was sympathetic?
JW: He was sympathetic and worked on the issue and really was helpful to have on the task force, because he could speak from a developer's point of view. You know, this is a realistic concession to ask a developer to do, or this is not a realistic concession. It was very helpful to have his input.
MK: What would be some examples of unrealistic concession to have to lay at a developer's feet?
JW: I think to ask them to give up too many of the number of units that they could build by right. So if they had a subdivision that say they could build fifteen units by right, there, and they're going to pay a huge amount of money for the land, realistically they're going to have to develop a fairly major portion of those probably, in order to make their profit. So you have to strike the right balance with what is financially feasible for them to do and what they would, what you want to ask them to do.
MK: And did you have any serious struggles with developers over the years, the committee I mean?
JW: There certainly were developers who were just interested in doing what they could do by right and not interested in working with the town. I wouldn't say it was a struggle, because you're limited in what you can force upon the developer. It was disappointing, I guess I would say.
MK: In some cases.
JW: In some cases. Yes.
MK: When you say by right, you mean--.
JW: I mean if the zoning allows for two acre lots and they have sufficient land to put in fifteen two-acre lots and put in the road and the right infrastructure, then there's probably very little that the Planning Board can do. If they're meeting the Zoning Bylaw, then they're basically within their rights.
MK: How does this zoning work in all this? How do these various elements figure together?
JW: Well, basically you have your basic zoning bylaw, and then there are different provisions under the bylaw, and there are different ways a developer could potentially choose to develop a piece of property. They could do a straight subdivision, which would give them just the basic rights to develop the number of lots they could meet the requirements for. Or there are other provisions, many of which have been amended over the years since I was directly involved. But there is a cluster development that allows for a different configuration and keeps more of the land open. And there is what was called a planned residential development, which is also aimed towards clustering the buildings closer together and keeping more open space. And those developments are special permit, so they allow the Planning Board a lot more discretion in terms of requiring things. They're also potentially cheaper for the builder to build if they don't have to put in quite as much infrastructure. But again, the market determines partly also what things sell for.
MK: We're not familiar with the neighborhoods and various developments around town, but whoever is listening to this recording on down the road might be. Can you talk about some examples of cluster developments? What's your favorite? What's the one you think is most functional?
JW: That's a hard question for me to answer, because now you're asking me to go back a few years. What I think is interesting is there is a development which I believe is the first PRD, Planned Residential Development that--. It's called Merriam Close. It's off of Lexington Road, and it is basically condominium units on, with the units owned by the owners, but the land is shared ownership. And when that was developed a number of years ago, I think it was almost looked at as an a necessary evil. If you're going to develop that land, at least do it this way, and you won't impinge on some of the open space. I think now it has weathered well and it has become a place where a lot of people that I know who raised their families in Concord and had fairly large homes are now living, because they can get something smaller and have less of the maintenance burden. So I think that has turned out to be a success.
MK: And how close together are the dwellings?
JW: They're basically--. There's two or three that are actually attached and there'll be a space and another two or three. And I don't really know even how many units are in there anymore, but.
MK: You're doing great.
MK: What about public transportation? Does that figure in all of this sort of planning and zoning and--?
JW: You know it always comes up, and the big issues for public transportation for Concord has been parking, because there are a number of people who take the train, or would like to take the train, but the parking is limited. And the parking is limited in towns farther out on the commuter line than we are, so there are people in Acton and that, other neighboring towns, who will drive to Concord to park to take the train. So that has always been a struggle. We do have more parking in West Concord now than we did twenty years ago. But it is always an issue. Route 2 has been an issue for many, many years. When I was on the Board of Selectmen we formed a committee with the towns of Acton and Lincoln and got together with Mass. Highway and agreed that we would all try to work for some safety improvements on Route 2, so that we could hopefully divert some of the traffic from the town streets in all of the towns and make it, make Route 2 a much safer road to travel on, again trying to improve the commuting situation.
And that continues to be an ongoing effort, but it's very, very slow in coming.
MK: What was it like working with the Selectmen of these other towns?
JW: It was a very positive thing, because I think we all got together and agreed upon or goals for Route 2. We agreed that we would not press for any kind of an expanded 6-lane highway, and we agreed that safety improvements were a prime goal. And we agreed to prioritize the different intersections, so that one town wouldn't be fighting the other town to say, "Fix this problem in our town first." So we all agreed that Crosby's Corner, which is shared by Lincoln and Concord, would be a first priority, that the Concord Rotary would be a second priority and that the Acton intersections would also be under consideration, but on a lesser degree. And the Sate was agreeable to that. There are plans for Crosby's Corner. It, by rights, should have been built ten years ago, and it still hasn't been! But some day it will all come together.
MK: What--? It should've been built ten years ago? Where is it and what are the issues?
JW: It's basically where--. Route 2 takes a big--. If you're coming from Boston Route 2 takes a big left hand turn to continue on towards, into Concord and Acton. It's very dangerous, because there are merging high-speed traffic. It has been the site of many accidents. There are a number of issues to do with it. It's just--. The design was very complex, because a number of roads intersect, and there needs to be a number of various turns. It is a difficult intersection just because of the topography of it, because you're coming down a large hill. And there were also--. In the Town of Lincoln there were some historic properties that were adjacent to it and a number of residential properties in Lincoln that had their access off of a major highway. So all of those issues had to be dealt with. And they were dealt with in a plan, which came forward. But funding has really brought that somewhat to a halt.
MK: Funding in the current economic situation?
JW: And even before that. The Big Dig has hurt--.
MK: Back to public transportation, is that a lever you can use ever with developers to discourage development where there is no public transportation, or to discourage cluster building?
JW: You really can't. It's really not within the right of any of the town boards. Even traffic issues, I know that's a very common perception that neighbors often have: If this development is built there's going to be a lot more traffic on my street. But that's not something that the Planning Board or Board of Appeals, or any Board has the right to deny a development simply because it's going t to create traffic. You could certainly encourage the developer to work with the town to try to perhaps do some traffic improvements. You can ask to do, them to do a traffic study. But you can't just deny it because it's going to create traffic, which I know is frustrating to the abutters.
JW: To the abutters who feel it's going to impact them. But unfortunately it's--.
MK: So development sounds as though it really has free reign, kind of, to do what it will.
JW: Within the parameters of the Zoning Bylaw, yes, there's a lot of free will for the developer if they're meeting the requirements. They certainly have to have a certain infrastructure in terms of the--. One of the things that the town does require that there not be one very long street with only one means of egress and--. So there are things that they're limited by in that fashion. They have to provide appropriate egress. They have to certainly meet setback requirements.
Carrie Nobel Kline: Setback?
JW: Setback. A certain number of feet from the street and a certain number of feet from the lots on either side and in the back also. And--. But those requirements are fairly minimal. And I think we're seeing that now where we're seeing, particularly in town, a small house on a relatively small lot is either torn down or renovated. And a large house goes on a small lot. And again, depending on the zoning, the side setback is probably only something like fifteen feet from the next lot. So it changes the look of things when you drive down the street and see one or two or even more really large houses where there had been small lots and small houses.
MK: So what's the upshot of all this over the last--? You've been looking at this for thirty-five years or thereabouts?
JW: Umm hmm.
MK: What--? How has the built environment changed in the time that you've been--?
JW: You know, it's a question that I was thinking about, and I'm not really sure how I would answer it. I would come back to think a little bit about what the town looked like when we first moved in. And in the town center there was a Woolworth's with the old wood floor, and the soda fountain, and the--. Some of the houses on the streets immediately around the center-- I'm thinking Hubbard Street and Everett Street in particular.—were big old houses that had been converted into two family, or in cases three family houses. And they were looking fairly rundown in most cases. Now I think the town center is almost citified, if that's a word. We're looking a lot fancier as a downtown I think now. I think the same old houses that I'm talking about have now—Some of them are still condominiums or two families, but many of them have been bought by a single family. And all of them have been updated, and they're very attractive looking. Some of them have been added onto. And some places on Everett Street lots have been filled in with houses. And it's a more formal--. It's a very nice looking area, but it's just more formal looking. I'm thinking of--. West Concord I think has always been everybody's favorite neighborhood where you could actually go and buy a spool of thread or something that you might use, as oppose to a knickknack. And I think West Concord fortunately maintains that character very nicely today and has a number of businesses that are owned by local people, run by local people, so I don't think West Concord has changed as much as Concord.
MK: So this--? Go ahead.
JW: No, I was just--. I guess the other thing is I think about over the years the amount of land that has been preserved. I think we're extremely fortunate. The town has either purchased a number of pieces of conservation land over the thirty-plus years that I've been involved. There have been a number of pieces of land that were given to the town. The Concord Land Trust has been phenomenal in terms of protecting land. And I think the town has really made some wise decisions and been very fortunate. There have been other entities that have contributed. The Walden Woods project has purchased a lot of land that will be preserved forever. Through the efforts of a lot of good people, particularly Marian Thornton, the Esterbrook Woods preservation has come to pass with Harvard University agreeing to restrict their extensive holdings there, and Middlesex School contributing to that effort with some conservation. I think there has been a lot of also good things that have been done for the historic environment. Preservation of the Thoreau Birthplace was an effort I was happy to work on and I think has turned out to be a great success story. When I was first on the Board of Selectmen the National Park was doing their Master Plan, and so I worked with then the Superintendent. And there was agreement reached on the boundaries of the Park, which I think was to benefit of everybody. And the Park has done a lot work particularly in recent years in improving, really restoring their land. And then the recent agreement to, for the Park to acquire the Barrett Farm is sort of the feather in the cap I think for really adding again to the town's historic preservation resources.
MK: The Barrett Farm?
JW: The Barrett Farm, where when the soldiers came out looking for the arms that were supposedly hidden by the Minutemen, that was where they went looking for them and indeed did not find them, but they were there.
MK: So the weapons of mass destruction didn't turn up.
JW: [Chuckles.] Or at least not the muskets!
MK: Not the muskets.
CK: Barrett spelled?
JW: Two "r"s and two "t"s.
MK: So it sounds like there have been, like I've heard you mention at least half a dozen organizations that have been active in preserving lands. Is there an overall view of this that's providing some sort of oversight, or is this just willy-nilly and you all kind of lucked out?
JW: No, I think there is. The Natural Resources Commission periodically updates an open space Master Plan. So they're I believe on the third version of it. And they basically identify crucial lands to protect. But there are a number of entities that are working together. The Concord Land Conservation Trust, as I mentioned, has been active for many years. And they have a subgroup, the Concord Open Land Foundation, which is their, really their arm for acquisition of properties. Walden Woods was involved with the Walden Woods project. We've worked with the Trust for Public Land on different land acquisition projects.
MK: The Trust for Public Land?
JW: The Trust for Public Land.
MK: Is that a state organization?
JW: It's a national.
JW: And the--. There are a number of organizations that own land, Trustees of Reservations that own the Old Manse and comparable open land around there. So I think we--. I think we've been very fortunate. I'm not aware of any infighting or any--. I think the groups have worked together. It has certainly been the town's philosophy for a number of years now that if the town is acquiring land, to really look at it for a variety of purposes, to see if there's a way to develop some affordable housing while still preserving conservation, or if there's a municipal use that the land really should be forth for, perhaps a playing field or something of that affect. The town has also, again in recent years, done a number of public-private partnerships where the town has put up an amount of money through our tax dollars, or now through the community preservation funds that we have, and there have been private efforts to raise funds, so that the Madison Field is a good example of a beautiful piece of open space that was preserved through a combination of private donations and public money.
MK: That sounds complicated.
JW: It can be. It can be, particularly timing-wise. Before you can actually sign a purchase and sale you have to have some confidence that you're going to be able to raise the money. And so it can get complicated. One of the things that was getting very complicated a number of years ago was that when a property was under a farmland assessment that the town, thereby giving the person farming it a reduction in property tax while it was being farmed, there was a requirement that the town be then offered an option to buy when the property was going to be sold. But there was at that point a forty-five day window for the town to decide if they were going to accept the option or not. Forty-five days is a very short time to call a Town Meeting to decide! Now that has since been lengthened, but I believe it's sixty days, but I'm not even sure about that now.
MK: So there was a special meeting?
JW: There have been for, in the past sometimes for properties, but there were properties that were passed up of necessity, because of timing and because of lack of funds.
MK: And what was the fate of those properties?
JW: They were developed.
MK: How does the Board of Selectmen decide about a piece of land? Do they just try to get everything they possibly can, or--?
JW: No, that's one of the benefits of having the Open Space Master Plan is that there are--. There's basically a ranking of properties where you know that a particularly important property, that is coming up, then that's going to become a priority as much as possible. The Board of Selectmen of course would consult with the other town boards, the Planning Board, the Natural Resources Commission. We now have the Community Preservation Act, which sets aside a percentage of our tax income to go into the community preservation fund, which can be used for a number of things, municipal use, recreation, housing, and open space. So there are some funds being built up, and there's a community preservation committee that now makes recommendations to Town Meeting on the disposition of those funds. Town Meeting actually votes on that.
MK: So what has been the sort of the carbon footprint if you will of all of this change over thirty years? What has been the impact environmentally? Are you satisfied that things are relatively in some sort of balance, or is--?
JW: Yes. I think there is a balance. I think it, we've had a number of safe guards put in place over the years. We have a, we've had a state wetlands bylaw for a number of years, and as of this Town Meeting we have or own town wetlands bylaw, which is, I think, a significant protection. We have achieved a wild and scenic rivers designation for the three Concord Rivers, for the Sudbury, Assebet and Concord.
MK: For the--?
JW: The Sudbury, Assebet and the Concord Rivers, which gives us, gives protection to the rivers, in terms of building, you know, how far back you can build. We have a groundwater conservancy bylaw, which limits the amount of impervious cover on a lot that is within the groundwater conservancy district, which is designed basically to protect our aquifers and eventually our wells.
JW: Impervious surface. So basically you can't put too much asphalt on a site that's within the, or building, asphalt or building, within a site that's within the groundwater conservancy district. A number of years ago, when the town was acquiring property, a lot of the land that was acquired contained a lot of wetlands. It would not be necessary to buy wetlands today to protect them, because of the bylaws that are in place.
MK: But then?
JW: But then that was the way to protect them.
MK: . . . Have you got any questions?
CK: This is fascinating.
MK: Yeah, she's doing great.
CK: I just wonder if most towns have these sorts of protections so that you can say, "Well, I'm sorry we failed in this negotiation with this developer, but we're still protecting our environmental resources," you're saying?
JW: I think we have, for the most part. I think we've been very vigilant about it. I think towns vary in basically how well they're enforcing their zoning.
CK: Oh, enforcement.
JW: Umm hmm.
CK: So that's a whole different realm.
JW: Right. Umm hmm.
CK: Can you talk about that?
JW: Basically, I think the town has been diligent about enforcing it. We've taken developers that, or land owners that have violated wetlands zoning and in cases asked them to replicate wetlands that they had filled or--. They, you can't, once they cut down the trees you can ask them to plant some more trees, but you can't put the trees back. But there are measures that can be taken. And I think the town has been diligent about doing that.
MK: Getting proper mitigation?
MK: As you look around, the region, what, say the county or the region, are all of these towns equally vigilant, do you think, or how would you--? Do you see anybody doing a better job than Concord?
JW: You know, it's hard for me to say. All I know is what I read in the paper about something happening in another town. Or driving around in another town I can see things that I'm glad are not Concord, but!
CK: Like what? You don't have to name the name of the town if you don't want. . . .
JW: Oh, I think some towns have allowed a lot of spot commercial development, so I think that we have grouped the development in a very orderly way. We basically have the three commercial districts, the West Concord, the Depot, and Concord Center. And I think they're all nice looking areas that work well. We don't have a lot of strung out development.
JW: Commercial development, right.
CK: And that was by intention?
CK: How do you--?
JW: That's again, by zoning.
CK: . . . set that up?
JW: Well Concord's zoning went in in 1928, so Concord was I think ahead of the game in terms of--. Now obviously it has changed over the years and different zoning districts have been developed. But I think Concord was ahead in putting in zoning before there were the same pressures to develop that are now I'm sure there on many towns.
JW: Umm hmm.
MK: I'm trying to imagine how they developed that sort of foresight.
JW: I know. It is surprising, isn't it?
MK: Has the population--? Was there a surge in population at that time that would've caused them to--?
JW: I don't believe so. The real surge in population would've been the baby boomers after World War Two, and that's when housing tracts went in. Some of our most affordable housing today still is still areas off of Bedford Street and off of Sudbury Road that were small capes that sold for nine and $10,000 in the early 1950s, and I know a number of people who moved in at that point and raised their families and have now either moved on or gone into some retirement kind of community. And they're seeing their houses sell for $400,000 and in many cases be torn down so someone can build a bigger one. And that's beginning to happen.
MK: . . .
JW: It is. The land values over the years have changed so much that it really, by necessity has changed something about the character of the town in terms of, as I mentioned earlier, just looking a little fancier. And it's harder and harder for people who grew up in the town to be able to afford to live here.
MK: So this fancifying of the community, does that increase the social or racial diversity, or does it narrow it, do you think?
JW: I think it certainly narrows it economically—
MK: Class diversity?
JW: Yeah. Because economically it is certainly much more difficult for people who may not be college educated and may not have as high a paying job to be able to afford to live here. And that does change things. The--. Some of the housing efforts that have gone on, the town has built housing a number of years ago now on Strawberry Hill Road and Bedford Street. And the Concord Housing Trust has also recently built a number of units. There are actually six or eight, I guess it's eight units in my neighborhood now that were built by the Concord Housing Trust that are available to young families. And I know several of them are occupied by young people who were in school with my children and are now raising their children there. And that is great to see, but it's small numbers. It's hard to keep the affordability when the land is so valuable and people are willing to buy small properties and renovate them massively or tear them down.
MK: If you were to put up say three or four statues in Concord of people in your lifetime, in your experience who have been the real sheroes and heroes of championing the town, the, championing the kinds of values that you've talked about here, who would some of those people be?
JW: The real giants.
MK: The real giants.
JW: Well the first one would have to be Marian Thornton. Marian is Mrs. Conservation and just has been a tireless, tireless worker. And she has also been one of the first people involved in recycling, I mean before it was quite so politically correct to be--. So no question Marian. After that it gets harder for me to pick out just a couple of people. I would certainly have to say Sally Schnitzer would be one. Sally actually took my seat when I left the Planning Board. And she took my seat when I left the Board of Selectmen. And you know when you get involved in an organization sometimes people say to you your primary duty is to find someone to replace you when you're no longer there? And I always feel that the fact that Sally took my place on both those boards was something I'm very proud of, not that I had anything to do with it, but I'm very proud of it!
MK: What are her real strong points?
JW: She is just again a very committed, articulate person who is very good at building consensus and bringing people together. And so she has been involved in a number of planning efforts. She was very much involved in the preservation of Esterbrook Woods and involved with the Route 2 Committee with the other towns, and just is someone I admire tremendously.
MK: Is she local too? Was she born here, raised here?
JW: No, she wasn't. She--.
MK: And Marian?
JW: No, no Marian was not either.
MK: Interesting. Interesting. One more.
JW: Now it gets harder, not because I can't think of anybody, but because I can think of too many—
JW: --people. I would probably have to put Gordon Shaw up there. Gordon was born here [Chuckles] and has served on a number of committees and is certainly a long, long time backbone of the land—Concord Land Conservation Trust and is just someone who has worked really hard for the town over the years and again in bringing people together. All of these people are people who I think have been successful because they brought people together. They're not out there on their own. They're not looking to be recognized. They're working.
MK: Consensus builders?
MK: And what now are the greatest challenges that Concord faces as we look from here on to, into this Depression and beyond.
JW: Right. Certainly the economy is going to challenge all of us. I think Concord has rebuilt all of our, or built new, I should say, all of our elementary schools over the last eight or nine years. I guess it isn't even that long. We have a high school that's badly in need of some major rehaul, probably a tear down and start again. It has been talked about of anywhere of a $40 million project and up. I think that's going to be a huge challenge for the town in this economy. I think from the, I guess from the point of view of the, now serving on the Personnel Board, I think that one of our challenges is going to be to keep and retain the great town employees that we have. I think we have a very good staff. We have a fantastic Town Manager.
MK: Whose name is?
JW: Whose name is Chris Whelan. And I am proud to say that I was on the board that hired Chris, so!
MK: What do you like about him so much?
JW: He is very capable, again is very much of a consensus builder of--. He's--. We have a strong Town Manager form of government. Chris is a strong manager. There's no doubt that he's in charge, but he does it in a very gracious way. He, I think, really listens to other people. And he's just very, very capable. He's very likable. I think he is a great image for the town, just very approachable. But I think with the economy, as I say, keeping our town staff is going to be something that we need to work on. And I just think we're going to have a lot of pressure. I hope that we do not see a lot of people losing their jobs, but I'm sure--. I know we're already seeing some around town. I'm not aware of a number of foreclosures, but I know certainly that has hit other communities and hopefully will not hit us. And we will probably have to just ride this out. But Concord has always been fairly conservative in terms of fiscal planning, so I think we're in pretty good shape to wait it out and look for the upturn.
MK: And I guess the final question is, what have we left out?
MK: What should we be talking about?
JW: Oh, I don't know.
MK: Because I don't really know the right questions to ask.
JW: Yeah. Umm. I don't really know. You know I made a couple of notes of things that I thought you might ask me about. Let me see if we--. No, I think that's--. I will say the one big issue which we didn't talk about which, when I was on the Board of Selectmen involved the Visitor Center. For many, many years Concord's Visitor Center was a little booth about the size of this table [chuckles]. That was on Heywood Meadow as you came into town and obviously had no facilities in terms of restrooms or power or anything and had been a longstanding issue with people questioning whether we were really, number one, being welcoming to visitors, but number two being mindful of the people who were staffing this booth, from the Chamber of Commerce. And the Concord Business Partnership came actually to me as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen with a proposal to purchase a piece of land across from where this little booth was that, that we could then have a Visitor's Center built on. The land was privately owned and was going to be sold for development. And the Board of Selectmen discussed it and thought it sounded like a very interesting, promising idea. And as we proceeded to kind of negotiate that out, there came forward a group called Friends of Heywood Meadow who vehemently opposed the development of any kind of building on this little place, these two acres, two lots rather, that were there. And basically we formed a little working group and got an agreement that if we all walked away from this, no one was going to win, because the--. Heywood Meadow was not going to be open. There were going to be two houses on it, and they were probably going to be pretty large houses. But the Friends of Heywood Meadow--. So we all agreed to support moving forward to acquire the land, which was done in cooperation with the Concord Business Partnership, and then sit down and figure out what we could do to create a Visitor's Center somewhere else. And after many, many, many, many meetings, the Middlesex Bank came forward and offered a small portion of their land for a Visitor's center. So today we have Heywood Meadow preserved, and in the spring there are hundreds of daffodils that bloom there. And we have a Visitor's Center that actually has restroom facilities, and lights, and running water. And so I think that was kind of a nice example of basically two groups who could have really come to a knock down, drag out fight, but instead worked together.
MK: And how far from Heywood Meadows is the Visitor's Center?
JW: It's actually right in the center of town now.
JW: It's almost across the street and down. So it's very convenient for, particularly for people walking in the center.
MK: Well for somebody who wasn't sure what she was going to say, you have certainly laid out a very clear and articulate vision about the town.
JW: Well, I hope so. [chuckles]
MK: We certainly thank you for that.
JW: Well thank you.
CK: It sounds like in some ways a thankless job, all the different things that you've done and--. I mean I just--. It makes me wonder what kind of a person would choose to do this, to be of public service. I'm guessing people had some comments about the people who were making decisions for the town, in that circle. I just wonder why you did it and how it was for you.
JW: You know, it's like everything. A lot of it is the people that you work with and the purpose that you're working towards. And I had great people that I served on various boards with, great town staff that I've worked with. And that makes it interesting. It makes it fun. And you really, when something does come together you get a great sense of accomplishment. And there are always people who are going to complain. But after a while you sometimes realize that it's the same people who are always going to complain! And you may not always be able to make them happy. But in, even--. Sometimes the people that complain--. We had--. And she's no longer with us unfortunately—a great town citizen who always had something to say about what was happening in town, and I had many long conversations with her. And I would say to her--. I'll use her first name. I would say, " Anna, you know, you and I don't agree. And I'm willing to concede that you might be right and I might be wrong. Would you do the same thing for me?" And she would say, "No. You're wrong and I'm right!" And I'd say, "Well okay, Anna! That's all I can do."
MK: My way or the—
CK: . . . Some days I wonder if you thought, "What's in this for me? And why--?"
JW: There were a few days like that, but not for the most part. As I say, you're working with a group of people. If someone is complaining to you about something, you have somebody else to say, "You know, I got a phone call last night, and they were complaining. And I was trying to explain, we're doing this." You had somebody else to say, "Oh, I know just what you're thinking." And so.
MK: Have you ever wondered if planning might not be built into the curriculum of local schools, at the high school level say, or even at the junior high, to get junior interns
JW: Umm hmm.
MK: --working with these committees so that you have--?
JW: I think that would be a great idea. I like that a lot. One of my favorite stories is, when I was involved with this inclusionary housing taskforce, looking at ways that we could include options for affordable housing within a subdivision and change the zoning bylaw, we had a new young reporter for the Concord paper come to the meeting. Now this was a planning subcommittee where the talk around the table would be something to the effect of, "If we changed 4.2.b.c., and put in 10 percent, versus if we changed 3.1.d.b and added there a--." And so I thought, "Someone is really trying to test this poor young reporter! Ouch. So the next day he called me and he said, "Do you mind if I ask you some questions about that meeting last night?" And I said, "No. Go right ahead." So he said, "Well could you tell me something about it?" So I gave a, probably a five minute, what I thought was a wonderful tutorial on inclusionary zoning and why you would want to require a developer to build affordable units, and why you would do this, and ways that you might do it. And I was quite proud of my succinct way to describe this to him. And he said, "Umm, do you mind if I ask you another question?" I said, "No. Go ahead." And he said, "What's a subdivision?" And I thought, "Oh, I guess I wasn't getting there!" So I think a little planning would be a good thing for a curriculum in a high school or—.
MK: Thank you very much.
JW: Oh, thank you.
MK: This has been just great.
JW: Thanks. Nice to meet you.
MK: . . . .
JW: When do you head back?
1:07:02 END OF INTERVIEW