CPA Turns Five in Newton
This year, Newton passed the five-year mark in its experience with the Community Preservation Act. The CPA was adopted by the voters in 2001. A lot has been accomplished since then. This article traces some of highlights of the first five years and takes a look ahead at the next five, based on some forward thinking by the Community Preservation Committee.
Adoption of the Act came at a fortuitous time for Newton, enabling the city to take advantage of a number of remarkable one-time opportunities, including the preservation of more than 25 acres of open space at Kesseler Woods, the restoration of Newton’s three historic burying grounds, the purchase of Angino Farm, and creation of 100 units of community housing. Besides Kesseler Woods and Angino Farm, two key milestones for the Conservators, our organization was instrumental in the acquisition of the Forte property at Dolan Pond - a triple win in the form of open space, historic preservation and three units of community housing - and the Wilmerding property that expanded the Cohen Conservation Area off the Hammond Pond Parkway. We also worked to enhance public use of the Flowed Meadow Conservation Area and supported the restoration of Houghton Garden.
The city’s adoption of CPA has made possible a broad range of other projects as well—a total of about 50 projects amounting to roughly $15 million dollars.
With the benefit of a five-year perspective, it is a good time to look back on the city’s experience with CPA and draw some conclusions as well as identify patterns and trends. Here are some that the Community Preservation Committee thinks are important as it looks ahead to the next fiscal year and beyond:
So what can we expect for the next five years of CPA in Newton? In terms of the involvement of key community organizations like the Newton Conservators, funding of important projects across all funding categories, and leveraging other funding sources, the CPC anticipates results that are just as impressive when we take a look back in 2011.
But there will be some important differences. Unless the Legislature finds a way to replenish the state-matching fund, which is declining as more communities opt into CPA and as the housing market recedes (the fund is supported by deed-filing fees), the amount of money available to spend in each fiscal year will fall. Bond payments and other long-term commitments will also put a squeeze on available funds. That means fewer projects will be approved and the competition for funding will become much more intense. Some great projects will not be funded at all or they will have to wait for future funding. Organizations like the Conservators will need to make their case in very compelling terms in order to get even the best projects approved by the CPC and the Board of Aldermen.
We can also expect new ideas and approaches to develop as the Community Preservation Committee turns over in the next three years. Term limits built into the ordinance enabling the CPC will require replacement of original CPC members beginning in 2007 and continuing into 2009. Change can be good, but the Conservators and others will need to monitor this process carefully and offer its input regarding suitable candidates to ensure that its perspective is represented among new committee members.
Finally, groups like the Conservators will need to be very clear about their own spending priorities and communicate those priorities directly and regularly to the CPC and the Board of Aldermen. In the next five years of CPA in Newton, it won’t be enough to take advantage of market opportunities as they present themselves. This means looking ahead to identify and cultivate a climate of receptivity for projects, presenting a clear and compelling outline of community benefits for targeted opportunities. Such an exercise should parallel and feed into the city’s own update of its Open Space and Recreation Plan, due in 2007, as well as the annual and long-term CPC planning process.
This translates into a three-part agenda for the Conservators:
Acting on this agenda will lead to results that reflect our best hopes while avoiding the agony of missed opportunities.
(Doug Dickson is a Member and former Chairman of the Newton Community Preservation Committee and a Past President of the Newton Conservators)