Sen. Eldridge talks DCR funding, affordable housing at forum

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Sen. Eldridge talks DCR funding, affordable housing at forum
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge speaks during a Hudson Town Meeting last May. Eldridge has long been a vocal supporter of affordable housing projects. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

MARLBOROUGH/HUDSON – State Sen. Jamie Eldridge called on local business leaders to share their thoughts on the local housing situation in comments at a recent Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce legislative forum.

Held by Zoom video call last Friday, the forum featured Eldridge and State Rep. Kate Hogan, with both legislators addressing assembled chamber members.

Eldridge discussed zoning reforms recently passed by the state legislature that he said aim to allow for more dense, multifamily housing amid an ongoing housing shortage.

This, he said, is good news for businesses.

“The more people that are in MetroWest, [and] the more people that are housing secure, the better that it’s going to be for businesses in general,” Eldridge said.

He continued, asking that business leaders speak up in conversations that often play out as developers propose new projects.

“I just think that it is important for the business community to weigh in because sometimes we have some NIMBY approaches of opposing denser housing, and I just think it’s really critical to make sure that everyone is housing secure,” he said.

Projects periodically face opposition

Eldridge has long been a vocal advocate for affordable housing. 

These projects, and larger housing projects in general, have faced opposition from time to time, though, with community members noting a variety of concerns.

One of those larger housing proposals, known as Walcott Heritage Farms, proceeded to a Marlborough City Council vote last August, with the council ultimately rejecting developers’ special permit request. 

At least 15% of Walcott’s units would have been classified as “affordable.”

That eventual vote to reject followed months of opposition from community members, though, who raised questions about traffic, green space and other concerns related to what would have a large residential complex at the old McGee Horse Farm in Marlborough. 

The City Council rejected the proposal specifically after the state said “no” to a request to install a traffic light outside the entrance to the Walcott site.

The city had wanted that light to help manage traffic in the area. The state said, however, that this stretch of road did not fit the standards that typically determine where it permits lights.

“The reality is we need more housing,” State Rep. Carmine Gentile told the Community Advocate after a City Council subcommittee vote recommended rejecting Walcott’s special permit request. “We need more housing in eastern Massachusetts. We need more housing everywhere. That would have supplied a lot more housing.” 

Walcott’s developers have appealed the City Council’s decision.

Eldridge discusses DEP funding, lack of DCR funding

Speaking last week, Eldridge separately touted a recent increase in funding for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) while criticizing the funding status of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

The DEP funding, he said, will allow the agency to more quickly process certain permit requests, in turn, speeding up a step that can often delay developers seeking to move housing projects through its approval process. 

DCR funding, meanwhile, has lagged, with CommonWealth Magazine noting last year that funding had actually decreased by $4.5 million in the previous 12 years.

“Unfortunately, the legislature has not really invested well in DCR and our state parks,” Eldridge said. “But it’s critical to quality of life.” 

DCR has properties across the state. 

Locally, though, it specifically manages a number of spaces in Marlborough and Hudson alone, including the Sudbury River Watershed area, Callahan State Park and the Marlborough-Sudbury State Forest.

Eldridge also discussed investments in education, among other things, during his comments at the Assabet Valley Chamber’s forum.

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