The Globe has been buzzing this week about a growing controversy in Milton. Faced with dwindling assets and crumbling buildings, the Milton Poor Farm is now embroiled in a heated and all-too-familiar debate about its future use. Designated in 1701 by Governor Stoughton as land to be used in perpetuity to benefit the city’s poor, the Poor Farm sits on 35 acres of desirable undeveloped land surrounded by large single-family homes on suburban roads and cul-de-sacs. As you might imagine, the question is: should the land be developed?
I’ll be writing a series on this story as it progresses and as I learn more. So by way of introduction, I invite you to read the editorial, and comments, posted in today’s Globe. Also check out Jenifer McKim’s good overview article, published on Tuesday. They discuss how local residents resist the development of affordable housing on the site, in favor of creating a historic site that could be used for tourism, farming, and the existent animal shelter use. The town is in favor of restricted affordable housing development on the site that also preserves open space, provides opportunity for farming, and maintains existing historic buildings. Residents object that creating additional units will overstress the town’s resources, especially in the school system, and also deprive the community of an increasingly valuable historic resource. Depending on your level of cynicism, you could also infer that these residents are manipulating the historic value of the site as a way to justify a NIMBY attitude towards affordable housing in a locality that is quite affluent but borders the high-crime, low-income community of Mattapan.
I’ve reviewed proposals put out by both by the Governor Stoughton Trust Land Committee and the community members in opposition to development. My personal feeling is that the Trustees have put together a proposal for what would be a wonderful asset to the community. They propose a long-term lease to a developer with conditions to preserve open space, long-term affordability conservation, and the historic buildings on the site. They propose incorporating farm uses into the site plan as well as a low-density mixed-income housing development with architectural style that is consistent with the surrounding neighborhood and contains single-family, townhouse, and small multi-family residences. None of these, in my opinion, will conflict with the interests of the community, nor will the introduction of affordable (with residents at 80% of AMI — nearly $70k annual family income) threaten the fabric of affluent Milton. Furthermore, incorporating historic uses into contemporary needs, preserving historic buildings, and maintaining significant open space on the site can only serve to increase awareness of the mission and use of the farm land, and could compel the community to think about other ways to fulfill Gov. Stoughton’s mission to aid the poor in their town and beyond.
Of course, open space and small farmland in increasingly sprawl-dominated metropolitan areas are significantly threatened and this is an important consideratio. We should be encouraging denser development at urban centers, rather than promoting continued building in suburban communities that are not well served by public transportation or employment centers. This is something for another day.