Littleton candidates’ night pressures political hopefuls with questions on King Street Common, gun bylaw
LITTLETON — Candidates for contested seats on the Select Board and Planning Board weighed in on large-scale town projects, housing, the gun bylaw and more during a candidates’ night held by Littleton Rotary at Town Hall Wednesday night.
One five-year seat is open on the Planning Board, and two three-year seats are open on the Select Board.
Planning Board incumbent Anna Hueston and challenger Ed Fultz faced questions regarding the divisive development at 550 King St., the 41-acre former IBM site on which developer Sal Lupoli plans to build affordable housing units and devote hundreds of thousands of square feet to retail, restaurants and other businesses.
Hueston voiced her approval of the project, dubbed King Street Common, as it meets the housing goals in the town’s master plan and maintains “the classic New England farmhouse design that we all like.” After speaking with Lupoli Cos., Hueston said she ensured 80% of units will be for middle-income families and 10% for low-income families.
But it’s that project and others like it that drove Fultz to run for the open seat. The 26-year resident is “concerned about where the town is going,” particularly because the Littleton he once knew was still a small, rural community.
“I do support growth, but I don’t support unlimited growth,” Fultz said. “I’ve heard, ‘Grow or die.’ Well, grow or die is not my motto. Keep the town in its character.”
But to manage that growth, the town needs proper accommodations, which is why Hueston is a proponent of the King Street Common. Hueston said the project would “absorb a lot of the density” that may end up near Littleton’s Commuter Rail station, per the MBTA Communities initiative, which requires certain towns to provide zoning for multifamily housing less than half a mile from public transportation stations.
The state is requiring Littleton build 750 units, Hueston said, many of which could end up at King Street, which initially aimed for 780 units. Hueston said Lupoli Cos. will provide transportation for tenants to the train station.
The biggest benefit, however, is the “economic development,” she said — the property is estimated to bring in a net of more than $5 million.
“What they’re going to be bringing into the community as revenue, from a tax-base perspective, when you subtract out all of those different costs to the community, there’s still going to be a net of millions of dollars,” Hueston said. “Now, we all know that right now, the loss of IBM being at that site means that over the last couple of years, we’ve lost the ability to tax over $25 million in value each of those years. Well, we want to be able to regain not only that, but a heck of a lot more.”
Fultz and Hueston also discussed zoning that aligns with Littleton’s small-town, farmhouse aesthetic. Hueston mentioned the Village Common Form Based Code, which passed at Town Meeting in June 2020 and requires developers to build structures that fit that desired look.
To better inform residents, Fultz suggested reinstating road banners for big projects being discussed and updating the town’s website to make it more accessible. Hueston noted that the town will get a new website this summer.
Political newcomer Karen Morrison, a lawyer and small business owner and consultant, is running for Select Board against incumbents Cindy Napoli and board Chair Matthew Nordhaus.
All three contenders feel communication and housing are the biggest challenges in Littleton, with Morrison reiterating concerns that families may be “priced out” of town. More affordable housing would solve that, she added, and both Napoli and Nordhaus said they support the King Street development and the units it will provide.
Candidates were also asked about the status of the 83-acre Nagog Hill Orchard, which has been vacant since last June. In July, the board submitted a summary of its request for proposal after receiving one response from Stormalong Cider, but Napoli, chair of the Nagog Hill Orchard Ad Hoc Working Group, said the negotiations with the potential lessee are “at a standstill.”
“Unfortunately right now, the orchard still remains in limbo,” Napoli said, “but it is still owned by the town, it’s still protected from development, but we just need to figure out a path forward in the future, near future.”
Without a tenant, the orchard “fell into disrepair,” Nordhaus said, which he blames on the Select Board and the Agricultural Working Group. Nordhaus, who also sits on the orchard working group, said the town spent $80,000 cleaning the site. For the orchard to survive, Nordhaus said the business can’t “rely on just selling apples.”
Napoli and Nordhaus both said the board may consider issuing another RFP.
Given the recent controversy surrounding the Littleton mill building and its many gun shops, Town Meeting passed a Firearms Business Zoning Bylaw at a Special Town Meeting in February, with residents voting by secret ballot.
Though the Select Board did not take a stance on the bylaw, Nordhaus shared that he voted in favor, having spoken with “dozens of residents,” none of whom opposed its passage. As it’s the board’s responsibility to amplify the voice of the town, Nordhaus sided with the yeas.
“We, as a town, we acted with the will of the voters, and we put a legal structure in place which restricts the locations where those gun dealers can operate,” Nordhaus said. “Now, I know this was a very highly charged divisive issue. I think we worked very hard to try to make sure that the communication around it was civil and constructive, and I think to a large degree we succeeded.”
Morrison also said she voted in favor, but Napoli said asking for her position “sets a bad precedent,” so she declined to share how she voted.
Over the past year, the town also debated whether to push back Littleton Public Schools start times for middle and high school students starting next school year. That change added $280,000 to the town budget for additional buses.
Morrison, who served as a parent adviser for those School Committee discussions, stood by the decision when asked whether it was “fiscally responsible.”
“I have a hard time thinking of any other policy or change that the School Committee could make that has a guaranteed net positive impact or guaranteed reach to every single student,” Morrison said. “So, when you look at the expense in terms of who it impacts, I think that the expense is a reasonable one.”
A tenet of Nordhaus’ run for the board three years ago was “transparency,” and the topic came up again when Napoli was confronted with allegations that her “interactions at Town Hall are problematic,” according to one question.
Napoli denied hearing from staff about such interactions, calling it “speculation” and adding that Nordhaus confronted her about it but did not provide specific examples of an incident.
“The whole process that has taken place so far, to me, has been askew, and I feel that it’s politically driven,” she said, “and so I really don’t have anything to say to that because I’m not really sure exactly the root of those allegations and whether or not they’re actually true.”
The town election is Saturday, May 6.