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Got Any Ideas for the Nichewaug?

On Nov. 13, 2017, the Worcester Telegram published a story bearing the headline "Got Any Ideas for an Old Inn?" The question has still not been answered.

A new Nichewug Inn and Academy Committee is  now planning to survey town households in September an effort to determine a course for the future of the property.

The year 2017 was a banner year for the old place. The town committed slightly more than $500,000 - a half million dollars - to remove asbestos from the buildings. That would make the place more attractive to a hopeful redeveloper. So now the floor tiles and ceiling tiles have been ripped out and -- except for some pesky groundwater in the large auditorium -- that work is done. Now we face a series of committee meetings intended to determine whether there is town-wide agreement on the way forward.

A plan for the Nichewaug

For the record, the town accepted ownership of the buildings with the notion that a citizens' committee would be better able to come up with a redevelopment plan than the handful of private owners who had tried since the girls' Catholic school was shuttered in the mid-70s. That two-year effort did not go so well and finally sputtered to a stop.           

Most residents are understandably weary of all this. Misinformation abounds. Some voices proclaim that the buildings are decrepit, neglected by their owner (the town) and should be demolished; that any redevelopment would destroy the center of our town. The facts do not support that opinion. One after another, experts who have looked at the structures report that the complex is in surprisingly good shape despite years of no maintenance and shameful neglect. As a school with more than 100 students and a full staff, the place did not ruin our town center.

Will we find a white knight with a magical solution? Magical thinking.

Ideas? Absolutely. The property could deliver solutions to any number of pressing problems, all without taking away from the beauty of our town center. Any development could be predicated on providing a low-density mixed-use opportunity to meet several needs.

Petersham's town offices are presently housed in an antique building that could only be brought up to code at great expense. They could move to the Nichewaug buildings and easily be made accessible to all.

The town has no senior housing. Senior apartments could be created at the Nichewaug. A "chapel" at the front of the property could serve as a senior center.

Moderate income housing is also lacking. State law gives developers who include low and moderate income housing in their development plans a pass on local zoning rules. Petersham currently has no low or moderate income housing. The Nichewaug  could include a number of units in the former nuns quarters.

Other proposals have included condominiums.

More than 100 home-based businesses have no local space in which to grow. A Boston consultant recommended  considering a few condominiums but didn't really think much about a mixed-use project that could blend accessible town offices, senior housing, private housing units and other units to meet community needs and generate income at the same time - all without disrupting the look of the common.

Even the rooftop has value and could produce new revenue. It could host about 3,500 square feet of solar panels to produce an estimated 85,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year and new revenue. A redevelopment could even provide some relief to the nearby library by supplying water and sewer services. The library could provide modern broadband service to the complex.

The town owns the building. It could continue to do so while working with groups like the Petersham Committee (meeting the needs of our seniors) and others who might want to take on small pieces of what could become a mixed-use facility. The town could create an Economic Development group or a Redevelopment Authority to serve as landlord for several tenants. Leasehold improvements could be the tenants' responsibility.

The town has convened community meetings to see if a "consensus" can be agreed upon.  If the answer is NO, then we go back to square one and the "tear it down folks" will come back in force with a recommendation to spend another half million for demolition -- to throw away a building that could meet several needs and generate new revenue for the town -- a building which the town presently values at $600,000.

Demolition would bring the out of pocket cost of creating a big blank spot in our town center to somewhere around $200,000 an acre.

What's really missing here? Simply put - the town is suffering from a lack of imagination and an absence of willingness to take direct responsibility for a complicated task. It is past time to stop looking for a saviour. The Nichwaug is not a monolithic big problem. Rather it is an opportunity that should  re-defined as a set of small opportunities that could work well together to meet several pressing local needs.

This time, a "Let some other guy do it" strategy is just not going to work.


Where Are All of You?

The US Census Bureau says 1,234 people live here. Our town government spends a bit more than $3 million each year on roads, schools and all that other stuff.
Two people attended a recent Selectboard meeting. Three Selectmen, two town employees, two newspaper reporters, the transfer station assistant and the animal control person were among them. Two just plain residents? Where is everybody else?

Drunk - On (Our) Money

The US will overspend its income by more than $1 trillion again in the coming year. You don't have to be a right-winger to work out that most households would be in huge trouble if they spent more than they earned.

So how about Congress and the President? The US spends 10X more than anyone else in the world for weapons and soldiers, billions on aid to other countries, billions for agencies that spend their time writing more rules and more regulations designed to "fix" everything that could possibly go wrong.

Isn't it about time that someone in government realized it is time to re-think, to spend less? To limit the costly rules and regulations that  drain needed dollars from home budgets and small businesses? To recognize that household budgets are straining, people are cutting household spending so they can stay warm and pay for gasoline? Or is government at all levels just drunk on our money?


The System Is Broken - 1

"We are sorry for the delay but all of our representatives are helping other customers. Please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly." How many times have you heard that and waited 20 or more minutes to get  a simple question answered? Are call volumes "unusually high" or do these companies simply not have enough folks answering the phones? Here's an idea -- hire a few more call center representatives. Answer more calls in less time. Give a few folks badly needed jobs and give the rest of us a little well-deserved relief..

Call or write:
Sen. Anne Gobi 617-722-1540
Rep. Susanna Lee 617-722-2425

                        DAY - D. Tatlock

To find out who your legislators are, visit the Massachusetts legislature's website at . Or just look at the bottom left hand corner of the home page.

Send all snail mail to: The Honorable (name of your state representative/state senator) State House, Boston, MA 02133. Your representatives all have e-mail addresses as well.


Sometimes it is a good thing to live at the top of a hill.






Defending Hunter Biden

Dear Editor:

I suspect Hunter Biden, the Hollywood handsome son of former VP Joe Biden, will continue to be the subject of attack throughout his father's candidacy for president for past substance abuse and accusations of "using the Biden name" to gain leverage in whatever he does.

What these accusers fail to note is he is a graduate of Georgetown and Yale Law, a partner at Rosemont Seneca Partners, LLC, an international consulting firm, Chair of World Food Program USA, which supports the largest humanitarian organization in the world, and former Vice-Chair of Amtrak. Hunter also taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Masters of Science program, to list a few of his credentials. (He was also editor of both the Yale Law & Policy Review and the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities. No wonder his dad is proud of him!)

In 2014, Hunter was a counsel with Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, a New York-based international law firm, advising Burisma Holdings, the largest independent natural gas producer in Ukraine, on its corporate reform initiatives. This was an important undertaking in securing Ukraine's economic integrity and national security following the overthrow of its corrupt Russian-backed president, (Paul Manafort's protege.)

The former president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski (co-author of Poland's constitution) was brought on Burisma's board to further these reforms, and he recommended that Hunter Biden who had impressed the company with his expertise be also appointed to the board. As a non-executive, independent director and not a member of the management team, he would not be expected to have a background in the oil/gas industry. Instead, Hunter's role was in developing corporate reform initiatives.

Genevieve Fraser
Orange, MA 01364

Bring Residents' Opinion to Bear on Solar Proposal

August 12, 2019


On Tuesday August 6, 2019 I attended a public hearing held by the Petersham Conservation Commission regarding Sunpin’s intent to clear cut a forested area for a commercial undertaking. At this meeting I learned that the scope of the Conservation Commission’s regulatory role is limited to the aspects of the undertaking that apply to the enforcement of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.

The forest, which has an inseparable relationship with surrounding wetlands, has value that could not be considered by the Commission in the context of the hearing. One such value is that it is healthy wildlife habitat, providing food, water, cover, nesting places, and migratory corridors for our wildlife. Another important value of healthy, growing forests is that they are needed carbon sinks. Yet another value, perhaps closest to my heart, is that the continuity of our town’s forested areas forms a critical part of our local culture and our community’s setting.

I ask that all concerned Petersham residents attend the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing(s) about this project and provide the information and perspective that the Board will need to make the right choices.

Mark Bishop, Petersham Resident

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Perhaps a Refund is in Order?

US Senators are paid a base salary of $174,000 a year for their work. Our Senator Elizabeth Warren has understandably been busy during the past year -- too busy to do the job she is paid to do. She is running for president of course.

Warren ranks fourth among all senators in the number of senate votes missed.

All Senators most absent
#1 64.7% Sen. Cory Booker [D-NJ]
#2 63.3% Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders [I-VT]
#3 61.9% Sen. Kamala Harris [D-CA]
#4 53.7% Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D-MA]
#5 39.3% Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D-MN]

Presumably, the paycheck keeps coming, regardless of day absent from  senate deliberations.

Perhaps a refund is in order from the senator.