April 20, 2023 by the Hingham Unity Council
There’s a lot of information out there coming from a lot of directions and it’s quite a bit to process! These issues are important for our community, however, so the Hingham Unity Council board has discussed the items on this years’ Town Meeting warrant that intersect with our mission and values – to foster a more diverse and inclusive community – and how they affect our Town. We wanted to share our thoughts with you.
The SparkNotes version:
We are voting Yes on Article 6- The Override
We are voting Yes on Article 25 – Single Use Water Bottles
We are voting Yes on the Alternate Motion to Article 29 – Accessory Dwelling Units. This motion
will be brought by Planning Board Chair Judy Sneath on the floor of Town Meeting.
Article 6: The Override
This was a tough conversation for us and required some thought and work, because we acknowledge an inherent conflict between raising taxes and supporting a more diverse and inclusive Hingham: a more expensive Hingham is not accessible to all. However, we trust our elected and appointed officials, and the override has the full support of our Select Board and our Advisory Committee, who volunteer hours of their time in tireless service to our Town and have examined this budget closely. We are aware this was not an easy decision for any of them either – no one wants to raise taxes and they all live here too! A lot of work and thought went into presenting a budget they feel best serves our entire community.
When we carefully examine the cuts that would need to be made if this override is not passed, we fear the burden of these cuts will largely be borne by lower income residents, and this burden outweighs the cost of a tax increase which for some residents, can be mitigated through tax abatement programs offered by the town. We note these will not help everyone, particularly renters who could see a rent increase if landlords seek to offset property tax increases, and the HUC strongly encourages our town leadership to create additional tax relief programs for all residents.
More information can be found at https://investinhingham.org
Article 25: Single Use Plastics
Article 25 would ban the sale of plain water in single use plastic containers under a gallon.
Across the country, plastics are recycled, landfilled, or incinerated in communities with low median income and education levels and large BIPOC populations, and Massachusetts is no exception. Living near recycling or incineration facilities increases the risk of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as reproductive illnesses and cancer.
Hingham’s recycled plastics are sent to facilities in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina – states with significantly lower median income and education levels and, in the case of Georgia and South Carolina, higher BIPOC populations. (Sources: Capitol Paper, census.gov). Hingham’s plastics that are not recycled (estimated at 70 – 90% of all plastic produced) are landfilled or incinerated. Hingham sends its waste to Covanta SEMASS in Wareham, MA for incineration. 49% of Wareham’s population lives in an environmental justice block, as a large proportion of the community is either minority, low-income, low-education, or all of the above.
We feel the fair and equitable choice is not to pass on the burden of disposal of our plastics to these communities and Article 25, while not a ban on all plastic containers, is an important step in the right direction.
Alternate Motion to Article 29: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
Attached ADUs – sometimes known as “in-law apartments” – have been allowed in Hingham by special permit since 2018 for family or caregivers only. Town Meeting 2023 will consider the special ADU Study Committee’s recommendation to allow detached ADUs in addition to attached units. An amendment will be proposed on the floor of Town Meeting by Planning Board chair Judy Sneath to enact the other key recommendation of the ADU Study Committee – to remove the “family restriction” on use of these structures.
Hingham, like many Massachusetts communities, has an urgent need to expand and diversify our housing inventory, a need explicitly identified in both the Master Plan and our recent Housing Plan. ADUs have historically been recognized as an efficient means to create smaller, more sustainable, less costly housing options, including by the AARP as an alternative for the growing trend of residents looking to age in place. However, restricting the use of these units to family members severely limits their value as a housing option.
Only the alternate motion supports the Hingham Master Plan stated goals of encouraging a range of housing types and a more inclusive community. If these units are allowed to exist at all whether the occupant is a family member makes no difference to a neighbor’s use and enjoyment of their property, our Town’s character, or use of Town resources.
The proposed ADU by-law includes many safeguards, including a permitting process that gives abutters the ability to have their concerns addressed, and requirements regarding occupancy, minimum rental period, size and setback, architectural consistency, and a total cap in number of approximately 163 total ADUs allowed – thus a pretty small/incremental impact. Furthermore, there are nearly 40 communities where ADUs with no familial restriction are currently allowed, including Dover, Cohasset, Lexington, Lincoln, Needham, Newton, Norwell, Scituate, Waltham, Wayland, Wellesley, and Weston, and many of those do not even have a special permitting process.
We support the amendment that will be offered because we feel that removing the family restriction is a small but meaningful way to affirm that our Town values inclusivity.
More information can be found at https://alternate29adu.org.
The HUC Board: