District B Councilor Candidate Q&A: Lisa Feltner

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Lisa Feltner, candidate for District B Town Councilor.

Lisa Feltner, candidate for District B Town Councilor.

Lisa Feltner is running for District B Town Councilor in the Nov. 3 election.

Watertown News asked the candidates a series of questions.

1) What is the biggest issue for your district, and how would you seek to address it?

Development and Traffic-Transit issues will continue to be pressing issues for District B, given the transformation of the Arsenal Corridor with impacts on North Beacon Street, Charles River Road, Watertown Square, Walnut and School streets, with connections to District A development at athenahealth, the Arsenal Project (mall), Linx, etc.

Community Engagement is vital to the health of District B. My slogan is Lisa Listens, She Cares, because this is how people describe me. I engage all residents, embrace new ideas and will work to enact best practices as a Town Councilor. I have been community building for over 20 years in District B and bring a certain oral history to the council. I am curious by nature, and when I don’t know something I spend the time to research and figure out what the real question is before jumping to conclusions or giving random “diagnoses” which confuse people.

If we are really going to embrace Smart Growth and its principles, we need to look at how we are going to implement our vision as stated in the Comprehensive Plan, ensure our planning processes and zoning ordinances will achieve our stated desires in the new Design Guidelines, and decide how we will address Management and Operations.

We must develop partnerships early, as we look to Transportation Demand Management, meaning how we design and manage our transportation in conjunction with our physical infrastructure, to make Watertown more livable and sustainable. I would work collaboratively to identify short term, low-cost solutions and incentives for upgrading public spaces, as well as plan and secure funding for additional phases. I support a multi-pronged approach, such as a new TMA with 128 Business Council, and will continue serving with the Watertown Public Transit Task Force on the Working Group for the MassDOT Arsenal Street Corridor Study.

I feel it would be best if Watertown developed TDM regulations as an overall strategy, even as they could be adopted on a case-by-basis as part of a project’s condition of approval. I also think there should be a strong ongoing review process of TDM regulations in order to be successful.

2) Despite having information on the website, and email blasts available from Notify Me, residents complain about not being informed about what’s going on in Watertown. How can the town connect more with residents and get out information about key projects, votes and more?

I am thrilled that this question is being asked. Thriving communication and healthy dialog is key to the success of any organization. It is how we build trust in each other and in our leaders. Communication is hard work and requires ongoing, persistent effort. No one solution “fixes” it.

So yes, the Town Website needs to be renovated to be more accessible, but a cleaner more intuitive layout will not resolve content issues, so there needs to be a process renovation around how, and when, and what content gets posted to the town website. Also, many residents would now vastly prefer social media notifications over email from Notify Me, especially given how those messages are formatted. Importantly, these should not be “either/or” solutions. We need improved mechanisms for getting timely data in the hands of concerned residents. I have created a Community Calendar on my new website www.lisafeltner.com as just one example, since so many people I met during canvassing said they struggled to find out what was going on, and they are eager to know; visitors may also request that items be added. I will be releasing a podcast soon! There are many innovations that can and should be explored, but it begins with a desire to think inclusively and try new things until you find something that really works and then keep at it.

3) Would you support a tax override or debt exclusion to raise taxes beyond the Prop. 2 1/2 limit? If so, what projects or areas would you want the override or exclusion to fund?

Many residents are already feeling the strain of rising taxes and wondering where the money is going. As a general rule, I am not in favor of overrides, although there are different types outlined in Massachusetts General Law c. 59, § 21C. I think it should only be considered as a temporary measure for significant “one-time” capital investments in the form of either a debt exclusion, or capital outlay expenditure exclusion. As such, I would not favor an override to accommodate year over year operating expense increases. We must focus on the clear and urgent priorities facing Watertown, and work in partnership with new developments to create incentives for a win-win. We are all becoming increasingly aware of the need to upgrade or rebuild our school buildings, particularly the high school; any proposal will be carefully weighed. I would look forward to collaborating with all parties to help determine the most fiscally responsible approach to this critical need. We are also in need of significant infrastructure repairs and upgrades for our town’s aging underground systems, given the ongoing pollution of the Charles River, but I would first look to public-private grants, regional partners and large developments for creative solutions.

4) What would you do to help seniors and others struggling to afford to live in Watertown?

As a citizen I am inspired by volunteer efforts to assist seniors who are able to age in place. We can all work to organize and support efforts to connect those in need. I very much want Watertown to stay affordable for those on a fixed income, and I want it to be a place where seniors, and others who may have physical challenges, have better options for mobility and accessibility. A recent survey this summer identified many homes that have an empty unit. The Watertown Housing Partnership is also working with MetroWest Collaborative Development to develop creative usages for unused and underused properties. I support tax abatements for seniors and incentives for programs that increase accessibility. Federal dollars have, and are projected to decrease in this area, so we must be creative and explore options, such as deed restrictions for 15 years instead of in perpetuity, and increasing the inclusionary zoning provision in large projects from 12.5 percent to 15 percent.

5) The Residential Design Guideline process to change the zoning for Watertown’s residential neighborhoods recently began. What kinds of rules would you like to see include and which would you not want to see in the guidelines?

Residential Design Guidelines can help maintain or improve a neighborhood’s quality and desirability as a place to live. Given the lack of transitions to large developments and the number of tear-downs of single family homes, I am concerned about losing one’s sense of place, which is why I am part of a Neighborhood Advocacy group. However, this process with Planning and David Gamble has just begun and I expect a lot more citizen input on this issue. It is a complicated issue and I am pleased we are starting with listening sessions. I do not anticipate a “one-size-fits-all” solution for our unique town. To quote from the town website: “While the recently completed “Design Guidelines and Standards Manual” addressed the relationship of larger scale, mixed-used use buildings along the Town’s primary commercial corridors, they did not address the development that is taking place within the neighborhoods themselves. Establishing a set of Design Guidelines for the residential areas will ensure that Watertown develops in a manner that respects the rich diversity of its architecture and the cherished neighborhoods in which it resides.”

6) What do you think will be the next big issue that is not yet on the town’s front burners?

We have a lot more work to do! There are many issues of concern of which various small groups of active citizens are aware, but I feel it is very important for all town councilors to be fully engaged with the residents in order to effectively address our urgent priorities as stated in question (1), including our stormwater management and control needs, and sticking with the ongoing opiate crisis. I am someone who brings people together, finds the common concerns and stays with an issue from beginning to end to produce better outcomes. I am dedicated to doing the practical work of bringing the energy and citizen focus we need to accomplish our vision.

Many important issues have been raised in this campaign season that were not widely heard about or understood just a few months ago, including stormwater management, the need for a new High School, the opiate crisis, increasing needs for affordable housing (and understanding the definition of “affordable”), and of course an issue that I have been deeply involved in for years: rapid development of the remaining areas we have in Watertown that need development and the criticality of coordinating those efforts into a livability vision for the future here in Watertown. I believe consciousness has been raised and better decisions have been made lately, but ongoing development and the pressures it will bring on our ability to move around town will continue to be a “front burner” issue for some time to come. What I fear has been lost in much of this is a larger dialog on our open space, public access to the River, and specific plans to enliven Watertown Square for both residents and businesses.

7) Tell us about yourself, your family, your life and what qualities would make you a good Town Councilor.

My husband Dave and I have lived in Watertown for over 20 years and have been homeowners here since 1998. Our son Alexander is at WHS and has attended Watertown public schools since kindergarten at Hosmer. We are a family of musicians, who also value sports, a liberal arts education and lifelong learning. Listening well, researching thoroughly, collaborating respectfully, communicating broadly and consistently, providing honest and clear stewardship of the Town’s resources – these are all qualities of a good Town Councilor. I was raised by parents who embodied these qualities, and we strive to do the same in our home and in our neighborhood. I am excited and would be honored to serve you, as your next District B Town Councilor!

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