Monday, May 15, 2006

Have you seen this man?

The answer is probably no. That's because he is Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming ( approx. 2000 miles away from all of us here in Fall River!), and even though I don't believe he's ever set foot in Fall River he's trying to play a role in our future.

Senator Thomas (of Wyoming!) has introduced legislation that would undue the legislation introduced by Representative Jim McGovern to keep federal money from being used to destroy the Brightman Street Bridge. Of course McGovern's legislation and the bridge are thorns in the side of Hess LNG and their proposed LNG facility. Although Hess LNG says they will move forward with their plans even with the old bridge in place the good Senator (from Wyoming), in an effort to "improve the energy outlook in the nation" has decided the bridge has got to go.

This really deserves a big WOOHOO for Craig.

Someone needs to explain to Senator Thomas that we here in Fall River would also like to see an improved energy outlook for the nation, we just expect a little common sense when it comes to siteing facilities like this.

Obviously this is just the next chess move between the supporters of the Weaver's Cove site and those opposed to it and I'm pretty sure are local congressional delegation will defeat this. Still, this is the second time a Republican senator has tried to undue McGovern's provision and it's getting a little annoying. Let's be straight on this, we don't think this belongs in Fall River, we have the support of our state reps and senator, we have the support of our U.S. reps and senators, heck we even our Republican governor agrees that this doesn't belong in Fall River.

The thing that annoys me the most is I don't think Senator Thomas took two seconds to find out why a working class community in Massachusetts is against having an LNG facility rammed down their throats. I mean, come on, he the senator of WYOMING, population 500,000! He can't be that busy! If his actions were really motivated by a concern for the nation's 'energy outlook' shouldn't he have talked to Representative Jim McGovern, or fellow Senator John Kerry to try to understand what motivates us?

If Senator Thomas had taken the time to talk to McGovern, Kerry or Kennedy, if he had had staffers talk to Governor Romney or Mayor Lambert, if he has sent staffers down here to learn things first hand and STILL decided to take the actions he took at least I might be give him the benefit of the doubt and believe his decision wasn't just motivated by politics.

Since I've started writing this Mayor Lambert has extended an invitation to Senator Thomas to come and see things first hand. Here is a chance for the good senator to gain a little credibility and respect, a chance for him to see with his own eyes the lives he may affect.

It's more than doubtful that Thomas will accept this invitation but in case I'm wrong, please take a good look at the picture up above and let me know if you've seen this man.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

In The Zone

When a story appeared in the Herald News reporting that the City Council had questions and concerns regarding our Zoning board, I was intrigued.

Apparently Fall River's zoning board grants far more variance requests that any other community in the state and the City Council and the council had questions as to why.

Well looking around the city this seemed to make sense to me. Houses and housing developments have popped up all over the place. The combination of the rising cost of real estate coupled with the relatively low cost for housing in Fall River (as compared to other areas in the state), fueled a building boom in the city. An old, established city like Fall River does not have a ton of free space for development and houses popped up on small vacant plots and subdivided lots and commercial properties were bought with the sole intent of demolishing whatever was on them to make may for more houses.

A good example, and one that seems to have prompted the actions of the council and has made all of this 'newsworthy' is the zoning board granting a variance for a 15 story, 96 unit complex to be situated near the Marina. Neighbors immediately cried that was ridiculous that the proposed complex was too close to their homes, the area is congested and it would block out the water-views that the community has always enjoyed. Others, like the Herald's Marc Monroe Dion feel, 'hey this is good!' because new houses means growth and prosperity and homeowners who actually live in their homes are preferable to absentee landlords and that is more important than water-views or the inconvenience of those who are crying NOT IN MY BACKYARD!! The Zoning Board of Appeals says granting the variance was the right thing to do because there is nothing in the city's zoning to prohibit the high-rise. The Mayor believes that the board is doing a good job but that a big issue is that the foundation for Fall River's existing zoning ordinances date back about 80 years and need an overhaul.

So what where does the problem lie? Is the issue really that the ordinances are problematic and out of date, or do we have a board that is too liberal in granting variances? If the board can deny a variance for 96 unit complex on a tiny parcel of land shouldn't they? Should variances be granted to shoehorn houses on tiny lots where you can practically touch your neighbors house from within your own? Are we all that allergic to grass that we need to develop every square inch of land?

Look, I understand that Fall River is a city and that tight congested neighborhoods have existed for generations but that doesn't mean we should still do it that way today. The city has changed. Neighborhoods were self-supportive with stores and markets, and barber shops. Streets weren't congested with cars because cars didn't exist and most people walked to work at a nearby mill.

Instead of trying to squeeze a profit, uh, I mean a house on every little piece of land shouldn't we be trying instead to build houses that are worth living in? My own house lot is a little more that 4,000 square feet and although not large there is enough land to have cook outs and for kids to play, still room enough for a swing set OR a pool but that's only because back when the house was built there was no frontage requirements and the house sits practically on top of the street. The same house built today would have to be 15 ft. in from the road and have so much room behind it and the result would be no usable yard. In fact I know where one recently built house has the entire surrounding yard cemented over!! I guess they figured if it's not usable why mow grass?

My own opinion is that house lots should be a minimum of 12,000 square feet and that the size and footprint of the house be small enough to allow for a at least a small, usable yard. A bigger house would require a bigger lot and anybody wanting to build on an 'undersized' lot would need to apply for a variance. As far as the proposed Marina condominiums, I think the variance should have been denied. The area is too congested and the lot too small. Variances should not be granted unless the resulting impact (traffic, demand on schools, water, sewer and yes the effect on the quality of life of the people already living there) is fully taken into consideration.

Really, this is just good city planning and it's something that Fall River has woefully lacked in the past and something we shouldn't be ignoring now. After all what's the point of new houses and new developments if it ruins the quality of life for the people in the old ones?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Is Anybody Tuning In?

According to a brief article in the Herald News, Fall River's AM radio station WSAR 1480 is suffering from low ratings.

The story, which is not available online, stated that according to the Arbitron ratings for the first 3 months of 2006, WSAR had a .06 rating. That .06 means .06 % of the total "market population" listens to WSAR for at least 5 minutes in a 15 minute period.

The Herald News went on to point out that New Bedford's WBSM 1420 AM received a 1.2 rating, twice the Fall River's station despite having a weaker signal.

Personally, I like WSAR and tune in on a fairly regular basis throughout the day. Oh sure, I find Barry Richards to be too antagonistic and some times Kerry Rodrigues as well. I probably most prefer Mike Moran, but overall I think they all do a good job of discussing the things that are happening in and around Fall River.

And maybe that's the problem. WSAR IS a small, local, AM, radio station. It's niche is covering Fall River and that is exactly why I listen. I can't figure out why WBSM has a better ratings but it just possibly could be that they cover the surrounding area better than WSAR. Perhaps WSAR needs to make more of an effort to cover the goings on of Somerset, Swansea, Westport, Tiverton and Assonet. It's not they ignore those communities but they don't really focus on them either.

Although maybe the problem has more to with the Arbitron ratings. WSAR is considered part of the Providence-Pawtucket-Warwick market, which really doesn't make much sense. Sure geographically Fall River is often lumped in with Providence but for a talk radio format what's going on in Fall River has limited appeal to somebody who lives in and around Providence Rhode Island.

In the end a local radio station, particularly one that focuses on news and talk is a lot like your local newspaper, sure a big metro is more polished and will cover more but they don't usually cover the little things that go on where YOU live.

If you're interested in what's going on in and around Fall River it's worth tuning in.