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Candidates Discuss Economic Development; Proposed Target Plan

Candidates for Board of Selectmen and Planning Board participated in a Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce debate Wednesday morning.

Candidates from the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board races met at New England Executive Park Wednesday morning for a final candidate forum, this one put on by the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce.

The two main issues up for debate were economic development and the . Patch will take a look at some of the dialogue from the forum in this post. Planning Board Jack Kelly and Board of Selectmen candidate Virginia Mooney were unable to attend this final debate, but they discussed the issues at hand in their Patch interviews. You can find Mooney's interview and Kelly's .

The questions and discussion on economic development mostly centered around the Board of Selectmen candidates, incumbents Daniel DiTucci and Ralph Patuto and challenger Mike Ruynan.

Ruynan said that location as been a big benefit to Burlington as it attracts new businesses, but that the town cannot rely on its geographical position alone. Ruynan suggested the town adopt an economic policy and work on new ways to attract the types of businesses that are good for the town.

"We no longer can rely solely on location," he said. "Competition is greater and we need to address our shortcomings. We have buildings that need upgrades to meet modern standards. I would also encourage Burlington to adopt an economic policy and update its Web site; our Web site is terrible and has not been updated in years."

Ruynan added he would like to see the town focus more on attractive commercial businesses rather than service industries, such as restaurants.

"I'm not a big fan of restaurants and retail establishments in Burlington," he said. "I think we've reached a threshold. We’ve lost good commercial customers, iRobot for example, and that concerns me. We have some impediments I would like to address, including the sign bylaw and that we have one of highest business tax rates in the state."

Patuto said he was interested in pursuing and encouraging redevelopment of some of the towns "outdated" buildings and retail districts that are not keeping up with the times. He pointed to the NorthWest Project on Third and Fourth Avenues as a good example of revitalizing an economic center.

Patuto also said Burlington is in a good position to attract businesses because of the work done by town leaders to create a welcoming environment.

The standard was set long before I was on the board and its the standard we have continued to help us down this road," he said. "We attract the best businesses and the best businesses attract the best emenities. We need to stay the course to be successful. Yes, our commercial tax base is on the high end, but that hasn’t stopped businesses coming into town. Look at the caliber of the companies here, how they’re doing, and the caliber of companies looking to come here."

Patuto pointed to , which is planning to opening in NorthWest Park, and , which is currently in talks with the town to relocate its headquarters here.

Finally, Patuto said he thought restaurants were a boon to the town.

"I’m a fan of good restaurants," he said. "Restaurants may bring traffic, but they also bring in money. I will say restaurants right now are helping to drive our economy and our high-end locations attract people to town. Also we passed the meals tax and what a move that was. There was a lot of resistance, but its been a pot of gold. We raised $1.5 million in the first year." 

DiTucci also said in his view the town is a good track economically and that the board should continue to build on its work.

"I feel the economy, from my point of view, has stabilized and we got through the last three to four years on our own," he said. "We've been fiscally responsible and we have money in the bank. We spend, but we don’t over-spend or do so foolishly. There should be no change in the present Board of Selectmen."

Patuto said the town works with businesses to set the conditions to attract them to town. He said the four planned development districts was a good example of what the town can do to bring in new and beneficial businesses.

"We give business owners what we can to provide the right conditions," he said. "Not 100 percent of what they want because we also consider the impact on traffic and quality of life. It's up to land owners to bring in businesses and we’ll work with them to do so."

Finally, Ditucci said this approach is paying off. He also highlighted the Keurig deal in the works, which is centering around a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) agreement that, if a deal is reached, will give the company some tax relief if it occupies and improves upon a location in town. He said such arrangements, when used correctly, can be a useful tool to attract businesses that will benefit the town.

"If all goes well, Keurig will be coming in with 400 employees and that is the right type of traffic. I love employment traffic, people come to work and they stay and spend money in town."

The discussion on the proposed Target project and the submitted by the Gutierrez Company, the developer behind the project, was more pointed. Both candidates present were asked whether they are in favor of the project.

L'Heureux said she did not think the traffic plan would be as effective as the developer claims and that she think the addition of a Target near Middlesex Turnpike will make a bad traffic situation worse.

"I’m not in favor of it, I don’t think the proposal will successfully mitigate the roughly 1,200 cars per hour that will come with Target," she said. "I do think Middlesex Turnpike traffic must be addressed, but don’t think its reasonable to expect developers to do so, that is not their job. And I don’t think adding that much traffic will help anything."

L'Heureux added that in her view a business has the responsibility to mitigate the traffic it generates, but not to engage in a large overhaul of an entire corridor. She said Burlington should work with regional economic groups, such as the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and with the state to address traffic in that area.

"The State owes Burlington assistance as an economic driver," she said.

Kane, on the other hand, said he is in favor of the proposed project.

"I’m for it," he said. "I believe Gutierrez has gone out of way to alleviate traffic, and not only for their own project. This is an opportunity to get state money involved and I don’t think we’ll get that in any other way. I support it and feel there are other uses of that land the state could come up with we might not like. With this, we know what the land will be used for."

Kane added that the project would also be a way to make use of a vacant piece of land, another benefit.

That is why I'm in favor of this project," he said. "The state wants to sell and Gutierrez wants to purchase the land and fix it up. This is a perfect opportunity to get this done."

The Burlington Town Election is tomorrow, Saturday, April 14. Voting will take place at and the polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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