Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sidewalks And Oil

Ever have on of those days when your head is swollen with so many thoughts, and ideas that you can't quite talk fast enough to release them?

Neither have I. I just babble incoherently and hope others will get the gist.

Today is Babble Day.

Recently there has been talk about a Business Improvement District between Hall Road, and route 148. The BID would be a zone that business owners would pay an additional percentage of there local property tax towards a fund. This fund would be used for things like improving the business area by burying utility lines, erecting period lighting along the streets. Other cities have this idea already in progress here in Massachusetts as well as many other states.

This is a good idea. The money taken in could bury the lines one year, erect lighting the next, complete the sidewalks the following year with more and better defined crosswalks.

What ever it takes to move this along ASAP would be great. Most plans eventually approved here in town take the "slow boat". A distant time is given randomly as to when things will be in place, and the committees and boards all set their pace to that date.


Could take years.

If we want change now, they need to meet more than once a week, or once a month. A little sacrifice is needed. A recent letter to editor talked of improving the infrastru
cture in town first before promoting the trails, and other attractions. I agree. First things first. The last thing we need is the continued promotion of the town to potential visitors and once they come here, having already been to Stockbridge, Newburyport, Deerfield, Hyannis, Lenox, Rockport, Salem, and other towns that have great infrastructure in their downtowns is to be disappointed. Disappointment can insure we will be placed on the bottom of the "Return to" list. Read the Blogs I have linked in the margin. Most of the speak of OSV, and there is little said about Sturbridge proper.

That's all I got to say 'bout that.

Another thing weighing on me brain lately is heating costs. There is already an organization in place to assist those on fixed incomes here in town with the incredible burden this winter of 2008-2009 is going to be. It is a great idea.

This coming winter will not only be a crisis for
those folks, but for everyone else as well. My 250 gallon heating oil tank will cost over $1000.00 to fill, just like yours. I work, and I can work a bit more to assist in covering the cost (along with everything else like food, tuition, gas, bills). Others don't have that option. We need to help them, as well as start making changes in our own lives in order to keep from freezing this winter.

Last winter, after about 18 months of researching, and shopping, we replaced 19 windows in this old house. I've replaced windows before, but with my limited experience, tools, and time, I opted for the company to install all 19. They did it in only a day. Six windows had already been replaced a few years before we moved in, thank goodness. 19 was enough.

They installed them on December 12, the day before the snow storm that paralyzed the roads, and it took me 6 hours to drive to work in Boston. Whew. Just made it.

In March I sat down with our heating bills and figured I had already saved 36% compared to the previous year. 36%. Nice.

On December 12 of this year, I will sit down again. But, we need to do more. This is an old house, 150 years old this year, and although fairly tight, it is not insulated except for some old rock wool insulation I found in the attic. I believe the walls are empty of insulation with the exception of that thin insulating board contractors put on before they put on the vinyl siding.

We got an estimate last fall for blown in cellulose insulation. I am going to get a couple of more estimates this summer. Everyone need to asses their situation now, and make plans. Whether it be a new pellet stove, insulation, new windows, upgrading the boiler, tuning the furnace, changing from oil to propane (Sturbridge does not have piped in Natural Gas), wrapping the water pipes with insulation, caulking the windows, and other holes in the house, we need to do it, and we need to do it now.

If you choose not to do any of the above, the one thing you should invest in is a sleeping bag, because a lot of you are going to be sleeping on the floor at a friends houses this winter that did choose to fight back, and stay warmer.

Photos: Top: Newburyport, Massachusetts; Bottom: A radiator.


  1. Dear Mr. Out Loud:

    You may recall that on April 9th, I submitted a letter entitled "Smart Growth in Sturbridge" which you promptly placed on your blog, and I thank you for doing so. Near the end of that letter, I asked whether it was possible to designate certain areas in Sturbridge as areas of focus for growth and revitalization.

    The recent talk of BID is exactly what the doctor ordered. Is it Smart Growth? May be, could be. But one of those focus areas on the outskirts of town (Route 15) which doesn't have water & sewer isn't "Smart Growth". It's just a way to circumvent the last town meeting vote by Sturbridge residents.

    When decisions are made about spending grant monies and certain parcels to attract business - which will require town meeting vote to enact - one would hope the focus will first be on downtown Sturbridge and Fiskdale where businesses and infrastructure are already in place, or can be expanded.

    Also, I was very pleased to see members of the Planning Board at a Selectmen's meeting last night night for the BID discussion, though clearly, there are discussions and decisions taking place in advance with Selectmen Garieri and certain Planning Board members.

    At the same time, I'm disappointed with Planning Board members for cancelling meetings, or having short agenda. Work could be started on the Master Plan thereby saving the taxpayers money for consultants, recommendations by the Zoning Study Committee could be acted upon, an in-law bylaw that restricts occupancy could be discussed and in place for the next town meeting for residents to consider.

  2. Seems to me the Selectmen also talked about industrial property at the far end of Fiskdale, been vacant a long time, and also I believe Technology Park. If you look at Route 20, it is very difficult to expand and have in place enough parking, the river runs behind one side, lakes, wetlands etc on the other.
    As far as the in-law bylaw, can that really be enforced, do you show a family tree,marriage license or what, and if it is in-law, have to assume that they're elderly, what happens after they pass, does that apartment have to stay empty. Suppose you could always get a new set of in-laws but guess that would mean a divorce, messy situation when you follow it thru.
    Give the EDC a chance to finish their work, seems to be an excellent committee, willing to do the follow-thru not just throw out ideas and see where they land but the real down deep work. They seem to be doing much of the information gathering themselves, not asking the department heads to do the research and then having the committee take the praise.
    As far as the master plan, reallythink that a professional will be much more objective, hasn't been one in a very long time.

  3. Dear Lollipop:

    Are you any relation to Gumdrop? Just wondering.

    I think you raise some valid points, and I would like to clarify some things:

    One thing about Smart Growth is that it promotes "walkable communities". So there doesn't have to be parking right behind every building on Route 20. That's an old-fashioned way of thinking that is costly, and cuts business out of other parts of town that are reachable with walking.

    A good stretch of the legs along that corridor in Fiskdale will bring shoppers in off the street. More than once, I've carried my purchases for at least a mile along a quaint shopping corridor - just like thousands of others doing the same thing - I thought that was part of the fun...stop for a cool drink, ice cream or hot coffee depending on the season, enjoy all the different things to see and feel close up on the street; sit on a bench, enjoy the plantings which could be labled as to what type of flower it is, for plant lovers along their shopping stroll. There seems to be a very strong commitment on the part of businesses in Sturbridge at this point in time - can they agree to parking/sharing in each others lots?

    The in-law bylaw: yes, it can be enforced, and there's not as much to it as one might be led to believe. It's being enforced in many other towns, not just around Sturbridge, but across the entire state. Contrary to what many have been led to believe, it's not any more cumbersome than permitting for a traditional apartment. A lot of towns require proof of relationship with submittal of application, and many towns even require the apartment be converted to the main dwelling's living space once vacated. Is that MORE cumbersome? I don't think so.

    This is very agreeable to the homeowner because, most people put "in-law" apts on their houses to house their elderly parents, but it can house any relative, not necessarily blood relative either. They usually don't do it for the additional rent - they do it out of family necessity. There are plenty of examples to show this - it's not hearsay. So if an elderly relative passes away, another relative can occupy it. Or, it gets converted back as noted above. Or, write the bylaw so that another elderly person can occupy it. It's not as limiting as one might think, however, hype promoted by planning board members would lead everyone to believe that.

    It's not "tricky", and it's not anymore cumbersome than any other rental situation, and in my opinion, it's less of a headache compared to occupancy by tenants who are not related. Owners, and owners relatives have an interest in the property. Some elderly parents use their own money to build that addition, so they have equity in it. I would much rather have a tenant that has ownership in it. If you've never had tenants or owned income property, maybe you wouldn't understand the difference.

    Also, please note that I didn't criticize the EDC. I criticized the Planning Board. EDC is doing a terrific job! Unlike EDC, Planning Board heaps a lot of work on their Planner and her assistant because they just come to meetings to approve what said Planner places under their noses. When have they not approved something?

    Seems you've never worked on or completed a Master Plan either. Most people haven't. But if you did, you'd know that there are ways to curb the cost of labor on that document by having the Planning Board do some of the work. When Planning Board meetings are cancelled, or the agenda is only 20 minutes long, I have to wonder why our appointed officials aren't cost-saving in this way. Some town Planning Boards do Master Plans entirely on their own. They're ambitious.

    The technical stuff IS best left to the professionals. But this Sturbridge Planning Board is lazy, yet its members doesn't hesitate to point out everyone else's flaws - whether they exist or not.

  4. I have to agree, the EDC is the most proactive committee in town. Their ideas, and plans are very well thought out, and they don't seem to get offended with suggestions. In fact. I believe they actually welcome them. the Planning Board, on the other hand, is not like the Planning Boards in other communities. It is slow to act, meets occasionally, and then for only a very short time. They seem to have an agenda that is not compatible with the agenda we as resident so the town have.

  5. Nice to see you are all worried about yourself and your heating concerns this winter. What about the elderly, what are you doing for them?

  6. hey gump! Learn to read!

    "This coming winter will not only be a crisis for those folks, but for everyone else... I work, and I can work a bit more to assist in covering the cost... Others don't have that option. We need to help them, as well as start making changes in our own lives in order to keep from freezing this winter."

  7. Forest, er, Ernest T., I'm not going to tell you what the article was about, because you very well know. You're trying to derail the conversation.

    I can only speak for myself relative to your comment, but I probably touch a nerve for many people who have elderly family members when I say that I'm helping them as best I can in many ways: with money, errands, legal issues, and listening to their worries and problems. Charity begins at home Forest.

    I have to assume that you are trying to call attention to REAS. It's a great thing. However, when you are involved in and represent such causes, you do it because it's your passion, for no reward, with little or no positive reinforcement. You definitely don't it to make other people feel like they're not contributing, such as with your comment below.

    Fact is, your cause is not necessarily my cause, so stop with the attempted guilt trip.

  8. did forest read what was written? I think thinking out loud said it pretty well. He said the program was good, and some people are going to need a lot of help this winter, and we need to do things , too. I guess all kinds of people read (or try to read) these blogs, and we can't do much about it. I liked your article about walmart, too. it would be nice if someone opened a place here in town, but the other places mentioned are worth checking out.

  9. Gump,

    What have you done for them?

  10. Some people donate their time and energy to a charity because they're really passionate about it and believe in it. But some people get involved because they want recognition. For some, it's all about the ego, and Forest's comment is a very selfish and misguided statement.

    I would add that everytime Forest speaks and presents himself (notice he's anonymous), he is representing that charity. Everything he says and does privately or publicly, will reflect on that charity.

    And some folks will even construe his statements and actions as speaking for that charity.

    It's a great charity and it's in its early stages of success. Don't abuse it in this way.

  11. This blog is so anti-eldery and anti-youth. Fist he calls the poor teen that got burned, "stupid", then he writes a self centered article about how concerned he is about heating his own house. What about the elderly????

  12. Forest,
    How can you say that it is "anti-elderly"? The posting stated at least twice about helping others, and then went on to mention how we all need to improve our habits if we don't want to freeze this winter. Are you dyslexic? Do you only have the ability to read every third word? Are you in a Home for the Feeble minded and they allow you internet time to get you out of the nurses hair?

    BTW, the accient was unfortunate, but still stupid. Never should have been near the fireworks. Thus, it was stupid. Are you saying the teen was a bright Rhodes scholar that was only following in Robert Goddards footsteps?

    Show this to your keeper and have them read it to you slowly.

  13. I am reading the comments and don'tunderstand how an article on how to save oil can lead to a comment like the one from Forest. He asked what about the elderly, but the article wasn't about the elderly, it was about two things and one was heat. Thinking Out Loud mentioned people that would need help. I believe that includes the elderly.


  14. Clearly some people attempt to redeem themselves by doing good deeds because they have been horrible to people in the past (and present). As daily reader said, some people do good deeds because it is their passion while others need to try it make it look like they have a good side. Of course, everyone abused by that person (and there are many) can see right through their true motive.

    By the way, this blog master truly cares about all people. To say otherwise, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  15. This blog is anti-stupidity. It's anti-bully, too.

    I left a post at the "other" blog earlier today but it wasn't posted. No surprise there. But there's a post there written by the egomaniac himself.

    My comment stated that even the hardest hearted folks should finally see that blogmasters instability - Steven Halterman hasn't hurt anyone, he's accomplished some very good things for the town, he works hard and is very committed. He's kind too; since when is that a bad thing?

    He's the kind of personality I like sitting behind that desk Chairing Monday nights. He respects people and their opinions, he's not rude, scary or obnoxious like some town officials have publicly displayed (Mr. Creamer).

    Yet the attacks on him and two other Selectmen continue. It's all nothing more than a smear campaign. Lots of rumor, innuendo, no facts, no truth, no INTEGRITY. Lots of stupidity, and lots of "it's all about me".

    I haven't seen anything productive come from the two newest Selectmen either, so why isn't that blogmaster talking about that? Where are all the changes those two have promised? Is Garieri picking up cigarette butts in his spare time?

    It's because the other blogmaster and the other two Selectmen want an imbalanced board, one that is all development and business only.
    They are working now to disparage the only remaining balanced individuals on that board.

    If you asked him, Garieri wouldn't be able to find the protected Open Space parcels in Sturbridge with two hands, unless...maybe if you install a full bar and provide free finger sandwiches, he'd find his way.

    As for Blanchard: where are the longlasting, impact-type contributions? What are they?

    The other blog is about knocking everyone off their feet, catching them off guard and knocking them out of balance, it's about the ELIMINATION of balance on the Selectboard, and in this town.

    I'm turning old and gray waiting for Garieri and Blanchard's contributions, and fantastic "changes" they promised.

  16. Had to go back and re-read "Sidewalks and Oil" cause the comments sure didn't sound like they fit, but in the middle of the story, TOLIS said it was babble day. Too bad it didn't stay on babble and instead went into attack day.
    Seems to be the people who are complaining about "the other blog" attacking Selectmen are doing their own attacking at a pretty good clip.
    Sure thing it would be a lot more productive if issues were discussed instead of personalities, goes for both sides!

  17. some people like to set up others. thats all. we should know better than to fall for those people.