The Sprawl Doctor
When incoming Gov. Mitt Romney named Doug Foy to be the state’s first chief of Commonwealth Development, one of two new “super cabinet” positions Romney created in December as part of his plan to restructure state government, more than a few heads turned. Not only had the venture capitalist who pledged to bring business sense to state government tapped the state’s leading environmental advocate for one of the top jobs in his administration, he handed him a portfolio that extends far beyond the world of emission standards and wetland regulations.
In his new post, Foy oversees three big pieces of state government–the Executive Office of Transportation and Construction, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and the Department of Housing and Community Development. Putting the agencies under one umbrella represents a bold move to seize control over unplanned development sprawl and chart an ambitious “smart growth” agenda for Massachusetts.
Chief of Commonwealth Development Doug
Foy at Union Station in Worcester.
Choosing Foy to carry out the job may have been even bolder. As head of the Conservation Law Foundation, a Boston-based environmental organization, for 25 years, Foy earned a reputation for aggressive advocacy–backed by a hair-trigger willingness to file a lawsuit. Under Foy’s leadership, CLF forced the $6 billion clean-up of Boston Harbor, blocked oil drilling on George’s Bank, and got the state to agree to more than $3 billion in public transit spending as part of a mitigation package tied to the Big Dig.
It’s presumably this litigious legacy that the Boston Herald editorial page–which has taken to leveling regular broadsides against Foy in his new post–had in mind when it wrote in February that Foy’s past work “raised disregard for the economic consequences of environmental extremism to an art form.”
Handing Foy the keys to three big state agencies was hardly the sort of move expected from a governor who had made wooing business to the state a centerpiece of his campaign. While business leaders wondered whether the new governor had lost his mind, Romney had, in fact, found his man. Romney was so convinced that the 56-year-old Foy was the right man for the new job that he was prepared to scrap the idea altogether if Foy didn’t accept his offer.
“I wanted to see these agencies work together, but whether that could be done under one person or not depended on the capability of that one person,” says Romney. “Doug has made this organization possible.”
If there is a Nixon-goes-to-China irony in this effort to assert a broad state role in steering growth coming from a Republican governor whose past life has been steeped in private sector enterprise, it’s nothing compared to Foy being handed the reins of the very agencies he has tangled with for more than two decades. For Foy, however, the role reversal is one that can also be seen as the logical next step in a career built on pushing the envelope of state and federal policy on the range of issues he will now have charge over.
“I’ve been asked to achieve some of the very mission and strategic goals that CLF has been arguing for years,” says Foy. “We should have a smart growth policy in the state where we put our state investments in the places we want to grow, rather than just have a random walk. [Now] we just scatter roads all over the countryside, and make environmental permitting decisions that cause things to be built in the wrong place rather than the right place, and don’t have an aggressive affordable housing agenda and a smart growth agenda wound together.”
Will Foy be able to translate 25 years of threatening, prodding, and suing into a big-picture, smart growth plan for state government? Some of Foy’s closest allies from his advocacy days have their doubts, while the worry of some in the business community is that he just may pull it off.
But the presumed clash between Foy’s environmentalist outlook and the bottom-line dictates of business may obscure the real tension in the state’s unfolding smart growth story. The drama may play out not in corporate boardrooms but in town meetings and selectmen’s chambers all across suburbia. For while untamed development sprawl may be the acknowledged villain of the story, state government, managing growth with a heavy hand, may not be the hero riding to the rescue that local officials have in mind. That the stage for this set piece is the same band of towns where Mitt Romney rolled up his biggest vote margins last fall only adds to the intrigue. Will Foy’s new foray boom or bomb?
As sprawl has spread across the national landscape, it has found a place on the political terrain as well (see “Growing ‘Smart Growth’,” page 50), but only recently in Massachusetts. That, in part, is because sprawl has had a more insidious arrival here. After all, the New England town center, with its library, shops, and town hall all within walking distance of each other, is the model for the “new urbanism,” the push to re-create a sense of place and community in regions of the country where farmland and open space have rapidly given way to soulless suburbs.
“I like to say, in Massachusetts, the new urbanism is really the old urbanism,” says former state environmental administrator Jay Wickersham.
Smart growth requires leadership.
If our town centers are picture postcard symbols of what smart growth efforts are striving to create, Massachusetts has nevertheless managed to sprawl out around them. Since 1970, the amount of land developed in the Bay State has increased 180 percent while population has grown less than 30 percent. The number of vehicle miles traveled in the state has increased 15 times faster than population. And in the ring of communities between Route 128 and Interstate 495, where land consumption has been the most gluttonous, a number of towns saw population growth of more than 40 percent from 1990 to 2000. Massachusetts may not look like Phoenix or Houston, but it’s only because we lack the influx of people.
With open space disappearing, commuting times becoming interminable, and water resources getting tapped out, sprawl has finally shown up on the political radar screen. Traffic, loss of open space, and other “sprawl factors” ranked second only to education as the top concern of state voters in a poll conducted last spring by Lou DiNatale of the McCormack Institute at the University of Massachusetts. “Sprawl got put on the political map this season,” says DiNatale.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Shannon O’Brien offered a far-reaching smart growth plan, vowing to re- establish a state planning office put in place by Gov. Michael Dukakis in the 1970s. Romney, too, offered anti-sprawl talk, proposing a “greenspace fund” that would assess fees on housing development in outlying areas and use the money to help underwrite housing efforts in urban centers. But there was little else in his campaign to suggest that the Belmont businessman was ready to seize upon the sprawl issue with the force he has now shown.
One influence may be a public-private partnership on growth and development issues in Utah, where Romney spent three years directing the Olympic Games before returning to Massachusetts a year ago. “Envision Utah” is a citizen-led effort that helped craft growth and planning priorities for the Greater Salt Lake City area, home to 80 percent of the state’s population. Disabusing Romney of any notion that such efforts are destined to collide with private-sector interests was the heavy involvement of Utah business leaders in the effort, including a former steel company CEO, Robert Grow, who is not only the founding director of Envision Utah, but a distant Romney cousin.
Whatever its origins, Romney’s smart growth conversion didn’t come a moment too soon, says David Dixon, a Boston planner who helped organize a recent series of forums promoting smart growth planning for Greater Boston. Dixon says Massachusetts is at a make or break point with development. In the 1990s, he says, five times more commercial space was built along I-495 than was built in Boston and other urban centers. If we go through another cycle of economic growth without getting a handle on sprawl, he says, the character of eastern Massachusetts will be changed forever. “If we don’t get good growth management policies in place,” says Dixon, “we can’t afford another boom.”
It’s a view the governor seems to share. “I very much believe in the concept known as smart growth or sustainable development, which is the phrase I used in the campaign,” says Romney. “You do not want to deplete your greenspace and air and water [in order] to grow, and the only way that’s possible is if your growth is done in a thoughtful, coherent, strategic way.”
The idea that Foy might be the one to manage growth in a coherent, strategic way took form slowly. At one point during the transition meetings after the November election, Eric Kriss, who is now secretary of administration and finance, said to Romney, “You’ve got to meet this fellow Doug Foy. He may be exactly the person we’re looking for.” During the campaign Kriss met with Foy on environmental issues, and the CLF chief had been named to Romney’s transition committee on environmental policy. Still, Romney rejected the idea of putting someone with Foy’s environmental advocacy background in charge of the state’s transportation and housing agencies. “That obviously won’t work,” was Romney’s reaction. But Kriss persisted, Romney says. “Eric said, ‘You ought to meet with this guy, Mitt. He’s not your prototypical environmentalist.'”
The ruthless pragmatist
That he is not. At CLF, which he had directed since 1977, Foy made a mark by taking aggressive stands on major environmental issues, such as cleaning up Boston Harbor. But in recent years he had also shown increasing interest in a broader set of issues that affect how we live, including transportation planning and the future of cities.
“I’ve always thought that one of the big problems with the environmental movement is that it doesn’t always include people in its concepts,” says Foy, who lives in Sherborn but five years ago bought a condo in the Harbor Towers complex on Boston’s waterfront. “It’s a lot of trees, a lot of rivers, a lot of fish, a lot of birds, which is fine, and is important as far as it goes. I like a lot of that stuff–I spend a lot of time in the mountains. But ultimately, for thoughtful environmentalism, you need to have people in the equation.”
Ultimately, he says, environmentalism involves making urban areas places people want to be, not flee. “The only way we’re going to save the countryside is by making the cities great,” he says. That thinking led CLF to pursue a broad agenda, one that includes protecting rural rivers but also working to rid urban neighborhoods of diesel buses in favor of cleaner-fueled alternatives.
Whatever the cause, Foy has earned a reputation for putting up a fierce fight. “If he has a particular objective in mind, he’s absolutely relentless,” says former state Superior Court judge Paul Garrity, who had an early role in oversight of the Boston Harbor cleanup case. “He’s unbelievably competent, he has a terrific intellect, and he’s like a goddamn steamroller. If you agree with some of his things, that’s terrific; if you disagree, dammit, you’re going to be flattened.”
State’s approach has been “one-dimensional.”
“Doug has always had a good sense of the jugular, of the real pressure point,” says Fred Salvucci, who served as transportation secretary in the Dukakis administration and negotiated the Big Dig transit mitigation package with Foy.
But it would be a mistake to confuse tenacity with zealotry. “The phrase I often use to describe Doug is ‘ruthlessly pragmatic,'” says Stephanie Pollack, the longtime CLF vice president who assumed the title of acting president when Foy joined state government in January. “If you look at the whole body of work he oversaw at CLF, the hallmark of Doug’s style is arriving at solutions that work.”
It’s a view supported by some who have been Foy’s fiercest adversaries.
One recent Foy showdown involved the Fan Pier project on Boston’s waterfront. Three years ago, the Chicago-based Pritzker family, owners of the Hyatt hotel chain, who had the support of Mayor Thomas Menino, were readying to begin work on a 3-million-square-foot project involving a combination of hotel, office, and residential development. But Foy and CLF stepped forward to object to the lack of open space near the harbor edge, and threatened to block the project with a lawsuit.
Tempers quickly came to a boil, with Foy vowing that CLF was prepared to “pound this project into dust.” Daniel O’Connell, vice president of Spaulding & Slye Colliers, the Pritzkers’ local development partners, called CLF’s last-minute intervention little more than “a public relations campaign, perhaps even a fund-raising campaign. Their work with the harbor and the Big Dig is done, and they need a new cause,” he said. Meanwhile, Menino charged that the CLF gambit was “about stopping economic development.”
In the end, the parties were able to broker a deal. The swath of waterfront open space was increased and building heights near the water were scaled back. With the dustup behind them, Foy’s erstwhile enemies give him his due.
“Doug was a worthy adversary at Fan Pier, but someone you could sit down with at the table and have a very tough but constructive negotiation with,” O’Connell now says. “I think we’ll see that same quality in his work in the Romney administration. He’s self-confident, he’s quite bright, and yet he listens within the context of taking a firm position. There was always room for us to reach a compromise.”
“We had some heated discussions,” says Menino, who has known Foy for years. “It never gets personal with Doug. Some say he’s an obstructionist. Sometimes I’m an obstructionist.”
Getting to yes
If sometimes slammed as an obstructionist, Foy has also raised eyebrows for being accommodating. Lately, the questions have centered on CLF Ventures, an offshoot that seeks out business partnerships that have a “green” angle and serves as a consultant on development projects CLF views as environmentally sensible. Started in 1997, CLF Ventures has joined with an auto insurance firm to offer discounted premiums to drivers who clock low annual mileage (and thus spew less emissions) and reaped $1.5 million for consulting and legal services to AES Corp. on its construction of a gas-fired power plant in Londonderry, NH.
“The environmental community has to get much better about saying yes, and about saying where it wants to see things built and see things developed rather than just saying where it doesn’t want to see things,” says Foy. “CLF Ventures was a very serious way of pursing the goal to say ‘yes.'”
Even when environmentalist Foy has been willing to say yes, others have said no. The New Hampshire power plant has faced bitter local opposition, and in Somerville’s Assembly Square, where CLF Ventures is working with developers, residents have opposed–and filed a legal challenge against–the project’s inclusion of “big box” retail outlets as being at odds with smart growth thinking.
Rob Sargent, a former energy policy analyst at the public-interest group MassPIRG, says CLF Ventures and Foy’s maneuvering in “insider business community circles” has led to “some distrust on the part of the advocacy community.” At the same time, Sargent admits, Foy’s unorthodox strain of environmentalism may be what makes him well suited for his new post. Foy is “willing to think and act a little outside the box,” says Vivien Li, executive of the Boston Harbor Association. “I think that’s what appealed to Romney.”
There also may something of a natural affinity between Foy and Romney. They are the same age, both Harvard Law School graduates, and neither is lacking in self-confidence. But if Romney seems like the eager beaver who sat in front of the class, urging the teacher to call on him for the answer, Foy seems like the kid who knew every answer, too, but settled in the back row where he could also fire off a spitball or two.
With good looks rugged enough to match his outdoorsman’s interests, Foy’s six-foot, one-inch frame is as lithe as it was 35 years ago when he won a spot on the US rowing team at the 1968 Summer Olympics. He still rows on the Charles many summer days, and in winter he snowboards alongside his 16-year-old son–though Foy says he took up a sport dominated by teens as a concession to the toll skiing was taking on his aging knees. Still, there’s a youthful bearing to Foy, one he projects even as he explains the logic behind putting three secretariats under his control.
“I think that’s very bold,” he says. “It’s also entirely sensible. I mean, you look at it, and you go, duh, of course transportation, environment, and housing should work together. Of course we should be thinking strategically across the agencies. The fact that it hasn’t happened before is sort of intriguing, and it’s not clear to me why.”
He may soon find out. While Foy and Romney say they’re ready to dive head first into the issues of sprawl and smart growth, Massachusetts has, until now, mainly been dipping its toe into the waters.
Much of the effort in recent years was led by Robert Durand, who served as environmental affairs secretary from 1999 through the end of last year. Durand earned praise for his efforts to preserve rapidly vanishing open space, and he championed passage, three years ago, of the Community Preservation Act, which allows communities to approve a property tax surcharge to be used for open space acquisition, affordable housing, and historic preservation. Durand also directed an innovative “build out” analysis for all 351 cities and towns in the state, hoping to prod communities toward more thoughtful planning by showing what their communities could look like in 2025 under existing zoning guidelines.
But Durand resisted the idea of a more aggressive planning role for the state, saying the lack of a strong county government or other regional entities meant smart growth in Massachusetts would have to be driven by local efforts.
To others wrestling with how best to rein in sprawl, that view left the state on the sidelines. “We were in the vanguard in putting into place a lot of the programmatic and legislative pieces you often see when people discuss smart growth,” says Larissa Brown, program director of the Civic Initiative for Livable New England, a project launched in 2000 by the Boston Society of Architects. All that proved, though, is “it’s possible to have a lot of the items on the menu without having the full meal,” says Brown. “What’s really needed is to have that integrated approach and agenda setting that has to come from leadership. If you look across the country, all the places where smart growth programs have been put in place to any degree, there’s always been leadership from the governor’s office.”
Meanwhile, one of the bottom-up initiatives Durand championed may have backfired from the affordable-housing perspective. While 58 communities have passed the Community Preservation Act, in the first round of funding allocation most of them have focused on buying up open space, making land for affordable housing projects even scarcer.
The state’s approach to sprawl has been “pretty much one-dimensional–that is, let’s preserve open space,” says John Bullard, who served as mayor of New Bedford in the late 1980s and early ’90s and was then director of the federal office of sustainable development under President Clinton for six years. Bullard says Durand justified the focus on protecting valuable open space by arguing that growth would then naturally gravitate toward areas with surplus infrastructure. “I thought it was an eloquent defense,” says Bullard, “but I don’t buy it.”
My way or the highway
Neither, apparently, does Mitt Romney. By any measure, the state’s new Office of Commonwealth Development represents a sharp turn from the locally driven, piecemeal steps that have characterized Massachusetts smart growth efforts to date. “It’s a real dramatic departure from the approach of pretty much leaving sprawl and growth up to the 351 localities,” says Carter Wilkie, co-author of Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl and a former advisor to Boston Mayor Tom Menino.
The leverage of government spending and regulation on everything from road and sewer projects to mass transit development will be the cornerstone to the new state effort to bring sprawl to a crawl, says Foy.
“There’s simply no doubt that state investment patterns drive sprawl. That’s been the case here; it’s been the case everywhere in America,” says Foy. “If you build roads to cornfields, people will build houses in cornfields. If you build roads ever further west, and make them wider through all our little towns so people can blast through these towns commuting greater distances, they will sprawl further west. We need to deal with that.”
To help him deal with that, Foy has brought a platoon of CLF reinforcements with him into state government. His top deputy in the new Office of Commonwealth Development is Stephen Burrington, a senior attorney at CLF under Foy, and his chief of staff, Alice Denison, spent 13 years at CLF as a top administrator.
Foy tries to a find a silver lining even in the bleak budget outlook, suggesting there is no time like tough times for the kind of smart thinking he says underlies the smart growth philosophy. Addressing a gathering of state business leaders in late January, Foy invoked the words of a British officer in similar straits: “Men, we’ve run out of money; now we must learn to think.”
One area where Foy thinks there has been far too little thinking is in the state’s roadways. In January, Romney and Foy announced a new program aimed at giving communities greater flexibility and input into road projects, unveiling the initiative on Main Street in West Concord, where a standoff between the state Highway Department and residents over the planned widening of the road–and possible loss of trees–had stalled a scheduled reconstruction project since 1997. “We waste an enormous amount of money gold-plating roads and overbuilding roads, and it drives the communities crazy,” says Foy.
The new Office of Commonwealth Development didn’t have to go far to find a blueprint for its new road-building approach. Burrington already wrote the book: Take Back Your Streets: How to Protect Communities from Asphalt and Traffic, a 53-page citizen guide to fighting off large road projects, put out by CLF.
Putting Foy and his CLF cohorts in charge of the state’s massive highway bureaucracy might seem like naming Ghandi to lead an army, but Foy rejects such a view. “I’ve been accused of being a car hater,” he says. “I’m not a car hater, I actually own three vehicles. But the long-term solution to congestion is to get people into other modes of transportation, give them alternatives so they don’t have to drive.”
Not only is Foy looking to tamp down what he thinks have been the road-building excesses of the Highway Department, he and the state’s new secretary of transportation, Dan Grabauskas, say they will bring priorities to a department where there have been none. In January, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, an organization of corporate leaders, issued a report painting a dismal picture of the state’s transportation planning system. After surveying 17 states, the report concluded that Massachusetts had “the most fragmented transportation decision-making processes” of all. While other states had criteria for prioritizing road projects, including point systems that take account of a project’s environmental impact or its ability to incorporate pedestrian- or bicycle-friendly features, Massachusetts appeared to have none. Addressing members of the business group in January, Grabauskas said, “Everything you’ve heard about the disorganization within the office is true.”
Foy and Grabauaskas also say they will look for ways to link transportation policies with the mission of expanding affordable housing in the state. Romney pledged during his campaign to double housing starts in Massachusetts, and Foy’s job is to show that housing production and land conservation can take place side-by-side. One way is to link spending on transit expansion with dense development, including housing, near commuter rail stops. But, as with many elements of the state’s new smart growth ethos, it may be easier to articulate such a vision than to realize it.
In the South Shore town of Kingston, where commuter rail service opened in 1997, town meeting has twice turned down proposals designed by municipal planners to rezone a 140-acre tract near the rail stop from commercial-industrial to mixed-use, which would allow for retail as well as housing (“Growth smarts,” CW, Winter 2003). The plan is “exactly the type of concept that communities need to consider,” says Kingston’s state representative, Tom O’Brien. Although O’Brien was among the majority of town residents who supported the zoning change at town meeting last October, the measure failed to garner the two-thirds support needed for any zoning change.
Some towns have embraced the idea of transit-oriented development, but not quite the way Foy might want it. In Ashland, town meeting approved the rezoning of an area near the commuter rail station for 500 luxury apartments, but only after the developer made a crucial change in the project: removing three-bedroom apartments, which would be more likely to draw families with children, and replacing them with one- and two-bedroom units. If towns are growing more resistant to new housing in general, they’re digging their heels in even deeper when it comes to homes that will bring more children to their town–and into their schools.
“I’ve been in the housing business for 30-something years, and it’s as bad as it’s ever been,” says developer Robert Kuehn. At least now it’s an “honest impasse,” he says. “In the past, people said it was traffic, it was parking, it was wetlands or open space. It’s not the snail darters; it’s the kids. Now they come right out and say it: We can’t afford to put any more kids in our schools.”
David Teller, chairman of the Ashland Board of Selectmen, says no big strides in addressing the housing shortage in Massachusetts will come until the state officials rework aid formulas so that towns don’t lose money with each new public school student. “If they’re serious about housing, then we’ve got to look at the school aid issue,” says Teller.
Romney says he’s aware that municipal finance issues get in the way of housing. “We would like to see local aid encourage the construction of additional housing,” he says. Romney has proposed setting aside $50 million a year to be directed to communities based on the number of new occupancy permits issued. The plan has drawn criticism from some housing advocates and smart growth proponents because the aid would apply to large-lot McMansions as well as dense housing clustered near town centers. And with communities already facing cuts in local aid, legislators may balk at pulling such housing incentive money out of the pool.
Nevertheless, those who have pushed affordable housing efforts say sweetening the pot is the direction state policy needs to take. “This is a world of carrots and sticks, and we don’t have that many carrots right now,” says Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.
Currently, the stick in the housing equation is the state’s anti-snob zoning law, known as Chapter 40-B, but it has, in many ways, made the smart growth agenda even harder to advance. The law allows developers who set aside 25 percent of units for low- and moderate-income residents to bypass local zoning review in towns that have less than 10 percent affordable housing. In recent years, suburbs have been barraged by 40-B projects, some of which bring hundreds of new units into communities of only a few thousand residents. Advocates say the law has been the only means of getting affordable housing built in Massachusetts; suburban officials call it a disaster that is wreaking havoc on local planning and municipal budgets. Whatever you call 40-B, it’s surely not smart growth, and it has stiffened resistance to sorely needed housing in many communities.
The Romney administration says the solution is to tackle sprawl and resistance to new housing all in one by reaching some consensus on changes to Chapter 40-B. In February, with more than 70 bills before the Legislature that would weaken or gut the law, Romney announced a special commission, containing supporters and critics of 40-B, to examine the 34-year-old statute. Legislative leaders have agreed to hold off action on any bills until June, the deadline for recommendations from the commission, chaired by housing and community development chief Jane Gumble. Foy says one idea might be to “regionalize” 40-B obligations, so that communities without the infrastructure and land to support denser development might help underwrite the costs incurred by communities that can accommodate such growth.
Steering and rowing
If communities see unwelcome new costs associated with housing development, commercial development makes their eyes light up. That’s because nonresidential growth is a boon to the municipal tax base. Businesses don’t draw heavily on municipal services but pay property taxes that help cover school costs, which are far and away the biggest expense for any municipality. “Every town is desperate for commercial development,” says Draisen. “It’s almost like every town needs its own mall to fund schools for its kids.”
And the state has been there to help. All sorts of state grants are available to defray infrastructure costs needed to woo new businesses. Among the most popular are public works economic development grants, known in state and municipal circles as PWEDs. About $20 million a year is handed out by the Executive Office of Transportation and Construction in PWED grants, paying for everything from access roads serving new office parks to sewer lines. To municipal leaders, PWEDs are economic shots in the arm, courtesy of the state. To smart growth advocates, they are prime examples of how the state subsidizes sprawl.
Grant programs like these that reduce the costs of office parks explain “why you have some 40 percent of the office space in the Greater Boston region scattered in clusters of less than 5 million square feet each–too small to support any kind of public transportation–in towns where people don’t want more housing,” says Brown, of the Civic Initiative for Livable New England.
Brockton Mayor Jack Yunits would love to see more of that infrastructure funding come to his city. Yunits says he’s had companies interested in coming to Brockton who can easily find the 100,000-square-foot building they want, but not the parking space for 200 to 300 employees who would work there. Money to build a city parking garage, says Yunits, could make the difference.
“That’s the kind of smart growth policy that states like Maryland are using,” he says. “It’s a lot smarter than $6 million for a new highway off-ramp.” But a new highway exit is exactly what the state built in Marlborough three years ago to accommodate new offices opened there by Fidelity Investments, Compaq, and 3Com.
David Begelfer, CEO of the state chapter of the National Association of Office and Industrial Properties, says the state can only go so far in trying to steer development. If a company is interested in a suburban location, “you can’t preclude it or make it difficult to do so,” says Begelfer. “The choices are not between Boxborough and Brockton,” he says. “They could go to New Hampshire; they could go to Smithfield, Rhode Island.”
Not only that, suburban communities would cry foul if the state started steering commercial development away from them. “We live and die off the property tax,” says Franklin town administrator Jeffrey Nutting.
Foy acknowledges the municipal finance implications of the smart growth agenda, and says the administration is looking for creative ways of addressing them. But he’s not afraid to tell anyone that the state is going to stop making public investments “willy-nilly,” without regard to how they affect traffic, housing, and the environment.
In March, Foy took his smart growth message straight “into the lion’s den,” as one development lawyer put it, serving as guest speaker at a breakfast meeting of the commercial-property trade group headed by Begelfer. Foy opened with a tale from his rowing days, telling how he and a fellow oarsman battled each other fiercely for a spot on the 1968 US Olympic team. But when they both made the squad, they suddenly had to begin rowing in sync.
“Some of you may view yourselves, from my prior history, as my adversaries,” Foy told the sea of dark suits in a downtown Boston hotel ballroom. “I hope you will become my allies.” (He also tried a little businessman bonding, telling the audience about his CLF Ventures work on the New Hampshire plant and calling himself “one of the only environmentalists that ever built a power plant.”)
But after the warm-up, Foy looked out over the roomful of office park developers and told them exactly what they didn’t want to hear. “We’re not going to be able to continue to just sprawl across the landscape,” Foy said. “We’re not going to be able to just grow anywhere. We’re not going to be able to help you go out and buy the cheapest piece of land you can find and then hope that we’re going to run highways to it. We’re just not going to be able to do it.”
Foy’s arrival at the top levels of state government set off alarms in some business circles. “I don’t mind saying it: Every businessperson was aghast,” says Begelfer. Such fears were given front-page treatment in The Boston Globe in mid-February, when the paper reported that a recent meeting of state business leaders morphed into a Foy-focused gripe session. “This is not the team the business community envisioned Romney would build,” Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, told the paper.
“Naturally folks are raising the question, given Doug Foy’s background,” says Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. “Where are his sympathies going to lie?”
Foy seems utterly unfazed by such talk. While other public officials take care to speak of a “firewall” when asked about any nexus between their past pursuits and their public responsibilities, Foy seems to toy with the question. “CLF will have no greater or lesser access to me than any other folks out there with good ideas,” he says. “Now there are a lot of very smart people at CLF–I hired them all.”
And Foy, who calls himself a “Yankee capitalist”–favoring frugal use of natural resources and market-based mechanisms for solving environmental problems–sees no need to change his stripes to carry out his new job. “I don’t think either the governor or I buy the argument that environmental quality or environmental protection are inconsistent with economic growth and business development,” says Foy. And Romney, he says, “didn’t ask me to leave my brain behind.”
At the same time, Foy recognizes that his new role means he will now have to be the one saying no to initiatives that, in his past life, he promoted. “The role of a public interest advocate is different than the role of a state public servant,” says Foy. “The advocacy world is sort of the art of the pure; I think the government role or a public service role is the art of the possible.”
Ironically, some of the things that may turn out to be impossible are projects the state is on the hook for because of Foy. In 1990, to ward off potential legal action that could stop or stall the Big Dig, the state agreed to a mitigation package with CLF that called for some $3.6 billion in public transit spending. But in February, state transportation officials announced a six-month halt on construction of one of those projects, the Greenbush commuter rail line to Scituate, a signal to some that the $470 million project may not survive the austere budget times. A decade ago, Foy made it clear what the consequences would be if the state reneged on its public-transportation commitments. “If they fall off the wagon, we’re right back in court the next day,” he proclaimed. Today, Foy knows he could well end up in court as the defendant.“I’m sure there’s a pool going on at CLF and some of these other groups over who will be the first one to get to sue me,” says Foy. “There are always going to be limits.” If so, he can count on his former colleagues to challenge those limits, just as he used to do. “I’ve told Doug we’ll all be more comfortable once we’ve brought the first lawsuit,” says Pollack, his former CLF deputy.
Pollack professes doubts that Foy the development chief will be able to overcome everything from depleted agency budgets to a municipal finance structure that favors sprawl over regional growth planning. At the same time, she says, “Doug certainly has as good a chance as anyone of pulling this off.”