While I didn’t attend Night 5 of the 2017 Wellesley Town Meeting this week in person, I did listen to the Wellesley Public Media recording of the discussion/debate over Article 32 (TLAG amendment for 10-year-old Large House Review bylaw) during my commute. Weighing in at three-plus hours, the recording blew through my wireless data plan, but actually did provide for some compelling listening.
The Article, spurred by growing concerns about too many big or disproportionately sized houses being built in town, focused on the Large House Review bylaw. That bylaw, as many said during the night, was designed not to keep people from building their dream homes even if they are dreaming very big, but to ensure that impact on the neighborhood is taken into consideration. The amendment proposed including garage space and finished as well as unfinished (trussed) attic space in calculating the size of a new house, changes that could result in smaller houses being built or certain building plans heading to Large House Review. The aim was to bring more consistency and predictability into development, and bring Wellesley more in line with surrounding communities’ policies, while taking a long view of what the changes would mean for the town. Opponents of the Article fear it could raise the cost of building new homes, rob the town of revenue from growth development, and prevent sellers — including seniors looking to fund their entry into crazy expensive senior living facilities — from not making quite as much of a killing as they otherwise might.
Talk of possible changes to TLAG (Total Living Area plus Garage space) really did have it all:
*History — Attorney David Himmelberger went all History Channel on us and pointed out that Wellesley was the first town in the country to establish zoning bylaws back in 1925
*Humor — Okay, there really wasn’t much of this, aside from a comment about unfair allowance of speaking time (“I’ve never been allowed more than 7 minutes…” — you had to be there). The Planning Board’s Catherine Johnson did get a laugh when she expressed gratitude for such vibrant discussion of the matter: “We thought you hated zoning.”
*Politics — Numerous interruptions (i.e., points of order) during lengthy testimony by a local lawyer representing builders opposed to the Article
*Drama — One builder and resident shared a tearjerker about buying an elderly neighbor’s home for more than it was worth. “Builders are people — and Wellesley residents — too” was a theme, and no doubt it’s true. Moderator Tom Frisardi felt compelled to settle everyone down at one point and stressed that hey, we all need to live together, so let’s not let things get hostile here.
The night started off civilly enough, with the Planning Board’s Johnson doing a bang-up job of explaining what the heck the proposed amendment was all about, complete with lots of visual help to get everyone on the same page. Moderator Frisardi kept the proceedings largely on track even as a couple dozen residents chimed in on the matter.
In the end, after a too-close-to-call voice vote, the motion passed with a standing vote count of more than two thirds (72.41%)
While not a satisfactory outcome for all, at the very least it can be said that a conclusion was reached on the matter at hand, and everyone involved now gets a nice long break until Town Meeting resume on April 24. Up next will be Article 40, the Historical Preservation Demolition Review aimed at delaying the teardown of structures possibly of historical significance.
For a scorecard of Town Meeting results to date, check out this document from the town.