Wellesley housing production plan discussion heats up

The Wellesley Board of Selectmen and Planning Board on Tuesday discussed creating a housing production plan that would give the town more control over the future of affordable housing development here.

Citing a lack of tools to address the possible negative impacts of 40B projects foisted upon the town, Planning Board Chair Deb Carpenter said: “The purpose of the housing production plan is to enable us to look at housing needs comprehensively and give us tools to develop projects that have affordable market rate diversity of housing that will put us in a position of not being vulnerable to the kind of developments that we’re seeing now that people are unhappy with.”

As is, the town is increasingly being targeted by developers seeking to build homes under relatively loose 40B zoning rules in light of Wellesley falling significantly below the state standard of 10% of its housing stock being deemed affordable. One developer even recently floated the idea of using Needham to authorize a project on Oakland Street along the Wellesley/Needham border, in light of Needham being at the 10% threshold already and Wellesley needing the additional affordable housing stock (not happening for now).

A housing production plan, according to assistant executive director for the BoS office Meghan Jop, would entail a housing needs assessment to reach the 10% affordable housing threshold, setting goals for where to construct affordable housing, figuring out how many units a year would need to be built and implementing a strategy to achieve those goals within a 5-year period. Wellesley is now at 6.2% of the 10% requirement (9,090 units), based on the 2010 census — with figures subject to change once the 2020 census rolls in since a 5-year housing production plan would extend into that period. Such a plan, which in theory would work hand-in-hand with a more comprehensive Unified Plan also underway in Wellesley, would not be in place to have any impact on current 40B proposals.

Jop says a plan could cost anywhere from $15K to $35K to construct, and take up to a year to complete due to the need to have public meetings. “There has to be a real serious discussion as to where these units could potentially be constructed,” she says, noting that such a plan could involve aiming for 47 to 50 new units per year for 5 years. Wellesley has added over 100 units in the past several years, and taken assorted zoning and other steps to enable more affordable housing units to be introduced, she says.

Planning Director Michael Zehner says he has begun crafting a draft request for proposal on a housing production plan, while efforts are underway to compile funding from a variety of sources, including the Planning Board, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Community Preservation Committee and others, to pay an outside party for leading plan development. Wellesley officials have also spoken with counterparts in communities such as Brookline and Medfield to get a sense of what a housing production plan might look like. Among other things, such a plan could take a fresh look at identifying parcels in town that might be ideal for affordable housing development.

Responding to a question from BoS member Tom Ulfelder about how a housing production plan would affect the town’s response to individual developers’ proposals, Zehner said “what it gives potential developers and property owners is a roadmap for where we would presumably be supportive of projects.”

Pete Buhler, a Stearns Road resident whose neighborhood is right in the thick of proposed 40B territory, thanked the boards for their efforts, but also urged them to speed things up, taking advantage of resources such as consulting that has already been done on the Unified Plan in the area of housing development. “I think we’re honestly in far too deep of a crisis mode right now to wait [for an RFP process to play out],” he said.


MORE: See Wellesley Public Media video of board meeting, starting at about 1 hour 9 minute mark