40B housing developments are nothing new in Wellesley. While a new generation of Wellesley residents is coming up to speed on the Massachusetts 40B law in light of a slew of proposed housing developments here since last year, the town has been dealing with 40Bs since the 1970s, not long after the so-called anti-snob zoning statute went into effect to push communities to increase their affordable housing units to at least 10% of overall stock.
About 10 years ago the town tussled with developer Michael Connolly over a 5-condo unit at 65 Washington St., as Connolly looked to stretch the 40B rules as far as they could go.
But the first big 40B battles in Wellesley actually involved the 5-story brick building on Cedar Street near Walnut Street known as the Ardemore Apartments (also often referred to as Ardmore — no “e” in the middle). In the 1980s, Wellesley was only about halfway to the 10% affordable housing stock goal, and today the town’s percentage hovers in mid-6% territory.
The 36-unit apartment building on Cedar Street opened in 1986 with a mix of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, half affordable and half market rate, and according to a Townsman story at the time, about twice as many applications were filed by prospective tenants as there were apartments. Then-Gov. Michael Dukakis was invited to attend the groundbreaking, though I’ve found no indication he went.
That celebration of the new building was a long time in coming, with developer Cedar Associates applying for a permit in 1977 to erect a 48-unit complex. As is often the case with such projects, this developer sought approval for more units (48) than it wound up getting (36). All part of the negotiating game.
This game went beyond the town of Wellesley. A couple of legal cases involving this complex, currently assessed at $8.2M, went all the way to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
In one case, Wellesley’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied Ardemore’s 40B comprehensive permit, but the developer appealed to the Housing Appeals Committee (HAC), which overruled the ZBA. On further appeal, the SJC in 1982 agreed with the HAC and against the ZBA. The court declared that “the Legislature never intended that a proposed development be exclusively reserved for low and moderate income families to qualify as low and moderate income housing.”
In the other case, also involving Ardemore in 2002, the SJC agreed with Wellesley that where a 40B financing arrangement had a limit on the length of time that the apartments were to remain affordable, the ZBA comprehensive permit contained no such limitation. So to this day, all 36 units at Ardemore remain on Wellesley’s subsidized housing inventory according to Wellesley Planning Director Michael Zehner, and that’s a key count that contributes to the percentage of the town’s housing stock that’s deemed affordable.
Wellesley is currently working on a Housing Production Plan that aims to get the town’s affordable housing stock up to at least 10% — and to shield Wellesley from what it sees as unfriendly 40B proposals that don’t take scale, neighborhood character and other factors into account.