Nothing gets Wellesley Town Meeting buzzing like a Citizen Petition, especially when it’s on a topic in which realtors, developers, lawyers and longtime residents have a stake.
That was the case on Monday night when it came to Article 37. Discussion lasted for an hour and a half, blocking Town Meeting members from watching most of the NCAA men’s basketball championship and threatening to drag into Tuesday and mess with opening day plans at Fenway Park.
The article, brought to town meeting on behalf of a group of residents in the Dexter Road/Wellesley Avenue neighborhood, sought to rezone 9 properties from a General Residence District to a Single Family Residence District. This would have prevented the buyers of a home and 13,000 sq. ft. lot at 8 Dexter Rd., from tearing it down and erecting a 2-family home that current residents fear will disrupt the character of the neighborhood. That neighborhood features relatively modest homes that have not changed much in size or style over the past 90 years, according to the article’s proponents, and it sits within walking distance of Town Hall and Wellesley Free Library.
The buyers of 8 Dexter Rd. shared a letter making their argument on the Town Meeting mailing list over the weekend, and cited concerns that they were being singled out with a proposed zoning change. The petitioners shared a letter of their own to counter that of the buyers (both letters are embedded below). The opposing sides repeated their arguments at Town Meeting, bandying about numbers and claims to support housing stock diversity to bolster their respective causes.
The petitioners argued that we need more relatively affordable single-family homes (we’re talking under $900K assessed value affordable), while the owners of 8 Dexter Rd., argued for more diverse types of housing (to which the petitioners countered that just because you build a 2-family house doesn’t mean that it’s going to be relatively affordable or modest in size).
Some Town Meeting members said they were torn. Some argued that yes, people should be able to do what they want with their property within reason, while others argued that we all need to take the common good into consideration, too. Some Town Meeting members cited the fact that the town has spent lots of money and time on consultants and a housing production plan arguing for more diverse housing stock, and here was a chance to either preserve neighborhood character or allow development in new housing. A former Planning Board member argued that this sort of one-off zoning change is not the right way to go about making changes, which need to be done more deliberately. Another resident proposed a compromise: Let the buyers of 8 Dexter Rd., do their thing, but change zoning in the area to curtail such future efforts.
In the end, Town Meeting members went against the Planning Board and Advisory Committee and shot down the proposal 106-81, with a few abstentions.
The buyers of 8 Dexter Rd., haven’t detailed their plans, so what becomes of the property remains to be seen. While they bought the property through an LLC, they’ve suggested they might even want to live there.
It’s likely that Article 37 won’t be forgotten soon. The town will keep this in mind as undertakes a comprehensive review of zoning bylaws in the years ahead.
Town Meeting dissolved shortly after the Article 37 discussion. Up next: Special Town Meeting in May.