The Wellesley Zoning Board of appeals earlier this week dealt with two 40B housing proposals, both of which would sit very near Sprague Elementary School (see Wellesley Public Media recording below to watch the meeting). Developers have pounced on Wellesley in recent years with 40B proposals, which give them leeway on zoning rules in exchange for providing a minimum number of relatively affordable units.
The board first handled the 680 Worcester St., project, and decided to continue the public hearing until May 28. Concerns about emergency vehicle access to the Rte. 9 East property sparked a proposal that J. Derenzo Properties lop off the fifth floor, which would reduce the number of units and associated vehicles by a few. Development consultant Geoff Engler expressed openness to such a change, but asked for a few weeks to hash out a response with his client. The 680 project would bring 20 units, including 5 affordable ones, to the hood.
The most disturbing moment of that part of the hearing came when town engineer Dave Hickey referred to the contents of sewage pipes as “product.”
Stearns Road project
Separately, the ZBA heard final public comments on a 40B proposal at 16 Stearns Rd., that will upend the neighborhood on this dead-end street parallel to the Rte. 9 project. I have to admit, when I first visited the site back in the fall of 2017 to produce a Wellesley Public Media report on 40B projects, I figured there was no chance this one would go through despite an overall Massachusetts track record of most deals getting okayed. When I visited, the street looked like something out of another era, with little kids circling me on their bikes under sunny skies. These neighbors don’t have the benefit of a full basketball court or some other such buffer on their property, as say, some development execs do.
The ZBA’s Robert Levy at the start of the meeting on Tuesday gave a recap of the project, which has been discussed before the board over the course of 8 meetings since September. Looking somewhat squeamish, he also delivered a sort of don’t-blame-the-messenger announcement, clarifying that despite any reservations that the board members have about the appropriateness of the locations for the projects discussed, the board’s responsibility is to uphold the rules for these projects. Its only real recourse for blocking projects like these would be if it found there to be serious health or safety issues — something that neighbors have asserted there are. He also warned that if conditions are put on such projects that the developer determines would make the projects economically unviable, the developer could appeal to a state board and get a go-ahead.
As for this project, which would bring 24 units (6 affordable), road use is expected to more than double. There was discussion at the start of the 16 Stearns Rd., hearing about investing in a possible study to consider changes to the road, including a separate lane for pedestrians. Planning consultant Judi Barrett said during the meeting that the project essentially turns the street into its driveway.
As has been the case at all of these Stearns Road hearings, a strong showing from the neighborhood resulted in numerous comments about the project. A neighborhood spokesman had also delivered a lengthy report ahead of the meeting, which ZBA members said they would read. These neighbors have spearheaded a group called Our Affordable Wellesley pushing for what they call friendly 40B projects.
Concerns raised at this past Tuesday’s hearing included those about the effect of having 2 big projects in the same school district, the environmental impact of building such a project next to the former landfill area that is now Sprague field, and how the projects could affect patients at the Newton-Wellesley Center for Alzheimer’s Care on Rte. 9 right near the Sprague school. Nextdoor neighbor Pete Buhler said the density of the project is at the root of most concerns. “When you take the density out of the equation, just about all of the health and safety things… start to fall out of it.”
After one speaker accused the board and developer of dismissing neighbors’ concerns, Engler spoke up. He complemented the neighbors for the work they’ve put in to researching the issues surrounding the project, but also gave the Stearns Road crowd a stern little lecture that included: “If neighborhood concerns were governing or a deciding factor on whether or not affordable housing
and 40Bs got built, maybe 1 out of every 50 would be done.”
The ZBA now has 40 days to render a decision. Discussion by the board will take place at a public meeting at a date to be determined. No public comments will be allowed at that meeting.
Weston Road and Delanson Circle projects head to Special Town Meeting
These one-time 40B projects, which have been reworked, will soon get a chance for Special Town Meeting review beginning later this month.
While the recent Board of Selectmen meeting on these projects was something of a love-fest, not everyone is thrilled. That includes the owner of 144 Weston Rd., which sits in between 148 Weston Rd., and 140 Weston Rd., which has been gobbled up by the developer for future expansion of the project. The owner of 144 Weston Rd., has urged Town Meeting members to consider his precarious position but also that of anyone else in town susceptible to re-zonings in their neighborhoods.
All of these projects are reminders pretty much every street in Wellesley is vulnerable to change, good or bad. Whether by teardowns, 40Bs, or the introduction of duplexes in previously single-family neighborhoods, it seems you just never know. Even the Natick end of our own street has suffered a condemned spite house in the middle of it for years because a business owner won’t have it removed unless he gets his way on expanded parking and facilities. Efforts by some neighborhoods to protect their housing character have included petitions to be declared conservation districts, while the town itself has produced a housing production plan designed to give it more control over how affordable and other housing growth happens here.