Developers looking to build a 34-unit condo complex on a Rte. 9 access road less than a mile from the Wellesley/Newton town line shared an overview of their proposed project with the public at Wellesley Free Library on Monday.
The 192-194 Worcester St., development team on this night included members of family-run Encore Properties out of Newton, a local lawyer, plus partnering architects. The team met with town leadership over the summer, and decided to hold off until now to meet with the public in hopes of getting a bigger audience.
A few dozen people showed up, including neighbors of the proposed project as well as a handful of reps from various town boards and committees. Team members stressed that things are still in the conceptual stage, and that no formal proposal has been submitted to the town regarding the property, which was acquired last winter.
The plan is to put 2 buildings, housing 25 and 9 units, on about 1.5 acres of property where commercial and residential buildings have fallen into disrepair (the residential property is at 150 Cedar St.) The project, featuring a mix of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom units with sizes ranging from just over 1,200 sq. ft. to just under 2,000 sq. ft., would be adjacent to the recently completed Cedar Place apartments on Burke Lane, and would contain no commercial space.
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Steve Garfinkle, who leads Encore, acknowledged that most of these condos won’t come cheap given their location in Wellesley. The firm will be required to offer at least a few of them at affordable rates, based on a state formula, but the rest would be at market rates—in other words, whatever people are willing to pay. In Wellesley, that typically means $1M-plus. “The more affordable units there are, the more expensive the market rate units will be,” Garfinkle said, explaining the economics of such developments.
Answering a question about which market the developers are targeting, Garfinkle said: “Let’s be realistic: The market in Wellesley is a luxury market.” He said the original concept was to aim below market rates to attract first-time home buyers, but that the ability to follow through on that will depend on how many square feet they can build and the mix of affordable vs. market rate units required by the town.
The larger audience for the condos is expected to be people stepping down from single-family homes, Garfinkle said, based on what other new developments in town are seeing. Though developments like those on Weston Road and Linden Street are much closer to retail districts, such as Linden Square and Wellesley Square. Whether empty nesters and other downsizers will opt for condos on the edge of town on Rte. 9, with The Great Wok as the only restaurant within walking distance, remains to be seen.
The team’s hope is to get an article before Wellesley Annual Town Meeting in the spring for zoning approval, and from there would need to go through the usual gauntlet of town bodies from Design Review Board to Planning Board (project of significant impact) to Zoning Board of Appeals (site plan). Encore would look to get approval for its multi-housing project under a residential incentive overlay zoning scheme. If all goes well for the developer, construction still wouldn’t begin until 2025.
Encore did not dismiss the oft-underestimated hardship of neighbors during a large construction project. The team proactively emphasized during its presentation that it would do everything it could to insulate current residents during construction (as residents have just finished dealing with construction issues during the Burke Lane project) to designing the complex in a way that would be relatively unobtrusive to those living nearby. For example, it will make ingress and egress to the condos from Rte. 9, not Cedar Lane, which would only be used for emergencies. It will keep tall trees as a buffer, and separate its project from abutters via more setback space than is required. Parking will be underground, with 3 stories above that level designed to fit within property that slopes up toward the back, away from Rte. 9.
“We spend a lot of time on design, which is why these kinds of discussions are important,” Garfinkle said. Design plays into both the function of buildings for users and in a project’s impact on the immediate surroundings, he said.
“We think aesthetically, it’s an incredible improvement on these properties,” Garfinkle added.
Architect and planner Daniel Riggs of Embarc Design displayed and explained conceptual plans, starting off by highlighting the location of the site along Rte. 9 and near Rte. 95. An MWRTA bus stop is nearby, which could help get you to the green line, but subway and commuter rail stops are not within easy or safe walking distance. So while this project will meet demand for more housing in the area, this isn’t a development that would help the town with its MBTA Communities multifamily zoning compliance efforts.
During a question and answer session, attendees asked about pricing, the timeline, traffic and access, and the impact on school population. The tone during the Q&A period was polite, though some attendees expressed frustration that their neighborhood was in for the inevitable inconveniences—noise, traffic, etc.—of another project during and after construction despite an obligatory assurance that a housing complex of this size wouldn’t likely impact traffic much. As some relief for neighbors, they’ll at least get a year-plus break between the end of the last project and the start of this one if it’s approved.