The developers behind the proposed 489 Worcester St., condo complex at the intersection of Cliff Road have been doing the rounds with various Wellesley town bodies, from the Planning Board to the Wetlands Protection Committee. But their focus will now shift largely to the Select Board in an effort to get eventual state and Town Meeting approval to build their planned 45-unit project.
The window is tight to get its zoning amendment bid on the warrant for the 2024 Wellesley Annual Town Meeting in March. But developer Victor Sheen says his team’s plan is to make as much progress as it can and be ready for whichever Town Meeting, annual or special, works out.
Sheen and partner Peter Holland during the Nov. 20 Planning Board meeting (see Wellesley Media recording) said they’d be pursuing approval for their project under 40R zoning, a more streamlined smart growth approach than the residential incentive overlay district method they were leaning toward in earlier meetings with Planning. One big benefit to a developer of going the 40R route is that Town Meeting needs to approve it by a simple majority rather than a two-thirds vote, as is the case with most zoning bylaw amendments. 40R projects, like the William Street apartment complex in Wellesley, are attractive to municipalities because they stand to get significant state funding in return.
Getting 40R approval involves a well-documented process that in the case here starts with the developer working with the Select Board and allowing the town to conduct various peer reviews, such as for traffic impact. If satisfied, the Select Board submits an application to the state, which gets a few months to chew over the materials before giving a thumbs up or down. In the case of 489 Worcester St., to be ready for Annual Town Meeting, this would mean needing to get everything to the state by about year-end.
The planned project has undergone numerous changes since emerging early this year. Big news in the presentation shared by the developers at the Planning Board meeting was that the proposed project would be reduced from its original 69 units to 45 in a main manor building (9 units would be deemed “affordable” based on a state formula). Plans for townhouses have been scrapped, and 2 existing single-family homes will be retained. The team has also made other adjustments to the proposal, from traffic schemes to aesthetics to sustainability commitments, based on feedback from town officials and the community. A transportation impact assessment, municipal systems impact analysis, and other reports have also been included in the latest presentation. The developers had scooped up several properties, including the big one at 489 Worcester St. (aka, Rte. 9 west), to make this project possible, and have proposed landscaping and design of the main building intended to keep it from overwhelming Cliff Road.
The project has clear supporters on the Planning Board who want to see it move ahead quickly. Others on the Board still have questions and concerns, as do members of the public, who commented during the Planning Board meeting on issues such as the project’s scale in a current single residence district, traffic impact in light of Upham Elementary School soon closing, and ledge removal. But by taking the 40R route, the project team mainly needs to get the Select Board and Town Meeting’s blessing (and eventually the Zoning Board of Appeals), with the Planning Board playing more of an advisory role to other town bodies (Planning discussed putting together a memo with its recommendations). The project team has also been meeting with the Wetlands Protection Committee, and is slated to meet with that group in December.
Planning Director Arbeene noted this development won’t count toward the town’s still developing MBTA Communities commitment even though it is relatively close to the Wellesley Hills commuter rail station.
A liaison update on the 489 Worcester St. project is slated for the end of the Select Board’s Dec. 5 meeting.
Update 12/5/23: (8:30pm) We had turned comments off because things were getting too back and forth, and long. We’ve turned them back on, but will turn them off for good at noon 12/6/23.