The Wellesley Select Board on Tuesday night voted unanimously against entering into a development agreement with a firm seeking zoning relief needed to build an assisted living and memory care facility at the top of Pond Road on the Wellesley/Natick line.
This followed last week’s Natick Select Board meeting, during which that Board took no position on a citizen petition that would request zoning amendments to allow for the building of an assisted living and memory care facility on the property in Natick along the scenic road. The Board referred the proposed zoning amendments to the town’s Planning Board.
Buzz around the proposed 200 Pond Rd., project has increased over the past week or so thanks to signature campaigns from the proponent as well as those against the project, which would need zoning changes allowing a commercial property, and access to it, in what’s currently zoned for single-family residential properties.
Welltower, the developer, contends its proposed 130-unit facility on the site of a current Natick mansion will meet a need for senior housing in the area. The developer pulled back on a citizen petition before Natick’s Spring Annual Town Meeting last year in the face of residential opposition and a lukewarm reception by the Planning Board. It recently scored a favorable decision by Wellesley’s Planning Board—in part by dangling a possible $1M payment to the town under a future development agreement— in advance of Wellesley’s Annual Town Meeting in late March.
The developer’s strategy would be, if Wellesley OKed the plan, to then circle back with Natick. Only the driveway at 200 Pond Rd., and some surrounding land are in Wellesley.
The Wellesley Select Board discussion on 200 Pond Rd., began with the project team’s local attorney David Himmelberger asking the Board to negotiate a development agreement with the team. “The purpose of the development agreement is to allow Wellesley to shape the development, which would be in Natick,” he said. Wellesley would receive a payment in lieu of taxes as well as the benefit that a conservation restriction would bring to the undeveloped area surrounding the proposed facility, said Himmelberger, who also shared slides showing what the area could look like if zoning changes don’t go through and instead houses are constructed by right both along the roadside in Wellesley and up the hill in Natick.
But the Wellesley Select Board, whose members have toured to property, came down strongly against entering a development agreement. Chair Tom Ulfelder wasn’t sold on the project having as little traffic impact on the road as the proponent has claimed it would “unless you had a police detail on Pond Road” preventing people from turning right out of the driveway toward Rte. 16. The proponent’s plan would be to provide mitigation methods to direct most traffic onto Rte. 135.
“I think the proponent chose to roll the dice and acquire this property, and I just don’t feel it’s the right project and the right location, ” or that Wellesley should go first (ahead of Natick) and negotiate a development agreement, Ulfelder said.
Fellow member Beth Sullivan Woods described the proposal as “a difficult project to consider” in that it would be in one of the few places in town “where you truly feel like you have visited a different land and a very rural place… I think emotionally, all of us want to protect that…”
Board member Ann-Mara Lanza agreed with the rest of the Board that this was not the right location for this project, but said there is a need for more senior housing in town based on town demographics and from what she’s heard from residents who were in favor of the project. Ideally, a project like this would involve a development agreement crafted in partnership with the developer and both towns.
Attorney Himmelberger thanked the board for its consideration, and said the development team still looks forward to working with the town and residents.