All around Wellesley, residents are rallying their neighbors, and if possible, those outside their neighborhood, to help prevent change that they fear will harm their way of life. They cite wholesome walkable neighborhoods crawling with kids or scenic beauty the likes of which has become rarer in town through deforestation and various developments.
While most would probably agree that some change is inevitable—the razing of houses and raising of new ones that meet modern tastes and sustainability standards, for example—other change is seen as endangering the fabric of neighborhoods and the environment.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the neighborhood changes that could be in the offing if residents’ voices fail to sway developers or town officials:
Pond Road proposal
A Boston developer, who has secured a former Wellesley Selectmen for an attorney, seeks to build two homes at the upper end of the town’s oldest and perhaps most scenic of Wellesley’s scenic roads.
Neighbors opposed to the project argue that the homes are too close to the road, don’t fit in with other houses on the street, and will take away from the lush tree canopy that Pond Road is known for by neighbors as well as those who traverse it by car, bike or feet. They’re also concerned that once construction were to begin, the narrow road would get congested with vehicles used by those working on the homes.
The developer (aka Pond Road LLC), who has been through a gauntlet of town meetings over the past year and scaled back original plans to address various environmental and other concerns, is buying the property at 194 and 196 Pond Rd., from a resident who is said to be moving from an existing home overlooking the scenic road.
Next up is an online Oct. 19 meeting (6:30pm) of the Planning Board and Natural Resources Commission to review the latest plans. (Note: meeting rescheduled from Oct. 5.)
In anticipation of the meeting, a resident (presumably) has stationed a kiosk on the road from which passersby can grab a flier that sums up the concerned neighbors’ plight. You can also go online to sign a petition if you have concerns about this development.
Friendly neighborhood pot shop
The neighborhood sandwiched between Jennings Pond and Morses Pond along Rte. 9 east is split between Natick and Wellesley. That’s all well and good, but things can get complicated when decisions made by one of the towns affect residents of the neighboring one. Communications from one community don’t always make their way to across the border (one Wellesley resident told us she heard about the public meetings through our Natick Report.).
Residents of the aforementioned area could find themselves next year counting a recreational marijuana shop as a neighbor. Whereas Wellesley residents voted in 2016 against a statewide referendum allowing for recreational marijuana sales, Natick voters okayed it. Natick now is sorting out which of three candidates to chose for two recreational pot shop licenses.
Revolutionary Clinics would replace Nine East Wine Emporium jusssst west of the Wellesley border on Rte. 9, and a second candidate, C3, would be just a bit further west in what’s now a small strip mall at 42 Worcester St., alongside a dog training business and consignment shop. A third candidate’s location would be at Cloverleaf Mall.
The recreational marijuana shop candidates recently held public forums online (Revolutionary Clinics and C3 Industries), and while a few supporters chimed in, the bulk of comments came from concerned Natick and Wellesley residents who live nearby the proposed locations. More than 130 names are on one petition, and neighbors also addressed Natick’s Select Board at its Sept. 30 meeting in advance of a possible Oct. 14 decision on moving forward with up to two licenses. Based on neighbor comments and questions from the two forums, most would easily take C3 over Revolutionary Clinics based on the proposed locations alone.
While they are somewhat used to traffic from Nine East Wine Emporium, that volume has declined a lot since Total Wine arrived on the scene and Wellesley grocery stores got booze licenses. They’re worried that since there are a lot fewer recreational pot shops in the area than liquor stores people will travel from surrounding communities that don’t allow such businesses to open within their confines.
Other concerns include lack of neighbor representation on the selection committee and the absence of a residential buffer zone near such locations. One Wellesley resident pointed out that the neighborhood includes bus stops, and that drivers find the roads in the area confusing as is: If those streets become a cut-through for hundreds more people, they fear for their safety, especially given the lack of sidewalks. Some were irritated that traffic implications won’t be addressed in earnest until site reviews happen further along in the process.
The issue of the possible business approvals near Wellesley was raised briefly within the last 20 minutes of a recent Wellesley Planning Board meeting, and board members briefly mulled the notion of such a shop negotiating for extended parking across the town line (they didn’t sound open to that). A couple of members of that group mentioned receiving communications on the subject from residents.
Keith Cooper, CEO of possible Natick recreational marijuana business Revolutionary Clinics, says the town was careful to follow zoning and other rules regarding possible cannabis locations. “The zone was selected because it fits all of the criteria for setbacks and buffers required by the state and the town. Additionally they felt that a current adult-use location [i.e., the liquor store] was logical,” he says. The current owners of Nine East Wine Emporium said during the online forum that they did their best to reach out to neighbors about the proposed change in use for the property, but received little response.
If Revolutionary Clinics does get the OK to open at the Rte. 9 location, Cooper says “There are lots of solutions that could be researched and debated (one-way streets, speed bumps, no left turn rules, etc.) which might improve the situation vs. our new business creating problems.” What’s more, he says it’s possible that the fee and tax revenue from the business could be used to fund such improvements. He added that a proposal to keep visits to appointment-only could help to control traffic spikes.
Wellesley Square deja vu
Green “Rescue Wellesley Square” signs have started to pop up near the Square and further down Washington Street. These are the doing of residents worried about the possible redevelopment of the Tailby and Railroad lots at the Wellesley Square commuter rail station. There are concerns that such major changes will amount to serious piling on for a neighborhood that is due to get an influx of neighbors and traffic from a pair of one-time 40B projects that are coming closer to reality after years of hearings and negotiations. They, like the Weston Road and Linden Street intersection, are pleading for mercy.
The Tailby/Railroad lot redevelopment project has been out of the public spotlight after gaining attention more than a year ago when the town selected a finalist to work on such a project and the development team held a public forum in summer of 2019.
But the project has taken a back seat in light of COVID-19, and other town happenings. When asked for a status update earlier this month, the town’s spokeswoman said: “There are no significant updates to Tailby/RR project at this point. Both the Town and the developer remain committed to the project but due to the pandemic, the timeline has been pushed back considerably.”
As for the developer, Trinity Financial’s Dan Drazen told us, “At this point, we are working to update our plan to reflect the feedback we have been hearing from the community as well as the changes to the economic landscape in light of the coronavirus….We should have more to share with everyone sometime this fall.”
We asked the Rescue Wellesley Square group for feedback as well. The eight-member group, which has 125-plus names on its mailing list, overlaps a bit with the College Heights Association that negotiated on the Delanson Circle project across the from Tailby. But Rescue Wellesley Square is on its own mission.
“Our current intentions are to raise awareness, as we continually hear from many people, that they had ABSOLUTELY NO KNOWLEDGE of these very impactful Wellesley Square projects,” according to Christine Crowley and the Rescue Wellesley Square board, which responded to our questions via email. “The Board of Selectman’s vetting process, (once they made the decision to develop the 2 lots), proceeded efficiently and quietly until they awarded the projects to Trinity Financial. In response, we have formed a committee and took the measures necessary to inform the general public, our neighbors, and fellow citizens.”
While the proposed project is in something of a quiet phase for now, neighbors want to make sure people know about “negative impacts of multiple, luxury high-rises in this small stretch of downtown.” They cite traffic congestion and safety, effects on the environment, and housing equity concerns.
Following a recent Zoom call, the group said it was “impressed by how much the greater community cares about Wellesley’s character as a town and how concerned they are about the rapid urbanization of the downtown area. The community wants and needs more information about why so many luxury developments are being concentrated in an area of town that many already consider overdeveloped.”
Whole Foods’ neighbors
Whole Foods is a double-edged sword for some neighbors. You can’t beat being able to walk or take a short drive to the high quality supermarket. But for those who live nearby on Atwood, Morton and Session Streets, Whole Foods-related cut-through traffic can be a pain, and they say it has gotten worse over the years.
What has this group of residents worked up is that Gravestar, property manager for the Wellesley Plaza within which Whole Foods has operated since 2011, is looking to move its State Street entrance/exit in such a way that it will essentially give people a straight shot to Atwood Street.
The developer and traffic engineers (one hired by Gravestar, the other chosen by the town for a peer review) say the move of the entrance/exit 100 feet down the street away from the Washington Street intersection shouldn’t greatly change the amount of vehicles using Atwood, but should help reduce queuing at the Washington St., intersection. Bob Michaud from the transportation consultancy working with Gravestar said, “The intent of this project is not to change traffic patterns. It’s to better accommodate a known parking demand within the property.”
But residents of Atwood and nearby streets say that common sense would suggest the results will be otherwise once drivers realize they no longer really need to jut onto State Street to negotiate the connection between the parking lot and Atwood.
Gravestar has gobbled up a home at 16 State St., that it plans to raze to make way for 35 additional parking spaces. The idea is to use that acreage to help alleviate what’s currently a tough circulation situation in which drivers navigate spaces too small for their big vehicles and get stuck in dead ends within the lot. The lot already surpasses zoning requirements for its number of parking spaces, and this project would make that cushion even bigger. Gravestar’s also revamping stormwater management, landscaping, and other aspects of its lot after doing the rounds with the Design Review Board, Natural Resources Commission, Wetlands Committee, and more.
Neighbors, at least 40 of whom have signed a petition opposing the parking lot entrance/exit change, came out in force to speak at the virtual Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Sept. 22. It marked a return to the ZBA for Gravestar, whose reps and partners last visited the board about a year before. Neighbors’ concerns and suggestions included everything from the parking lot lights being on too much to whether Gravestar might be swayed to encourage more patrons to use the Washington Street exit and entrance rather than the State Street one, which generally handles about two-thirds of the traffic, according to the traffic study Gravestar presented. They also encouraged traffic studies to be held on the weekend, which are busy shopping days.
Neighbor Phyllis Carter said during the ZBA meeting: “This is a commercial, industrial enterprise. The traffic should be going out to Washington Street and State Street, not onto Atwood Street.” She urged the town to take a broader look at traffic on Washington Street, including its intersection with the Kingsbury Street bridge.
Asked by the ZBA’s Robert Levy if he was mainly concerned about people exiting the parking lot and heading straight down Atwood, Carter’s husband Thom Carter replied “You know they will.”
Levy emphasized during the meeting that he’s interested in ideas that would mitigate traffic troubles on Atwood. Ideas were floated during the meeting of possibly making the street one-way, or disallowing traffic onto the street from the parking lot during certain hours.
Neighbor Robert Hutchinson raised a number of concerns during the ZBA meeting, including over whether Amazon-owned Whole Foods might be reworking its parking lot and buying additional property on State Street with an eye toward expansion, perhaps even shopping fulfillment operations. “I don’t believe that this is just about parking. I believe there are other stages that are going to be brought forward to the town of Wellesley…” as retail business models evolve.
But Mike Doherty, engineering manager for Gravestar, responded: “It’s a neighborhood grocery location now…and that’s what it’s going to be.”
Look for discussion to continue with the ZBA on Nov. 5.