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98WVN #98: Town Center Project - Planning Board Wants Your Ideas

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  • waylandvoters2
    Jul 5, 2005
      Wayland Voters Network
      July 5, 2005

      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The Planning Board's next meeting to hear the public's questions and
      ideas re the proposed Town Center Project is Wednesday, July 6, at
      7:30 p.m. at the Town Building.

      The following summary of recent public comments re the proposed Town
      Center development was prepared by WVN editor Michael Short.

      TOWN CENTER PROJECT: PLANNING BOARD WANTS YOUR IDEAS

      There can't be many Wayland residents who haven't heard about
      the "town center" project at the former Raytheon property on Route
      20. Developers of the $100 million concept are promoting the idea
      with mailings, appearances at civic meetings, free ice cream and
      newspaper advertising.

      We see artist's renderings of pleasant streets and landscaping, we
      hear promises of added tax revenue and even a civic building on land
      donated by the developer.

      Some residents dream of a new library (or perhaps a library branch
      containing the children's room and the computer center), or an
      auditorium or an arts center, with an outdoor sculpture garden nearby.

      Some hope to see restaurants, locally owned shops and perhaps a book
      store as part of the 550,000-square-foot cluster.

      Like many other things that at first glance might appear to be
      something for nothing, it isn't that simple.

      The Planning Board is working long hours to draft zoning changes
      necessary for developers to create the largest business development
      in the town's history, and it's looking for your ideas. See newspaper
      coverage and the board's website at
      www.wayland.ma.us/planning/index.htm. You can email your thoughts to
      town planner Joe Laydon at jlaydon@....

      The Planning Board's next meeting to hear the public's questions
      and ideas is Wednesday, July 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Building.

      "We can create a real village which is an attractive destination for
      people to shop, do town business, and can even reside in this area,"
      says Planning Board Chairman Larry Stabile.

      On the other hand, some say it will be invisible from the true center
      of town and look more like Disney World than a real village. "Why
      would a town like Wayland want this?" one person asked.

      Though nothing quite like this has been built in New England, the
      idea embodies recent national trends toward smaller, more accessible
      malls that include housing. One such development in Florida is in
      fact called "Town Center."

      In Berlin, west of Wayland, voters turned down a proposal for a
      typical big-box mall. Recently a developer came back with a plan for
      a smaller, mixed-use development and offered to throw in a municipal
      building.

      Below WVN has collected residents' comments and questions from public
      meetings, correspondence and conversations. An "A." indicates a
      response by the Planning Board or the developers, The Congress Group
      and Streetscape.

      Comments and questions fall generally into these areas: ENVIRONMENT,
      TRAFFIC, ECONOMICS and ESTHETICS

      ENVIRONMENT

      -- Will Raytheon continue the hazardous waste cleanup it agreed to
      when it gave up the site? (A Raytheon official expressed firm
      commitment to the selectmen last week. CMG Environmental, Inc, a
      consultant hired by the town, has explained deed restrictions on the
      site that are "legally binding on the large majority of the
      developable land." This limits the new developers until the cleanup
      of the site is completed according to strict environmental
      regulations. Raytheon's environmental contractors have already
      removed a large amount of soil. Whether the town center project could
      open in the next two or three years depends partly on factors outside
      the developers' control. The development plans call for removing the
      existing Raytheon building. What lies beneath would be subject to the
      deed restrictions.)

      -- Will the lighting be up to the latest environmental standards,
      using shades directing illumination at the ground to avoid the glow
      that permeates the night sky in most urban areas?

      -- The plan shows a large open space west of the project near the
      Sudbury River. Are there plans to develop that, and is the land
      buildable? (The developers say they haven't studied the environmental
      questions but in any case have no plans to develop it. Much of that
      area is unbuildable wetlands. Raytheon has removed and replaced some
      of the soil.)

      -- The site is a recharging area for the town's wells. Will the water
      supply be protected from this huge change in the area?

      -- What will be the effect of a plant treating a large amount of
      waste water? Unlike household septic tanks, large-scale treatment
      leaves phosphorus, which if discharged into wetlands and a river
      promotes the growth of invasive plants. Where will the waste water
      treatment plant be?

      TRAFFIC

      The Planning Board and other boards devoted an entire meeting to the
      impact on traffic and presented studies by a consultant followed by a
      review of that work by another consultant. Since the second
      consultant did no original research, the results are similar.

      Current plans call for three additional traffic lights: one on Route
      20 at the entrance to the development, one on Route 27 where another
      entry road would be built, and a third at the intersection of Routes
      126 and 27 north of Route 20. The plans also recommend small changes
      such as widening some approaches to the route 20 intersection to
      improve traffic flow. Will these changes require tearing out the long-
      overdue improvements now under way?

      The consultants say that traffic resulting from growth outside
      Wayland will increase by only about one percent a year in the near
      future, but that even if the project isn't built there will be a much
      larger increase by 2010. This projection assumes that if the project
      isn't built, another sort of tenant will generate even greater
      traffic problems. (Before the selectmen decided to delay a Special
      Town Meeting until the fall, project proponents implied that a major
      tenant might be signed very soon.)

      Some residents said that three new traffic lights will spur commuters
      to even greater efforts to find short cuts. Bow Road and Glezen Lane
      were mentioned specifically, but who knows what determined commuters
      might try to avoid additional stop lights? One consultant said that
      commuter traffic on side roads would be "less likely if proper
      mitigation is implemented."

      There was talk of "traffic-calming" measures. Some residents of
      streets with noticeable commuter traffic may wonder whether anything
      short of police writing speeding tickets would be effective.

      The increased traffic will be "a huge change for the town," said one
      resident. "The road system doesn't change much (under the plan)," she
      said. "You'll have to create a miracle."

      Though the project would create fewer weekday commuter delays than
      offices at the site, the consultants projected an average of 14,701
      vehicle trips in and out of the development on Saturdays and 12,889
      on weekdays.

      This traffic projection implies that on a typical Saturday more than
      7,000 vehicles would enter and leave the development, carrying
      customers, employees, deliveries and residents. Thus, it appears that
      to be economically successful there must be a lot of traffic, and
      managing it will be a challenge.

      The consultants and developers made it clear that local customers are
      the key to commercial success.

      "Retail uses are not going to be a regional draw," said Dean
      Stratouly, president of the Congress Group, which owns the property.
      Wayland's high median income (about $101,000 annually) is a good
      sign, he said. Some customers are expected to come from the edges of
      nearby towns.

      Will Wayland residents who live five miles from the project shop
      there instead of in Natick, Framingham or Cochituate? For some, the
      municipal services available at the center could be a bigger
      attraction.

      Could local mass transit deliver people to the development and ease
      traffic? a resident asked. Stratouly and a consultant said that
      rarely works where density is as low as Wayland's.

      ECONOMICS

      -- What will be the costs to Wayland, and will there be an escrow
      fund for future costs borne by the town?

      -- According to admittedly preliminary studies by a consultant,
      additional tax revenues could be as little as $863,000 annually if
      the project succeeds. (That figure is the net after subtracting
      additional town expense to serve the area.) Is that worth the
      possible effects on traffic, the environment and the character of the
      town?

      -- We don't want to find that in five years the developers have sold
      out and standards are declining. Can you guarantee that won't happen?
      A. This should be taken care of with written agreements.

      -- You hope to attract small business owners. What controls will you
      have? A. The Planning Board invites further comment, saying that in
      the end, it's up to voters: What do you NOT want there? (Voters may
      want to be sure that written agreements reflect that.)

      -- When would the new tax money start to flow? (The brochure issued
      by developers lists 2007 as the targeted opening date, but others
      predict a later opening. Environmental regulations could be a big
      factor, as noted above.)

      -- In my experience, developers are good at one thing, a particular
      kind of development. Are you "town center" developers? Have you done
      it before? Answer from Chuck Irving of Streetscape: Nothing quite
      like this has been done in New England, but there are about 100
      roughly similar projects nationwide. We're following a national trend.

      -- Is an open-air mall feasible in New England? A. A study shows only
      a 2 percent difference in retail sales when comparing open-air malls
      in the Sunbelt and the North. Weather doesn't stop people from
      shopping in Wellesley, for example.

      -- Existing regulations have hampered Wayland businesses for years.
      Now those controls are to be dropped. If Raytheon had been given the
      same consideration that you plan to give this developer, Raytheon
      would still be there.

      -- Is anybody eager to open cafes or boutiques here? As for office
      space, two sizable office buildings on Route 20 have been vacant for
      some time.

      -- If you hope to have three or four restaurants, will they be able
      to get liquor licenses? A. The selectmen control that.

      -- What will be the effects on the schools? The housing and the 40B
      (partly affordably-priced) project could result in up to 250 new
      units.

      -- Would building 100-200 units of housing endanger the progress
      Wayland is making toward meeting the state standard of 10 percent
      affordable housing? (The existing percentage is a little over 3
      percent. The 12 affordable units planned for the adjacent 40B
      development will provide a tiny upward tick in the percentage unless
      hundreds of market-price units come on the market.)

      -- Will there be coordination with the 40B project? Will the two
      entities make a coherent design? A. There is a good chance of
      agreeing on such things as a common access road. (The 40B project is
      being planned by a totally different organization, and there is no
      obligation to cooperate.)

      -- What if we change the zoning and then the project is never built?
      A. The Planning Board says that the zoning will be written to expire
      if not put into effect.

      -- Several buildings seem almost as large as the 55,000-square foot
      space reserved for a supermarket. What kind of businesses will be
      there? A. Some buildings may contain more than one business, and
      there are plans for spaces suitable for small mom-and-pop operations,
      though a number of financially strong tenants are required. Examples
      of that kind of healthy business include Starbucks and Orvis.

      ESTHETICS

      -- The plan shows a wooded, hilly area to the east of the project.
      Will the 40B development remove the trees and much of the hill? A.
      The Planning Board says it will take the question "under advisement."
      (The 40B project could require leveling a good deal of land and
      cutting many trees.)

      -- Will Wayland hire a landscape architect to create appropriate
      designs for a town that describes itself as semi-rural?

      -- The scale looks good but the parking areas add up to something
      very large. There seems to be no green buffer with the adjacent
      project.

      -- Is the size appropriate? For comparison, Shoppers World places
      693,000 square feet of building on 84 acres. The town center proposal
      is for about 550,000 square feet on 56 acres. In Wayland, the
      development could look really big and really crowded.

      -- What will this look like from Route 20 as you drive by, or from
      the Sudbury River if you're canoeing? The Sudbury River is designated
      as a "Wild and Scenic River" by Act of Congress partially in
      recognition of the wilderness ambience from most of the river as it
      runs through town. The proposed 55-foot buildings would be the
      highest structures along the river for many miles in both directions.
      (According to one of the developers, the Planning Board wants to
      prevent misconceptions by avoiding specific early drawings or
      computer simulations, since the design is in the earliest conceptual
      stages. The projected housing could be a large mass, with underground
      parking, reaching as much as 55 feet above the ground. Those who
      prize the Sudbury River and its views might want to devise a way of
      visualizing the effect.)

      -- "This isn't a town center. It is a mall."

      -- How do you plan to integrate the project with existing Wayland
      businesses? Will established businesses be on the outside looking in?
      You talk about a bike path along the rail lines as a integrative
      device. Is that feasible? Route 20 and the unused MBTA tracks are
      natural barriers. How can you surmount that? Only Russell's Garden
      Center (which enthusiastically supports the project) seems to allow
      easy access from the other side, because the plan calls for a stop
      light there to cross Route 20. If traffic increases markedly, how
      could people make a left turn out of the Wayland Village parking lot
      (housing Whole Foods and more than a half-dozen other businesses) to
      get to the new development? A. We need input on how to connect with
      the nearby areas.

      -- What will the project look like as you approach it from the east
      on Route 20? Will we see the back of a 55,000-square-foot supermarket
      close to the road? Will there be a cell phone tower nearby?

      -- Why do you need to relax the existing limits on the heights of
      buildings? A. Various heights are in keeping with the kind of
      development envisioned, with buildings of various styles, some of
      them multi-story. In some cases the highest point might be only a
      cupola. If voters say they like the existing restrictions, we'll keep
      them. But it could prevent certain architecturally interesting
      things like steeply sloped roofs.

      -- The only multi-use development in Massachusetts similar to the
      Wayland proposal is Mashpee Commons. Even after many years, that
      development seems lacking in greenery. And, while it isn't
      unpleasant, it looks like a Hollywood set, not a "town center."

      -- The plans calls for streets to be open to traffic. Assuming
      restaurants locate there, would anybody really want to dine outdoors
      surrounded by cars? Would people just enjoying themselves on the
      street want to have cars constantly going by?

      -- The plan doesn't look people-friendly. There are no parks. Where
      would young people congregate?

      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to your
      friends and neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive their own
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors