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WVN #103: Clear Divisions on Town Center Proposal

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  • waylandvoters2
    Wayland Voters Network August 8, 2005 Dear Wayland Voter, The Planning Board has asked developers for a smaller version of the half-million square foot
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2005
      Wayland Voters Network
      August 8, 2005

      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The Planning Board has asked developers for a smaller version of the
      half-million square foot residential-retail-office complex proposed
      for the Route 20 site once occupied by Raytheon. Town boards continue
      to work at a fast pace as complexities become more apparent.

      The Board of Selectmen meets tonight, Monday, Aug. 8, and Wednesday,
      Aug. 10, at 7:00. The Town Center Committee also meets tonight, Aug.
      8, at 7:30. Both selectmen meetings are scheduled to be telecast
      live. Public comment at BoS meetings is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

      At 8:30 tonight, the selectmen are to discuss a schedule leading to a
      special Town Meeting on Nov. 1. At 8:45 the agenda calls for meeting
      with the Wastewater Management District Commission to discuss
      concerns about sewage treatment at the former Raytheon site.
      Wednesday's BoS meeting will be largely about the Town Center

      Selectmen have received extensive statements and questions from town
      boards and environmental groups as well as the general public. The
      sheer volume of paper produced thus far indicates the difficulties of
      proceeding rapidly.

      At its 7:30 p.m. Monday meeting, the Planning Board will discuss
      Wellesley's recent redevelopment experience, which may have relevance
      for Wayland.

      This roundup of recent activity related to the Town Center proposal
      was prepared by WVN editor Michael Short.


      "While Wayland is located in an area that provides easily accessible
      shopping, sightseeing, dining and entertainment," the town tells
      visitors to its website, "Wayland itself remains a quiet bedroom
      community in a
      semi-rural setting with little industrial or commercial base."

      A special Town Meeting that could radically change that description is
      planned in less than three months.

      Voters will be asked to change zoning to permit mixed-use development
      of housing, retail stores and offices totaling nearly 550,000 square
      feet at the essentially unused former Raytheon site on Route 20.

      Public opinion -- at least the opinion of those who attend hearings
      or write to town boards, the newspapers and WVN -- has crystallized
      into two camps, as a July 25 hearing of the road commissioners
      demonstrated. Many in the standing-room-only crowd at the Town
      Building enthusiastically applauded or quietly snickered as speakers
      voiced their ideas.

      One position might be summarized this way: We're going to have traffic
      problems to deal with whether the Town Center project is built or
      not. If we build the Town Center, we'll get shops and attractive
      public spaces that people can enjoy. We'll get land for a municipal

      The other side: We're not against a development per se, but this
      project is too big -- two-thirds the size of Shoppers World. Many
      people moved to Wayland because they enjoy narrow, winding, quiet
      roads, not more traffic headaches and a shopping mall with a giant
      supermarket set beside a two-lane road.

      The night before the traffic hearing, selectmen heard an interim
      report from consultant Judith Barrett on the economic impact of the
      $100 million development. Barrett emphasized that available data
      allow only extremely approximate projections of tax revenue. The
      project is in its conceptual stage. Nobody knows exactly what it will
      look like, and though the developers talk of a 2007 opening they have
      asked for up to seven years.

      She estimated that 308,000 square feet of retail, 40,000 square feet
      of offices and 100 condominium units (some of them designated
      affordable under state standards) could generate $832,000 annually in
      tax revenue after subtracting additional town expenses. Add another
      100 housing units and the town might receive $974,000 annually. The
      figures assume the space is fully occupied. No phase-in study has
      been done so far.

      Barrett cautioned that many towns seriously underestimate what it
      will cost to provide services. (Hypothetical examples offered by WVN
      readers: If a town allows condo units significantly taller than
      allowable under previous zoning, the Fire Department might have to
      buy a truck with a longer ladder at a cost of up to $1 million. And
      if additional traffic on side roads creates a demand for speed bumps,
      more signs and rigorous police enforcement,local taxpayers are
      responsible for the bill.)

      Selectmen instructed Barrett to revise her calculations to include 200
      housing units while reducing the retail and office space
      proportionally. Selectman Bill Whitney compared an appropriate
      housing-retail ratio to a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds. A
      recession could kill some businesses, but residential values would be
      affected less.

      As for Wayland's existing businesses, Barrett said some would be
      hurt, at least in the short run, but not necessarily fatally.

      When a resident asked how the town could protect itself from economic
      harm, Barrett replied that public service costs are her biggest
      concern. Though a significant number of children in 200 Town Center
      condos and the 48 adjacent units being planned by another developer
      could swell school enrollment, she considered that a lesser

      Though she didn't recommend it, Barrett noted that a dense, tall condo
      complex tends to discourage families with children.

      Because of increased town costs, according to Barrett's figures,
      adding 100 units produces only $142,000 more in tax revenue even with
      all of the proposed retail space. A market of about 55,000 square
      feet is considered essential. (A similar proposal for a Route 20
      location in Northboro is under fire by citizens worried about

      Asked whether 40,000 square feet of office space seems excessive,
      Barrett said a market study should be done.

      Planning Board Chairman Larry Stabile, citing overall size concerns,
      asked about the economic impact of a project of about 200,000 square
      feet less than the developers propose. Barrett had no ready answer,
      cautioning that a calculation is more complex than simply factoring
      down higher numbers.

      By the end of the week the Planning Board was asking the developers
      for a scaled-down plan, saying that available data and public opinion
      indicated that the developers' initial concept might be too large.

      The developers' initial reaction wasn't positive. One developer
      walked out of the Planning Board meeting. And Dean Stratouly of the
      Congress Group, owner of the property, expressed disappointment and
      said that to keep the project economically viable "you have to be
      very careful about what's been removed."

      The economic consultant's rough estimate indicates that the owner of a
      house assessed at the median of about $530,000 might save $100 or more
      annually in property taxes if the development is fully occupied. A
      Road Commission hearing the night after the selectmens' meeting
      became in part a public forum on whether the tax saving and new shops
      are worth the inconvenience of additional traffic.

      "This project in its size will forever change the character of
      Wayland," one resident said.

      On the other hand, another said it's important to have such things as
      a convenient large market. "Whole Foods (which is about 13,000 square
      feet) just doesn't cut it," he said.

      At the road commissioners' request, yet a third traffic consultant
      reported on the impact of the project.

      Kevin Andrade of Transportation Engineering Construction of Andover
      criticized the developers' proposal to tear out the new state-funded
      improvements at the intersection of Route 20 to provide additional
      lane capacity. Andrade said the additional cost and delay wouldn't
      provide enough benefit. (It couldn't be done without state approval
      in any case.)

      He suggested small changes to the proposals studied earlier by two
      other traffic engineering firms. One of the three proposed new stop
      lights might not be needed immediately, he said.

      Andrade agreed with most findings of the previous studies, including
      the estimates of traffic increase. All estimates compare traffic
      generated by the Town Center and that of the Raytheon site fully
      occupied by office use. Some citizens have called traffic delay
      estimates too small and asked for more extensive studies.

      Office use would cause more traffic at peak commuting hours than the
      mixed-use plan, but less traffic at other hours and much less on
      weekends. (The developers' website, www.towncenteryes.com, sent an
      email to its mailing list summarizing the estimates favorable to the
      Town Center plan. It didn't mention the predicted weekend traffic
      estimate that prompted Wayland Citizens Against Reckless Development,
      www.WaylandCARD.blogspot.com, to distribute a leaflet noting that the
      project would generate an additional 19,376 vehicle trips on

      Andrade recommended analyzing the impact on existing Route 20
      businesses and making quantitative studies of traffic on cut-through
      routes such as Bow Road and Glezen Lane.

      Wayland Police Chief Bob Irving had already noted his concern about
      increased commuter traffic on Bow, Glezen and Pelham Island Roads.
      At the hearing, residents of Moore, Plain and Old Sudbury Roads also
      aired their concerns.

      One Moore Road resident said that commuter traffic is already a huge
      problem. A child was nearly struck by a car recently, he said, and
      speeding drivers seeking an alternative route make obscene gestures
      at joggers and walkers.

      A Bow Road resident said traffic there is unbearable and asked for
      understanding and a sense of camaraderie from the rest of the town.

      One resident asserted that heavy commuter traffic generated by a fully
      occupied office site would create more problems on side roads than a
      glut of weekend shoppers: People going shopping are less likely then
      commuters to look for short cuts.

      One local owner predicted "a sure, slow death" for some existing
      Route 20 businesses.

      All three traffic studies declare Route 20 an overburdened state
      highway that will retain an F grade no matter what happens in the
      next few years. Though horrendous commuter delays are predicted if
      the Raytheon site is reoccupied for office use, traffic from outside
      Wayland is estimated to contribute only an additional one percent per
      year to the total. Voters may ask how much worse commuter traffic
      would be than it was when Raytheon used the space.

      At the moment, voters may feel as short of hard data as financial
      consultant Judith Barrett. If you lose two or three minutes or more
      each time you drive through the town's major intersection, will it
      cost you 10 hours a year? Fifty hours? Is it worth it for a small tax
      saving? Aside from the calculation of time vs. money, will you derive
      benefit and pleasure from a new development? Will the town be able to
      afford a municipal building on the land offered by the developers, or
      persuade the developers to pay for it?

      Adding to others' expressions of environmental concern, the Sudbury,
      Assabet and Concord Wild and Scenic River Stewardship Council (RSC)
      sent a detailed statement to the selectmen.

      The RSC, which works with representatives of other towns and
      environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the
      National Park Service, said that Wayland should respect the fragile,
      federally recognized Sudbury River by insisting on sound practices
      that go beyond current environmental regulations. Among the

      -- Minimize storm water runoff and maximize water recharging. (The
      area recharges town wells.)

      -- Conserve and re-use water. The town should confirm that the
      development's water needs won't compromise the river or nearby

      -- Build a new waste water treatment plant, using techniques to
      minimize discharge of phosphorus, which promotes the growth of
      invasive plants that choke rivers.

      -- Build the proposed housing in harmony with the visual environment.
      The nearest large structure visible from the river is Emerson
      Hospital, 10 miles away. Taller buildings should be completely
      screened by trees.

      Anne Heller, chairman of the Wayland Library trustees, wrote a two-
      pronged letter to the selectmen. First, she pointed to increased
      difficulties in reaching the present library building if new stop
      lights are added as part of the project. Then she listed concerns
      that would apply "if the Library is considered for the municipal lot
      in the Town Center."

      The Finance Committee wrote to express concern about nine matters,
      including reimbursement for increased town expenses "necessary to keep
      the project moving forward" and "any abatement judgment on current

      The Board of Road Commissioners filed a four-page list of concerns.

      The Wayland Housing Authority asked that 30 percent of the housing
      units be affordable as defined under state law and that they be
      rented, not owned, and not age-restricted. "Other communities are
      having difficulty finding buyers for age-restricted affordable
      units," the WHA said. The WHA offered to manage the rentals. Few
      Wayland seniors would meet the requirements for units bought under
      affordability regulations, the WHA said.

      The Board of Health reported five areas of concern, including sewage
      and the health of town wells.

      Thanks for reading this WVN newsletter. Feel free to forward it to
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors
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