WVN # 124: Whither the Town Center Now?
- Wayland Voters Network
November 16, 2005
Dear Wayland Voter,
Representative Sue Pope will meet with representatives of
several town boards Friday at 2 PM in the Town Building to talk
about state Chapter 70 school aid. The town is facing a potential
huge override next spring and/or serious cuts to all departments.
Voters interested in the possibility of increased state aid may
want to attend this meeting.
Waycam will broadcast Monday's School Committee meeting,
where some potential cuts were described, at the usual 7 PM on
Friday and Sunday nights. A report on that meeting will be issued
TOWN CENTER DECISION: IF SELECTMEN LEAD, WHY DON'T
For the second time in 10 months, Wayland officials have
strenuously tried to sell a big proposal and voters have
convincingly rejected it.
As in January, when voters shot down a plan for a new high
school, the town is divided.
Supporters of the Town Center development that failed at a
Special Town Meeting on Nov. 1 have heatedly blamed the
voters, the Planning Board and the Wayland Town Crier.
Opponents point to the Board of Selectmen and the Town
The seeds of failure -- lack of communication and consensus --
were present from the early stages.
The Town Center Committee, an appointed advisory board,
worked long and quietly with developers but failed to keep the
parent Planning Board adequately informed. Betsy Connolly,
chair of the Select Board until last April, served on the committee
The committee's record-keeping was flawed. Some minutes
were later disclosed only through a Freedom of Information
request; some are still missing. It appears that some members
weren't sworn in as law requires before they made decisions.
After talking with developer Dean Stratouly for years, the
committee took on an advocacy role that wasn't always
acknowledged. At the April Town Meeting, one member violated
TM rules when he tried to gather signatures on a petition calling
for a Special Town Meeting on the project. As the November
decision neared, members handed out anonymous flyers at the
Landfill asserting that the "silent majority" wanted a
450,000-square-foot housing/shopping complex on the 57-acre
Raytheon site on Route 20.
You can't blame the developers if they assumed that their
proposal was what the town wanted. All along, they apparently
talked only with Town Center Committee members and some
After the proposal was presented to the public, the selectmen
ignored other officials with a stake in the outcome. They
minimized significant environmental and financial questions.
Other boards resorted to public comment time at selectmen's
meetings to press their concerns. The Planning Board, the
Board of Health, the road commissioners and the waste water
commissioners ultimately rejected the proposal.
Voters were left to decide what to make of a proposed zoning
change that enjoyed unanimous support only from the Board of
Selectmen and an appointed advisory committee. The two
selectmen who championed the proposal without reservation
work in commercial real estate and two members of the
Town Center Committee own Route 20 businesses. This struck
some voters as unbalanced.
Citizens made reasonable arguments that a development with
the promised amenities would be a good thing even if the chain
stores necessary to make it profitable attracted out-of-town
traffic. Skeptics made reasonable arguments to the contrary.
The developers employed a firm that boasts "high octane PR"
to "get zoning changes passed," handed out attractive brochures
and free ice cream, sent several mailings and a DVD to every
household, offered rides to Town Meeting and help to pay baby
sitters. They overstated the financial benefits and tried to provoke
fear of "low income housing" (never a possibility) if voters
rejected the mixed-use zoning.
Two grassroots groups countered with campaigns that cost a
fraction of the developers' efforts, though there were mailings,
newspaper ads and evidently a lot of volunteers hoofing it to
mailboxes and doorsteps. They argued that the large project
was inconsistent with the town's new master plan and pointed
out apparent loopholes in the selectmen's agreement with the
Support for the project may not have been widespread. Of the
134 residents who allowed their names to be used in a
developer-paid ad, 82 percent live in the northern two precincts,
relatively close to the proposed development. It's possible that
many residents, particularly those who live near Natick or
Framingham, either had little interest or were opposed because
of predicted traffic increases.
In the end, proponents' efforts fell far short of the two-thirds
majority required to change the zoning. The vote was 745 Yes,
619 No. Proponents would have needed another 494 Yes votes
to prevail over the 619.
A post-meeting email from the developers' TownCenterYes
praised selectmen for showing "leadership." Some voters may
disagree. For the second time this year voters turned down a
proposal that was pushed with single-mindedness that some
detractors described as "my way or the highway."
This is municipal leadership?
Wayland has company in dealing with development proposals.
The Boston Globe recently identified nearly 30 Boston suburbs
and exurbs where developers are eager to build. In Berlin, for
example, voters rejected three ideas this year, saying they
wanted to preserve the quiet character of the town.
In Stoughton, on the other hand, a new IKEA store of 347,000
square feet had many of the 27,000 residents howling about
traffic as soon as it opened.
If neighboring towns seem to enjoy more harmonious elections
and Town Meetings than Wayland, perhaps it is because
officials elsewhere employ the traditional methods of practical
politics: Listening carefully to constituents, seeking consensus,
Now, what happens to the former Raytheon property?
Dean Stratouly, described by the Boston Business Journal as a
"formidable developer," says he is considering several options
for the property, including re-leasing the existing office building
or developing housing under the state's 40B law, which can
ease zoning problems in return for selling up to 25 percent of the
units at below-market prices. But the Wayland site is
complicated by deed restrictions and Raytheon's environmental
cleanup, which is expected to go on for years.
Wayland residents "are very pro-housing," Stratouly told the
Journal. "We will give them what they asked for."
If Stratouly is interested in what Wayland wants, he may need to
consult people other than the Board of Selectmen and the Town
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors