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WVN # 124: Whither the Town Center Now?

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  • waylandvoters
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 16, 2005
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      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
      soon.

      TOWN CENTER DECISION: IF SELECTMEN LEAD, WHY DON'T
      VOTERS FOLLOW?

      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
      Center Committee.

      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
      as well.

      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
      selectmen.

      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
      developers.

      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,
      forging alliances.

      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
      Center Committee.

      -- Michael Short


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      Wayland Voters Network
      Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors
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