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WVN Newsletter #200: Reviving town center

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, An unexpected Planning Board vacancy creates another surprise in the long-running town center soap opera. Also in this newsletter: readers
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2007
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      An unexpected Planning Board vacancy creates another surprise
      in the long-running town center soap opera. Also in this
      newsletter: readers' suggestions on tax abatements.

      "I'M MAD AS HELL..."

      "I'm angry," said Selectman Michael Tichnor after the town center
      developers said they were dropping the $100-million Route 20
      project.

      The next day an email from the pro-project group SOS to its
      supporters quoted the satirical 1976 movie "Network" in which a
      manic TV newscaster exhorts viewers to go to their windows and
      scream, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any
      more." At the next Planning Board meeting the following Monday,
      Jan. 25, a resident told the board, "I'm angry."

      "Anger" and "dismay" appeared in emails, public comments and
      some of the 21 letters on the subject in the Jan. 25 Wayland
      Town Crier. Taking their cue from Twenty Wayland developers
      Dean Stratouly and Chuck Irving, writers and speakers directed
      their anger at "a few selfish people," "two intransigent old
      biddies," "a shortsighted few," "the blocking tactics of some
      members of the Planning Board and the Board of Road
      Commissioners." The evidence: the developers said they had
      lost confidence in the two boards.

      Other writers and speakers defended the boards and the
      statutory process. One said the developers' withdrawal during a
      selectmens' meeting on Jan. 16 appeared to have been
      "orchestrated." Another said the developers were simply playing
      hardball to get a better deal from "desperate" selectmen. Some
      said the selectmen were trying to make scapegoats out of the
      two boards. Some said the developers employed delaying
      tactics because they weren't ready to apply to the Planning Board
      for file for the required Master Special Permit.

      For their part, some Planning Board members said that the
      Board met its deadlines even though the developers clogged the
      process with a series of new requests.

      These were the latest developments in a long, arduous process
      filled with twists and turns. A few weeks earlier the developers
      had mailed a flyer to residents effusively praising the the
      Planning Board, the board's design consultant and the public for
      suggestions on making the shopping/housing/office
      development as successful as possible. As recently as Jan. 9
      Twenty Wayland sent a friendly letter to the Planning Board
      asking for a reopening of the concept phase. At a meeting the
      next night Stratouly delivered what he later acknowledged as a
      "tirade." On Jan. 12 the state issued a response to the
      developers' Draft Environmental Impact Report ordering Twenty
      Wayland to provide much the same information the Planning
      Board had requested. Four days later, the developers said they
      were calling it quits, and the attacks on two boards intensified.

      During public comment at the Jan. 22 Planning Board meeting,
      Steve Goldstein, a management consultant and volunteer
      adviser to the School Committee, called on the chair, and
      possibly all members, to resign. "It's your responsibility to work
      with all stakeholders," Goldstein said. "It's your responsibility to
      make something happen."

      PLANNING BOARD ROLE

      In fact, those are not the Planning Board's statutory
      responsibilities. During two meetings, and later in the Town
      Crier, Chair Lynne Dunbrack outlined the board's obligations
      under the Master Special Permit process. Voters approved
      zoning at Town Meeting last spring, not a specific project. Size,
      density and other limits have been set, but there is not yet a
      design. Dunbrack emphasized that the Planning Board's power
      is limited largely to architectural character, public amenities and
      necessary mitigation. If permit applications comply with the
      relevant regulatory requirements, the board must approve them,
      she said. Dunbrack called the notion that any board member
      might vote no "on a whim" simply incorrect. If Twenty Wayland
      had submitted its application in early November as it was
      invited to do, she said, the process would be halfway to approval
      by now.

      Still, the developers said they believed the Board wouldn't
      approve the application. Twenty Wayland blamed the board for
      delays though it had submitted traffic reports months later than
      expected, and said it was ready to submit the application. Twenty
      Wayland had asked for a guarantee that it could abandon the
      application without prejudice, meaning that it wouldn't have to
      wait for two years to reapply. The Board responded with a letter,
      phrased on advice of town counsel, saying it was the practice of
      the board to allow withdrawal without prejudice. (In many
      municipalities, making promises before an application has been
      filed is considered improper.) The developers were unsatisfied.

      Though the Planning Board's Dec. 4 letter stopped short of
      guaranteeing that its normal practices wouldn't change, it
      confirmed that hearings are continued with the consent of both
      parties to deal with absences that could endanger a
      supermajority (4 of 5) vote. The Board said it anticipated no
      changes in customary practices but reserved the right to deviate
      from them in unforeseen extenuating circumstances.

      If you believe members of the Planning Board, the Board must
      approve an application that meets statutory specifications
      adopted earlier; therefore the Board doesn't have the power to
      stop the project, though it could forced details to be changed. If
      you believe the developers, you must assume that a couple of
      Board members have worked a combined total of perhaps
      thousands of hours over 20 months just to vote no.

      A Wayland Town Crier editorial chided Stratouly and Irving,
      saying, "One would think (they) would have extensive experience
      to know that the review for such a project should take a long
      time, not just with the local boards, but with the state
      Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) as well.
      That's been our experience covering residential developments in
      numerous towns...What do you think would happen if permitting
      boards in Framingham decided to take a lax attitude on the
      525-unit Danforth Green residential project near our Wayland
      town line? Don't you think you'd be up in arms?"

      AND NOW?

      Dean Stratouly said he wasn't bluffing when he walked out. He
      talked about building a housing project under the 40B affordable
      housing law and perhaps reopening the existing office spaces.

      Another possibility: Remaining partners might make a deal to
      continue without him on the mixed-use project, with its prospect
      of higher profits.

      Developers should be confident if they continue. The selectmen
      have placed themselves in the position of imploring Twenty
      Wayland yet again to come back to the bargaining table.

      As for things that aren't in their direct control, the selectmen can
      strive to reshape the Planning Board and the Board of Road
      Commissioners in hopes of pleasing the developers. The two
      boards appointed a new road commissioner on Jan. 23 to fill a
      vacancy. He is Eric Knapp, who was immediately hailed by SOS
      as a strong supporter of the town center.

      Town Administrator Fred Turkington also announced a vacancy
      on the Planning Board. Chris Seveney, whose term was to run
      through 2009, left Wayland under circumstances that haven't yet
      been made public. The Board of Selectmen wants to appoint a
      replacement soon. The Planning Board will be part of the
      process. Residents interested in being considered should
      contact Turkington immediately.

      The appointee would be up for election in April along with
      member Larry Stabile. If the election goes the way town center
      supporters would like, there could be two new members known
      to share the viewpoint of Dan Mesnick, elected in 2006 after
      pledging support for the town center as a "beachhead" toward
      further commercial development.

      If the developers enjoy smooth sailing with Wayland's permitting
      boards, they would still face state scrutiny. More about that in a
      future WVN newsletter.

      -- Michael Short

      ADDITIONAL ABATEMENT INFORMATION

      Recent WVN newsletters and alerts on property tax abatements
      prompted readers to offer their observations.

      One said that the information on paper at the Wayland Library
      includes details on how to read your property record card but
      otherwise isn't as useful as material available online. The library
      materials may be useful mainly to those without computer
      access or skills.

      Another comment: You can get more complete information from
      the assessors' office than you'll find online. It might be a good
      idea to use both resources in doing your abatement research.

      Kiplinger's Magazine quotes the National Taxpayers Union as
      asserting that as many as 60 percent of U.S. homes are
      assessed for too much and that about 33 percent of appeals
      succeed. (The success rate is in line with Wayland's results last
      year. Keep in mind that the National Taxpayers Union may have
      its own ax to grind.)

      Wayland abatement applications must be filed by Feb. 1.

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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