WVN Newsletter #200: Reviving town center
- 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
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
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?"
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