WVN #296: Town Center obstacle. Town Meeting preview
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Conflicting legal views are the latest development facing the proposed Town Center housing/shopping project on Route 20. Historic preservation is pitted against commercial demands.
Various town bodies have considered Twenty Wayland's plans, and the Conservation Commission is dealing with relatively recent applications concerning environmental impacts.
Now the Historic District Commission is resisting pressure to let the developer widen roads and install a traffic light at the Route 126/27 intersection.
Also in this newsletter: A preview of annual Town Meeting
PROJECT FACES DELAY
In its April 2 meeting, the Wayland Historic District Commission (HDC) put Twenty Wayland's plans for reconstructing the Route 20/126/27 and Route 126/27 intersections in the Wayland Center Historic District on hold. A Superior Court judgment on a complaint by Glezen Lane neighbors affects the Town Center project as well.
The European settlement of Wayland dates back to 1638, when the area around the current North Cemetery became the first center of Sudbury Plantation (present day Wayland and Sudbury). The Wayland Center Historic District has elements dating back to the early 1700's, when the Mellen Common was purchased by the town. The District tries to preserve the ambiance of a 19th century village, a time before electricity or cars.
Twenty Wayland proposes road changes to accommodate traffic attracted to the $140-million Town Center.
Historic granite posts and wood rail fence at the First Parish Church and the tall granite post on the southeast corner of the Route 20 intersection were proposed to be moved to allow road widening.
The new traffic light at the 126/27 intersection would require a signal control box, and the island at the intersection would be removed. Two granite bollards (short posts) on the north side of the intersection would be relocated.
The Historic Districts Act, Chapter 40C of the General Laws of Massachusetts, was adopted in 1965 by the Wayland Town Meeting, creating the first Wayland Historic District at Wayland Center. Under the law no building permit for construction of a building or structure within an historic district or removal of a building or structure can be issued until the Historic District Commission issues a certificate of appropriateness, a certificate of hardship or a certificate of non-applicability.
A certificate of appropriateness is issued if the Commission feels that the proposed alterations are appropriate to the historic character of the district.
If the plans are judged inappropriate but there is no substantial detriment or derogation of the historic district, and in addition there is a hardship to the applicant if the alteration does not take place, a certificate of hardship can be issued. If there are exceptions specified in town regulations, a certificate of non-applicability can be issued.
The HDC voted unanimously to deny a certificate of appropriateness for the traffic mitigation proposal. It also indicated that a certificate of hardship to Twenty Wayland would not be possible as there was indeed derogation to the historic district. Commissioners felt there would be a substantial detrimental effect overall to the historic district and that the existing conditions did not justify the project. (The consideration of non-applicability did not apply.)
SELECTMEN CLAIM AUTHORITY
However, a January letter from the Board of Selectmen to Gretchen Schuler, chair of the Historic District Commission, while acknowledging that the traffic improvements would involve altering structures such as walkways and fences and building other structures such as traffic signals and signs, indicated that safety considerations implied that the Historic District Commission did not have the authority to prevent or alter the location of the traffic improvements.
The letter cited input from Police Chief Robert Irving, Fire Chief Robert Loomer and traffic consultant Kevin Dandrade.
The Board of Selectmen suggested that the Historic District Commission confine itself to imposing reasonable conditions as to the appearance of the structures. The selectmen claim authority to regulate traffic, indicating that safety concerns trump historic district law.
The denial of a certificate indicates that the Commission believes it has authority under the law and rejects the Board of Selectmen's position.
Town counsel Mark Lanza opined at the April 2 meeting that if they had granted the certificate, commissioners could have specified that the road widening be delayed until it was established that increased traffic justified it.
Now the other legal complication. Residents of the Glezen Lane neighborhood had sued Wayland boards and Twenty Wayland, asserting that cut-through Town Center traffic would be harmful and dangerous. A resulting Middlesex Superior Court judgment requires that proposed road improvements be "completed prior to issuance of any building permit for the Town Center Project ..."
An applicant has 20 days to appeal after a Historic District Commission determination is filed. Pending the outcome of any appeal, a building permit for the road improvements cannot be issued.
Until these tangled legal matters are settled, it appears that the Town Center project is on hold.
-- Betty Salzberg
NEW LOOK FOR TOWN MEETING
Wayland's annual Town Meeting will have a new look this year. A special Town Meeting was held at the Middle School last fall because privately funded renovations at the High School field house were incomplete.
When Town Meeting returns to its usual venue, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Monday April 13, there will be a new configuration. Temporary plywood sheets will protect the new synthetic floor and the seats will align with the axis of the main entrance instead of at right angles.
Officials have some concerns about acoustics, which may not be as lively as with the former hardwood floor. Several hundred people will provide the first live test.
Residents who voted in the April 7 town election will be aware that the major items on the multi-day agenda include spending and borrowing. Voters approved two ballot questions: Question 1, to borrow money to proceed with preliminary designs for a high school renovation or replacement, and Question 2, borrowing about $1 million for building repairs and improvements in emergency services and property assessments.
The polls had been closed only a few hours when the school-supporting political action group SOSWayland sent an email urging,"We need to be there and vote YES."
An April 9 SOS email said: "Amendments can be made at town meeting to cut or change spending within the budget. To preserve services, we must vote these down. "
For readers who are new to Town Meeting: The long-standing tradition of open town meetings in New England is that voters come together to act as the legislature, asking questions and debating issues. Only town meeting voters can approve a town budget.
In many towns besides Wayland, groups organize to "pack" town meeting long enough to vote as instructed on an issue of interest, then leave.
A two-thirds majority is required to authorize borrowing. A simple majority is enough for operating budgets.
ARTICLE 6, the $62.1 million total Fiscal 2010 budget, comes up early on the first night as usual.
ARTICLE 7 asks voters to approve borrowing up to $726,000 for feasibility and design work to reach the next stage toward a high school building project, The amount to be borrowed for this phase is expected to be about $315,000. Voters authorized another $300,000 last year.
If Article 7 is approved, one final step appears in the green warrant booklet as Article 5 in the Special Town Meeting immediately following the annual Town Meeting articles. This would enable Wayland to sign an agreement with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and indemnify the agency, in order to be eligible for 40 percent state reimbursement.
The special Town Meeting is scheduled to begin on the second night of Town Meeting, Wednesday April 15. A third session, if needed, would convene on April 16.
If voters approve the high school project articles, they could be asked on the ballot and at a special Town Meeting as early as this fall for authority to borrow tens of millions of dollars for high school construction.
Special Town meetings are included within annual Town meetings to accommodate items that for various reasons missed the deadline for the annual meeting.
Other articles of interest:
ARTICLE 26 would establish a Water Department Enterprise Fund. Presented by petitioning citizens, it would give the Water Department control over its finances to "assure that user fees paid to the Water Department for water services are specifically earmarked to support those services."
This is timely because at the end of March water customers began receiving an unexplained bill for an annual water surcharge of $236. The surcharge will help to pay for needed improvements in water treatment. In the past the Finance Committee has recommended, and voters have approved, taking money from Water Department reserves to shore up operating budgets and reduce tax override amounts.
The petitioners argue that keeping water revenues separate in an enterprise fund would prevent the Department of Public Works from using water revenues for other DPW purposes or to apply to future operating budget deficits or tax overrides.
The DPW will be created as of July 1 this year. It will give the Board of Selectmen greater power, exercised through the town administrator.
The Finance Committee, which in Wayland is appointed by the selectmen, opposes the enterprise fund article.
The petitioners say that the Moody's bond rating agency prefers enterprise funds to assure accounting transparency. The Finance Committee argues that Moody's might take a negative view if Wayland removes about $1 million from available cash resources.
ARTICLE 28. Cochituate Village Overlay District. The Planning Board recommends changes which it says will give the town more control over "how new commercial projects fit into the neighborhood." Residents have complained that regional and national chains endanger Cochituate's character with generic and brand-themed architecture.
ARTICLE 31. Citizens filing a petition ask voters to approve a resolution for "fair and equitable transfer station sticker fees." This comes in the wake of a 30 percent increase in residential fees to use the transfer station, formerly a landfill. The resolution, which is only advisory, says the cost of capping the landfill should not be part of the residential sticker fee.
Special Town Meeting ARTICLE 2. The Planning Board wants to amend the zoning for the proposed Town Center shopping/housing project to allow a drug store drive-through lane. Voters may ask, why wasn't this part of the original agreement? Many drug stores want such lanes.
Special Town Meeting ARTICLE 6. This is a petitioners article to create a Cochituate architectural preservation district, which would place controls over many buildings. Town officials questioned whether it meets legal requirements. Town Counsel Mark Lanza said it probably does.
Opponents argue that there hasn't been necessary study and public review.
For more information consult the warrant mailed to residents (and also available at the library) or:
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor