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WVN #321: Expect TM debate on Town Center, school funding

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, Expect debate over the future of the troubled Town Center project and possibly on paying for a new High School when a special Town Meeting
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 17, 2009
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Expect debate over the future of the troubled Town Center project and possibly on paying for a new High School when a special Town Meeting convenes on Nov. 18.

      Also in this newsletter: Customers are upset over the cost of a new wastewater plant at the Town Center site.

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      TOWN MEETING FACTS: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday Nov. 18, Wayland High School Field House. Doors open at 6 p.m. Because a large turnout is possible, there will be additional parking and shuttle bus service from the Middle School. WayCAM will broadcast live.
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      DISAGREEMENT ON HIGH SCHOOL, TOWN CENTER ZONING

      The second of 10 Town Meeting articles, to authorize borrowing nearly $70 million to build a new high school, could also be spirited, if recent letters to the Wayland Town Crier are any indication. If a majority of voters approve the project in the single-issue town election on Tuesday, proponents will encourage a large Town Meeting attendance to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority vote. For details of the high school proposal see:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/375

      The school action groups Yes4WHS and SOSWayland are also encouraging supporters to stick around and vote for Articles 3, 4 and 5. In recent years large numbers of school supporters have arrived just in time for critical votes and then departed noisily despite pleas from the moderator.

      Article 3, a zoning change which also requires a two-thirds vote, is a result of the latest demands from Twenty Wayland, developer of the proposed Town Center at the former Raytheon site on Route 20. Voters approved a 370,000-square-foot retail-office-residential plan in 2006 after rejecting an earlier and larger version. Controversy and lawsuits ensued, the economy sank and now the project is described by a selectman as on life support. In a Sept. 8 letter asking for concessions from the selectmen, Twenty Wayland said the project is no longer viable "in its current state."

      The Board of Selectmen recently rewrote its Development Agreement to grant concessions to Twenty Wayland. A promised $3 million "gift" will be delayed, and the prospect for any significant near-term new tax revenue is slim.

      The issue before Town Meeting will be Twenty Wayland's request to amend the zoning to reduce affordable housing from a combination of 22 of the 88 condos in a separate residential area and 3 of the 12 apartments above stores to all of the 12 apartments above stores and no affordable condos in the residential area. This diminishes the number of affordable units from 25 percent to 12 percent and offers no suitable units for young families. The Wayland Housing Partnership and some other advocates for affordable housing oppose the article.

      Why is this important? The state mandates that municipalities strive toward a goal of 10 percent of housing priced as affordable according to state standards. And it has a weapon in the Massachusetts 40B law to encourage that striving.

      Wayland and other relatively wealthy communities are far from that goal. But if they show steady progress the state is likely to allow local control. For example, if permits for 24 affordable units--one half of one percent of Wayland's housing stock--are issued in one year, Wayland can refuse to allow new 40B projects for the following year.

      Otherwise an "unfriendly" 40B developer can impose a development with relatively little control by the town. Such developers have been accused of violating regulations on their profit as well as constructing developments that towns find shoddy and inappropriate to the setting. You may recall that it was a 40B developer in Wayland who felled mature trees on Route 27, many in the town's right of way, in August 2006 before horrified neighbors could get the illegal activity stopped.

      In contrast, the recently completed, environmentally sensitive Oxbow Meadows affordable condo development in North Wayland was the work of many town volunteers working closely with a developer the town chose. It has been widely praised.

      (The 16 units are occupied. So far the only reported problem is that some residents say they were blindsided by unexpected expenses so soon after they moved in, such as the new flat water surcharge and the prospect of exceptional property tax increases in the near future. Some say they may not be able to keep up with the taxes for more than two years.)

      Some Wayland housing advocates fear that the state will not take kindly to Wayland's cutting the Town Center commitment to include 22 affordable units among the 88 condos.

      They argue that payments from Twenty Wayland in place of the promised two- and three-bedroom condos are too small to create much affordable housing elsewhere.

      Furthermore, they say, giving in to a developer now weakens the town's ability to fend off future unfriendly developments and to negotiate 25 percent affordable standards in the future.

      Some Cochituate residents are particularly sensitive to 40B developments because they say that more than 80 percent of the town's affordable housing is in their neighborhoods. They fear that loss of housing in the Town Center will put more pressure on demands for housing near them, for example in the Doran Road area near Dudley Pond where affordable housing has been proposed on town-owned land considered needed for community septic.

      Although the warrant article mentions only the change in the affordable housing percentage in the town's Mixed Use Overlay District bylaw, the associated amended Development Agreement on page 61 of the warrant also specifies delays in payments of "gifts" and other compensation to the town. The "three million dollar gift" is to be delayed. The payment in lieu of constructing the parking lot for the municipal building is to be delayed and the bicycle trail gift is to be delayed. In addition, the expiration date of the agreement is to be changed.

      Twenty Wayland now plans to build the Town Center in phases, beginning with a Stop & Shop market, the only known potential tenant. Another 45,000 square feet of retail stores would be part the first phase.

      Underlying the arguments against the zoning change are some residents' perceptions of the financial status and history of Twenty Wayland, LLC. From the time the Town Center was approved, the developers have been aggressive, demanding and litigious. They repeatedly threatened to pull out and in 2007 abandoned project permitting for half a year until boards more to their liking could be elected. The departure of Wayland resident Chuck Irving from the project last month followed by several months the exit of the other principal, Congress Group's Dean Stratouly, who called the town "dysfunctional" in his comments to the Boston Globe as he closed the door behind him.

      The parent company, KGI, (Koffler + Great Island Development) has developed other retail areas, sometimes with similar tactics, and a variety of corporate identities. See:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/374

      Twenty Wayland has the option of building the project to its full permitted size over many years. It also has the option of building nothing, selling off the property entirely or in pieces or conceivably letting it fall into the hands of a bank.

      The selectmen and the Finance Committee say Article 3 is vital to keep the project alive. Even if it isn't fully built out, they say, the Town Center will provide tax revenues over the years and amenities that might never be built elsewhere.

      Skeptics say the project seems too shaky to merit further concessions. The zoning change, combined with the amended Development Agreement, gives Twenty Wayland an advantage if it sells the property. Previous Town Meetings already granted other developer-requested concessions, including a drive-up pharmacy and reducing residential square footage to allow more office space.

      Another complication is payment to improve the wastewater treatment facility.

      Article 4 would create a state-worded special trust fund to handle funds received from Twenty Wayland to support affordable housing. Proponents argue that this one entity would be a central fund for all affordable housing. Opponents say the fund would not be a town entity and would give more power to the selectmen without checks and balances. Recently residents in the Doran Road neighborhood were surprised when housing advocates, the town administrator and selectmen moved forward on a dense housing plan, lining up a consultant and grant money, before the neighborhood was informed.

      This isn't the first time that the selectmen have been accused of a power grab. Controversy surrounded the consolidation of several functions into a Department of Public Works in July.

      Article 5 would allow Wayland to collect an extra three-quarters of one percent tax on restaurant meals. Proponents say it could raise about $165,000 a year while falling partly on customers who live elsewhere. Several nearby towns have adopted the tax. Opponents say the new revenue isn't enough to justify the adoption and would place an administrative burden on small businesses.

      OTHER ARTICLES

      Article 1 would raise the charge on delinquent property and excise tax payments from $5 to $30. Voters approved an increase at April Town Meeting but made an exception for very small amounts owed. This turned out to violate state law. The state also won't permit a charge based on a percentage of the money owed. So it's either $30 for Wayland or $5, a rate that has stood for 20 years.

      Article 6, recommended by the police chief, would place restrictions on registered sex offenders.

      Article 7 asks voters to acknowledge receiving a report from the Board of Selectmen recommending that at Town Meeting citizens be recognized only for length of service. This is the result of the Public Ceremonies Committee's creating an award named for Lydia Maria Child, a nationally known 19th-century author and abolitionist who lived in Wayland, and giving it to two former selectmen and four WVN writers as "watchdogs in the public interest" in April. When the town administrator failed to talk the committee out of the idea, which could be interpreted by some as embarrassing to the selectmen, voters given advance knowledge of the award presented a successful motion to scotch the awards and let the selectmen set a new policy.

      Article 8 allows the town to acquire 557 square feet of land at no cost to be used in improving the Route 30-27 intersection.

      Article 9, submitted by the Planning Board, would amend zoning bylaws to encourage green energy companies to locate in Wayland. Nobody from the Board was present at the selectmen's Nov. 9 warrant hearing to answer questions from the public. The selectmen couldn't provide answers either. Come to Town Meeting and find out what it's all about.

      Article 10 appropriates $10,000 in Community Preservation funds to preserve the town's historical collections.

      - WVN Staff

      USERS UPSET OVER WASTEWATER PLANS

      Users say they are concerned about plans to replace the town's aging wastewater treatment plant serving approximately 35 homes and businesses near the center of town.

      Paying customers repeated their concerns at the Nov. 10 meeting of the Wastewater Management District Commission about fees scheduled to increase far more than they had been led to believe. Some user charges have already almost doubled as a result of borrowing a fraction of the money needed for the plant.

      Their fear is enhanced by the failure of the largest customer, Twenty Wayland, LLC, to pay the $10,000 increase added to its $14,000 2009 bill. Some users are offering to have their payments held in escrow given the unknowns about the Town Center project and the new plant.

      Users still question the 70/30 split of the financial obligations to the new plant because to date nobody has shown documentation to justify that proportion. Twenty Wayland has agreed to pay 70 percent of the cost of a replacement plant now estimated at more than $5 million. Other users say their share of the remaining cost will be a huge burden.

      Some users are looking into other options because the projected costs of a new plant far exceed what small businesses and residents can afford or need to spend, while alternatives would cost less (either going back to a prior septic system, upgrading what they had, or installing a new system to meet stricter Title V requirements).

      Users are unhappy that plant customers who express their concerns at public comment microphones are characterized later in meetings by the selectmen and the town administrator as misinformed. Customers say they want the town protected, particularly if the Town Center developer should walk away from the project, flip it, or turn it back to the bank.

      Meanwhile, the wastewater commissioners never voted to authorize the borrowing that occurred earlier this year of the first $1 million of the $5.6 million appropriated by Town Meeting votes for which the users are now paying $50,000 in annual interest charges. The original estimate for the cost of the plant when the Town Center project was approved by Town Meeting was $3 million.

      Until the commissioners see commitment and evidence that the Town Center will actually be built, they say they do not intend to borrow the rest of the money.

      Such evidence could include demolition of the existing building to signal that construction will proceed, written proof of the developer's financing to build the project, and evidence the developer is paying its share of the plant costs.

      One user expressed shock to the commissioners that the town is contemplating taking out such a large loan, and that it makes no sense to do so at this time and expect the users to shoulder such a burden.

      The commissioners say they are mindful of the clock ticking on a new federal discharge permit and do not share the sentiment of the selectmen and town administrator that they have to jump right now to spend the money and build the plant so quickly. They believe they have time to gain more clarity about what will occur with Town Center, and can plan for construction in 2011 to meet permit requirements.

      In the meantime, the first $1 million borrowed sits in a town account unspent. One local businessman complained to the Board of Selectmen recently that the Wayland Pizza House on Route 20 would be hit with a $76,000 charge for the new plant. Wayland Pizza saw its quarterly charges double for 2009, and a resident reported his fees almost doubled just to pay for the first round of borrowing. The commissioners indicate they are not comfortable and would just as soon see the town give back that unused loan.

      The land swap needed to locate a new plant was voted at the 2009 spring special Town Meeting, but selectmen have yet to move the swap forward. Raytheon, the former tenant, hasn't yet agreed to the exchange, and it has not been determined how much more it will cost to demolish and address unknown site conditions for closure of the existing plant. Those costs are not included in plans or appropriations for the new plant and would have to be paid for separately. By whom isn't known.

      Commenting plant users and the wastewater commissioners share the sentiment that while there is pressure from Selectmen to fast-track building a new plant, the town must be protected, which underscores the independent commission's obligation to fiscal prudence and due diligence.

      -- Linda Segal


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      Michael Short, Editor
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