WVN #359: Town Center developer loses a round in court
- Dear Wayland Voter,
A court decision has thwarted the Town Center project developer's move to prevent the Wayland Historic District Commission from defending itself against the developer's lawsuit.
The HDC issued a Certificate of Hardship on July 5, 2009 allowing Twenty Wayland LLC to widen roads in the center of town only if the mixed-use project would demonstrably create enough additional traffic to justify harming the historic district. When the developer then went to court, the HDC engaged pro bono legal counsel.
Since Town Meeting voters approved necessary zoning in 2006, the Board of Selectmen has clashed with the HDC and other town boards and commissions while acceding to demands from Twenty Wayland.
Twenty Wayland asked the court for judgment that "the defendant's issuance of a certificate of hardship was legally untenable, erroneous, whimsical, arbitrary or capricious."
On June 23 Superior Court Justice Leila Kern denied Twenty Wayland's motion. She ruled that "this court must now take evidence in order to determine whether there is an existing traffic safety issue, or whether there is only the possibility of a future hazard."
Spokesmen for Twenty Wayland, the Board of Selectmen and the HDC didn't respond to WVN requests for comment about the court decision.
SELECTMEN CLAIM AUTHORITY OVER ROADS
The selectmen had claimed authority over roads in the district because they act as traffic commissioners and asserted that there are safety problems. Town and state statutes authorize the HDC to "promote the preservation and protection of the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places significant in the history of Wayland" and "regulate the construction and alteration of any structures within the historic district." The proposed road project would require relocating historically significant structures.
Though the selectmen acknowledged meeting with Twenty Wayland in recent months and also discussed the suit in closed sessions, there were no known discussions with the HDC. On June 21, two days before Judge Kern's ruling, Selectman Tom Fay aggressively questioned members of the HDC seeking reappointment as to their authority over road widening. See:
Fay, a lawyer, maintained that the HDC should be restricted to regulating aesthetic matters. When he pressed Associate Member Alice Boelter about traffic safety, Boelter replied that slowed traffic isn't necessarily a safety issue. (The answer is consistent with some methods of traffic management, practiced principally in Europe.)
SUDDENLY, CAN WE TALK?
When the selectmen next met, five days after the court decision, Fay questioned another HDC member seeking reappointment. Chris Hagger, who has served on the commission for 15 years, hadn't voted on the Certificate of Hardship, recusing himself because access to his historic house on Route 20 would be affected by the addition of traffic lanes if Twenty Wayland's plan is carried out as stated.
In contrast to the previous week's hostile interviews following months without contact with the Commission, the selectmens' approach on June 28 was more accommodating. Would you be willing to sit down and talk about the Town Center, Hagger was asked. Would the HDC be willing to meet with Twenty Wayland? Hagger said he had no objection in principle but could not withdraw his recusal. He recalled a time in the past when the Board of Selectmen assigned a member as liaison to the Commission.
Doing road work in phases, depending on demonstrated need, would make sense, Hagger said: why waste money on changes that are not warranted? (Twenty Wayland would pay for any road changes.)
During public comment near the beginning of the June 28 meeting, resident Dorothy Dunlay castigated the selectmen for their aggressive treatment of other HDC members the previous week, calling their behavior short-sighted, arrogant, "nonsensical and contemptible." Unless the selectmen reappoint those long-serving members, she said, they should resign, and the town administrator with them.
Later in the meeting Selectmen Chairman Steve Correia acknowledged that a number of citizens felt the interviews were unfair. But, he told his colleagues, the purpose was not just to seek pertinent background and skills but such things as the ability to communicate effectively and manage conflict.
The HDC's Certificate of Hardship was based on the possibility that Twenty Wayland wouldn't build the full 372,500 square feet of commercial, office and housing as permitted, but might stop after the first phase of about 94,000 square feet.
The situation is complicated by the selectmen's agreement with Glezen Lane residents (negotiated without consulting the HDC) to mitigation measures, including a traffic light at the library intersection, before Town Center construction begins. Also, Twenty Wayland project manager Frank Dougherty had said that modifying a 2008 state environmental permit premised on road work done before construction could delay the project by 18 months. (Whether that is true isn't known; in response to an inquiry, a state official said nobody had asked whether project phasing would require modifying the permit.)
Under existing plans, Twenty Wayland would have to enlarge the Route 20/27-126 intersection and redo the 27-126 divergence to the north near the Wayland Library. That intersection was redesigned less than 10 years ago.
-- Michael Short
You can read all previous WVN newsletters at:
To be sure you continue to receive WVN newsletters optimally and in your inbox
(instead of bulk or junk folders) it may help to add to your address book or
safe sender list:
Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to your friends and
neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive their own copy, they can send an
and they will be signed up for the listserv. Or, they can sign themselves up by
sending a blank email to:
Click reply and send after receiving an e-mail confirming the subscription.
Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor