WVN #369: Settlement possible in Town Center suit
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Thirteen months after suing the Wayland Historic District Commission, the Town Center project developer seems eager to settle.
Also in this newsletter: A new arts initiative at the high school and a search for space for WayCAM.
DEVELOPER PROPOSES SETTLEMENT
When Twenty Wayland sued the Historic District Commission on July 29, 2009, it created what turned out to be a long-lasting obstacle to building the proposed commercial-office-housing project. The developer tried to quash the defense but lost several procedural rounds in Superior Court.
Now, after announcing its intention in a two-page advertisement in the Wayland Town Crier, Twenty Wayland has presented a proposal to settle the action. When the two sides met in a public session on Sept. 1, the Commission distributed copies of an Aug. 19 letter from the developer's lawyer suggesting a way to show that it is serious about building the project: before beginning road-widening that is the crux of the lawsuit, Twenty Wayland would start demolishing the existing 410,000-square-foot office building formerly occupied by Raytheon and then Polaroid.
"As long as that building remains up, Twenty Wayland has an alternative to the Town Center project..." wrote Daniel Dain of the Boston real estate law firm BDLWT&G. A sign at the Route 20 site advertises the building for lease.
As the two sides and their lawyers opened the Sept. 1 discussion, there was a sign of how Wayland politics has changed in recent years. The HDC's pro bono (volunteer) lawyer, Barbara Buell, announced that the discussion must be "totally civilized," indicating that audience outbursts wouldn't be tolerated. Dain agreed. The packed selectmen's meeting room was silent.
Two hours later there was an agreement to proceed toward a public hearing, which could be held before the end of the month, on modifying the Commission's Certificate of Hardship.
Though the discussion was thoroughly polite, HDC Chair Gretchen Schuler indicated her displeasure at discovering that the selectmen had issued a "Certification" of traffic conditions in the affected area dated Aug. 4 without giving a copy to the Commission. When the two boards met on Aug. 9 the existence of that document was not disclosed.
This is consistent with other Board of Selectmen actions taken since the suit was filed. As attorney Buell noted, the selectmen had been "unwilling to provide counsel" and left the HDC scrambling for a lawyer during the 2009 Labor Day weekend "with hours left to answer the complaint."
The selectmen have met in executive (closed) session several times to discuss the suit, excluding the Commission. They have been in acknowledged close contact with the developers while being out of touch with the HDC.
The selectmen's Aug. 4 certification asserts that unsafe traffic conditions would exist as soon as construction begins. They claim authority to decide roadway matters as de facto traffic commissioners. The one-page certification, citing no traffic studies and lacking a letterhead, is signed by Selectmen Chairman Steve Correia and the Wayland police and fire chiefs. There is no public record of how or when this document was created.
The judge has ordered fact-finding on traffic questions if the suit proceeds.
The selectmen created a problem for the HDC and the developer when they negotiated settlement of a 2008 traffic-impact lawsuit by residents of the Glezen Lane neighborhood. The settlement, negotiated without consultation with the HDC, specifies that road widening and signalization be done in the historic district before project construction begins.
The HDC's Certificate of Hardship permits road widening in the historic area only after there is demonstrable evidence that the Town Center will be large enough to require traffic improvements on Routes 20 and 27/126. At the moment Twenty Wayland says it is committed to building a first "phase" of about 94,500 square feet, 25 percent of the permitted size. Demolishing the existing office building wouldn't necessarily indicate that the full project would ever be built.
The commissioners' ruling reflects their judgment that the proposed changes will damage the historic character of the district and should be made only if needed for public safety. Some selectmen argue that road widening will be needed in the future and Twenty Wayland will save taxpayers money by doing the estimated $2 million job now.
The consensus reached at the Sept. 1 meeting calls for Twenty Wayland to provide details of a lease signed last year by Stop & Shop, the only tenant committed so far, as well as proof that Bank of America is committed to financing the project. Other requirements involve demolition and construction permits. (The developer still needs to secure other local and state permits.)
KGI Properties, the parent company of Twenty Wayland, LLC announced last Dec. 17 that Stop & Shop had signed a 20-year lease as the Town Center anchor tenant. The proposed 45,000-square-foot store was described as "a smarter, leaner new prototype." Ground-breaking was announced for the fall of 2010, more than four years after voters approved zoning necessary for the mixed-use project.
Stop & Shop, owned by Netherlands-based Ahold, operates 375 stores in seven states. There are two Stop & Shops within four miles of the most densely populated portion of Wayland. A proposed Stop & Shop in Northborough was recently canceled. A larger Stop & Shop in Kennebunk, Maine, closed last year.
-- Michael Short
SCHOOL COMMITTEE DOINGS
WayCAM at the High School
The School Committee and WayCAM have been struggling to find space for WayCAM at the new high school.
Most people know WayCAM as the Wayland Community Access Television service. See http://www.waycam.tv/. But WayCAM also provides educational services to the Wayland schools, teaching television production to students and covering school events. Currently over 100 students participate in TV production. WayCAM has been conveniently housed in the high school.
But the state agency partially funding the construction of the new school is adamant about not funding anything not strictly educational, including WayCAM. So at the moment there is no space allocated for WayCAM in the new buildings. And the space WayCAM occupies will be demolished when the new buildings are completed. Hence, the problem.
And it wouldn't be such a problem if not for the educational function. There is, after all, lots of extra space in the partially closed Loker school. But both WayCAM and the schools would prefer a location close to the students primarily being served, at the high school.
The options are boiling down to the existing weight room (House of Pain), a recent addition to the Field House, or new modulars. The High School Building Committee and School Committee prefer the first. The HSBC would upgrade the shell to code and then turn it over to WayCAM, which would fit the space out for its facilities. Unfortunately, the space is smaller than WayCAM currently occupies.
WayCAM would prefer to install new modular buildings, analogous to the Happy Hollow modular classrooms or the modular science labs installed a few years ago at the high school. But the HSBC believes the cost would be significantly higher than the Field House addition, and it could affect the project construction schedule for the high school with new requirements for utilities, foundations, etc.
At the moment, the direction seems to be toward the House of Pain, painful though it may be for WayCAM. In any case, expect an article in the fall Town Meeting to fund the effort. A total cost of about $375,000 was mentioned for the weight room option.
New Arts Requirement
At a recent School Committee meeting high school principal Pat Tutwiler presented his plan to enhance the program by adding a new graduation requirement: one year of studying the arts, starting with the class of 2015.
Tutwiler explained that his goal is not to turn anyone into an artist, or even to enhance anyone's knowledge about the arts, but to improve competence in what have been dubbed "21st century skills": creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. These "right brain" abilities will be vital to success in the 21st century, he believes, and are emphasized in the arts.
A focus on 21st century skills was first championed within the school administration by Technology Director Leisha Simon since she came to Wayland in the fall of 2008. Since Tutwiler presented his plan, even traditionalist Superintendent Gary Burton, who previously advocated a "classical" educational approach, has climbed on the bandwagon with a Town Crier column supporting the teaching of these skills.
Perhaps most remarkable for stressed taxpayers, Tutwiler is planning to implement the new requirements with no increase in the budget. His plan involves re-prioritization and allocation of existing resources, not an expansion. This contrasts with past practice. For years, all proposals to increase educational quality in the schools had been accompanied by an assertion that extra costs would be incurred.
A widespread movement to emphasize 21st century skills has developed as a result of two revolutionary changes which are predicted to define the adult lives of current children: ubiquitous technology and globalization. These factors are seen as resulting in the disappearance or offshoring of routine jobs, forcing Americans to move to higher-level creative and professional careers to maintain a leadership position in the world.
-- Tom Sciacca
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor