EDC: “Facts and Figures”and an update on Rte 9 Business Corridor District and other initiatives

by beth on June 17, 2021

Post image for EDC: “Facts and Figures”and an update on Rte 9 Business Corridor District and other initiatives

Above: Newsletters from the EDC this spring feature some interesting data and highlights about Southborough and the region (images cropped clockwise from the March, April, and May newsletters)

I’m rounding up some highlights from and updates on Southborough’s Economic Development Committee.

A couple of weeks ago, the Town’s email system issued an update by the EDC. If you received it, you may have been confused. Since it was written in March, the updates on EDC’s activities were a bit outdated. However, if you scrolled to the third page, it also shared some interesting “Facts and Figures” about Southborough worth noting. 

Details included an updated look at land use in town, population trends, businesses and jobs in town, unemployment stats, residential incomes and property taxes, and the Town’s expenses and revenues. I’m sharing just a few of their graph highlights below:

land use (from EDC March 2021 Report) population (from EDC March 2021 Report) Establishments, wages, and jobs by industry(from EDC March 2021 Report) Unemployment in 2020 (from EDC March 2021 Report)

For more graphs and details, see the full report here.

Some of the report’s data highlights the Town’s need to attract more businesses to town in order to reduce the tax burden for residents. Referencing the Town’s 2019 Housing Production plan as its source, the report/newsletter states:

Although Southborough’s commercial tax rate is among the lowest tax rate on commercial property in the area, the lack of sewer infrastructure and other critical municipal services hinders Southborough’s desirability for economic development purposes. A lack of prior public investment in infrastructure limits Southborough’s present and future ability to significantly increase tax revenues from commercial uses to offset the burden on residential properties to fund municipal necessities.

Of course, that ties in to some of the EDC’s initiatives referenced in their up-front update.

Some projects have progressed and some details changed since March. So, I’ve been working to compile some updates to share. It turned out, that they’ve done much of that work already. Monthly newsletters that weren’t included in the email were posted on the Town website this spring. You can find all of the EDC’s newsletters here.

Still, I do have some context not in the newsletters that I can add.

The Town has still been pursuing funding under the state’s One Stop Grants*, which allows submitting one application to be reviewed for funding by multiple agencies that offer grants. Officials submitted an “Expression of Interest” to the state on four projects under the opportunity:

  • Cordaville Road infrastructure improvements (full width road improvements from the Commuter Rail station to the Transfer Station driveway).
  • Downtown Initiative Phase 2 – infrastructure for sewer, etc.
  • Southville Transit Oriented Overlay zoning – feasibility study
  • Route 9 Business Corridor District

Earlier this spring, state reviewers provided feedback on the EOI to help applicants prepare for the next application stage. Based on the feedback, officials agreed to pull three of the projects. Only the last one was ultimately submitted in the official application stage.

According to the EDC’s May newsletter, the Rte 9 application includes plans to:

Conduct a review of the current zoning code of Southborough’s Business Highway and Industrial zoned areas along Route 9.

  • Provide recommendations for recodification for these areas.
  • Provide recommendations for implementing specific Economic Development tools.
  • Provide recommendations to improve traffic patterns that will facilitate access to businesses along Route-9

As for why the others were pulled. . . 

On May 18th, Town Administrator Mark Purple updated the Board of Selectmen to get consensus on the next steps. He said that the state informed the Town that the Downtown infrastructure project should only be submitted if and when it is ready to support imminent private development. Stakeholders agreed that the Downtown Initiative project didn’t meet that criteria for this year’s round.

At that time, DPW was still pursuing the Cordaville project. At the June 1st meeting, Purple updated that the decision was made that it also failed to meet that criteria. (He noted that if the South Union sale had gone through, it might have been different.)

In the prior update, Purple had identified other funds that DPW planned to use (“Chapter 90” funds and bonding) to support the roadwork. Selectman Sam Stivers had suggested also looking at the state’s Complete Streets grant for opportunities.

On May 18th, Purple also updated that the state categorized the last two projects as both under zoning/planning. They could apply for multiple under a category, but only one could be awarded an OSG.

Selectmen agreed with a recommendation passed on from the Capital Planning Committee Chair and Town Planner. They pointed out that the federal America Rescue Plan Act appeared to cover work to address transit overlay issues. Meanwhile, officials weren’t clear that ARPA could cover the Route 9 work.

The planned steps were to pursue the Route 9 zoning work under the OSG and look for an opportunity under ARPA to apply for funding the Southville zoning project. Earlier this month, EDC Coordinator Marijke Munsiff informed to the committee that she had submitted the information for the Rte 9 application prior to the deadline.

Each of the EDC’s newsletters have featured other highlights readers may be interested in.

The May newsletter also shared results from a 2021 annual 495/MetroWest Employer Survey. The April newsletter overviews a tour that members of the EDC went on this spring “of Villageworks – a small scale village mixed-use development located on 525-545 Massachusetts Avenue in West Acton”. Of course, mixed-use zoning in downtown Southborough is a change that the committee has been advocating for. 

As I’ve previously written about, that Downtown Zoning initiative was postponed from Annual Town Meeting to an upcoming Special Town Meeting in the fall. (I’ll let you know when I have that date.) The intent was to allow officials more time to hash some of the issues raised in the spring and hopefully come up with a version the general public will support. Planning Board Hearings were closed, but will be re-opened in advance of that meeting.

Last week, the Board of Selectmen joined the Planning Board’s meeting with consultant Attorney Adam Costa to answer some of Planning’s questions about the proposed bylaw. (I still haven’t had a chance to watch that full discussion, but you can here.)

*The Town has been consistently referring to One Stop Grants. The state’s website labels it “Community One Stop for Growth”. According to mass.gov, the portal allows one application for projects pursuing “state funding to realize their housing and economic development goals”. The applications will then be looked at for opportunities under 10 grant programs overseen by three agencies: Housing and Economic Development, Housing and Community Development, and MassDevelopment.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Starting to Make Sense June 17, 2021 at 2:29 PM

So it appears the EDC will tackle the real issues related to Downtown in PHASE 2 – the hard stuff like sewer, traffic, infrastructure, railroad crossings etc. But, for now, we just need to decide if we would like an ice cream shop or a brew pub. Meanwhile, EDC takes some field trips to fantasize about installing a plaza like the one in West Acton. Please start working on the eyesore at 11 Main if you really care and get some businesses back on Route 9. Funding this committee is truly a waste of tax dollars and if the BOS continues to endorse and support they should be voted out.

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2 beth June 17, 2021 at 3:36 PM

The EDC didn’t put off working on the “hard stuff”. They already pursued feasibility study grants that are in process. (Updates are in the newsletters.) And work on railroad crossings, and other road/infrastructure projects are outside of their bailiwick. Those are under the DPW and selectmen.

As for Main Street, I’m confused as to how you think the EDC should “start working” on a private property.

Although, working to help implement zoning changes that invite other economic development options for property owners could be one way. (Wait, that’s what you seem to be angry that they’re doing.) And as I wrote in the post, they are working on a plan to help alleviate some of the issues on Route 9. My impression is that these are issues that business owners and commercial property owners pointed to as reasons that vacancies are hard to fill on Route 9 in Southborough.

You aren’t the first commenter to claim the EDC is a waste of money. But I notice that at Town Meetings those who show up and speak up generally support the EDC budget. In 2019 and 2017, motions were made to reduce EDC’s budget was voted down by the hall. (The second time, overwhelmingly.) No one made a motion to do that at the 2020 or 2021 Town Meetings.

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3 Kelly Roney June 18, 2021 at 2:14 PM

I’m not a fan of that building. There are a couple of thought experiments we can all do about that site.

What if our predecessors had cared about historic preservation and saved the Southboro Arms, which I believe was there? See https://southboroughhistory.org/the-southboro-arms/. (I seem to recall that the hotel burned at some point prior to development of the current building in 1972.)

Or, since this property is in the Business Village District downtown, what if we’d had mixed use and the second floor was residential? Perhaps someone with vision would have put the parking lot in the back and the exterior design might have been more appealing.

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4 TRAFFIC CLOGS June 18, 2021 at 7:49 AM

Agree with Starting comments above. Beth, no where in any meetings, planning or discussions did EDC begin to address the clog and congestion that this nonsensical zoning “initiative” will cause. Also, the fact that some factors fall under different authorities does not excuse not examining the very byproducts and outcomes of UNWARRANTED and UNWANTED increased DENSITY: clog and congestion. Have you tried to get around in Westborough or Marlborough lately? The traffic is queued so long on main streets that even alternative routes sometimes do not work. Westborough has routine back ups on Route 30, sometimes to the Southborough line. Back ups on Main Street in Marlborough can be long in all directions. In both instances, either cars sit idling while waiting or are forced down smaller local roads.

No one moved here for a bigger commercial base nor to pay for infrastructure costs to make more money for commercial owners, even with taxpayer funded grants.

The EDC is a waste of taxpayer dollars. They have long been the developer whining voice, with close ties to the developers themselves. The real answer is to disband the EDC, spend less, and split the tax rate. Not shove ill conceived, unwanted DENSE development in a postage stamp sized village. Remember the persons who belonged to EDCs in multiple towns and disappeared off this EDC? Their clients are developers, surprise!!

How about this EDC’s litany of restructurings and new chairpersons? Now there’s BOS member Marty Healey involving himself in railroad crossing matters. Wondering why? These pro developer pre-steps paid by taxpayers should stop cold. No one wants to be living in higher density in a small area and clog. For those who do, go buy a house in Westborough or Marlborough.

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5 beth June 18, 2021 at 8:42 AM

Not going to get in to all of it, but as for the railroad crossing. . . I can’t see who would be against fixing the infrastructure issues at the railroad crossing area.

The Board of Selectmen was pulled into the “matters” by CSX. The Town was simply asking for an easement to fix the roadway, improve drainage and create wheelchair accessible crossing. CSX staff looked at the intersection, decided they were unhappy with how abutters were overlapping land they deemed theirs, and was demanding that if abutters didn’t respond as CSX wished, the Town take measures as part of the easement agreement. Some of those measures were ones that a Town would normally take in a dispute between private land owners. That’s how selectmen became involved.

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