Downtown District: Official docs on what voters will approve; Answers to some public questions

by beth on October 26, 2021

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Above: More info on the zoning Article up for a vote and the questions raised about a project officials may subsequently pursue.

The fall Special Town Meeting will be held in six days. The Article that has the most attention from readers is definitely the zoning changes proposed for Downtown.

I’m following up on some of the questions in blog comments about Wastewater Treatment. (Scroll down for that.)

In addition, I’m happy to see that the Town posted the official version of the Amended Article voters will be asked to pass. (This will replace the version posted in the Warrant.) They also posted the Board of Selectmen’s analysis of how passage of Article 10 will result in differences between current and proposed zoning. (I would call it a redlined document, but it doesn’t use colors.)

[On Friday, I posted my own analysis with charts comparing current and proposed zoning. You can look at that here.]

Downtown District Zoning MapFor those who haven’t been closely following the zoning bylaw, those changes would only apply to parcels identified as being rezoned to be part of the new “Downtown District”.

There is some land that will remain in the Business Village Zone. (Those are the parcels split between the business and a residential zone, plus property currently owned by the railroad company, CSX.)

For other materials and to see if more handouts are posted between now and the meeting, check here.

Below I’m sharing some context and links related to questions and claims about costs the Town could incur if the zoning passes.

Several comments on the blog have asked questions about the Town’s plans for a Wastewater Treatment facility. Some have claimed that the zoning would pave the way to force voters to pay for a facility that benefits developers.

If a project was proposed to be paid by Southborough taxes, Town Meeting voters would have to pass it. However, while the zoning change requires a 2/3 approval, funding downtown infrastructure may not. (If a project was funded without the Town issuing a bond or triggering proposition 2½, only a majority would need to support it.)

So, what kind of project are we potentially looking at?

In February 2019, the Economic Development Committee held a forum to brainstorm issues around revitalizing downtown. In it, the public learned about serious septic limitations preventing development of some commercial properties like restaurants. 

Wastewater Treatment concept map for downtownThe EDC pursued and received a grant to study how to resolve septic issues (and to assist with the zoning effort). A Wastewater Treatment Feasibility Study was conducted to “evaluate an option for independently treating” up to 20,000 gallons per day wastewater in the area of the current Village Business District.

The study estimated that a project (map right); would cost $3,298,000. (Click here for a conceptual drawing of a downtown plant.)

The consultants, Weston & Sampson, recommended pursuing grant funding. They also recommended a follow up study on how the project could be funded outside of grants.

The second report put forward multiple options. It looked at full funding by taxpayers, split funding with an account funded by properties that would directly benefit, and a real estate tax charge. It listed pros and cons for each scenario. (You can find all documents related to the wastewater study grant here.)

It’s worth noting that the cost scenario tables assume no offset by state or federal grants. Town officials have stated hope of pursuing grants for any costly infrastructure projects.

The study reports were issued in June and July. In August, the EDC discussed the status of reports and grants. But there wasn’t a presentation of the content or discussion of next steps on the wastewater treatment project. The Board of Selectmen has yet to include the reports on their agenda for discussion.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 IT ALL STINKS, VOTE NO October 26, 2021 at 11:12 PM

WRONG LOCATION. Vote NO. Have you ever tried to get through Westborough center starting early afternoon? This is a prime example of zoning failure. Overbuilding. Traffic clog. The complete ignoring of traffic and parking impacts is backwards and ludicrous. Have you ever tried to get out of Southborough heading east in the morning when traffic backs up Main Street past Fay School and down the hill to Parkerville Road? How about coming home heading west? This is WITHOUT any development. Not one “expert” bothered to examine or consider that this housing plan would be better located elsewhere. This misguided giveaway will ruin downtown with too much density and traffic. The proponents should go sit in traffic in Westborough. Only in this case, the stakes are higher because it’s one of the few roads going to points East and Boston.

This headline should read, “OFFICIAL DOCS, WHAT VOTERS WON’T APPROVE.” Look who got religion in these final hours of desperation and is coming clean on more details on the costs to build (but FORGOT cost to OPERATE) necessary infrastructure that will boost the profits of developers, while sticking the taxpayers with costs. Developers can pay for their OWN costs. Ms. Connelly of the EDC was just proclaiming that this EDC zoning proposal has NOTHING to do with sewerage costs. Mutually exclusive. And now here’s an article explaining how your tax dollars will pay for someone else’s development and operating costs. NO THANKS. That stinks.

Let’s set the record straight: this EDC born zoning giveaway was virtually all high density residential (not necessarily apartments either) up UNTIL ABOUT A WEEK AGO. Think condo. Then Marty Healey excoriated YOUR elected officials on Planning Board to browbeat them into a zoning giveaway that bypasses them, your elected officials. That’s the real goal here. Eliminate that pesky Planning Board, for a by-right candy store giveaway. Ridiculously, you have had a whole week to absorb this high impact plan. This high density giveaway ignores traffic, parking, infrastructure, sewerage, operating costs, and passes all this stinking bullshit onto the unwitting taxpayers. With less than a week til special town meeting.

In the meantime, have you noticed all the missing trees behind the library? This is the site of an urban park(?!), PARKING lot(?!), and new ROAD realignment (WTH?!) for St. Marks, spearheaded by Marty Healey? Thank Karen Galligan at DPW for the trees taken down without public hearings against town bylaw? Sound familiar? Wondering how all this gets done without SITE PLANS going for approval through a public hearing process and without Planning Board approval? No wonder Mr. Healey is excoriating Planning Board. He’s busy working on master planning the town without the town (or Planning Board). MEMO to Marty: parking lots over seven spaces have to go before Planning Board. BTW, where are the PILOT payments you were supposed to be working on?? Voters, JUST VOTE NO to this three ring circus and support your neighbors and friends who live in this small village, who are about to have their lives and properties upended by this recklessness and profiteers. And HANG ON TO YOUR WALLET. The taxes are high enough already with little in return.

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2 beth October 27, 2021 at 8:01 AM

Commenting on the headline – you are correct that it was poorly written. I started to write what voters will be asked to approve. When I shortened to fit in more, I should have changed “will” to “would”.

As for “coming clean”. . . it seems that you interpreted that the wastewater docs were provided by the Town for sharing with readers/voters. Actually, they have been on the Town website for months, I just wasn’t aware of them. An exchange of comments on the blog drew my attention to them. So, I searched for and found them to share with readers, along with some context.

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3 Downtown Resident October 27, 2021 at 10:21 AM

Traffic.
We will be dealing with more and more traffic, that is for sure. Think about it for a minute.
A 2 story building with 4 family dwellings above and businesses below;
each family dwelling: 2 cars × 4 dwellings = 8 cars (I know, 8 doesn’t seem like much, but we did see an uptick in traffic at the intersection of Newton, Main and East Main, when Thayer Ln was added off of East Main a few years ago).
plus businesses below: business owners + employees + patrons (hopefully many patrons coming and going all day long) = unknown amount of cars
A 3 story building with 8 family dwellings above and businesses below;
each family dwelling: 2 cars × 8 family dwellings = 16 cars
plus businesses below: business owners + employees + patrons (hopefully many coming and going all day long) = unknown amount of cars
And that’s just one building. How many buildings could there be? Can Southborough’s tiny downtown handle it?

Should this bylaw pass, I truly do hope that the entire town will 100% commit to supporting the businesses that seem to be desired. Because a baker has to sell a tremendous amount of cupcakes to make payroll, cover rent, utilities and insurance, and keep stock fresh and plentiful.

I haven’t been by the library since the trees have come down, but I certainly did hear about it after the fact. Apparently there was some kind of land swap with St. Mark’s. Since I’ve only heard about it through the grapevine, I don’t know the exact facts of it all.

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4 beth October 27, 2021 at 10:36 AM

You can find more about the St. Mark’s, Library, and Town plans here.

I’m not sure of the current status of the originally planned History Walk project. But part of the information provided last winter was an intent to improve the intersection between St. Mark’s Street and Marlborough Road.

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5 Mike October 27, 2021 at 9:42 AM

Downtown has looked worn and tired for years (cracked sidewalks, out-of-place guardrail). Big plans? Let’s start w the little stuff.

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6 Lynne October 27, 2021 at 10:48 AM

Unfortunately some people will not have the opportunity to vote since the Board of Health is requiring masks. People unable or unwilling to wear a mask will not be allowed to attend Town Meeting so are prevented from voting.

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7 Kelly Roney October 27, 2021 at 9:31 PM

They’re not prevented from voting. They choose to refuse to protect their fellow citizens. If some idiot claimed the “right” to vote in the nude, we’d laugh at them, even though naked voting wouldn’t actually hurt anyone. It would just be moronic.

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