BOS stood by its vote on Downtown zoning; Advisory warns voters wary of multi-family housing

This week, the Economic Development Committee failed to convince the Board of Selectmen to walk back changes to the proposed Downtown District zoning bylaw. Later, Advisory members predicted that part of the bylaw officials haven’t been debating will sink the Special Town Meeting Article.

On Tuesday night, selectmen verbally signed off on a Warrant including the version of the bylaw recommended by the Planning Board. During the discussion at least two members held out hope that further revisions may be made before voters pass it.

That was a theme that continued in the Board’s Thursay night meeting with the Advisory Committee. In that meeting, Advisory members expressed concern that a special permit allowance for multi-family housing could be a lightning rod for controversy.

BOS and EDC Discussion

In their meeting with EDC, selectmen made clear their first priority was getting the ⅔ vote needed to pass at Special Town Meeting. Several references were made to the past failure of the Town to change zoning code through a multi-year effort of the ZAC that never even made it to Town Meeting*.

Selectmen Andrew Dennington, Sam Stivers, and Marty Healey expressed some agreement with the EDC on recent revisions being more restrictive than they would like to see. 

Stivers maintained his position that getting the revised bylaw into the code would be real progress. From there, making any needed revisions in the future should be easier to accomplish.

That reflected what Chair Lisa Braccio painted as significant changes to zoning. The bylaw will add new by right permitting for specific uses and projects, plus mixed commercial and residential uses not allowed anywhere in town. It also reduces the number of required parking spaces for certain uses.

Braccio argued the need for the recently adopted restrictions as guardrails to keep the Town from losing its heritage to aggressive development. Displaying a list of the 22 lots in the proposed district, she noted that half were deemed historic properties. 

Looking at the data, EDC’s Chair Rob Anderson pointed out that nothing had been built downtown since 1978. He highlighted the need for zoning change to encourage developers to revitalize downtown.

Anderson argued that passing a new bylaw shouldn’t be considered a success. In order to have success, they need zoning that actually encourages developers to step up and build something in Southborough rather than another town.

Dennington said he was happy to see an ambitious effort to improve zoning that is so close to passing. He would hate to see the disagreement over some details derail that. Stressing that no one was getting exactly what they wanted, Dennington hoped that EDC and Planning could compromise at future public hearings. Healey also hoped that the groups could find middle ground between their stances.

Anderson said that EDC had made many compromises throughout the process. On behalf of her committee, EDC’s Julie Connelly argued that the recent revisions were too restrictive. Much of the discussion focused on restrictions that would prevent a building from having 1-2 fully residential floors over ground floor businesses.

Connelly gave an example of current zoning code so outdated that it allows for a night watchman to be housed with your printing press but not for a coffee shop to have an apartment above. She explained the proposed by law was intended to fix that by allowing mixed use projects by right. At issue was the Planning Board’s recommendation to cap the residential portion of a mixed use project at 40%.

BOS Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski and Planning member Meme Lutrell pointed out that the prior bylaw draft had allowed the project to have his little residential as 10%.

Connelly assured that was an error meant to refer to the ground floor only. Fellow member John Wood affirmed that he had raised the need to fix that error in multiple meetings.

EDC’s official position was that the cap should be taken out. But Connelly said she was willing to consider a different figure. She suggested having ground floors be dedicated completely to commercial projects or allowing only for 10% residential use (for ADA compliant units) under a special permit.

Lutrell expressed Planning’s concern that since residential is easier to develop, that’s what less restrictive zoning would attract. She argued that in other Towns there have been problems with developers making enough money on residential units in a mixed use project, that they are fine with leaving ground floor commercial units vacant.

Malinowski voiced support for carrying Planning’s revised version forward. She agreed with the requirement that any project with four or more residential units would need a special permit. Since that figure triggers an Affordable Housing component, she reasoned it was too much responsibility to put on the Building Commissioner alone.

Healey was the selectmen most critical of Planning’s recommended restrictions. It struck him that the justifications given were the same as long-standing rationale that have blocked housing diversity in suburbs for ages. He said it prevented the housing opportunities the town has claimed to want for years in its Master Plan and other forums.

The selectman suggested that voters could make changes at Town Meeting. The town would either show that it could walk the walk or just talk the talk.

On Tuesday, EDC’s other big objection was addressed, the lowering of the proposed by-right Floor Area Ratio (FAR) from 0.35 to 0.3. (Up to 0.5 would still be allowed if approved by Planning under a special permit.)

Braccio explained that the FAR isn’t the full size of the building. She said that it is defined as based on the area for the uses and excludes stairs, elevators and storage areas.

As an example, she used a project previously proposed for 2 East Main Street’s vacant lot in 2019. [Note: Planning didn’t approve the permit, with two members siding with neighbor concerns about the size of the building given its position at the downtown corner.]

Braccio said that project had started with a 0.35 FAR. After some changes to the internal layout and uses, it went down to a 0.328 FAR while the exterior remained the same.

BOS and Advisory Committee

Last night, selectmen presented the Warrant Article to Advisory. Advisory Chair Kathy Cook questioned the likelihood of the bylaw passing if Planning, BOS, and EDC aren’t on the same page.

Member Tim Martel argued that what will actually kill the Article is the inclusion of multi-family projects that aren’t mixed use. He warned that residents will see this as a back door for high density development. 

Braccio and Lutrell noted that the multi-family houses require a special permit from the Planning Board. Martel countered that board members change with each election and residents are wary of trusting the Town on housing matters due to the controversial Park Central project. Other Advisory members agreed that the multi-family housing was the biggest issue. 

Multiple members spoke in favor of EDC’s position for loosening restrictions on by-right mixed-use projects. Some members opined the Article should wait for a future meeting to hammer out the right fixes.

Healey argued for moving forward with it at Special Town Meeting. He told Advisory that he hoped EDC would make their case for amendments to voters. But if they don’t, he would urge passing the current version.

He noted that “practically” it includes long overdue improvements and “cynically” if it proves too strict to encourage development, the Town could propose adjustments without waiting three years.**

In both meetings, Braccio reminded that the Planning Board intended to keep public hearings open until Town Meeting. That means there is still potential for agreement on an amendment to propose at the meeting. 

Braccio cautioned against confusing voters with amendments, especially presentations can’t be projected on the screens this year. Others argued the importance of presenting an amended version that all Town boards assert support for.

Although an agenda isn’t posted yet, the next hearing is scheduled for the evening of Monday, October 18th. (You can click here for the most recent materials, and here to see if any new documents get posted.)

*The ZAC worked on revamping zoning from 2008-2012. The controversial proposal was then passed to the Planning Board with goals of bringing it to a 2012 Town Meeting. That was delayed, delayed, then indefinitely postponed for the board to take a different approach that never took place.

**Healey appeared to be referring to a Mass General Law about revisiting zoning bylaws rejected by voters:

No proposed zoning ordinance or by-law which has been unfavorably acted upon by a city council or town meeting shall be considered by the city council or town meeting within two years after the date of such unfavorable action unless the adoption of such proposed ordinance or by-law is recommended in the final report of the planning board.

On Thursday, Stivers noted that the Planning Board does have the ability to bring a bylaw back sooner than 3 years.

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AB
10 months ago

Mixed use (modern mixed use) *includes* residential uses. It is/can be a core component to driving business to the very nearby non-residential uses. Like it or not, Northborough Crossing is a mixed-use development. Residents walk to and peruse those businesses – and those aren’t even ‘local’ businesses.

According to ULI: “The elements of the mixed-use project typically include several of the following property types (but may include others): Office, Residential (both rental and owned), Hotels, Retail and Parking.” (source: https://americas.uli.org/urban-developmentmixed-use-council-udmuc/)

So to say that ‘adding residential doesn’t make this mixed use’ it just patently false.

Lived here my whole life
9 months ago
Reply to  AB

Northborough Crossings!! WHAT? Our tiny downtown is about to become a Northborough Crossings? Hell, no. Our tiny downtown cannot handle that. I’m voting NO.

(Both rental and owned)
9 months ago
Reply to  AB

All along I was thinking that the multi-family units above the commercial spaces would be apartments. But a concern for me now is that the multi-family units could be condos and if so, are there any provisions that would prevent one of the 3 non-profit schools in town from purchasing them? That would be counter productive to the whole intent of creating a larger tax revenue due to the fact that these school are exempt from paying property taxes.

Kelly Roney
9 months ago

There is no legal way to prevent the schools from buying condos in Southborough. There’s also no legal way to prevent them from buying houses, which they’re doing at a high rate. The fact that they can take residential properties off our tax rolls would have to be fixed statewide (and it should be).

southsider
9 months ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

I’ve always thought there needs to be more difficulty in simply removing properties from the tax rolls. Some kind of major purchase could be quite disruptive and even minor ones create problems in anticipated cash flows.
My thought: some kind of local transfer tax that accompanies any such sale. The aim of the tax would be to allow the town to collect a couple of years of anticipated tax revenue as part of the sale to allow us to gradually adjust for the reduced future revenue. Buyers would pay more for the property but the town would be able to avoid the tax revenue shortfall surprise and have some time to plan.

Kelly Roney
10 months ago

Could Southborough get a traffic study grant similar to the one Westborough has received? See https://www.communityadvocate.com/2021/10/09/westborough-police-get-20425-grant-to-analyze-traffic-patterns/.

AB
10 months ago

Tim Martel (at 2:17:55) – https://youtu.be/M_eh98hjX3o?t=8275 – says that section C7 [multi-family dwelling] “has NOTHING to do with mixed use.” And then “let’s get laser-focus on mixed-use and mixed-use only.” I interpreted this as Mr. Martel thinking that residential is not part of a mixed-use scenario. I respectfully believe the opposite is the case.

Pat D
10 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Thanks for this explanation–very concise and clears up lots of confusing statements.

JUST VOTE NO
9 months ago

This misguided EDC plan will ruin downtown. EDC got the pro developer voices on BOS as outlined above to help push through this bad housing plan, that is NOT an economic plan. It is a messy patchwork of a misdirected zoning bypass of YOUR elected officials on a Planning Board. This plan aims to enrich developers at taxpayers expense. Last night, Marty Healey excoriated your elected officials on Planning Board. This is not only misplaced and disrespectful, it is flat out wrong. Voters, just vote no! Wrong plan for wrong location.

R Jackson
9 months ago
Reply to  JUST VOTE NO

Mr. Healey voted twice (two BOS unanimous votes) to support the very elements he excoriated others for supporting. Ironically, he repeatedly stated in a prior meeting he was supporting the article by voting YES for “cynical reasons” described to be when it produces nothing we will know it was the wrong article for downtown. REALLY? Isn’t it ironic that the Planning Board was portrayed as anti-housing by Mr. Healey while he supported their proposed changes in two votes prior to the EDC demanding their way or the highway. I would expect nothing more from the EDC but we have reached an all new low when a BOS member supports something to prove a cynical point. Mr. Healey, it just so happens your fun with the voting to prove other boards wrong impacts peoples lives and costs the Town tax payer. Planning Board, the other elected board in town, at least takes these matters seriously.

Sewerage treatment?
9 months ago

As part of this “compromise”, who is left holding the bag for a wastewater treatment facility?

If it’s not the developers, then it’s time to either vote “NO” on the article. Be sure to attend the “special” town meeting. It’ll be special all right.

As for Mr. Healey – just remember his antics when casting your votes for his anticipated reelection.

Julie Connelly
9 months ago

For clarity, this is a zoning bylaw, there is nothing about wastewater in it. If a property owner wants to put forth a project to the Planning Board, they will need to have a plan for wastewater – that is not the Town’s responsibility. A wastewater feasibility study was done to see if there are options for a wastewater treatment that could support multiple properties as many towns have done to have more efficient wastewater management to support a downtown business community. If the Town wanted to implement one, the Town would have to go to the voters to approve the budget. But there may be other ways of solving for wastewater, including grants or investment from a developer in conjunction with a proposed project. But none of that has anything to do with the bylaw on the warrant at Town Meeting. I’m happy to answer any specific questions you have.

John
9 months ago

Sewerage treatment?
The feasibility study for wastewater was just that. To see if it is feasible.
Right now I do not believe that many if any, of the septics systems downtown are failing.
As I understand it, the cost to the for wastewater treatment or any septic system if this bylaw passes is nothing to the taxpayer. It will be up to the developer or property owner to figure it out and pay for it. If the town decided to put a sewerage treatment plant downtown and ask the taxpayers to fund it, I would hope the it would require going to Town Meeting for a vote.

Give Me a Break EDC
9 months ago
Reply to  John

EDC might want to consider stand up comedy in Worcester when this fails and their committee is disbanded. The voters need to understand your proposal will eventually cost taxpayers MILLIONS in waste water treatment. Saying a developer will figure it out is absolute nonsense but thanks for trying to pass that off as believable and offer to answer any questions. You’ve answered our questions already with your actions and we are not that gullible to believe you now. Voters will prove shortly what we think of the EDC’s half-baked, pro-developer, cost-the-taxpayer housing plan. VOTE NO!

John
9 months ago

There is at least one private wastewater treatment facility in operation that serves private homes (~50) located in the Wildwood/Southwood Drive development. As far as I know, the town has not, and does not contribute a penny to operate it.

AB
9 months ago

The plan isn’t misguided. It’s been vetted by professional, not just those with backyards. EDC didn’t ‘get’ pro-developer voices to help anything. BoS members voiced their opinion. This plan aims to enrich a blighted, untouched-since-1978 downtown area to actually, well, make it a downtown. Right plan for right location.

Downtown Resident
9 months ago
Reply to  AB

Is your comment, “not just those with backyards,” yet another put down of the concerns of those whose lives will be most impacted by this bylaw, the very people who actually live in and are most firmilar with the district in question? You know, the residential neighborhood that is about to be blown up.
Should a new bylaw be proposed for your neighborhood, wouldn’t you want to be sure that that proposed bylaw was the right fit for your neighborhood?

Julie Connelly
9 months ago

DT Resident – I don’t want to speak for AB, but I took their comment to mean that for most of us, our only land use experience is with our own property, and that few of us in town are professional zoning/planning/land use experts. I don’t think the context supports your interpretation, and I also don’t agree that residents’ of Downtown’s concerns have been discounted. There have been multiple public forums and public hearings where many Downtown residents have spoken and several changes were made to the proposed bylaw based on those residents’ feedback.

Gimme a Break
9 months ago
Reply to  Julie Connelly

Julie, people listened but it wasn’t the EDC. That is a fact memorialized in video recorded meetings. We should be clear on that. In fact, EDC members discounted neighbors time and again in various forums. The EDC Coordinator asked the Planning Board “why are you listening to the neighbors?” in a joint meeting. That is but one example of the EDC discounting of Downtown residents and there are many, many others.

Coordinator
9 months ago
Reply to  Gimme a Break

Gimme a Break – The EDC started out by listening to Southborough residents and heard what they wanted in Downtown. The EDC continued to listen and inform residents through multiple Public Forums during the last couple of years.
It’s easy to take things out of context. The EDC Coordinator’s question to the Planning Board was in fact: “Why are you listening to one neighbor and not to the multiple property owners of split lots?”
Interested to hear the many, many other occasions the EDC supposedly discounted Downtown residents.

AB (Alan Belniak)
9 months ago

“Is your comment, “not just those with backyards,” yet another put down of the concerns of those whose lives will be most impacted by this bylaw, the very people who actually live in and are most firmilar [sic] with the district in question? You know, the residential neighborhood that is about to be blown up.”

>> Oh no – not at all. What I meant was the opinions that matter in this *include* those with backyards in the area *but also* other taxpayers who would patronize and drive economic traffic to the downtown, *as well as* zoning and urban professionals, *who are by definition experts in what they do*. It is not ‘yet another put down’ because I have not put down this group previously.

>>> Should a new bylaw be proposed for your neighborhood, wouldn’t you want to be sure that that proposed bylaw was the right fit for your neighborhood?

You bet I would! And I’d come to every meeting, weigh in (in the meeting) with constructive commentary, and try to find an equitable solution. The area is ZONED FOR DEVELOPMENT. The EDC is trying to make the right development happen.

From the videos I’ve watched and the meetings I’ve attended, I think there are three (correct me if I’m wrong) public members in opposition to this. There may be more, but I haven’t seen them (again, tell me if I’m wrong). There *could* be more, and I respect that. There *could also* be those that support this. So to say the three* that oppose this reflect the entire opinion of downtown, or of Southborough, is a bit of a reach. We’ll see – if 1/3 + 1 say ‘No’ on November 1, then it’s clear that Southborough is not ready for change.

Bonnie Phaneuf
9 months ago

Julie Connelly, It might be of help if you post the following;
1.Weston and Sampson, Memorandum dated, June 18,2021
Southbourough Feasibility Assessment on the Wastewater Treatment
2. Weston and Sampson – Wastewater Treatment Facility and Pump Station
Conceptual Drawings, dated, July 2021
3. Weston and Sampson, Southborough Funding Strategies, dated, July 19.2021
This could answer some questions ahead of Town Meeting,

Julie Connelly
9 months ago
Reply to  Bonnie Phaneuf

Bonnie and BM:

The documents you reference are all available on the Town website. Go to Economic Development Committee and look under the Downtown Initiative tab.

But I must clarify that the wastewater feasibility study has absolutely nothing at all to do with the current Warrant Article being. We are proposing zoning changes ONLY, as Beth has done a great job summarizing. There is no proposal on the table for the Town to install sewerage treatment or to spend any money on anything associated with this Warrant Article.

Last year the EDC used grant money for a feasibility study to see what might be possible in the Downtown from an engineering/technology point of view, and what the associated costs would look like. This was totally separate from our work on the zoning bylaw, it just happened to be that we were doing these two things at the same time. If a developer or land owner proposes a project, they will have to have their own plan, with their own money, to handle wastewater, as has been the case in Southborough forever, and will continue to be whether or not we pass the proposed zoning bylaw changes. If a developer doesn’t have a plan for wastewater, they will not be able to get permits for their project.

At some point in the future, IF the Town decided to modernize wastewater management, there are many ways that it could get done, including with grant money assistance or through working with private developers who may want to help invest in conjunction with a proposed project. Like any infrastructure project, it could also get paid through the Town budget, that is, through the taxpayers via bond or other mechanism. However, like all budget items, this could not happen without a vote at Town Meeting, but not the 2021 Town Meeting, because nothing having to do with wastewater is in the Warrant.

EDC Coordinator
9 months ago
Reply to  Bonnie Phaneuf

Ms. Phaneuf: I believe I sent you all the documents you mention in your post on September 15, 2021. I also sent you the links to these documents so you would be able to find them easily on the Town website. I also explained – in the same email message – that this is a wastewater FEASIBILITY study to see what would be possible if ever the Town would want to explore a shared system for businesses. I think it is always good to find out the facts so informed decisions can be made. The wastewater feasibility study has nothing to do with the zoning bylaw.

BM
9 months ago

Julie, also can you explain cost to operate the sewerage treatment plant? Who pays? Thanks

Rules on Comments from Committee Members
9 months ago

Aren’t there any open meeting rules related to EDC members collectively opining on blogs? Is it a violation of open meeting laws or just possibly bad form? As someone who will support the proposed downtown housing developments, I worry we may be running off track here.

Al Hamilton
9 months ago

This is a subject that comes up from time to time. I did some investigation including talking to our State Rep. There seems to be some discussion about participation in a blog being a “Grey” area. I don’t think this is really the case as follows.

If a committee member or other person who has a vote on some public issue were to write a letter to the Boston Globe explaining the details of some matter they are voting on would that be a violation? I think the clear answer is NO. This would be a clear violation of Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech.

How is a written, publicly available comment on a blog different? A blog is media just the same as the Globe?

If a person discusses with a public official about some matter under that officials purview when they meet at the Transfer Station do we want that official to say “Sorry, I can’t talk a out that, I can only speak about that at an officially sanctions event” No, we want the official to discuss this issue to explain and listen. How is that different from what goes on here?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The open meeting law was designed to curtail deals made in the back room. Sadly it is sometimes also used as a cudgel to convince public officials to self censor and surrender some of those rights most important to a vibrant democracy.

We need more public discussion by our elected and appointed leaders not less.

educate yourself!
9 months ago

I’ve taken the webinar. The intent of the law is to allow public access to governmental meetings, so that discussion and eventual decision making is “transparent”. Posting on blogs, etc. is not discussion among board or committee members, and hardly seems applicable.

Sign up in a link found in the URL below:

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/open-meeting-law-trainings

Lived here my whole life
9 months ago

Proposed downtown housing developmentS, plural? I thought this bylaw was about rezoning to bring more places to hang out downtown. But from what I’m reading here, it’s about multiple housing developments. This is so confusing. I’ve lived in Sboro my whole life, but I’m not a senior citizen, I’m a relatively young professional who thought it might be nice to have a microbrewery in town. I never once realized that it’s about dense housing development. The more I read, the more I’m convinced that this bylaw isn’t ready to leave the drawing board.

Julie Connelly
9 months ago

Lived here my whole life:

I appreciate your question because it seems to be causing confusion. The current bylaw that has been in place for 60+ years allows for almost unrestricted housing developments (with a special permit from Planning Board) so long as they stayed within height and setback requirements.

In regard to housing, the proposed changes include clear limits on building size, height, the ratio of square footage a building can be compared to the land, and the number of housing units permitted, and still requires a special permit, so THE PROPOSED BYLAW IS MUCH MORE RESTRICTIVE ON HOUSING THAN THE CURRENT BYLAW. In addition the proposed bylaw encourages commercial/mixed use, because certain uses, including commercial uses with up to 4 residential units on upper floors, are permitted by right, which means a project proponent would not have to obtain a special permit for the right commercial use with up to 4 residential units.

I too want a microbrewery, a coffee shop, a restaurant, and/or some small scale independent retail shops. That was the genesis of this entire effort and it is what we seek to promote through adding certain by-right uses.

Tim Martel
9 months ago
Reply to  Julie Connelly

Julie, I am sorry but that is not entirely valid. What is missing is that the CURRENT bylaw requires multi-family development to be part of a Major Residential Site Review by the Planning board. The NEW bylaw is lacking this review.

The Major Residential Site Review gives many benefits, including (but not limited to):
1. at least 1/3 of dwellings must be single family, to assure internal diversity and continuity with surrounding development.
2. requiring that all multifamily structures have their own exterior entrance to maintain visual scale of the community.
3. not more than 4 dwelling units within any structure.
4. 35% of lot required to be dedicated to open space
5. visual buffers for nearby communities.
6. affordable housing unit requirements, which helps get the town to its “40B” threshold.
7. development quality standards.
8. the shear number of plans (wetlands, sewage, etc.) required for review to ensure environmental impact is managed.

Additionally, residential real estate development is more lucrative in this economy than commercial development. No developers are going to put mixed-use developments in our downtown area when they could put in 100% residential structures that will sell for more money(and be built at lower costs, as the expenses associated with the Major Residential Site Review are being removed).

I am a fan of mixed-use and I’d prefer a more vetted version of the NEW bylaw, but the version of the NEW bylaw that is going to Town Meeting will end up being a housing plan that enriches residential developers by allowing them to build high density, low cost multi-family block structures in our downtown. I urge EDC to push for another amendment to the NEW bylaw to fix this glaring hole.

Tim Martel
-Advisory Member

MISINFORMED AND MISLEADING
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Ms. Connelly, you are completely incorrect on your interpretation of the existing zoning code. As the former EDC chair and current bulldog for this zoning change, this is frighteningly unacceptable. Simply put: multi-family is NOT an allowed use under current zoning. Except grandfathered uses. Anyone interested should google and read town of Southborough CHAPTER 174 – 8.4. The BV – Business Village District – multi family is NOT an allowed use. BV allows uses in Residential A and B zones, which are single family zones. In Residential B, only multi family units are allowed within a MAJOR residential development with the prerequisite single family criteria met first!! There is NO ROOM downtown for this, so you are wildly incorrect. With mere days left before Special Town Meeting, one cannot believe this kind of misinformation and misinterpretation appears in Ms. Connelly’s comments. She needs to 1) actually read the zoning she is looking to change; 2) understand what she is reading; 3) if not understood, ask for assistance; 3) print a retraction of the misinformation above. Talk about absolutely absurd and outrageous at this late date. What a waste of everyone’s time and town resources. This “plan” is not understood by the very sponsors pushing it on voters! This committee should be disbanded.

Julie Connelly
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Tim:

As always I appreciate your input. I don’t think a major residential development is appropriate for Downtown, which is why all parties agreed to remove the concept. I did not know all of the requirements that you listed here, but they reinforce my belief that (1) there’s no room for that, and (2) it’s definitely not appropriate for the small and narrowly defined Downtown District.

I stand by my assertion that as of right now, a major residential development, including unlimited multifamily, could occur under the current bylaw, although it is unlikely. The new bylaw seeks to remove the concept of a major residential development, and cap the number of multifamily homes allowed (and is still only permitted by special permit). Having now read the code on major residential development, I think that anything 8 units+ would be subject to these major residential development restrictions anyway. Our intent was not to expand the right for a housing only option, as we are looking for mixed use. Let’s see what we can do here to make sure it’s clear.

Thanks for the Truth
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Thank you, Tim Martel and MisInformed and Misleading for setting the record straight on the nitty, gritty details of the proposed new zoning. Shame on the EDC for misleading voters on the real world impacts.

R Jackson
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Ms. Connelly, there is a big difference between INTENT and what is permitted by BY LAW if this passes. The EDC intentions will be irrelevant if the by-law is written in such a way that it allows for loopholes and things we don’t want. Your INTENT might be mixed-use or a microbrewery but if a developer can install large scale housing instead, as Mr. Martel points out, that’s a very real problem. If EDC is only reading the code now but thought it was a good idea to remove major site plan review, that’s pretty astounding and reckless. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and it seems the EDC just keeps driving the party bus past the exits. Voters need to put on the brakes!

It's Worse Than We Thought
9 months ago

It sounds like EDC did a wastewater feasibility study *in case* it was ever needed. But we *don’t think* it’s needed (wink-wink). We *hope* a developer will decide to *pay for it*. But if *they don’t* we will probably end up with *NOTHING* downtown (because *let’s be honest* this is why we have *nothing* there now). Got it. Voters, please read the wastewater feasibility study and the proposed way to pay for it before casting your vote. There is a reason why EDC speaks about it but won’t include the recommendations or numbers in their responses on this blog. SOME BIG REASONS.

Fayesther
9 months ago

Thank you for covering this important news. I showed this to my neighbors and we will be coming out to vote this down. I’ve lived in downtown for a long time and this is the first I am hearing we are at risk of large scale housing. The video link provided by AB with Mr. Martel really helped too.

Bonnie Phaneuf
9 months ago

Julie and the EDC Coordinator,
Yes, I do have the documents, Thank you. These documents would answer funding sources, process and location of the sites reviewed. And yes it is a topic for a future Town Meeting if funding is necessary.

Al Hamilton
9 months ago
Reply to  Bonnie Phaneuf

Being a topic for a future town meeting is not the same as paying for a wastewater treatment facility from the General Fund (ie all of our property taxes).

I would oppose to having all the taxpayers pay in town having their taxes increased to pay for a waste water treatment facility that benefited only a handful of properties.

However, if for example, a special sewage district were created and only those that chose to connect to the facility paid the full cost of the facility I could support that sort of program. That would probably require some action by Town Meeting.

The idea that a waste water treatment facility that benefits a small number of properties might require some form of approval at Town Meeting does not automatically imply that the town would be asked to fund such a project.

JUST VOTE NO
9 months ago

Agree with IT’S WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT. And the BIG rea$ons. Also, just now understanding from Ms. Connolly’s comments above that SHE thinks this zoning change is mutually exclusive, unrelated to the SEWERAGE TREATMENT plant need. Well folks, the reason you have been given the bums rush to figure all this out is spelled out by ITS WORSE THAN WE THINK. The area floods as it is and some lots purportedly do not perk, which means they cannot support septic. If true that the do not perk, the sewerage treatment plant is necessary. But still m one already knows this, otherwise why get the “study?” Bottom line? You aren’t going to get to the bottom line from EDC. To BM, yes, it all stinks; you’ll notice your question about who pays the annual operating costs was not answered definitively. The taxpayers will pay. While the developers profit. It’s straight up math. The more infrastructure cost and operating costs that can be laid off on the unwitting taxpayer, the higher the return / profit to the developer. They can pay their own costs. HANG ON TO YOUR WALLET and JUST VOTE NO. Grab your friends and neighbors and support your neighbors who live downtown who are about to have their lives and properties upended.

Truly Sad
9 months ago

It is disheartening that a waste water treatment plant has been hidden in the details of this proposal. Someone points out to not worry it is not on this warrant. That does not make me feel better since it will just be on some future warrant instead. I think that is called paving the way. I can’t afford mandatory hookup plus more taxes for something I don’t need. I feel like I pay enough to live in this town with little benefit (no trash pickup, no sidewalks, etc). Sorry.

AB
9 months ago

@ “Lived here my whole life” – no, you’ve misunderstood my comment. I wasn’t saying this would be like Northborough Crossing. I was using that as an *example* of where you can have *retail space AND residential space*, together, and that’s an example of *mixed-use*. The size and scale of Northborough Crossing isn’t appropriate (or even physically feasible) for downtown Southborough.

If it looks like, sounds line and smells like s**t - that's because it is,
9 months ago

If I build a home in Southborough do I get to push the cost of installing my septic system off onto the town’s taxpayers? NO.

The question remains, if developers put up structures in the Southborough downtown district and need to build a sewage treatment wastewater facility, should they be able to push the cost of that septic system off onto the town’s taxpayers? NO.

How difficult was that to figure out?

You can have your downtown area developed as long as the developers pay for the associated required infrastructure costs (sewage treatment). Otherwise, vote NO.

What are the St. Marks and Fay schools doing with their sewage? Where is that water going?

Beth T.
9 months ago

Can’t speak for St. Mark’s but Fay has its own wastewater treatment facility on campus, as of about thirteen years ago.

Gimme A Break
9 months ago

The comments by EDC above that “the wastewater feasibility study has absolutely nothing at all to do with the current Warrant Article” contradicts discussions in their own meetings. The Sept 9 EDC recorded meeting (YouTube video, ~18:26 minute mark) includes the following (direct quote): “The Wastewater study was 100% complete and the recommendations that were provided by the Engineering firm certainly give us a document that we can go and take forward and USE in terms of planning once it is determined what the zoning is going to look like.” In summary, zoning article first and then wastewater management and the potential associated cost to taxpayers come next.

Kelly Roney
9 months ago

There is a completely anonymous campaign of falsehood and vilification going on in these comments about mixed use.

Mixed residential and commercial use was about using upper floor housing to add value to buildings in the town center. Why? Second (or third) floor office space is not in demand, but people can live quite happily above shops, where they’re not only residents but nearby customers.

Housing, by the way, is the primary form of economic development in Southborough. It’s nonsense to pretend otherwise. But the housing envisioned by this bylaw isn’t massive development. It’s projects that can be confined to small lots. It’s done building-by-building. It’s not some latter-day Allentown. Where would that go?! Patently impossible.

Waste water in any slightly dense area that’s not served by sewers is a challenge, and it always will be. Shared treatment, on-site or otherwise, is one way to address that. My crystal ball is not so clear that I can state that no one will ever ask us – ASK US – to build a shared plant, but the campaign against this can’t see the future either, and they’re merely trying to scare voters with what they imagine.

My problem with the proposed bylaw is that it’s obviously intended to change nothing at all. Floor area ratio is a killer, especially set to the absurdly low number it’s set to. Limits on upper floor residential use also hurt.

Last, I have to admit that it feels a bit weird for this dyed-in-the-wool liberal to be defending developers’ right to make enough profit to turn town center from its current depressed condition into something good for the citizens of the town.

If someone wants to put condos above a brew pub, I could see myself in the market. Is that selfish? Just think, every one of you already lives in a building that someone profited from.

Julie Connelly
9 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Beth, I just want to clarify your comment above. For a 2-story building, no more than 50% can be residential. For a 3-story building, no more than 40% can be residential. This was a compromise between EDC, BOS, and Planning to allay fears that the bylaw was too housing focused.

Frank Crowell
9 months ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

The economic engine of the town is education. The public education is fully funded by the taxpayer. The educational non-profits are subsidized by the Southborough taxpayer where some of the subsidy is used to buy private property and take it off the tax roles. The number of jobs the schools create is not small and has no rival in town in terms of jobs. Families are drawn to the town for its schools which drives housing.

southsider
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

OMG! Did Frank just say something nice about the schools?!?!?!

Kelly Roney
9 months ago
Reply to  southsider

Frank’s comment actually reinforces mine. He acknowledges that housing is fundamental economic for Southborough and states (correctly, how rare!) that our quality public education contributes to that economic fundamental.

I’m sure he didn’t mean it.

Frank Crowell
9 months ago
Reply to  southsider

Just a statement of fact Southsider. Once the town comes to grips with who runs it, everything falls into place. That is not an endorsement.

Downtown needs improvement – one way or another taxpayers will pay for it. Might as well involve the real economic engine of the town.

Matthew Brownell
9 months ago

I am still not clear if this measure allows developers to skirt current restrictions that apply to high- density developments .

Allowing a couple of residences over a retail storefront seems like no Big Magilla. . . but inserting several hundred apartments , cluster townhomes, and 40B units into a landlocked parcel is reckless, highly irresponsible, and a gross disregard for public safety.

We all need to be vigilant about the “camel creeping into the tent”. The vast majority of Southborough residents chose to live here because it’s an oasis from ersatz development blight and the eyesores of mixed use zoning.

Julie Connelly
9 months ago

Matthew,

The current 60+ year old bylaw has no restrictions on housing developments, except for height, setbacks, and that a special permit is required. The proposed bylaw is much more restrictive on housing than the current bylaw. It caps multi-family housing at 10 units when previously there was no cap and puts clearer and more stringent limitations on building size as a ratio to the lot along with the traditional restrictions of height and setback, and still requires a special permit. Mixed use with certain specified commercial uses on the ground floor and housing units (up to 4 units) above is permitted by-right. A large apartment complex would not be permitted under the proposed bylaw (which technically it could be under the current bylaw, if a special permit was granted).

Tim Martel
9 months ago

Matthew,

Yes, the current version of this NEW bylaw allows developers to skirt many restrictions that exist today. See the link below for the portion of the current bylaw (i.e. Section 174-13.2) that will be skirted entirely.

https://ecode360.com/9540279

This can be fixed with a single amendment, if EDC or Planning or the Select Board have the will to do so at Town Meeting.

Kelly Roney
9 months ago

… several hundred apartments …

My response to this dishonest and massive exaggeration is a word that Donald Trump has been allowed to use (he’s Preznit!!!) but that I’m not allowed to use. The semi-polite rendering is bovine excrement.

MIke
9 months ago

Following the discussion. Healthy, both sides. Related, sorta, is the one thing that jumps out at me when I drive through downtown: That out-of-place highway guardrail at the corner of Main and Park streets. This ain’t the Pike; we seek a different landscape. Legislation is fine, it’s needed, but the little things needn’t be put on the back, back burner.

Don’t do it!
9 months ago

Don’t believe what the EDC is putting out there. This is a high density residential plan looking to bypass laws that are put in place to protect the town. There is no plan for parking, waste water or the density this can bring to the area. The winner here is you guessed it the developers! Nobody actually believes this area will be flooded with commercial space so they? It’s going to be all residential apartments. Welcome to Framingham.

Kelly Roney
9 months ago
Reply to  Don’t do it!

Framingham!? Hilariously impossible. Do you really think Southborough voters are dumb enough to give credit to that? I hope not…

roxanneperro2@gmail.com
9 months ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

WELL, if the shoe fits.

Petunia
9 months ago

What is the likelihood that the private schools will purchase the residential units?

Interested
9 months ago
Reply to  Petunia

Is there anyway to prevent someone from turning these small apartments into Airbnbs?

John B
9 months ago

What prevents St. Marks or Fay School from purchasing vacant lots and putting faculty housing on them if this passes? No taxes and no development to benefit the town if that happens. In case you haven’t noticed, St Marks has a lot of new construction up on School Street. Is downtown next?

Kelly Roney
9 months ago

The completely deranged “discussion” of this topic by anonymous posters is yet more evidence that anonymous posting in the internet age debases honest discussion. Akin to the authors of the Federalist Papers? These guys are so far from that!

Tim Martel
9 months ago

Beth, you’re missing something pretty big here.

The Applicability section prior to the section from which you’ve taken your quote, shows that site plan review is only applicable for 1) non residential, 2) existing developments, 3) defunct developments, 4) elderly housing, 5) historic adaptive.

It does not include the new uses.

The new bylaw only references the existing bylaw. It does not add the New uses to the applicability section as stated above. It does not add multifamily housing in general which is new. It also does not add mixed use.

This is a sloppy by law.

Tim
9 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Beth, section A is the applicability section. If the use is not listed in it, then it’s not applicable. Nothing stated later on changes that.

I fully agree that this is a confusing by law and I’ll take it a step further and say it needs more time and more polish before it goes to town meeting.

John B
9 months ago

What’s the likelihood that we scrap this entire plan and start over? It is way too confusing and as many have pointed out has loopholes that will allow what we do not want in our downtown. Board of Selectman, please step up to the plate here! Why are we going to Town Meeting with this plan which has so many issues as mentioned above? The meeting next week to discuss it is costing us money and clearly this is not ready for prime time. That is also concerning as tax payer.

Be Forewarned
9 months ago

After reading all the comments, and studying the zoning language in detail, I have come to the conclusion that the proposed bylaw has many good points, but also a fatal flaw. However, I think it can be salvaged, by a simple amendment. This concerns allowing multi-family (MF) housing as a sole use on a lot, which could hinder the primary purpose of the bylaw, which is to attract more small scale commercial uses into downtown.

The proposed zoning makes two big changes. The first is the introduction of Mixed Use, which allows commercial on lower floors, and MF housing on upper floors. The second is the allowance of MF housing as a SOLE use on a lot (with no commercial).

Mixed Use issues seem to have been satisfactorily resolved. Most people now seem to be in support.

But allowing MF housing, as a sole use on a lot, remains unresolved. What remains in dispute is the claim that the proposed bylaw promotes MF housing. And that it possibly promotes it at the expense of losing more desirable commercial uses. Let us examine this in more detail and see if there is a factual answer, rather than another opinion.

The proposed bylaw allows MF housing by special permit, under clause C (7): “Multifamily dwelling, not to exceed ten units.”

The current bylaw appears to allow MF housing, but in practice it allows NONE. Yes, that is correct– none at all. No MF housing can be built as a sole use, because of zoning and physical constraints existing in the small downtown area.

See current zoning clause 174-8.4 C. Uses allowed by Special Permit. Para C (3) Quote: “Multifamily dwellings if within a Major Residential Development (MRD).” — Note the restriction: “IF within a MRD”. This is the key point. MF housing cannot be built unless it is within a MRD. But a MRD cannot be built because of the zoning and physical constraints existing in the small downtown area, where there are not enough vacant lots needed to accommodate a MRD. So, no MRD, therefore no MF housing. This is a fact, not an opinion. For technical details on this, see the footnotes at the end.

A very good indication that MF housing is not possible downtown is provided by that fact that no MF housing has been built downtown, since zoning began, despite high demand.

Why is this important? Because we need to be clear, and factual, that the proposed zoning does indeed promote MF housing, as a sole use, whereas it is not possible at all under existing zoning. The consequence of allowing MF housing is that demand is so strong that it will probably out-compete any demand for new commercial uses, especially in this out-of-the-way location. This is not Rte 9. Developers want the highest rent, so the result will probably be a downtown area which changes into mostly MF housing; not a downtown area which is revitalized with more small scale, commercial activities — the primary purpose of the proposed zoning.

Some have claimed this is not a problem with the proposed zoning, because any MF housing as a sole use will require a special permit from the Planning Board, which gives the Board the power to deny approval. But it would be difficult for the Board to deny a MF project because they consider it undesirable, or more to the point, less desirable than commercial — especially when this same MF use is actually allowed by right, on the upper floors of a Mixed Use building in the same zoning district. Also, Board membership changes, and might become strongly supportive of MF development.

There is an ongoing dispute as to which Committee is responsible for clause C(7), allowing MF housing as a sole use. Some members of the Economic Development Committee say it was proposed by the Southborough Housing Opportunities Committee SHOPC. Burt this is not relevant, at this point.

The question is, what can be done, to eliminate the conflict between commercial and MF housing, as the primary use for downtown? One simple amendment would suffice: delete clause C (7). (Tim Martel seems to hint at this in his comments). This would eliminate MF housing as a sole use, while still allowing MF housing on the upper floors of a Mixed Use Building. This would protect commercial uses as the PRIMARY purpose of the new bylaw.

Many Committees have worked hard on this bylaw, and it would be a pity to lose all the good ideas, especially Mixed Use. It is not too late to still have an effective bylaw, with a better chance of attracting new commercial activities.

—–

Footnotes

The following are brief technical notes, providing proof that MF housing is currently not possible downtown.

Current Zoning, Clause 174-13.2, Major Residential Development (MRD). A MRD is defined as a development with 8 or more units, on contiguous lots, etc.

Clause 174-13.2. D (5) (b). This clause, in particular, prevents a MRD from being developed in the downtown area. MF housing units are allowed, but (quote) “ … Not more than two thirds of the dwelling units shall be multifamily units …” (End quote) … The other one third must be single family dwellings on their own lots.

So, if there are 8 units total in the MRD, no more than 5 could be MF, and 3 must be single family on their own lots.

Anyone familiar with the small downtown area can see that there are not enough contiguous, vacant lots for this to be possible.

This proves that, under current zoning, a MRD is not possible downtown due to physical constraints, and therefore MF housing, which must be within a MRD, is also not possible. This is a fact, not an opinion.

EDC forgot Park Central
9 months ago

Aren’t we going to get enough housing out of the Park Central project? Why on earth would there be a need to squeeze housing into the downtown on small lots where we have infrastructure problems? Maybe the EDC can take over Park Central if they want to work on large housing projects. Or do something on Route 9.

Wizards of Oz
9 months ago

Vote no. EDC is made up of small but noisy misguided bunch who tried to sell a housing plan up until a few days ago. Crazy. Bad location. Now here come the last minute “compromises.” Who has Ms. Connelly been on the phone with the last few days? Is anyone else deeply concerned about the fact that one of the paid consultants writing this zoning soup is Mr. Costa, the money partner of now town counsel, Mr. Talerman? Who are the “experts” answering questions and making edits?

It is clear that EDC never really understood impacts from day one. As others have stated, don’t pay attention to the scrambling wizards behind the curtains pulling the levers and blowing the smoke to ruin the village and increase taxes. Are you in a trance from reading all the desperate changes? Voters have had less than a week to figure out this waste of time mess! Statements like “most agree” is straight up wrong propaganda. The residents and businesses located there will never be the same from the traffic, costs, and out-of-date urbanization. Support your neighbors. The wizards want one thing: an unprecedented, unobstructed jaunt down the yellow brick road to fee income at taxpayers expense and artery clogging development.

Wizards of Oz
9 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Beth, sorry but you are reading too much into comments. Frankly, have no idea what you are referring to, i.e. about “reaction to comment” and “you suspect him/her”. This doesn’t make any sense.

The statements and opinions above do not match yours and some others. So what. As for “hurl accusations,” that is a gross mischaracterization that is uncalled for. While you may have your own opinions in trying to sway public opinion, the questions remaining are absolutely solid questions and concerns. The facts remain intact: this is a housing plan that completely transformed into something else overnight, leaving the voters very little time to evaluate serious issues and concerns. Now THAT is priceless.

Kelly Roney
9 months ago
Reply to  Wizards of Oz

It appears that Wiz wants nothing but an unobstructed jaunt down Main St. without the inconvenience of citizens or our commerce. To get it, he (?) is willing to say pretty much anything to scare voters into voting his way.

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