The real Town Center that Might Have Been…

One of the things that was most enlightening to me is that a REAL town center plan was in the works, as recently as June, 2000. We’ve obtained public record copies of those plans – both the original concept from March, and the detailed site plan drawings submitted only *3 months* later.

When you click on the plans, you’ll see that they included:

  • Commercial development
  • Municipal development
  • Residential development (totaling only 39 units)

What happened to these plans? Does anyone here remember? Please comment, to share with the rest of us. I wish that the Planning Board could insist that the applicants to at least re-explore this concept, and indicate why the plan was called off. I’m guessing it is due to lack of water?

I appreciate that there would still be MANY concerns regarding a development this size at the center of town, but a) THAT is what the Planning Board process is for, and b) I suspect a lot of the opposition to the current proposal would be tempered if the development was going to be a more obvious benefit to residents, rather than a ‘cash cow’ for developers who’ve already been proven to cheat Boxborough, and a MEGA-builder who is planning giant cookie-cutter luxury homes at a density that Boxborough simply does not welcome.

Besides, where is the DPW going to put the new Fire Station that we approved to plan at Town Meeting this year? What if the Town were to buy this land for Municipal Purposes? Have the BoS even explored that idea?

Tonight’s video is the best reason yet to join our Facebook group

Hello –

The latest Public Hearing installment was this evening, and we had a great turnout. (There are STILL people who are only just learning of this development proposal – amazing (and sad), but true.)

As has become our pattern, we managed to broadcast almost all of the meeting in our closed Facebook group, and had our best ever ‘digital turnout’, as well – with over 105 people watching at least parts of the evening.

Those videos are archived and available to anyone in the Facebook group. I particularly recommend the 1:13 min video posted on 9/11. It includes the entire Public Comment portion of the evening, and serves as the best, most concentrated summary of what this Development (and the Planning Board’s deliberation) is all about. It includes:

  • details about the process of what, how, and when the Planning Board will render a decision on the submitted Site Plan
  • additional discussion on the location and presumed stopping distances / sight lines for the new proposed roadway on 111/Mass Ave
  • enlightening history of how the Town Center zoning was first voted on by the Town, insight into the INTENT of that zoning, and even images of a 17-year old plan to build an *actual* Mixed-use Town Center… and a refusal by the Applicants to answer why that plan was scrapped
  • horrifying (to me) explanations as to why the Applicants are only being held to an outdated and flawed, 2012 version (see page 22-23; since corrected) of the Town’s zoning bylaws. The way it was explained tonight, the 2012 ‘proposal’ wasn’t for a development AT ALL. They received an approval from the Planning Board to build a road cut-out / culvert. That was IT. And, because of the timing of that minuscule request – the Applicants get 8 years of consideration under the 2012 by-laws. (the ones with the poorly chosen wording that did not *require* that a Town Center actually BE a Town Center.)

Argh. This is so Frustrating.

But, I have never seen such a vocal Public Comment period. We heard a lot about the history of Toll Brothers (recent and historical), and I suspect we will hear a lot more at the next Hearing on October 2nd.

And, your voices truly are being heard. The Town Planner read a giant list of letters he’s received this month from residents. All but one were in strong opposition to this proposal. I have a list of over 200 residents who have signed a petition to encourage the Planning Board to deny the site plan approval request, and that list is still growing (please keep spreading the word!). And the Planning Board chair raised a long list of the concerns we’ve been hearing about  – they ARE reading our letters.

Please keep it up, and please tell your neighbors. People see the signs, but haven’t all gone to the website (though we have almost 7000 page views, and over 210 people in the Facebook group!).

In any case, stay tuned for more news, as I (and others) have time to draft materials. There are a LOT of files to sort through on the Town website, too. This is the best current summary, but you can find more here.

good night!

New material alert – LOTS of new files from Developers

I have only started to wade through these files, but there are a LOT of new materials posted that will likely be discussed (at length!) at the Planning Board on Monday (9/11, 8pm, Library), including this Redlined version of on Updated Site Plan.

I think there are a few take-home points:

1. I think it is VERY farfetched to think that the Public Comment period can be closed on 9/11, despite the suggestion by the Worcester Business Journal. There are still too many documents that the public (and the Planning Board) need to have a chance to review. I can say, for one, that I will object loudly if the PB suggests it is time to close the comment period and make their decision.

2. There will likely be a LOT to hear on 9/11 – new material, from the developers and from the public. Please come! (or watch on Facebook, if you are a member of our private group.)

3. I have a lot of reading to do! 😉  I’ll try to get a summary / review of the materials up soon, but with the Harvest Fair on Saturday, I’m not sure how much time I’ll have. If anyone wants to help and write a post to share, please reach out!

In the meantime, you can navigate to the Town website page via our site, by clicking here to find the link that lists ‘all additional documentation‘ provided to the Planning Board by the applicants  (it is hard to find, otherwise!) Some of the documents listed include:

  • Consulting Engineer Memorandum – August 9, 2017
  • Applicant Responses to Comments – September 5, 2017
  • Site Plans – September 5, 2017
  • Site Plans Redlined from Last Version – September 5, 2017
  • Landscape Plans – September 5, 2017
  • Fire Truck Turning Paths – September 5, 2017
  • Stormwater Management Report – September 5, 2017
  • Traffic Consultant Peer Review Letter – September 6, 2017

Petition

With the Public Comment period likely drawing to a close in the coming weeks, we’ve created a non-binding petition to enable residents to weigh in on what decision they would like the Planning Board to make.

Click HERE for the Petition.

It takes less than 30 seconds to select your vote, and add your name and mailing address so that we can provide this community opinion to the Planning Board.

There are also optional spaces for you to join our email mailing list, and to provide comments addressed to the Planning Board themselves (you can select a preference to keep your written comments anonymous, if you choose). Instructions and examples of how to send letters directly to the Planning Board can be found here.

Letters from the Community

We’re using this page to offer links to a collection of letters from individuals that have been sent to the Planning Board from Boxborough Residents. Send us yours (hello@boxboroughtowncenter.org) and we’d be happy to include it here!

We hope you will consider reading these notes to a) learn about what your community members are thinking about the proposed development, and b) offer some guidance as to the letter(s) you might decide to write.

So far, we have been advocating for everyone in town to attend the Public Hearing meetings of the Planning Board – and that is still a vital part of the community’s involvement in their decision making.

However, since these Hearings have been ongoing since January, many of the issues that concern residents have already been raised, and in not too long, it is likely that the Public Hearing portion of the proposal consideration will be closed.

Before that happens, it is essential that the Planning Board hear from YOU.

  • What concerns you most?
  • What aspect(s) of the proposal do you like, or dislike?
  • What would you like to see the Planning Board decide, or offer as ‘conditions’ that accompany their approval of the application, if granted?

In this case, even if the letters raise the same points, the important factor is that the Planning Board can see how many people in town have things to say about this proposal.

Please consider sharing your voice.

(PS – I am trying to make this post a ‘tab’ on the landing page of the website, but am fighting technical ignorance – please stay tuned, and if you come back on a future date and can’t find this blog post, check the tabs at the top of the home page. thanks!)

Coverage of our Community efforts in the Worcester Business Journal

So – I just received a note from my husband, letting me know that my face just appeared in his Google news feed. 😛

Turns out that the article covering our community efforts to raise awareness and involvement in the Public Comment phase of the Town Center zoned development proposal included a photo of yours truly.

Grant Welker covers the community effort to gather input on the Town Center development proposal

The Worcester Business Journal presents an angle to ‘our’ story that I hadn’t fully appreciated till now – namely, that there are very few opportunities to develop in our sleepy little town, despite a lot of commercial forces that make living here in Boxborough very desirable.

Here’s hoping that the additional coverage will help us raise even more awareness, and encourage some additional attendance at the next Planning Board meeting (9/11, venue tbd, 8:00pm).

I’ve checked with the Town Planner regarding the news that has been going around that this will be the last Public Hearing opportunity. The answer is *we don’t know*. It is up to the Planning Board to decide when to close the Public forum aspect, and they’ve said previously that they will keep it open as long as NEW points are being raised, and/or new material is being presented (by residents, or the applicants).

I’ll prepare a more detailed post later this week with a list of possible answers to the ‘What Can I Do?’ question that I’ve been hearing a lot. But for now, I wanted to share the link the WBJ article. What do you think of the reporter’s take on our situation here in town?

PS – I still have a small number of signs, if you’d like one for your lawn. Mine has finally become sufficiently ‘weathered’ that I plan to swap it out for a new one. Not bad for a $5 paper sign that has been in the elements since February!

 

Community Cookout!

Greetings, Boxborough Community Members!

Please join us for an informal gathering in our yard on Sunday, August 13th anytime between 12:30 – 3:30pm  (weather permitting). Our goal is to provide an informal opportunity to meet, visit, chat, and share ideas – about our community in general and also about the proposed Town Center development.

(Please RSVP to hello@boxboroughtowncenter.org or via the Facebook group event for our address, and to help us plan)

All ages and opinions are welcome – indeed, any differences of opinion as to what is best for the town, and how to achieve those goals are all encouraged.

We’d like this to be an opportunity to really hear each other, and to keep the conversation going in preparation of the next Planning Board public hearing on 9/11/2017.  (Also – we’re hoping to secure a booth at the town’s Harvest Festival on 9/9 – so please watch for more announcements!)

That said, we’re happy to have you join us for the afternoon, whether or not you feel like discussing the development, or considering some opportunities to volunteer to get involved. To date, I’d say the best thing about the proposed housing project has been the opportunity to meet Boxborough residents that I may never have had a chance to encounter. It is a wonderful experience!

We’ll have food to grill, and please consider bringing some item to share for the table… drinks, items for the grill, salads, veggies from your garden, desserts – anything is welcome!

We have a large lawn, lots of games, a comfortable deck, and plenty of room for kids to play. Come join us, visit with friends, and make some new ones!

best wishes,
Heather and Cord

What is the Planning Board deciding, anyway?

I’ve been doing some reading through the bylaws – both the current ones and the 2012 version (which are the ones that will be applied to the current proposal).

Aside from the question of ‘housing-only’ vs the ‘mixed use’ aspect that is at the core of why many of our readers object to the current proposal – see here for the text of the ‘Purpose’ section of the original 1989 bylaw that established the Town Center zoning status, I find it highly informative to read the sections  (pasted below) that relate to:

a) What are the goals of Town zoning by-laws? (Purpose – section 1100)

b) What are the components of a Site Plan Approval? (section 8000)

In other words, these are the specific aspects of the project that the Planning Board is weighing in on during the current decision process. I think it is helpful to keep in mind that all of these things are in the scope of their Purview.

It is also helpful to keep in mind that there are many other aspects of this project that will be considered locally by the Housing Board and the Conservation Committee, as well as aspects related to the state highway (111) by MassDOT, the state Board of Health, and the state MEPA process regarding environmental aspects. We will continue to provide updates on all of these processes, especially when the Public Comment periods are open in each case.

Below is the text pasted from the 2012 bylaws (I was going to add bold and italics to emphasize relevant text, but it is really all relevant):

1100       Purpose

This Zoning Bylaw is hereby adopted to lessen congestion in the streets; to conserve health, to secure safety from fire, flood, panic and other dangers; to provide adequate light and air; to prevent overcrowding of land; to avoid undue concentration of population; to encourage housing for persons of all income levels; to facilitate the adequate provision of transportation, water, water supply, drainage, sewerage, schools, parks, open space and other public requirements; to conserve the value of land and buildings, including the conservation of natural resources and the prevention of blight and pollution of the environment; to encourage the most appropriate use of land throughout the town; and to preserve and increase amenities by the promulgation of regulations to fulfill said objectives.

8000       Site Plan Approval

8001       Purpose

The purpose of site plan approval is to promote public health, safety, and welfare by encouraging the laying out of parking, circulation, and buildings in a safe and convenient manner; to ensure that new developments are designed to protect and enhance the visual and environmental qualities of the Town, and to provide for an adequate review of development plans which may have significant impacts on traffic, drainage, town services, environmental quality, and community character.

8007       Decision

Site plan approval shall be granted upon determination by the Planning Board that new buildings or other site alterations have been designed in the following manner, after considering the qualities of the specific location, the proposed land use, the proposed building form, grading, egress points, and other aspects of the development. Where the Planning Board renders a decision contrary to the recommendations of the Design Review Board, the Planning Board shall state the reasons in writing.

(1)  The proposal shall comply with the purpose and intent of the Zoning Bylaw and with existing local and regional plans.

(2)  The development shall be integrated into the existing terrain and surrounding landscape and shall be designed to protect abutting properties and community amenities. To the extent possible, building sites shall be designed to minimize the use of wetlands, steep slopes, floodplains, hilltops; minimize obstruction of scenic vistas from publicly accessible locations; preserve unique natural, scenic and historic features; minimize tree, soil and vegetation removal; and maximize open space retention.

(3)  Architectural style shall be in harmony with the prevailing character and scale of buildings in the neighborhood and the Town through the use of appropriate building materials, screening, breaks in the roof and wall lines, and other architectural techniques. Proposed buildings shall relate harmoniously to each other.

(4)  Adequate measures shall be proposed to prevent pollution of surface and ground water, to minimize erosion and sedimentation, to prevent changes in groundwater levels, to minimize potential for flooding, and to provide for stormwater drainage consistent with the functional equivalent of the Planning Board’s Subdivision Rules and Regulations.

(5)  Roadways and circulation system shall be designed to promote convenience and safety for both pedestrians and vehicles. Access roads by which the proposed development is reached shall be adequate in width, grade and construction to carry, without danger or congestion, the additional traffic that is generated from the development.

(6)  Adequate buffers shall be provided to protect abutting properties from lighting, sight, sound, dust, and vibration.

(7)  Adequate facilities shall be provided for water supply and for handling and disposal of waste and other production by-products.

(8)  Any new building construction or other site alteration shall provide adequate access to each structure for fire and service equipment.

(9)  Architectural Standards in the Town Center District Only. Materials shall be harmonious with existing buildings. In the interest of maintaining a sense of history, vertical siding shall be discouraged and synthetic siding shall imitate the character and dimensions of traditional clapboards. Masonry block buildings should be faced in an appropriate material, such as horizontal wooden siding or brick of a traditional red color. Buildings shall fit in with existing architecture in terms of height, massing, roof shapes, and window proportions.

 

Planning Board June 26 plus Fifer’s Day recap

Happy Summer! 

Here are a few updates about the Town Center development proposal, along with a reminder / plea / request for as many people as possible to:

  1. Attend the Public Hearing @ the Library, Monday June 26, 8:30 pm
  2. Participate in that same public hearing, either in person by sharing your views / concerns / preferences in regards to this process, or by chatting with a neighbor or community member who shares your views and who may raise these points on your behalf
  3. Send any written requests or concerns or correspondence to our Town Planner, Adam Duchesneau (aduchesneau@boxborough-ma.gov) who will enter those letters into the file of material received by the Planning Board, to use in their decision on this project
  4. Speak to your neighbors and friends and point them to our website (www.boxboroughtowncenter.org) for updates and details – we still have a few free lawn signs, too!

As for updates, I have to say that I was thrilled to meet so many community members at Fifer’s Day last weekend. My husband Cord and I were at our booth talking to people about this project for essentially the entire fair.

It was both gratifying and alarming (if that is possible) that SO many of those we spoke to had still *never heard* of what has been proposed on this property. Then again, we did have quite a few visitors comment that they’d seen the signs and wanted to know more. And of course many of you who have been following all along who just stopped in to see the large format maps (and say hi!).

What did we hear from the community? Well, I’d say the most common things said to me were:

  • “What can I do about this?” (join the discussion / make constructive suggestions)
  • “Isn’t this a ‘done deal’?” (no, it isn’t – please see below)
  • “Won’t it impact the water in town?” (perhaps – but we really don’t know without more data)
  • “Can’t they just make it into a real town center?” (I’d love that! But we’d have to make a case for it – again.)
  • “Will there be a traffic study for the side roads?” (Not unless we push for one – then, maybe?)
  • “What is the environmental impact?” (Also unknown – but we are monitoring the MEPA process, and waiting for the Public Comment period to open.)
  • “Will they put in sidewalks anywhere?” (currently, sidewalks are only proposed on 111 to connect the development to existing path at Stow Road)
  • (I’m leaving out the comments about the owners/developers/Toll Brothers – but there were a lot of points raised on those fronts, too.)

Overall, I think these are the biggest take-home updates to keep in mind:

1. Due to the summer schedules of the Planning Board members, Monday’s meeting may be the last Public Hearing till the fall – though there may be one scheduled in early August. That makes June 26th the best time to raise specific points or requests for any studies (traffic, water, environmental, design, etc) or consideration of changes or updates (moving the homes closer to 111, changing the road access on either 111 or Priest or Stow, reducing the scope of the development, changing the scope back to a mixed-use format, including sidewalk access to connect the public roads, etc), so that the Planning Board and the applicants can consider these comments over the coming months.

2. One more time for emphasis, the Planning Board *can* say no. At a previous meeting Adam read out the text of the conditions under which the PB can deny the applicant’s proposal. I spoke about this often on Fifer’s day, and finally found the specific language that was used. A no vote can happen if the application is outside of the (2012) by-laws, OR if:

“A Site Plan where, although proper in form, may be so intrusive on the needs of the public in one regulated aspect or another that rejection by the Planning Board would be tenable. This would typically be a case in which, despite best efforts, no form of reasonable conditions could be devised to satisfy the problem with the plan.”

I read this to mean that while the Planning Board can add their own conditions to any approval that they grant to any applicant, without input regarding the ‘needs of the public’ on matters that can be considered via ‘best efforts’, it would not be tenable for them to deny the applicant. 

In other words – speak now… or forever hold your peace.

So – will you come and speak? Or at least listen and learn more? 

I’m hopeful that this coming Hearing will include some perspectives that have not been heard from thus far, and that will speak to some of the history of the property and the zoning decisions that ended up putting this whole process in motion. 

I look forward to learning more, to hearing from more members of the community, and especially to hearing some specific requests put forward by small groups of residents who share common concerns or preferences.

If you would like to connect with people who share your views, I am happy to send e-introductions to a few people who I know are coordinating together about:

a) water table issues

b) environmental / conservation issues

c) traffic and sidewalk issues

d) responsible development (eco-friendly and 2030-centric designs)

e) mixed-use ‘true’ Town Center planning

If there is an issue that you’d like to discuss at length that is not on this list, let me know! If you are concerned, you can be pretty confident that someone else is thinking the same thing.

Ok – I had planned to keep this short… and failed. 😉

But I hope to see you on Monday night at the Library. As always, we’ll do our best to broadcast the meeting in our Facebook group – since I know not everyone can get out in the evenings. I will do my best to answer questions in real-time, and even try to raise your concerns by proxy, if I get an opportunity.

Thanks to everyone! It really meant so much to me to meet so many of you last weekend, and see and hear so much interest in becoming engaged in our Town.

Heather

PS – Look for our (yellow) insert and article in this week’s Action Unlimited! The funding for all the printing was donated by a collection of concerned residents… not abutters! 🙂

PPS – The Developer’s will also likely present their sketches of what these duplex houses will look like (and they are back to the 100 duplex homes, btw):

Fifer’s Day is coming!

As we prepare for Fifer’s Day (June 17th) is there anything specific you’d like to see / hear at the booth?

Our goals are to:

  • spread the word to increase awareness of the project and encourage attendance / participation at the meetings 
  • collect input to seek concrete suggestions to put forward at the next Public Hearing (June 26th @ 8:30pm – Sargent Memorial Library)
  • promote community interaction – let’s keep getting to know each other! 

For now, we’re planning to have:

  • large print outs of the current development plan
  • a board to collect feedback from the community
  • a ‘connections’ sheet for neighbors to swap contact info / business cards… for example, I need to hire someone to weed my gardens! Maybe for babysitting?
  • a craft table for kids to have a shady place to sit and play while grownups talk
  • a sign-up to join a volunteer committee focused on whichever issue is of most interest to you (totally voluntary! I promise not to twist any arms. 🙂 )
  • free iced tea and popcorn, and chairs to sit and take a break with neighbors
  • red lawn signs for free to anyone who wants to help spread the word

I can’t promise that there will be volunteers standing at the booth all day (we want to go to the fair, too!), but I hope you’ll drop by anyway to check out the plans and leave any feedback that comes to mind.

Stay cool!