Size Matters

01May15

brightview_crescent

Does size matter?

Yes, it does. But if you’re a member of the Wakefield Zoning Board of Appeals, there’s a limit to the number of hours you want to spend talking about it.

Size is the biggest issue for many opponents of the Brightview Senior Living facility that Shelter Development is proposing to build on Crescent Street. They think that the 130-unit combined assisted-living, independent-living and memory care facility is just too big for the site.

stop_town_land_giveawayShelter’s first proposal to build a 140-unit facility combined with a parking garage with public spaces easily passed Town Meeting but was later defeated at the polls. An attempt to resurrect the proposal at a subsequent Town Meeting failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority.

So Shelter came back last fall with a new proposal for a 137-unit facility with no public parking garage. After multiple ZBA hearings discussing size, Shelter agreed to remove entire sections of the building from the plan, shrinking the proposal to 130-units.

The Zoning Board has since moved on to look at other aspects of Shelter’s proposal, including traffic, parking, architecture, landscaping, operations and maintenance.

The ZBA may be finished discussing size, but some residents are not, and they let the board know at last week’s meeting.

crescent_st_parkingWhen a Crescent Street neighbor suggested that there hadn’t been any kind of discussion of the size of the project, incredulous ZBA members reminded her of the “hours and hours and hours” that had already been spent specifically on the size of the project.

When another resident asked if there would ever be another opportunity to speak about the size of the project, ZBA member Chip Tarbell observed, “We’ve spoken about it a thousand times.”

Chairman David Hatfield added, “All of the concerns and considerations about size were brought out in previous meetings.”

Having covered the Zoning Board for several years, I have observed how the process works. Before they render a decision, they spend time on the various relevant aspects of a proposal. In order to do that, it’s necessary at some point to move on, no matter how passionate a group of residents is about one single issue.

At last week’s meeting Hatfield asked if opponents were really expecting the ZBA to unilaterally reduce the size of the project to 90 units.

It was a rhetorical question. Of course they would love it if the board did just that. But no, they’re not expecting it.

Ninety units is a number that some opponents have latched onto as an “acceptable” size. Some have even gone so far as to claim that 90 units “was what we were promised.”

brightview_rear

The genesis of the mythical 90-unit figure may date back to before the first proposal (the one with the parking garage) was filed. Somewhere, someone said that Brightview was initially considering a smaller facility on the site, but readily agreed to include a parking garage with some public spaces in exchange for a piece of town-owned land that would allow them to build the larger facility.

That extra chunk of land would give them the needed square footage to up the number of units and build the larger facility that they wanted all along.

Some, myself included, have occasionally succumbed to the shorthand of referring to 90 units as “the original proposal.”

But that has long since been clarified. There was never a 90-unit proposal. No such plan was ever drawn up and filed with the town by Shelter. At best, it was an early idea mentioned in an informal setting.

Maybe 130 units is too big for the site and maybe it isn’t. But everyone who has an opinion one way or the other has had innumerable opportunities to express it.

No one gets to keep asking the same question until they get the answer they want.

[This column originally appeared in the April 30, 2013 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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