UPDATED: Framingham Zoning Board Approves 210 Apartments, Restaurant Proposal For Empty Plaza

FRAMINGHAM – The Framingham Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a proposal by Baystone Development for 210 apartments and a restaurant, yet to be named, for the empty plaza at the corner of Mt. Wayte Avenue and Franklin Street.

Voting for the variances, submitted by the developer, was Zoning chair Phil Ottaviani and members Steve Meltzer and Joe Norton.

The project now moves to the Conservation Commission and the Framingham Planning Board for approvals, before any construction could begin.

Developer Roy MacDowell Jr. first discussed his purchase and redevelopment plans with residents in the neighborhood earlier this spring.

Later, he came before the Framingham Planning Board in late June for a preliminary discussion of his plans to purchase the 6.7 acre site from owner Sam Adams and redevelop it into rental apartments.

MacDowell has said publicly he is under a deadline to finish the deal with Adams for the property, and has already placed a $250,000 deposit. He has said he can not wait in 2018 when Framingham becomes a city to submit the proposals.

Originally, MacDowell proposed 240 apartments only.

He later added the restaurant to the redevelopment project, on the request of the neighborhood; and then lowered the number of apartment to 210.

“The neighbors directly affected by the project didn’t speak against it,” said Ottaviani. “Whom am I to say differently.”
Ottaviani, who is running for City Council is District 6,” which straddles the empty plaza, said the development is “a winner for Framingham. It takes a piece of empty property and clean it up. This will stimulate the neighborhood, and the neighbors support it.”
Mt. Wayte plaza is located in Precinct 13, which is part of new City Council District 7.
District 7 City Council candidate Bill Lynch spoke in favor of the project last night.
“All in all, I like the idea of the proposed Mt. Wayte project,” said Lynch. However “there is still much work to be done with the Planning Board. Going forward, I would like to see more financial clarity before decisions are made. There were, in my opinion, too many unknown financial questions left unanswered last night.”
The project, if it gets all its approvals, will go from a commercial property to mainly a residential one.
“Taking a commercial property and making it residential is not something I take lightly, but the neighbors around the plaza, support this project,” said Ottaviani.
“My decisions regarding the Mt. Wayte plaza were made after careful consideration of the wishes of the neighborhood and after hearing, in my opinion, a compelling argument proving hardship related to the shape, size or topography of the site. I do not take the decision to allow a residential use on a commercially zoned parcel lightly,” said Zoning Board member Joe Norton, who is a candidate for City Council in District 1.
The 210 rental apartments would range from studio apartments at 600 square feet to two-floor 3-bedroom townhouses with 1,650 square feet of living space.
Price range would be from $1,650 to $3,900, said MacDowell to the Planning Board back in June.

Originally, the proposal included 4-story apartments, but the complex will have one less 4-story building, as approved by the Zoning Board (ZBA) last night.

“Last night’s decision was bittersweet, especially for those of us who have lived near this eyesore for decades.  As a lifelong Framingham resident, former Mt Wayte Plaza shopper, long time homeowner in the neighborhood, and as a Candidate for City Council for this district, I have closely followed this process and attended the meetings. The project itself isn’t what most people dreamed of, it’s not perfect, it’s too dense, it will affect traffic and our infrastructure, it will affect school enrollment as well, but it was also the only option under consideration and the only option in years,” said Cheryl Gordon.

“With the reduction in the number of units from the original 240 to 210 coupled with the height reduction for the building along Mt Wayte Ave we are certainly heading in the right direction,” said Dennis Giombetti, who is running for City Council in District 5, which includes the abutters to the plaza.

The Mt Wayte plaza has plagued the surrounding neighborhoods and abutters for many years. While I am still concerned about the density of the proposed apartment complex, the amount of traffic, and the stress on our infrastructure that it will bring, I am pleased that the developer appears to be listening to the concerns of the surrounding residents. I hope that more earnest and fruitful negotiations can continue during the next phase with the Planning Board in order to make this a successful project for residents and Framingham,” said Robert Case, who is running for City Council in District 5.

“Mt Wayte Plaza is in shambles, it’s a sea of crumbling weed infested concrete, rusted and broken temporary fences, and is a fire hazard and danger to the neighborhood. I look forward to attending and participating in the upcoming Planning Board and Conservation Commission meetings as this project moves into it’s next phase of the process,” said Gordon.

“After several appearances before the board and after numerous meetings with the neighbors, the applicant reduced the height number of units, height of the structure, and added a restaurant to the project. Ideally more retail space and less apartments would have been more appealing to the neighborhood however the applicant testified that retail would not work on the site as evidenced by the years it remained vacant and the efforts that were made to fill the plaza,” said ZBA member Norton.

“I thank Mr McDowell for meeting and listening to us neighbors and revising his plans accordingly. We are going in the right direction but, as I said at the last meeting, I would still like to see a few more retail units added to the plan. I am not yet convinced that there is not an opportunity for limited retail in this project. I would ask that Mr. McDowell to further reach out to the town’s EDIC and Economic Development groups as well as to private groups to assess the fit for businesses that have expressed interest in locating to Framingham. Having additional viable businesses that benefit the neighborhood and tenants should be one of the focuses leading up to the Planning Board review process. To that end I would respectfully ask that once the ZBA is satisfied with the legal elements of this project that you grant the variances to move this project along to the next review process.  I and many of my neighbors look forward to the further review, discussion on density related issues and further shaping of the overall project as part of the Planning Board permitting process,” said Giombetti.

“I would have liked more commercial on the site, too,” said Ottaviani. “Sam Adams for all these years tried to bring commercial entities to that property. It didn’t work. And the types of businesses that would be a good fit for the apartments are already next door to this project. There is a convenience store, a liquor store, a bank and a Dunkin’ Donuts.”
“The project will add roughly $500,000 to the city tax revenue and will result in a net increase even after considering the cost to educate children living in the apartments while taking one of the blighted, vacant retail plaza’s out of our community. The decisions made by the ZBA set the maximum # of units, maximum height of the buildings, and allows the plan to move forward to the Planning Board where the details of the development will be worked out with the strong input from the neighborhood,” said ZBA member Norton.
Baystone’s Attorney Peter Barbieri met the criteria for the variance, said Ottaviani, who added that state law dictates how the zoning board must rule on issues.
Ottaviani added while Town Meeting has been instructed to wait until the City of Framingham forms in January 2018 to deal with major issues, the Zoning Board must act on applicants in accordance with Massachusetts General laws.
The zoning board is required to make a decision within 90 days of the applicant filing by state law, added Norton.

It’s important to realize, that by the time this reaches the Planning Board, a new form of government will have been elected. It’s important for the community to get involved now, so that when the time comes, your concerns will be addressed,” said Lynch.

Voters will elect a mayor and an 11-member City Council on November 7. They will take office on January 1, when Framingham officially become a city.

 

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: editor@FraminghamSource.com Phone: 508-315-7176

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