Developers Wants Zoning Change in Framingham as Part of New Housing Choice Legislation

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FRAMINGHAM – Imagine an area of Framingham with multiple types of housing. Some ownership properties and some rental properties. A mix of townhouses, duplexes, cottages, a couple of apartment buildings, and an assisted living facility. Included in the development is a neighborhood restaurant, a coffee shop, perhaps a small market or retail store, and even green space that connects to an existing neighborhood park and trails.

That is what two developers would like to see in Framingham but to do so they would need a zoning change.

The developers told SOURCE they are not looking at building lots of apartments buildings on more than 25 acres in the city, but a “mix” of housing options.

While no plan has been submitted to the City officially, the developers showed SOURCE a couple of conceptual plans and discussed their goal for “diversification of housing” with amenities for the residents and the neighborhood.

Nothing is finalized and the plan is still fluid, the two developers stressed on Friday.

“Everything is still conceptual at this point,” said Rick Vallarelli.

But to accomplish their vision, the developers requested a zoning change to the City of Framingham this month, under the state’s new “Housing Choice” law, using one of the options under the state’s statute – a petition with 10 signatures from the community.

Passed by the Massachusetts legislature, and endorsed by the Baker-Polito administration, the Housing Choice law eliminates the two-thirds majority vote for certain zoning changes related to housing production. Instead, if a developer provides a mix of housing, a simple majority is needed to change the zoning.

So instead of needing 8 votes of the 11-member City Council, the zoning change would only need 6 votes, under the Housing Choice option.

Developers Steve Cucinatti and Vallarelli believe their plan, when submitted formally to the city, fits the new law.

“We think this is a natural progression of the zone,” said Vallarelli.

Via a 15-signature petition of Framingham residents, (the signatures were certified by the City), the developers are requesting to change the roughly 26-27 acres land in the Nobscot section of the City of Framingham from R4 to B4, village zoning. (see petition below)

The developers said the petition was very clear what the request was, and those who signed it could read the request before signing.

“We didn’t just wake up last week and file the petition. We were doing our homework before we purchased the site,” said Cucinatti.

The two developers, along with a silent partner, have purchased a roughly 13-acre parcel of land in Nobscot near Edgell Road and Edmands Road.

The two developers also have an option to purchase a neighboring second 13-acre parcel of land that was being developed by a school.

The school cleared acres of tress, but lost their right to the land following a court battle.

The second 13-acre purchase is contingent on the City approving the zoning change said the developers.

“The petition with the signatures was just a vehicle to get before the Council,” said Vallarelli. “We want to be transparent. We intend on going before the Planning Board. We look forward to the conversations with the community.”

“It this (petition) came across as the wrong vehicle we apologize,” said Vallarelli. “We can’t go back and change that, but we want to have an open dialogue.”

After a conversation via phone with the City Council’s chair of Planning & Zoning subcommittee, the developers felt they had no choice but to go the petition route, but they stressed they will be extremely transparent with the Framingham Planning Board and will answer residents and City concerns in public hearings required by the petition for the zoning change.

“As of right, the current zoning of this property is not going to provide for a diversification of housing” said Vallarelli. “It is going to provide high-priced single family homes.”

“It is probably the worst way to utilize 27 acres of undeveloped land,” said Cucinatti, referring to the single family home option.

“We believe we have a better option,” said Cucinatti.

But the submission of the petition, without any plans submitted to the City of Framingham, sparked a buzz of negativity towards the zoning change on social media.

Some residents, including City Councilors, started speculating about the not-seen plans and a small vocal group began advocating against the zoning change before hearing from the developers.

City Councilors said they received two to three dozen emails against the zoning change request.

Social media speculated about 4- 5-, and 6-story apartment complexes being constructed, a giant Market Basket supermarket, a retail development like one in Maynard, and the destruction of the small park on Edgell Road.

Framingham is not “Route 27/117 in Maynard, which this mirrors,” said City Councilor Christine Long at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. “The footprint I have been given, two different proposals, are identical to what is going on in Maynard.”

The developers told SOURCE on Friday none of those ideas are true.

“There are a bunch of misconceptions and rumors out there we want to clear up,” said Vallarelli.

None of the half dozen conceptual plans for the property look like Maynard, said the two.

“This is a housing choice project,” said Vallarelli. “It is not about a commercial shopping center.”

“This is not a Market Basket-owned property,” said Vallarelli

District 1 City CouncilorLong said she met with the developers.

“I did sit down with this developer months ago,” said Long on Tuesday night at the Council meeting. “He provided me a plan, and it is not with keeping with this district. It does not fit the neighborhood. Twenty-six acres to decimate that much land on the corner of two scenic roads is despicable.”

The intersection of the two scenic roads already includes a new CVS, two banks, a restaurant, a gas station, Shillman House, Edmands House, and a soon-to-be development apartment complex at the former Nobscot Plaza.

“We did not meet with her (Long),” said Cucinatti. “We had a phone call with her. We asked to meet with her. She denied the request to meet, which we found a little bit strange. As we have done this in many municipalities across the state and other states, and our approach has always been a collaborative approach. We want to work with the City, and we want to work with the people in the communities. We contacted the Mayor’s office and they suggested we reach out to Councilor Long.”

“And we never showed her a plan,” said Cucinatti.”Someone may have shared with her, through a third party, a very early concept,” but that concept is on its 6th or 7th revision, he said on Friday.

In regards to the petition, it now goes to the Framingham Planning Board and the City Council’s subcommittee on zoning & planning, chaired by Long.

The City of Framingham’s attorney said it was required by statute to move the petition to the next step.

The public will have plenty of opportunity to voice their opinion at public hearings held by the Planning Board and the City Council’s subcommittee. Both will make recommendations to the full 11-member City Council and the public will again have an opportunity to speak before the City Council votes on the request to change the zoning to B4.

But at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting several City Councilors gave their opinions even before the developers formally submitted their plan..

“In a nut shell, you are saying that the city solicitor says we have to refer this to the planning board,” said District 3 City Councilor Adam Steiner.

“Yes, that is what I told you yesterday,” said City Council Chair Phil Ottaviani Jr.

“If that’s the case, that is the case. … I think this proposal is outrageous,” said Councilor Steiner. “And I hope that the Planning Board quickly dispatches it. … The fact that is on the table is disgusting to me. It would destroy a neighborhood. … I was shocked. I know my neighbors were shocked.”

“Seeing this is my district, I got the majority of the phone calls,” said Councilor Long. “My phone has been ringing all day,” said Long. “I got probably 100 emails over the weekend. Every one knows I think this is despicable. I think it is disrespectful.”

“I agree with Councilor Steiner and hope that that the Planning Board and this Council reject this proposal,” said Long on Tuesday, September 20.

On Friday, Vallarelli and Cucinatti told SOURCE they met with several City Councilors and they met with the City’s Planning Director, who took them on a tour of Nobscot.

“The plan has evolved and the concepts have evolved and changed,” following that tour, the two told SOURCE.

This is a “well-researched and well-thought out, and it wasn’t without communication with the City, and also members of the community,” said Vallarelli.

The two stressed, and SOURCE confirmed, no plans have been filed with the City of Framingham, only the petition request for a zoning change.

“What we are trying to do on the site is all supported by studies done for the City,” said Cucinatti.

After meeting with City officials, the developers said they started reading the City’s economic development strategies and all the City’s studies.

The City of Framingham’s Economic Development Strategy Plan, Phase 1 has as a goal to “consolidate parcels to create a large area for the development of a mix of housing types such as apartments, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes, or cottages. Consider a land swap to relocate Nobscot Park along Edgell Road to a much larger parcel on the backside of this area. This would create a larger parcel of open space and serve as a buffer zone between the new development and the neighborhood along Livoli Road.”

“We could not have written a zone better – extending the B4 fits perfectly,” said Vallarelli.

“We heard, we wanted a diversity of housing brought to the North side,” said Cucinatti.

“What we heard is that the community wants what we plan to submit.” said Vallarelli.

“What is written in the Economic Development Strategy Plan” is what our plans includes,” said Cucinatti.

The B4 zone actually promotes what we want to do, said Cucinatti.

“This zone does not allow for 4-story apartment buildings,” added Vallarelli.

“The design guidelines for Nobscot – they did a very good job – they are tastefully done. In reality, the guidelines are going to set the scale of the project,” said Cucinatti.

The developers said they are looking at no higher than 3 stories for any building. Edmands House in the neighborhood is 6 stories, in comparison.

“We have just done Nobscot Village zoning,” said Long at the last City Council meeting. “Nothing has been developed there yet. We just spent $3.2 million in MassWorks funding on road reconstruction.”

Long said the zoning change and the proposal by the developers, which she said she saw but the developers said she did not, “is not keeping with the master use plan.”

“This is not a retail development. This is a housing choice development, with amenities” said Vallarelli. ‘One of the best amenities is the park that is already there. And I want to stress that the park is not a part of the re-zone request. We would like to improve the park with ideas from the community.”

“We believe we can create some trails through the park, and through our site,” said Cucinatti. “That park is under utilized. We can help to revitalize it.

“If we can expand the village and create vibrancy on our side of the street, it will create walkability throughout the Nobscot Village, he added. “We hope to create better access to the aqueduct. There are things we want to do outside of our Housing Choice project, that will enhance the neighborhood.”

“None of the neighbors want this,” said Councilor Long on Tuesday night, September 20.

At this point, the developers have multiple conceptual plans, but none finalized, but all include diversity of housing.

“There is an opportunity on this land to put housing. We need housing.” said Cucinatti.

The Commonwealth is short of housing, and the city needs housing too.

“This population is growing. Framingham has the fastest growing population in MetroWest,” said Cucinatti. “they have already hit their 2026 levels by 2019. In you want to support future growth, you need housing. You have employers who need housing for their employees. They want to retain their employees and attract new people.”

In the last couple of years, about 1,200 to 1,500 apartments have been built on the south side of the City of Framingham.

All of those apartment complexes downtown fit on about 16 acres. The proposed Edgell/Edmands project in Nobscot is looking at about 500 housing units – not all apartments on 26-plus acres.

Although the plan is still fluid, Cucinatti said “if we were to have 500 units on our site, we’d be 50% less than the lowest density (units per acre) South side project and 43% less than the Nobscot Plaza project.”

The soon-to-be built Nobscot plaza project has 156 apartments on just under 5 acres or 32 apartments per acre.

Many of the downtown projects at 100+ apartments per acre.

In comparison, if the density of the South Street apartments were placed on the 26 plus acres in Nobscot, the proposal would be more than 3,200 apartments. If the density of the Buckley was placed on the land, it would be about 1,200 units.

Some of the proposals the two developers have sketched out have 300 units, with the maximum about 500 units.

All of their conceptual plans are considerably less dense than any other project permitted or proposed in the city, said the duo.

“The proposal we will submit will fit with the neighborhood. It will have a mix of rental and ownership housing units. It will have amenities for the residents and for the neighborhood,” said Cucinatti.

The B4 zoning requires a diversity of housing.

“This is an opportunity to bring diversification of housing to the north side,” stressed Vallarelli, which is much needed, and desired, from what we understand from city officials and city studies and reports.

“We will consider condos. We will consider an age-restricted housing,” said Vallarelli. “We will provide a diversity of housing options when we submit. There is an option for town houses, duplexes, single family, all to be a part of the mix.”

“We want to include a restaurant, possibly a brewery, a coffee shop,” said Valarelli.

“Or a small market,” said Cucinatti.

The City study says a goal is to enable economic growth in all the commercial centers of the city, and this one, said Cucinatti.

Another goal is to encourage development that causes a positive impact. Creating housing – diversified housing – is a positive impact, they said.

The tax revenue will be a benefit,” said Vallarelli.

There are two elementary schools in walking distance of this proposal, and there are more than 15,000 people living in District 1, 2, & 3 in the north side of Framingham.

“If we are successful in the re-zone, we want to end up with a plan that works for everyone. The Planning Board, The Council, and the community,” said Vallarelli.

To be successful, the developers said they plan to be transparent, listen to the City and the residents, and have a collaborative process.

“This is the ability to create a true village center with connectivity and walkability,” said Cucinatti.

This is the current B4 Nobscot zone.
The light grey shaded area is the area requested to become B4 zoning

editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176


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