LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Vote NO On Article 1 At Special Town Meeting, Keep Multi-Family Housing In Zoning Bylaws

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Special Town Meeting Article 1 asks “To see if the Town will eliminate multi-family housing in the central business and neighborhood mixed use districts defined in the Wilmington zoning bylaws.” If this article passes, no new apartments, condos or townhouses can be built in town. The one exception would be through the state’s 40B program. (The town may become susceptible to 40B projects if its affordable housing stock falls below 10% of its overall housing stock after the 2020 census.) 40B housing projects do not need to follow local zoning regulations. Such developments can be higher, bigger, and denser than what’s normally permitted.)

Dear Editor,

Many voices have been raised in recent weeks warning of the potential costs to Wilmington of additional multi-family development. Some have gone so far as to suggest that these costs, particularly in the form of increased school enrollment, could bankrupt the town.  I believe the costs would be significantly lower than many fear.

People have long assumed that an increase in housing units leads to an increase in the school population.  The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (the public regional planning agency serving the 101 towns of greater Boston) has looked at the data and last year published a study concluding that “the conventional wisdom that links housing production with inevitable enrollment growth no longer holds true.”  Not only have demographic trends (with baby boomers’ children aging out of school and subsequent generations having fewer children) led to a sharp decrease in school enrollment generally, but those towns that have experienced an increase in enrollment have done so largely irrespective of housing production, as a result either of their highly desirable school districts (Belmont, Brookline, Lexington) or their much-more-affordable-than-average housing stock (Revere, Everett, Chelsea, Lynn).  Wilmington’s school population has mirrored the general demographic trends, falling 9.14% from 2011 to 2017 (from 3732 to 3391 students).

For those interested in reading more, the MAPC study is available at www.mapc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/MAPC_HousingEnrollment_Final.pdf and general school enrollment data can be found at http://www.doe.mass.edu/infoservices/reports/enroll/default.html?yr=1011.

Concerns have also been raised about increased traffic and other infrastructure burdens.  While such burdens are undoubtedly real, they can be mitigated.  First, multi-family development is not permitted as of right in any zoning district in Wilmington.  Instead, in those two districts in which multi-family development is possible, it requires site review and a special permit.  The Planning Board thus must be involved and determine, together with the developer, what mitigation measures may be appropriate.  Second, multi-family development will generate revenue for the town (unlike other ideas that have been floated for large parcels of developable land, such as town acquisition or taking by eminent domain), which revenue can be used towards services many believe the town already needs, such as construction of a fire sub-station.

Multi-family development can advance many of Wilmington’s stated goals.  It can preserve open space, by allowing developers to concentrate units on a portion of a site, rather than having to build out the entire site with sprawling single family lots.  It can also provide a greater variety of housing units, including those that may be more accessible physically and monetarily to our seniors.

Given the robust Boston area economy, development will occur.  Leaving development to neighboring towns may seem like a good idea, but likely will result in Wilmington bearing many of the consequences, such as increased traffic, while generating none of the revenue.  Multi-family development need not undermine Wilmington’s character.  Done correctly, it can improve the town.

Megan Coslick

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3 thoughts

  1. So let’s see, assuming that the Sciarappa Farm gets rezoned we are looking at 760 low cost housing units in a small area.

    I guess you don’t live on that side of town but we have the lowest water pressure in town so you will need more water and sewer lines.

    We will pay for that.

    A long time ago my father told me there are liars, damn liars and statisticians. The MPAC study is interesting but are you honestly arguing that adding 760 low cost housing units will result in decreased school enrollment? You can google it and we are looking at about 1.6 kids per unit. For arguments sake let’s say it was just a thousand new kids in the schools.

    Where are you going to put them? Where is the budget for another 50+ teachers/admin staff?

    We will pay for that.

    Because they undersized the high school the kids eat lunch in shifts starting at 10:30. With a slew of more kids will lunch be served starting at the 9 o’clock hour?

    You dismiss traffic concerns as if they can be wished away.

    Andover Street North of 125 has no room to grow into a two lane road in each direction. You have houses and businesses abutting the road.

    And for all the worry about using eminent domain to purchase the Sciarappa Farm – how do you feel about using eminent domain to have to buy a dozen+ businesses so the town can build a road to support the massive increase in cars/people down 1 street?

    And with increased density the long awaited fire substation will not be a luxury but a requirement.

    Do you understand what a step function is?

    We are there and will soon have to spend tens of millions of dollars for new schools, new teachers, water/sewer lines, new fire station and unless the town wants the already horrible traffic in the area to get absurdly worse we will have to use eminent domain to seize all the businesses on Andover St north of 125 to widen the road.

    Oh it won’t bankrupt the town – they will just do another override and claim – ‘gee we didn’t know this could happen’.

    The town manager and selectmen and committees have done nothing but a disservice to the town. I asked then candidate Eaton about who did the financial analysis of the rezoning and he only replied “who would pay for it?”

    The town cronies are so entrenched that that can’t be bothered to do their jobs and just wait to find out how things will shake out after they’ve made all the wrong turns and then claim they just didn’t know how bad it could get.

    My wife and I have lived in Wilmington for 15 years and moved here because of the minimum lot sizes and small town feel.

    With giant increases each year and elected officials who care only about the builder$ this is not the place I want to retire.

    When the next overrides come up for new schools, new water/sewer lines, eminent domain purchases of businesses on Andover St I sincerely hope that people remember that your elected officials sat back and claimed they were opposed but did everything but wax the builders car each night to make sure it passed.

  2. So one thing this thoughtful letter points out is when development occurs how important it is to mitigate the impacts to the community. the author is correct. How’s that going so far fellow citizens?Oopposed to Article 1, ok, then is it safe to assume Megan Cowlick is for Article 2 to Save the Farm? because there has been no real mitigation so far in this town and saving Sciarappa Farm would be mitigation that would go a long way. I do not know you Megan but I hope you will be there to support buying the farm for future generations instead of the Planning Board trying to mitigate a rezone that will be an unmitigated disaster.

    1. Suzanne – I doubt it, those who want to rezone are carefully eliminating all potential blocks… they will push to vote down article 1 but also push against article 2…and as you know it took an act of congress (pun intended) to get article 2 on the ballot as our town ‘brains’ (and I use that term very loosely) didn’t want 2 on the ballot.

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