WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington Finance Committee and Planning Board recently held a joint public hearing to discuss the two articles on the Special Town Meeting warrant.
Article 1, petitioned by Selectman Mike McCoy, seeks to “eliminate multi-family housing in the central business and neighborhood mixed use districts” in the town’s zoning bylaws.
“If Article 1 is passed, you would eliminate the possibility of creating condos or apartments in town by zoning,” explained Planning Director Valerie Gingrich.“Condos and apartments would still potentially be created through the state’s 40B comprehensive permit process, once our affordable housing stock is below 10% of our total housing stock. And in 2020, our numbers show that we will be.”
“Under a 40B project, you will NOT see the creation of smaller units to downsize or enter the housing market as first time home buyers created on a scale that makes sense and in a location that make sense,” warned Gingrich.
Gingrich estimated Wilmington still needs approximately 70 more affordable units before 2020 to not be susceptible to a 40B development.
“I would welcome a 40B,” McCoy later responded, startling some in the audience. “Want to know why? We would never, ever have to worry about the 10% stock ever again. That would mean no condos or apartments in this community [after the 40B project]…. It would be a godsend to this community. For generations, we wouldn’t have to worry about condos and apartments.”
McCoy made the case for Article 1 in front of the two boards during the hearing.
“Folks want to keep this community’s small-town feel. A lot of folks who moved from the city are trying to raise their kinds in a nice, safe environment,” said Selectman Mike McCoy. “If we take a look at this neighborhood mix zoning, it’s disastrous. We’re looking at 10-11 units per acre. If we continue on this path, we’re going to turn this quarter-of-a-city into a full city. Town Meeting voters control the destiny of this community. Let’s try to keep Wilmington Wilmington, plain and simple. What’s so bad about keeping Wilmington Wilmington?”
“Four years ago, we built an $80+ million high school. I supported it,” added McCoy. “But now we’re 96 seats away from full capacity at that high school… And we have the potential for 150 condos that could be built today, that’s alarming.”
McCoy noted that while he is the lead petitioner of the article, this isn’t the “Mike McCoy show.” McCoy thanked the 357 residents who signed his petition, as well as former Selectwoman Suzanne Sullivan and former Selectman candidate Rob Fasulo for helping collecting signatures.
Former Selectwoman Suzanne Sullivan also spoke in support of Article 1.
“There shouldn’t be any more of these multi-family housing developments in town until we have an inclusionary component,” said Sullivan. “We’re very close to our 40B number. It leaves the town vulnerable. This proposed development at Sciarappa Farm is an eye-opener. We should wake up to what’s going on.
Sullivan cited the town’s 2003 Affordable Housing Plan. It’s #1 recommendation was to adopt an inclusionary housing bylaw which requires 15% of all housing over 8 units be affordable. The #2 recommendation was to offer density bonuses for offering additional affordable housing units particularly in the redevelopment of underutilized or vacant buildings.
Sullivan also chided the developers involved in the Sciarappa Farm proposal for using “55-and-over” and senior housing interchangably. Sullivan noted that while the town has a 55-and-over bylaw, it does NOT have a senior housing bylaw, but desperately needs one. McCoy agreed.
Town Officials Discuss & Speak Out Article 1:
“There’s a desire for mixed opportunities for housing in Wilmington,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull. “People have expressed a desire to be able to downsize. My concern is if this article passes, we’re essentially going in the opposite direction. We’re removing options from those who don’t want a single family home. There’s a value in creating a diversity of opportunities for people of varying ages and income to come or return to Wilmington.”
“Neighborhood mixed use zoning was created two years ago. The idea, however, dates back to the 2003 Master Plan when certain areas of town were outlined for a village-type of feel,” explained Planning Director Valerie Gingrich. “Three different areas were targeted — (1) the intersection of Lowell Street and Woburn Street; (2) a portion along Main Street; and (3) North Wilmington, around Elia’s. They were existing nodes of commercial activities with [walkability]…. The zoning is an attempt to add residential to existing commercial in very specific locations in town.”
“There’s been a tremendous amount of discussion for a few years around affordable housing and housing for seniors,” said former Selectman Mike Champoux. “There’s a growing population in Wilmington that way to stay in town, but downsize their house. To me, a denser population village area with ease of walking to services… makes a ton of sense. The zoning, as written today, provides for the possibility of that kind of residential community.”
“We all want to keep Wilmington a town, but there’s a way to do that with character and the kind of development that’s consistent with the fabric & look and feel of our community,” continued Chamoux. “The existing zoning provides the tools to the Planning Board and developers to give us that mixed-use type of residential area.”
“Wilmington has a large population over 60. It’s the fastest growing population we have,” said Town Elderly Services Director Terri Marceillo. “Will this article not allow seniors to stay in town? Is this shutting off too much and really hurting the elders who put a lot of taxes into this town to make it what it is today? We really need to put a lot of thought into this.”
“The Planning Board is against this article for many reasons,” said Planning Board Chair Mike Sorrentino. “Zoning goes through the Planning Board, so we could have had a discussion, public hearings, and have people come out on normal nights and stated how they felt. This could have been properly vetted. Sticking this in a Special Town Meeting is totally inappropriate… It should have gone through the proper channels to be properly vetted.”
Both the Planning Board and Finance Committee ulimately unanimously disapproved of Article 1.
“I see developers pocketing these zonings,” McCoy said in a recent interview with WCTV Executive Director Shaun Neville about Articles 1 & 2, pointing to developer Michael Welch having not moved yet on the 50-unit condo project on Main Street, near the Butters Row Bridge, that was approved at the 2016 Town Meeting. “Before you know it, in a couple of years, you’re going to see 1,500 units pop up. And people are going to ask – ‘What happened?'”
The Special Town Meeting will take place towards the very beginning of the Annual Town Meeting on Saturday, May 5 at 10:30am inside the WHS Auditorium. This vote needs a 2/3 majority to pass.