WILMINGTON, MA — At last week’s Selectmen’s Meeting, the board unanimously instructed Town Manager Jeff Hull to engage in discussions with the developer of a 120-unit apartment development in North Wilmington on Jefferson Road, across from Elia’s Country Store.
80% of the apartments would be available at market rate, while 20% would be affordable (at 50% of the area median come). While only 24 units would be affordable, under the state’s affordable housing regulations, ALL 120 units would actually count towards the town’s affordable housing stock. (More details about the project can be found HERE.)
None of the Selectmen were prepared to support or oppose the project at such an early stage, and instead stressed the need for additional information.
“My hope is that we instruct the Town Manager to continue discussions with [the developer] Princeton Properties,” said Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “I would like to see the Town Manager discuss with Princeton Properties the potential to include some sort of funding or subsidy for a North Wilmington police/fire substation.”
Eaton discussed some of the pros and cons of the project.
“The reality of the situation is we’re projected to fall below the 10% affordable housing threshold after the 2020 census, which means the town would be susceptible to 40B developments. They could be large and certainly strain resources to the existing infrastructure,” said Eaton. “The biggest appeal of this project is this has the ability to get us above the 10% affordable housing threshold and avoid all that.”
“But I certainly hear and sympathize with a lot of people’s concerns, including traffic. I would imagine many of the residents would be commuting using the commuter rail right next door, or jumping on Route 93,” added Eaton.
Eaton also stressed that the town needs to be creating more affordable housing options for its residents, and pointed out that the apartment complex’s potential impact on the school district’s enrollment shouldn’t be overstated, as half the units will be 1-bedrooms.
“I have some concerns with the proposal, but I like the idea that it’ll get us to stop having to worry about 40B projects,” said Selectwoman Jomarie O’Mahony. “I’m not completely closed to the idea. I just want more information and want to make sure the impact to the town would be minimal.”
O’Mahony also noted she would like to see the developer contribute funds towards improvements to the North Wilmington commuter rail station.
“More information is needed,” stated Selectman Kevin Caira. “And I would like to see 108 units, instead of 120 units…. Let’s continue the process.”
“I’d need something more concrete before we make a decision,” agreed Selectman Mike McCoy. The exact number of units, the number of buildings, and whether there would be a commercial element to the project are all still up in the area.
“[The developer] was looking to get a sense of if his idea was dead on arrival. If it is, he’s not looking to pursue the project against the will of the town,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull. “But it sounds like everyone here is interested in exploring it and gaining more detail.”
What About A Public Hearing?
Selectman Mike McCoy and former Selectwoman Suzanne Sullivan asked that the residents of North Wilmington be given an opportunity to voice their opinion before the Selectmen decide whether or not to support the project.
“We should be having a public hearing to tell folks what is being proposed in that area and get their input,” said Selectman McCoy. “Let’s have it in the auditorium… Let’s let folks weigh in on it.”
“The 40B location would not adhere to our bylaws. We have a commercial district in North Wilmington. A 40B would not adhere. A residential is not allowed in a commercial district zoned there,” later added Sullivan under ‘Public Comments.’ “If you’re saying the heck with the bylaws, you ought to ask the people of North Wilmington whether or not they think it’s a good idea or not. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to ask the people that live there what they might like?… I know for a fact there’s people in North Wilmington that are concerned… Why not include the public input upfront, before the horse is already let out of the barn.”
“I don’t want to have a meeting where people walk away with more questions than answers,” responded Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “If residents in North Wilmington have questions, they’ll actually be able to have those questions answered once the application is submitted. We want to facilitate a discussion, but at this point, the project is too amorphous for that to be happening.”
“Maybe once we have the application, THEN we could have the forum,” Eaton later added. “No one likes answering questions in the abstract. Once application is, that would be the most efficient way for residents to ask questions and have their opinions expressed.”
“Although I can appreciate the idea of having a public hearing, we need to be clear that this board has no authority over different projects that are proposed,” said Selectmen Chair Greg Bendel. “We have committees in place. We have volunteers that work on them. When a project is proposed, they go through those channels. We don’t want to muddy the waters by confusing folks.”
Wilmington Planning Director Valerie Gingrich and Town Manager Hull did clarify that, unlike most projects, under this proposed LIP (local initiative program) project, the Selectmen WOULD have to sign off on the developer’s application before it is sent into the state. After the application goes through the state’s process, it would come back to the local level for the Wilmington Board of Appeals to consider a comprehensive permit.
“Ultimately, if this is to be a LIP project, the Board of Selectmen will have to agree to sign off on application that goes to DHCD (Department of Housing & Community Development),” noted Hull. “There will be a point and time when that will need to happen in order for the other steps to follow.”
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