By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Voters overwhelmingly approved nine articles at a Special Town Meeting (STM) April 29 to rezone the former Spag's property on Route 9. The measures were necessary for the developer, Grossman Development Group, LLC, to start the process of creating a mixed-use commercial-residential site, “Lakeway Commons,” on the approximately 20 acres.
Over the course of three hours, 9 articles were presented on the meeting's warrant, all of which were approved, and most by unanimous vote. The articles cleared the way to allow medical and dental offices to be at the site and rezoning the property to commercial-business. Because of the commonwealth's 300-year-old? property rules and records, the site has been a patchwork of deeds, easements, and disconnects that substantially complicate zoning and property ownership changes. One article on the warrant dealt with a separate strip of land 5 by 35 feet long that is in the middle of the site.
The most discussion and controversy involved changes to the overlay district's rules to permit what was called a “critical mass” of residents in one area that the town believes is needed to support mixed commercial-residential projects. Those present at the STM? approved a change in zoning to increase the residential density for such a project to raise the allowed number of housing units to 270 one- and two-bedroom units, with no more than 3 percent three-bedroom units. In keeping with town bylaws, 10 percent of the units would be “affordable” in accordance with 40B rules.
Discussion centered upon whether this density would likely overload the town's responsibility to provide school spaces for the likely number of school-aged children that would live in such a development. The issue of overcrowded classrooms has been a controversial topic in Shrewsbury recently. On Tuesday, June 3, the town's voters will decide if a $5.5 million Proposition 2-? operational override should be passed or not. Proponents have said this is necessary to deal with shortfalls in the school district.
The phrase “town jewel” was used in relation to the site by project proponents Howard Grossman and Brian Beaton. Town Manager Daniel Morgado emphasized the difficulty in generating a sufficient tax base because Shrewsbury is already zoned 87 percent residential. The tax revenue from the Spags site is just $94,824 per year and far below what the Grossman vision would provide in real estate, restaurant meals, and motor vehicle excise taxes.
Several others in attendance voiced concern that a high-density development such as is envisioned might not be the best use for the land, and that such an up-scale vision might be in conflict with the surrounding area. However, Melvin Howard, chair of the Planning Board, echoed the belief of the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee that such a development would do only good for the town.
Grossman officials anticipate that the tentative start date for construction on the project is? summer 2015.