By Keith Regan, Community Reporter
Westborough – The Board of Selectmen cleared the way June 23 for the latest mixed-use housing and commercial development in the town’s transit oriented village (TOV) district that will include modest cottage-style homes designed to be marketed to older residents or young professionals.
The vote came after the board’s chair, George Barrette, expressed his frustration about the way other committees have approached development topics and how they impact the town’s schools.
Francis Zarette of Smart Growth Design LLC, said the project will feature 15 cottage-style homes with two bedrooms as well as two small commercial buildings totaling up to 9,000 square feet on the former Ward gravel pit on Gleason Street between the Westborough Village project being built by Toll Brothers and industrial property owned by Rand-Whitney. The 4.25 acre property is about a half-mile from the Westborough MBTA station.
Zarette, who was among the first to develop property within the TOV, said the new project is designed to be a “pocket neighborhood,” or a neighborhood within a neighborhood, a concept he said he first heard of being used on the West Coast and more recently in Concord. Parking and garages will be built around the outside of the property and homes will face a central common area featuring green space, a screened porch and fire pit area, all meant to create a cohesive neighborhood feel.
Engineer Michael Scott of Waterman Designs said under current zoning, the site could have handled up to 16 units, and that three of the 15 to be built will be deed-restricted affordable units. The commercial component of the project a local dentist has expressed interest in locating therewill be located along Gleason Street., with the residential part of the project behind. The entire project, which Zarette said went through nine plan iterations during an18-month Planning Board process, was designed to tie into the Westborough Village property, which will eventually have its own commercial component, and other future developments.
During the board’s deliberations, Building Commissioner Tin Htway reminded the developer that the TOV district prohibits residents from converting unfinished space into bedrooms, something he said has come up at Westborough Village and other high-density projects in the area around the train station.
“It is an issue,” he said.
Noting that the town is in the midst of an enrollment planning study and that the School Committee has asked the Planning Board to consider that fact in some of its actions, Barrette said he felt it was inconsistent the committee did not object to this project.
“There’s a weird synergy that seems to have developed between the Planning Board and School Committee,” he said.
“Let it be known that if the School Committee wants to get down on another project when they are brought forward I will bring this one up,” he said, adding he found it “very disheartening that the School Committee seems to be in the planning business now.”
“It irritates the crap out of me that the School Committee seems to be saying we can’t do this until we figure stuff out but they are not being consistent in their objections,” he added.
Later, Barrette also expressed surprise that the Design Review Board would be reviewing the project, which the TOV bylaw requires.
“Talk about sticking your ‘schnoz’ where it doesn’t belong,” Barrette said, adding that committee was originally intended to ensure infill development in the downtown area was consistent with existing properties.
Selectman Denny Drewry agreed, suggesting amending the bylaw at a future Town Meeting.
Current property owner Walter Ward made note of Barrette’s objections. When he asked Barrette what he’d rather see developed on the long-vacant site where his family long operated a grave operation instead, Barrette said he thought the project was a good one and that his issues were process-related.
“You seem negative,” Ward said, adding that he was talking about more than the current project.
Barrette took it in stride.
“That’s what my wife says sometimes,” he replied.
In the end, Barrette joined the other three board members present in voting in favor of the site plan review.