By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Westborough – Westborough voters gathered Nov. 27 at a Special Town Meeting (STM) held at Westborough High School’s auditorium, with a quorum of 135 met. While four articles were deliberated and approved, it was matter – Article 2, regarding a request to amend an affordable housing requirement for a senior living overlay district – that took up the majority of the meeting’s two-hour span.
Initially the article was met with some confusion because the presented motion at the meeting didn’t match up with what was printed on the warrant. Mark Silverberg, chair of the Planning Board, reported that this motion was revised at the board’s Nov. 21 meeting.
“Due to time constraints in publishing this warrant, the selectmen chose to publish this article identical to its wording [as was on the Oct. 17 Town Meeting warrant.] After it was published, the Planning Board held our public hearing, consulted with Town Counsel, then we revised the wording of this article to what you see on the screen,” Silverberg explained at the Nov. 27 STM.
The Advisory Financing Committee and the Board of Selectmen also recommended this motion as amended.
The differences were a modification in footnote (p) striking out the words “The minimum of 20 percent of the units” and the addition of footnote (r) with the following language: “Applicants for affordable housing projects shall be expected to meet the 20 percent minimum number of affordable units provided herein. The Special Permit Granting Authority may, however in its discretion decrease the minimum to no less than 10 percent provided that other affordable housing contributions are made to the town…”
Silverberg emphasized that 10 percent was well within Chapter 40B, a state statute which enables local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20-25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.
“We are just really trying to clarify the specific terms…,” Silverberg added.
Resident Allen Edinburg asked whether the decision for waivers would then rest with the boards instead of at TM. Silverberg replied that this [article] clarifies the authority that the Planning Board has always had.
“It is clear that this motion is not about a particular project. But to me it is very much Pulte,” resident Syed Hashmi said, referring to the developer who will be converting the former Westborough State Hospital property into a complex with 700 age-restricted units. Hashmi gave an impassioned speech against this motion citing that it would strip the rights of affordable housing to senior citizens.
Selectman Leigh Emery reinforced that this motion is more restrictive and protective. Currently the Planning Board has the discretion to change the percentage from 20 to zero.
Tellers were summoned to confirm a 2/3rd majority for the vote.
In other business, the passage of Article 1 authorizes the Board of Selectmen to create an Economic Opportunity Area at 9 Technology Drive and a Tax Increment Financing Plan with Astellas US LLC. Astellas is a pharmaceuticals firm that officials said will bring at least 200 jobs to Westborough.
Article 3 amended Article 20 of the March 18 ATM by expanding the design and bidding for the construction of new building at Armstrong Elementary School versus the modular option originally presented. The reason being the bids received came in higher than expected. Actual construction will be requested at the ATM in 2018.
Article 4 requested $10,000 to be appropriated from Free Cash for the purpose of undertaking an appraisal for 231 Turnpike Road, which formerly housed the Regal Cinema, in anticipation of a future eminent domain land taking to expedite use of the property. The cinema shut down unexpectedly last month with no warning.