By Vicki Greene, Community Reporter
Marlborough – Following a public hearing in July, plans for a residential development at 339 Boston Post Road East (the McGee property on Route 20) the City Council sent the matter to the Urban Affairs Committee for further review.
Urban Affairs Committee review
At a Dec. 22 Urban Affairs Committee meeting, councilors reviewed the revised special permit request which included a 25 percent reduction in units and parking and comments from members of the City’s Site Plan Review Committee. Members tabled the permit review after concluding they could not move forward without more information and detail on why a traffic light is not being recommended.
Committee members said they would like to hear directly from the authors of the traffic study and ideally, a representative from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), who have both concluded that a traffic light on Route 20 is not warranted.
City Engineer Tom DiPersio explained that Route 20 is a state road and that any plans for a traffic light is in the hands of MassDOT. The state has already planned to widen parts of Route 20 and add a center lane, turning lanes and bike lanes.
Concerns over traffic light
DiPersio explained that there are nine warrants that are reviewed when the state decides on the need for a traffic light and that the Walcott Heritage site, though directly across from a housing complex on Village Drive, does not meet the state’s traffic volume criteria for a traffic light.
Councilor Laura Wagner, who is also on the Urban Affairs Committee, said she was really “struggling” with this permit decision.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” she said. “I really like the direction of the project but the only way I can see this working is with a light (on Route 20).”
She noted that she, along with other councilors, have received approximately 200 emails and/or calls from concerned constituents. An online petition in opposition to the development began in July and garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
Past fatalities on Route 20 in the area of the proposed project were top of mind for the committee members.
“If there’s no chance for a light, it changes how I look at it (the project),” Wagner said.
There is also concern among the Urban Affairs Committee about a plan for an entrance designated for emergency vehicles only with no gate. Members felt that drivers would end up using that entrance if it weren’t blocked rather than wait on busy Route 20.
Attorney Brian Falk, representing the developers, WP Marlborough MA Owner, LLC (Wayside Residential), suggested to the Committee that they could include language in the special permit requiring a traffic impact study be done once the development is built. However, the Committee wasn’t comfortable with that recommendation.
In a memo to Committee Chairperson Councilor Kathleen Robey, the City’s Conservation/Sustainability Officer Priscilla Ryder, on behalf of the Site Plan Review Committee, said that several positive changes have been made including one less building and expansion of the landscape areas along Route 20 and that the project moves all work outside of the floodplain and reduces impacts to the Riverfront area and wetland buffer zone, which is a benefit.”
In addition, Ryder’s memo included comments on the draft special permit conditions that recommended, with regard to Route 20, the developer “shall coordinate with the city and MassDOT to ensure that development does not conflict with planned improvements to Route 20 in the vicinity of the site.”
Once the Site Review Committee makes final recommendations and the Urban Affairs Committee votes on the permit request, the issue then goes to the full City Council for discussion and a vote.