By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer
MARLBOROUGH – The Marlborough City Council Urban Affairs Subcommittee voted to reject a special permit application for the Walcott Heritage Farms residential development, June 29.
That now sends the topic back to the City Council for a full vote on what has long been a controversial project proposal.
The application for the 140-unit multifamily development, which many of the councilors spoke positively of, largely failed due to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) decision to not approve a traffic light for the location. Developers were aiming to build their project on the former McGee farm property on Route 20, which many councilors considered potentially dangerous due to traffic in the area.
“This is the kind of building that I like to see,” said City Councilor Sean Navin. “I just can’t in good conscience vote for it on this part of Route 20.”
Attorney Brian Falk, who spoke at the subcommittee meeting on behalf of developer WP Marlborough MA (Waypoint Residential), said that Waypoint had attempted to convince MassDOT of the need for a traffic light.
While Falk said Waypoint had offered to pay for the signal in its entirety, the state was not willing to approve it because the intersection does not meet one of its nine required warrants for a traffic light specified by federal guidelines.
“Ultimately, the data does not support a signal, and we have not been able to convince MassDOT to deviate from its policies and authorize a light at that intersection,” Falk said. “We tried, but this is simply out of our control.”
Councilor Samantha Perlman, who is not on the subcommittee but attended the meeting, criticized the state’s refusal to place a traffic light at the intersection.
“I just think they’re waiting for an accident to happen, and I think that’s a disappointment,” Perlman said.
Navin said that Waypoint Residential had done a lot of work trying to get MassDOT to approve a traffic signal. However, he said his concern for the traffic of Route 20 was too great for him to grant the special permit.
Navin was one of three subcommittee members, along with Councilors Laura Wagner and David Doucette, who voted in favor of rejecting the special permit application. Subcommittee Chair Kathleen Robey voted against rejecting the permit while Councilor Donald Landers voted “present.”
“To me, the state confirms that the traffic coming out of this will not be that much of an impact,” said Robey. “If it was, the traffic light would meet the warrant.”
City Council President Michael Ossing, who is not on the subcommittee but attended the meeting, encouraged the subcommittee to look favorably at the request, saying that the development could impact taxes in the next two to three years.
Ossing also said that voting to approve the special permit would allow the subcommittee to have control over what is developed on the property.
Doucette raised another concern, though, that scheduled construction on Route 20 would not be finished by the time that construction on Walcott Heritage Farms would begin.
“That whole strip of Route 20, combined with your construction and the work on Route 20, it’s going to be chaos in a few years,” he said.
The due date for the special permit application had been extended in May, in part over concerns of traffic on Route 20.
The full City Council holds its next meeting on Monday, July 19.