Marlborough City Council rejects special permit for Walcott development

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By Stuart Foster, Contributing Writer

The old McGee Farm will remain as is, for now, after the Marlborough City Council rejected a special permit to build a multifamily residential development on the property.
The old McGee Farm will remain as is, for now, after the Marlborough City Council rejected a special permit to build a multifamily residential development on the property.
(Photo/Tami White)

MARLBOROUGH – The Marlborough City Council denied a special permit for Walcott Heritage Farms, a proposed multifamily residential project on the site of the old McGee Farm at a meeting on Aug. 23.

Councilors David Doucette, Laura Wagner, John Irish, Mark Oram, Samantha Perlman and Sean Navin voted against the approval. President Michael Ossing, Vice President Kathleen Robey and councilors Christian Dumais, Donald Landers and Robert Tunnera voted in favor.

Many councilors argued that the project, which is on Route 20, would have an adverse impact on traffic and road safety. These concerns were not assuaged by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) decision in July to not place a traffic light at the proposed site location because it did not meet one of nine required warrants.

“I think this is something where I fundamentally disagree with the decision of the state, and I protest that by voting against this,” Doucette said. “Aside from that, I wish I could vote for it.”

Robey, however, mentioned, among other things, that the MassDOT denial was because, even with the added cars from the proposed site, the traffic numbers on Route 20 did not meet the required numbers for a traffic light.

Robey argued that the applicant, Waypoint Residential, had responded to concerns from city councilors by reducing the number of buildings, units and parking proposed for the site. Robey also described the project’s benefits, such as expanding the city’s tax base and fulfilling a need for multi-family housing, as reasons to support the development despite the vocal opposition of some residents.

“While I appreciate the comments from residents, and am not dismissing their valued input, the facts I have outlined, not perceptions of what the project might mean, are why I will be voting in favor of this special permit,” Robey said.

Vehicles pass the old McGee Farm property on Rt. 20. The proposed Walcott development failed to get City Council approval in part due to a decision by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to not to install a traffic light near the property. Photo/Tami White
Vehicles pass the old McGee Farm property on Rt. 20. The proposed Walcott development failed to get City Council approval in part due to a decision by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to not to install a traffic light near the property.
(Photo/Tami White)

Wagner spoke against approval for the development, saying that currently-available traffic studies of that stretch of Route 20 would be obsolete after a significant redesign in the approaching months. She added that an assessment of the project’s impact would be impossible without a full traffic study after the redesign.

Wagner also said that over 170 residents had contacted her and shared their concerns about the impact the project could have on their quality of life.

“Almost all of the people who contacted me shared their personal experiences, not perceptions, but actual, personal experiences with existing roadway challenges that result in great difficulty navigating entrances and exits to Route 20,” Wagner said. 

Ossing listed a number of reasons to support the development, including the developer’s willingness to fund shared transportation options and the fact that the tax revenues from the project’s housing would exceed its potential commercial value.

Ossing also described the application’s granting of a 17-acre conservation easement under the city’s control as important, saying that if another party develops the land without the city’s input, they will not receive a grant to preserve that land.

“I’d prefer to approve a project that the city has the ability to set conditions, versus having a project that can be built with the city having no input,” Ossing said.

The final vote was 6-5 against approval.