MARLBOROUGH – Developers have appealed the Marlborough City Council’s rejection of a special permit for Walcott Heritage Farms.
The case has been in land court since September. Now, though, the developers and city officials are heading to a mediation screening set to take place next month.
Councilors denied the proposed multi-family residential development in part because they felt that it would negatively impact traffic and road safety along Route 20, where the project was set to be located. Their decision came after the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) decided not to place a traffic light at the site.
“The City Council is without jurisdiction to require a traffic signal on Route 20 as a condition to the grant of a Special Permit for the Project, and the requirement for a traffic light was an error of law,” said the complaint attached to this appeal.
Waypoint proposed residential development
The applicant, Waypoint Residential, wanted to build a 140-unit multi-family residential project at the former McGee Farm at 339 Boston Post Rd. East.
They had initially planned a 188-unit project, which would have included four buildings and 376 parking spots. But they reduced the scope of the development by 25 percent, their complaint noted. The new plan called for three buildings with 140 total units and 280 parking spaces.
City Councilors and other community members had raised concerns about safety at the intersection of Walcott’s proposed driveway and Route 20.
Route 20 is a state road under the jurisdiction of MassDOT.
Court documents noted that the developers agreed to several traffic mitigation measures, including a commitment to provide funds for a traffic signal and other improvements along Route 20. They also agreed to fund a police detail to direct traffic.
Additionally, the developers said in court documents that they moved the location of their driveway and committed to supporting a bus stop and a carpooling program.
The City Council adopted a resolution supporting the installation of a signal, and Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker requesting support for the light.
MassDOT decided not to approve a traffic light for the location, though, saying the intersection didn’t meet its requirements to qualify for one.
City Council denies permit request
The Urban Affairs Subcommittee ultimately decided to reject the Walcott application on June 29. During that meeting, Waypoint’s attorney Brian Falk said they had attempted to convince MassDOT that a light was needed.
“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.”
City Councilors offered their thoughts at the time.
“This is the kind of building that I like to see,” said City Councilor Sean Navin at the time. “I just can’t in good conscience vote for it on this part of Route 20.”
After the vote, as the matter moved to the full City Council for a final vote there, Marlborough residents sent numerous letters voicing concerns about potential accidents and the potential of more traffic on Route 20.
In August, the full council then voted 6-5 to reject the special permit with Councilors David Douchette, Laura Wagner, John Irish, Mark Oram and Samantha Perlman joining Navin in voting “no.”
Developer asks court to annul City Council’s decision
In court documents, the developers note that one of the reasons why the council denied the application was because a traffic light was not included.
“The Plaintiff is fully willing to, and committed to, installing a traffic signal in that location, but the City lacks jurisdiction to impose such a requirement on a state road such as Route 20,” Waypoint’s attorneys wrote.
The attorneys said that MassDOT will be starting a project on Route 20, which will include a two-way left turn lane near the site and five-foot shoulders and sidewalks. They said this work will “significantly improve” pedestrian and vehicle access to the site.
They said the City Council failed to consider the impact of MassDOT’s work on traffic in addition to Waypoint’s proposed traffic mitigation measures.
In separate court documents, the City Council contended that its denial was within the council’s authority and should be affirmed by the court.
Waypoint asked the court to annul the council’s decision and order that the permit be granted.
The mediation screening in this case is scheduled for Jan. 11.