Last Update for this page:  07/13/2012 06:05:40 PM

 Kohrt Repohrt

MAPC & LUSC take first steps towards a Weston Master Plan

But the only people who really benefit are the developers and the Mezitts ~ Matt Zettek

 

by Kevin Kohrt

 

March 8, 2006 — The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), hosted by the Land Use Study Committee (LUSC) at Elmwood Cafeteria, held a public forum on development options for the Weston Nurseries property on Tuesday night. The meeting was attended by over 50 people from Hopkinton and surrounding towns. Many are already active in their town: aside from the LUSC, attendance included Hopkinton members of the Board of Selectmen, Appropriations Committee, Open Space Committee, Board of Health, Planning Board, Cemetery Commission, and Woodville Historical Commission.

     Community groups such as HOPE, Friends of Whitehall, HALT, and the Sudbury Valley Trustees were also represented. Also there were: a member of the Ashland Board of Selectmen; chairmen from both the Open Space Committee and Planning Board in Ashland; and Roger Mezitt, who is one of the brothers selling the Weston Nurseries property. The balance was mostly interested Hopkinton residents. Photo, Marc Racicot, Manager of Government Services, MAPC.

 

MAPC (http://www.mapc.org/) is a regional planning agency which serves 101 communities in the metropolitan Boson area. They regularly provide advice and research to towns regarding groundwater, housing, zoning, and other issues.

 

The work is being funded by a Smart Growth Technical Assistance which MAPC obtained from the state in order to create a sort of master pan for the Weston Nursery property. According to Mark Racicot from MAPC, the motivation is due to the recognition of the Weston property as ”a regional resource.” The property itself is located in both Hopkinton and Ashland. Its development could directly effect water sources in both towns, as well as Holliston. And the effects of traffic changes could reach to all surrounding towns.

 

Judy Barrett, who has been hired by the LUSC to model the development scenarios at Weston Nurseries, and by the Hopkinton Planning Board to rewrite the Hopkinton Master Plan, explained the current situation with the property and its development. She noted that the entire Weston Nurseries site is zoned Residential (a superset of agricultural), as is the bulk of Hopkinton. This particular “by right” zoning “probably explains why your tax bills keep going up,” according to Ms. Barrett, since “all homes” are fiscally negative—meaning they cost more in services than they provide in tax revenue.

 

Ms. Barrett also described building an economic model with the help of the LUSC that allowed different scenarios to be examined. The baseline was a full build-out scenario based on the existing zoning. Accounting for the limitations of unbuildable wetlands on the property, as well as the success of Hopkinton’s OSLPD (Open Space and Landscape Preservation Development) bylaw in consistently preserving open space within new developments, Ms. Barrett came up with an estimate of around 248 homes being built on the property. But where this was a financial drain on the town, another scenario with mixed use (e.g. including adding some commercial development and making some targeted limitations such as age-restricted housing) proved to be revenue-positive.

 

Fin Perry, Chairman of the LUSC, noted that the underlying zoning was not helping developers, either. Estimating the asking price for the property to be “between $40-60 million”, Mr. Perry explained that a developer was not likely to make enough money on 250 homes to justify the purchase.

 

This impasse gives Hopkinton time to come up with a master plan and implement it with Zoning Overlay Districts, according to Mr. Perry. Most developers simply are not interested in buying the property at its current price and filling it with houses. Instead, they will be looking at Hopkinton to provide Zoning changes that would allow them to do some sort of mixed-use development and make the estimated $400-600 thousand needed to be profitable. By working with developers, observed Mr. Perry, we can craft a set of changes to the zoning bylaws that will get the Town what it wants while providing developers with rules they can not only live with, but can earn a profit on, too.

 

“But the only people who really benefit are the developers and the Mezitts,” pointed out Hopkinton resident Matt Zettek after the meeting. Mr. Zettek would rather see zoning stay as it is. If the developers will not bite with Residential Zoning, eventually the asking price will come down. At that point, “the town would be in a better position to buy the property itself” and control the development more directly than with zoning rules. The amount of development required to break even would also go down.

 

In the meantime, the three MAPC representatives there used large 2’x3’ paper to write down comments from the audience regarding the desired land uses as well as favorite features of the property in its current state. They also subdivided the property into a number of geographically significant parcels and, having taken audience input on each one, had the audience vote for their favorite four parcels. The large plots normally visible along route 135 and Clinton Street received the most votes.

 

MAPC will take all of the information they gathered and use it to help author a report outlining the best possible uses for the property, and what Hopkinton can do to  make it happen. After that, it is up to us.

 

For more information on the development options available on Weston Nurseries, HOPE is planning a similar event on Wednesday, March 29th at the Middle School Auditorium.

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