Published May 8, 2019
The message Town Meeting sent to developers and local officials was loud and clear.
During last week’s Town Meeting, voters overwhelmingly rejected developer Angus Bruce’s proposal to build the Woods of Lynnfield elderly housing development at 1414 Main St. The developer had proposed building 56 units for people age 55 and older.
“I hope you like my project,” Bruce told the 485 voters in attendance.
Town Meeting didn’t care for the proposed change in zoning that would have required a two-thirds majority to approve it. After the discussion, 340 residents voted against Article 16 while 174 voted for it, a decisive defeat.
The defeat of the Woods of Lynnfield project is the latest proposed development to be rejected due to abutter and resident opposition. The Woods of Lynnfield now joins the development graveyard inhabited by the CVS Pharmacy on Route 1, the MarketStreet cinema and the Herb Chambers parking lot expansion. The proposed Bali Hai apartment building, which is now pending before state Land Court after the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected it last fall, could be joining them in the future. The same could also be true for the proposed Fairways Edge at Sagamore development, which the 2018 Town Meeting nixed and has since been in limbo.
Additionally, voters narrowly approved moving forward with the Wakefield-Lynnfield Rail Trail 1,858 votes to 1,677 votes, a vote that was closer than what some local officials anticipated. The close non-binding vote during last month’s Town Election mirrored the April 2017 Town Meeting, when voters approved a citizens’ petition authorizing the Board of Selectmen to enter into a 99-year lease with the MBTA by a 342-341 vote.
Over the course of the past year, we have watched numerous development proposals and capital improvement projects get ripped apart by abutters in front of various boards and committees as well as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The only difference is that each project represented a different villain, with the various projects being depicted as horror movie characters such as Chucky, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers.
Based on what we have seen, we think it’s miraculous that the town approved MarketStreet Lynnfield in 2007. The only reason the mall got okayed was there was a different villain on the horizon 12 years ago. It wasn’t Jason Voorhees or Pennywise. Rather, it was Chapter 40B.
While MarketStreet has increased traffic and the demands placed on public safety, the outdoor mall enabled the town to generate historic new growth after it opened in August 2013. That new growth enabled the town to undertake the expansive and desperately needed fields projects as well as implement full-day kindergarten at the elementary schools, revamp the Fire Department’s staffing model and other initiatives that have benefited the town. Without MarketStreet, an override of Proposition 2 1/2 would have been needed to fund these projects and implement the necessary program changes.
In the aftermath of the MarketStreet boom, though, now comes MarketStreet fatigue. A number of residents have written in Letters to the Editor and posted on social media that MarketStreet changed the town. In their view, they believe Lynnfield is no longer the sleepy North Shore community it once was.
While abutters’ concerns should certainly be listened to and considered, there is also a calculated risk to being adverse to development. During the Woods of Lynnfield discussion, Board of Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford and School Committee Chairman Jamie Hayman both noted the enrollment at the two elementary schools is growing. Due to an increase in enrollment at Huckleberry Hill School, Superintendent Jane Tremblay was forced to add a kindergarten teacher and paraprofessional in the fiscal year 2020 budget since 100 kindergarteners will be enrolled at Huckleberry Hill next fall. Summer Street School has had its enrollment and space issues as well, which is why the Board of Selectmen formed the space committee last year.
Several residents at Town Meeting took issue with local officials raising concerns about adding more children to the school district. We certainly hate it when people play “the fear card” in order to get what they want, but the fact of the matter is Crawford and Hayman’s concerns are right on the money.
If Bruce follows through on his pledge to build 15 single-family homes at the 1414 Main St. property and if the Luff family decides to sell the Sagamore Spring Golf Club and between 50 and 80 single-family homes get built, the town is going to need to come up with a plan on the fly to address the looming influx of schoolchildren. That’s not being anti-children. That’s math.
There are also financial risks to being adverse to development. In a supplementary letter handed out during last week’s Town Meeting, the Finance Committee expressed concerns about declining new growth and the fear of an override being needed in the future. One of the paths the Finance Committee recommended residents take involves becoming “more receptive to revenue-positive development opportunities” that include “voting in favor of developments the town has historically rejected.”
The Woods of Lynnfield certainly fit that bill, but Town Meeting didn’t agree.
Time will tell what comes next. Stay tuned.