Article 11 & our problem with planning

Commentary by Frank Schroth

Tonight, Town Meeting will take up an article proposing a zoning bylaw for planned unit townhouse development. It relates to a proposed development at the site of the St. Pius Rectory and Town Meeting Members have been lobbied by Northland Residential Corp. to support the article. There is likely to be a presentation at tonight’s session for this particular development. And that is the issue: it is zoning that has been drafted in concert with the developer’s attorney to enable a specific development on a particular property. This is not, according to the Planning Board, spot zoning. However, it is difficult to understand where else in town this zoning would apply as it requires a lot line be in common with a multi-family housing development (this proposal abuts a housing development in Hyde Park) with at least 40 dwelling units. If it is not spot zoning, it is overtly site-specific in our opinion.

Milton needs more generally formed zoning that provides a blueprint for what can be done, where and how. This zoning article is only for one development in one place, and it is over-prescriptive and specific in its design (e.g. it requires that “Muntins shall be used in the top half of all windows”) describing colors, architecture, and roof lines.

There are large private tracts of land in Milton that are on or about to come on the market. The Carberry estate is the best example. The recent attempt by Mill Creek to create a 40B apartment building by assembling parcels on Brush Hill Road also illustrates how developers may craft potential opportunities where we might not have expected them.

To be fair – this is how zoning is often done here. A developer present a proposal and then works with the board to draft a bylaw that will enable the proposal (e.g. assisted living development on Randolph Ave is another recent example). We believe it is time to stop being reactionary and start having a voice in what goes where. It is time for Milton to stop having commercial interests drive our zoning and having the Planning Board drive a vision for the town’s character and best interests with bylaws that support them. The current Master Plan has the potential to be a major step forward in that regard.

An argument will be made that a committee has been formed to draft a more general bylaw for condominiums and townhouses. That is good news, and it is in the town’s interests to defer this article until the committee presents a more general bylaw at the spring town meeting.

It may also be argued that the developer cannot wait and will pursue a 40B development. If the developer elects to invest in additional architectural plans, the time it will take to file for a letter of eligibility, etc., then that will be their choice. But this town needs to stop caving in to the threat of 40B. Over and over, a set of neighbors is told to assent to a proposal or run the risk of a 40B. And so it is here. There is neighborhood acceptance of this proposal, because the abutters have been threatened with a 40B (i.e. a more dense development). 40B has become the gift that keeps on giving as far as developers are concerned.

It is time to stop reacting to threats.

A townhouse condo committee has been formed. Let the committee do its work in drafting a comprehensive bylaw to address condominium developments which are a much needed form of housing here in Milton. The St. Pius property proposal is a good development from a quality firm. But it is not a good planning process, and it should not be further enabled by Town Meeting. Let’s take the Master Plan and the recently formed committee and start anew.

  1 comment for “Article 11 & our problem with planning

  1. Alexander Whiteside
    October 28, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Speaking as an individual member of the Planning Board and as a member who has drafted a good deal of zoning, I have to disagree that Article 11 is too prescriptive. It serves the purpose of enabling a quality development at a reasonable density at a site which would likely be otherwise developed at a higher density pursuant to a comprehensive permit issued under Chapter40B of the General Laws.

    While more general zoning, which is potentially applicable to multiple sites, which ensures appropriate development of these sites and which offers protection to the neighbors of these sites, is a worthy goal, it is by no means easy to achieve. The working group studying the matter faces a challenging task and a successful outcome is not guaranteed.

    One method of extending the reach of zoning is to relax restrictive provisions in the zoning and to give the Planning Board the authority to decide whether a particular development should be allowed and, if so, on what conditions. I personally would be against expansion of the power of the Planning Board to allow it to make such decisions. If its power were to be so expanded, I have no doubt that interests favoring particular developments would seek to advance their cause through supporting election of members who would vote to allow such developments. The best interests of the Town might well not be served as a consequence. In my opinion development decisions should continue to be controlled by the zoning.

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