WINCHESTER - This week’s public hearing on the Waterfield Lot project could be summed up in one word: fantastic. Not that the public hearing itself was fantastic;. rather, members of the public described in glowing detail how all five potential developers could produce, as Chamber of Commerce member Chris Mulhern noted, “a great project.”
Nary a bad word was spoken about any of the developers, and Civico especially received the most praise. Mulhern said their project came the “closest to meeting (the town’s) goals.” And Sally Dale. another resident, said, “I love Civico.”
Dale went on to add, “I like the look and feel,” describing the project as having a building that’s not too tall with an inviting courtyard.
Ruth Trimarchi, a member of the town’s Climate Action Committee who helped put together the town’s Climate Action Plan, also favored Ciivico. She said they stood out as far as climate change/sustainability is concerned. Some highlights for her included Civico meeting climate actions through the use of a solar array and 100 percent renewable energy, plus being LEED Gold certified.
She also appreciated their open design, calling it inviting and saying it will “draw people in.” Trimarchi pointed out the developer plans to have EV charging stations. They also don’t plan to demolish the Chamber of Commerce building that’s on site.
Lastly, she felt Civico had an eye on public health and safety by paying attention to the issue of flooding.
Dan Romano, who also spoke in favor of Civico, said he had a young family and called the issue of parking a huge piece of the plan. He noted how Civico planned to make many of its spaces public (35-40, according to Mulhern). If approved, any plan would cost the town 100 or so parking spaces (not counting how many the developer offers in return; some have said that idea is negotiable while others seem more firm).
Romano also liked the idea of four-story building instead of a five-story one.
Two other residents, Erika Hoffman and Marty Jones, didn’t specifically favor one project over another. Hoffman spoke about the parking issue, as well, but also mentioned enrollment and how this project, whomever the town chooses to develop it, could bring in more students. She said the School Committee mentioned the town could see 100 additional students next year.
Jones seconded the notion that all five developers were great and any choice the board makes would be good for the town. Jones felt all the developers showed concern for the downtown.
One of the leading voices during this process, John Suhrbier of the Housing Partnership Board, always concerned with affordable housing, called the proposals “very consistent with work done 20 years ago.” He added how his board was “very impressed with the high quality of the proposals, plus the enthusiasm and excitement of the developers.”
Suhrbier said the board could choose any of them and it would be fine, but suggested now was the time to “get in the weeds” and dig a little deeper into each project.
“These projects all have similar details,” he acknowledged. “Start to look deeper into each project.”
He gave one example: some projects offer a plaza and others a gateway entrance. Other options the board must consider: how many parking spaces does the town need, does the town want retail shops on the ground floor (as the Chamber of Commerce suggests), what type of landscape does the town favor, etc?
Jenn Goldson, who consulted with the town on the RFP, laid out some objectives: creating mixed-income housing with a push toward rental units that favor those making between 30 and 120 percent of the Area Median Income; reserve 20 percent of the units as affordable that would count toward the town’s affordable housing stock; and make sure 10 percent of the units include three-bedrooms.
A second objective involves design considerations such as integrating the building and the site, scale and style and public amenities. The third objective involves environmental sustainability by minimizing or eliminating fossil fuels.
Goldson said all five projects meet the town’s minimum criteria on the objectives. The next step concerns comparing each one by each objective. Select Board member Jacqueline Welch reminded the board of other possible objectives: future management (who will manage the property once it’s developed) and the project’s impact on the town’s infrastructure.
Going forward, the Select Board will continue to debate which project to bring to Town Meeting in the spring. But, according to Town Planner Brian Szkeley, they can’t lose.
“These are five very solid proposals, I can’t stress that enough,” he argued.