WINCHESTER - The Select Board voted to issue the 2021 fall Town Meeting warrant and send it to the printer this week so the town clerk can mail it out to Town Meeting members. Due to the need for a special Town Meeting, Select Board Chair Susan Verdicchio said there wouldn’t be an article on the fall Town Meeting warrant for the Waterfield lot Land Development Agreement.
The board also approved a warrant article concerning a possible friendly 40B project in the area of Washington and Swanton Street. It would include mixed-income housing and add to the town’s affordable housing stock. This article would supersede a previous Town Meeting vote.
Last fall, Town Meeting approved the taking of a parcel of land at the corner of Washington and Swanton Street by any legal means necessary, including eminent domain. Although the article passed by a wide margin, some members expressed concerns with the idea of taking a property by eminent domain.
Members of the Planning Board recommended Town Meeting reject the article unless Town Meeting approved an amendment removing said phrase. That amendment failed with 121 members against.
Eminent domain would allow the town to simply take the properties if it’s for the betterment of the town, then negotiate fair compensation with the owner. That rarely happens, and especially not for properties this size.
The Select Board proposed this article for a couple of reasons: to add more affordable housing stock in town and to clean up the area for the neighbors as those properties remain vacant ever since the Massachusetts Land Court sided with the neighborhood and rejected an attempt by CVS to build a store on the site several years ago.
Once that failed, a developer, Brian Melanson, purchased the properties with the intent to create 60 units with affordable housing and retail. Although neighbors approved of the plan, the coronavirus hit and forced Melanson to sell to a new owner. That new owner has yet to formally announce or do anything with the site, so it sits dormant.
If Town Meeting approves this article next month, the project would help add to the town’s Subsidized Housing Index and, depending on when the developer pulls permits, could keep it in safe harbor and away from unwanted (usually larger-scale) 40B projects.
After the board approved the warrant, Assistant Town Manager Mark Twogood informed the board the Capital Planning Committee would co-sponsor the Transfer Station article that will seek to authorize funding to upgrade and repair the station.
The warrant should appear on the town’s website this afternoon (www.winchester.us).