WOBURN - The City Council earlier this week narrowly secured the two-thirds majority needed to override Mayor Scott Galvin's veto of legislation that will establish a housing-focused Railway Overlay District (ROD) around old industrial sites in the South End.
During their first meeting since the mayor issued his Dec. 27 veto, the City Council in a 6-to-3 vote agreed to reauthorize two orders that will create the ROD around a mixed-use/industrial district off of Main Street.
With that exact two-thirds majority, the aldermen overcame the latest attempt by Galvin to quash the zoning legislation through veto.
The ROD passage is already linked to a proposal to erect a four-story apartment complex with 54 dwelling units by Green and Prospect Streets. Galvin, rather than objecting to that specific housing plan, has argued the entire overlay district lacks sufficient permitting and mitigation criteria to protect the larger neighborhood from overdevelopment.
In his Dec. 27 veto, the mayor reminded the council that the ROD would allow some of the densest housing projects in all of Woburn, which could all be constructed in 49-foot tall buildings that dwarf surrounding single and two-family dwellings. He is also concerned nearby industrial landowners, whose properties also abut the abandoned railroad tracks, will ask for similar zoning waivers — as existing zoning district regulations currently cap the density of new housing projects at 7-units per acre.
"Of greatest concern is the fact that the ROD rezoning will likely set a precedent for similar, future rezoning petitions and Council votes for the industrially-zoned lots in the 50 acres just south of the proposed ROD district between Green Street and the Winchester town line," wrote Galvin, referencing properties within a special bikeway/greenway overlay district.
"The overlay zoning currently in place there allows residential uses at a density of seven units per acre. Because the ROD district offers four times that density, it will be a strong incentive for more zoning map change requests that will be difficult for the Council to distinguish or deny," his veto letter furthers.
Those on the prevailing side of this week's council vote had no comments about mayor's veto or the reasons they felt compelled to override it.
Heading into this week's meeting, there was some question as to whether the City Council — with the retirement of Ward 3 Alderman Mark Gaffney becoming official — would be able to override the veto without flipping the vote of an ROD critic.
Specifically, because new Ward 3 Alderman Jeffrey Dillon had not participated in any of the original public hearings regarding the ROD — which is technically being established in his district — some had thought he would be unable to participate in a veto override decision.
However, in a legal opinion received late last week, City Solicitor Ellen Callahan Doucette nixed that notion. Based upon her interpretation of relevant city ordinances and case law, Callahan explained that a veto technically kills legislation. In her opinion, in being revived through an override of the council, that legislation is considered a new matter that can be acted upon by new members.
More importantly, Doucette also made a key distinction between zoning legislation, such as the ROD proposal, and a special permit approval process — which requires the regular public hearing attendance of all city officials who will act upon it.
"The term 'reconsideration' has been interpreted to mean that, 'the original bill is again before the legislative body for more careful deliberation of the question of its adoption. A mayor's disapproval of an ordinance amendment also renders the zoning amendment 'nugatory,'" wrote the city solicitor. "Therefore, as a result of the mayor's disapproval of the ROD and zoning map change, those ordinance amendments become null and vote, until such time the ordinance is reconsidered."
Wrapping around a handful of individual parcels by an old Boston & Main Railroad line, the special ROD zoning district is roughly bordered to the north by High Street and to the south on Green Street. The old railroad line then becomes part of yet another overlay district, the Woburn Loop Bikeway/Greenway Overlay District, which continues all the way to the Winchester line and allows much smaller housing developments.
The three original opponents of the ROD initiatives, Ward 1's Joanne Campbell, Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, and City Council President Michael Anderson, also voted against the push to override Galvin's veto.
Prior to this week's vote, both Mercer-Bruen and Campbell, sensing their colleagues were ready to re-enact the special zoning regulations, urged their peers to reconsider the veto override.