WOBURN - The City Council could vote later this month to adopt a controversial zoning overlay district by Green Street that aims to encourage housing redevelopments on a handful of industrial sites by the old Boston & Maine Railroad tracks.
During a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night, the city officials took no action on the so-called Railway Overlay District (ROD), as legislation co-sponsor and Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco was unable to attend the City Hall gathering.
The matter was continued to the council's next meeting on Dec. 17.
Authored by Tedesco and Ward 3 Alderman Mark Gaffney, whose tenure on the council will soon end with calendar year 2019, the legislation sponsors say the zoning initiative will spur Prospect and Green Street area landowners to replace a series of dilapidated industrial buildings with new multi-family housing developments right by the edge of Woburn Center.
Because those sites are suspected of being contaminated due to their past industrial uses, the ROD legislation's 25-unit per acre allowance would for some of the densest housing projects in all of Woburn. The special overlay would also allow petitioners to erect buildings as tall as 49-feet.
ROD proponents, though admitting such large buildings would dwarf neighboring properties, say such allowances are necessary in order to help landlords defray the expensive environmental cleanup costs that would be associated with redevelopment.
However, neighboring abutters, as well as Woburn's Planning Board and Mayor Scott Galvin, have urged the council to be wary of unintentionally encouraging overdevelopment in an area that sits closely by the South End side of Main Street.
This week, Prospect Street resident Kenneth Lee echoed those previous concerns and questioned whether the council — after referring the proposal to its Ordinance Committee earlier this fall — had done enough to address those potential red-flags.
Lee, noting that the ROD's scope has changed little since last October, reminded the council that the legislation would allow for housing developments with a scale exceeding what's permitted in other targeted-growth areas like the Commerce Way corridor.
"From what I see in here, we're still heading in the wrong direction. We're up to 25-units per acre. There are areas in the city, like the Commerce Way overlay, where it's only 20-units per acre," he said. "My concerns have all along been about the height of the buildings being allowed. It's just too high for the neighborhood. Why would we allow for 49-feet in a residential area?"
When the ROD proposal was first introduced in the summer, local attorney Joseph Tarby notified the council that two area landlords intend to be the first to take advantage of the zoning ordinance.
The owners of 8-to-10 Green St., George Gately Jr. and Edward Hovsepian hope to redevelop the 2.17-acre parcel by Prospect Street into a four-story apartment complex containing 54 dwelling units. Currently, the industrial site by the old Boston & Maine Railroad line is peppered with a number of dilapidated warehouse buildings.
Presently, there are seven single-story warehouse buildings, which date back to 1969 and are all in various states of disrepair, peppering the industrial site that is co-owned by Woburn's George W. Gately, Jr. and Weston resident Edward Hovsepian at 8-10 Green St.
In total, those antiquated structures contain some 28,108 square feet of space.
Dating back to 1844, the old Boston and Maine Railroad tracks, which handled both freight and passenger trains, included several spurs that traveled into the Woburn Center and Horn Pond area from Winchester and headed towards Wilmington and Stoneham.
Portions of the line remained in use until sometime in the early 1980s, when the MBTA stopped commuter rail services that ran from Boston to Woburn Center.
Under the proposed zoning legislation, the ROD could be utilized by any industrial landowner whose property is larger than 2-acres and abuts the abandoned railroad line between Green an High Streets.