WOBURN - City Council President Michael Anderson this week voiced continued apprehension about encouraging the construction of dense housing complexes along Commerce Way and other areas of the community.
Responding to questions about a recent Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) presentation regarding the future of the Commerce Way corridor, Anderson told the Daily Times Chronicle that he remains concerned about the area becoming oversaturated with apartment units.
"I like the idea of encouraging mixed-use projects, but I'm concerned about housing density and the amount of people we bring into the community…You could end up bringing in a bunch of people who aren't connected or integrated into the community" said Anderson, who believes that the creation of too much housing will eventually create a strain on city resources.
The City Council president cited his concerns after MAPC representative Chris Kuschel, summarizing the findings of a two-year planning study that focused on Commerce Way, recently described the gateways into the industrial and commercial zone as ideally situated for multifamily housing projects.
Kuschel, during his presentation to the City Council earlier this month, generally agreed with the city's vision of targeting the middle of the Commerce Way area for future office and retail uses, but argued Woburn would fail to tap the area's full development potential without placing new residents around nearby public transportation hubs.
Kuschel also recommended that future developments be interconnected with one another, an arrangement that could both pull vehicles off of the main roadway and create opportunities for train commuters and area residents to walk and bike across the entire corridor.
"That's a big area with good access to public transportation. It's certainly ripe for development," Anderson said of those recommendations. "But the MAPC has a slant towards housing. They're always looking for more residential units to take the burden off Boston, but there's only so much housing that we can take."
In the winter of 2017, Mayor Scott Galvin announced the city would be partnering with the MAPC to craft a clearer vision for the future of Commerce Way, which local officials have long characterized as the last swath of underutilized commercial and industrial land in Woburn.
Back in 2009, the City Council and Planning Board jointly crafted a proposed Commerce Way Corridor Overlay District (CWCOD) that was designed to encourage the construction of high-end office and retail uses in the industrial zone.
However, with developers until recently failing to take advantage of those special zoning regulations, Galvin retained the MAPC to explore alternative options such as the creation of 40R or transit-oriented projects with a housing component.
The geographic area stretches from the Woburn Mall in East Woburn by Mishawum Road to the area around Anderson Regional Transportation Center off of Atlantic Avenue by Presidential Way and the city's northern border with Wilmington.
Based on the MAPC assessment, the corridor, home to 29 separate privately owned land parcels that comprise 236 acres, could ultimately be redeveloped to include nearly 1.29 million square feet of new office parks, shopping centers, and housing complexes.
During his presentation to the City Council earlier this month, Kuschel argued that recent construction trends indicate that developers are unlikely to pitch new office park and big-box retail uses for the area.
However, with state planners estimated that as many as 1,800 new multi-family homes will be needed in Woburn between now and 2030, the MAPC official believes the area's end-caps — by the Woburn Mall and Anderson Regional Transportation Center — are ideal spots for mixed-use developments containing a blend of housing and speciality retail and restaurants.
"The reason we're so interested [in this type of project] is because we know there's a high demand in this area for these type of mixed-use, walkable developments. Especially as communities age, we find these [developments] are great ways for people to remain in the community when they're looking to downsize," said Kuschel.
Ultimately, the MAPC in its report stops short of advising the City Council to establish a 40R district around the entire Commerce Way corridor. However, he did recommend that the community incorporate many of those transit-oriented components into the design guidelines.
"These would be guidelines as opposed to a 40R, which are standards. You could include, where you have a note about minimum design criteria for the CWCOD, a provision that encourages developers to review this document and incorporate these principals," he said.
Like Anderson, several other City Council members were somewhat skeptical of the MAPC study conclusions.
According to Alderman at-large Michael Concannon, though Kuschel and his team without a doubt did their best to solicit as many comments as possible from the general public, he's not sure a majority of the populace would agree with the report's conclusions.
"I was at a couple of your events and we talked about a couple-hundred people who participated. There are 38,000 people who live in Woburn. So when we say, 'This is what the City of Woburn wants', I want to be sure of that," Concannon remarked.
Kuschel, taking no offense to Concannon's assessment, agreed that the MAPC process was limited by citizens' willingness to participate in it. However, he also argued that with feedback from at least 200 individuals, the public's feedback was considerable when compared to the crowds that normally attend municipal hearings on zoning changes.
Largely as a result of the MAPC's involvement, the City Council has already approved a major redevelopment of the Woburn Mall, where Edens LLC intends to construct 350 apartments, a new movie theatre, and as many as 20 retail stores that are oriented in an outdoor market arrangement.