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Updated: June 8, 2022 @ 3:23 am

WINCHESTER – Once again, Town Meeting supported the Land Development Agreement (LDA) between the town and Civico to develop the land known as the Waterfield lot, adjacent to the Winchester Center Commuter Rail Station in the town center.
Previously, Town Meeting voted last summer to allow the town to enter into an LDA with Civico for the nearly one acre of land. However, some members who voted against the plan gathered the necessary signatures to force a town-wide referendum vote. That decision ended 51 percent – 49 percent against the LDA, thus necessitating the town return to the negotiating table with Civico to try and work out a better deal.
Last night, the Select Board came back to Town Meeting with the new LDA. Following some lengthy debate, Town Meeting voted 119-47 (meeting the two-thirds requirement) to pass the article and allow the town and Civico to enter into the LDA. This does not mean all is well, as Town Meeting members (or any resident) could force another referendum question similar to last year. Anyone who wants to has five days from the end of Town Meeting (or in this case, special Town Meeting) to gather the necessary number of signatures and return them to the town clerk.
New proposal
According to Michael Bettencourt, speaking on behalf of the article for the Select Board, this project mainly revolves around the town’s Housing Production Plan and its desire to add more affordable units in town and return to safe harbor status, thereby keeping the town safe from unwanted 40B projects.
To reach safe harbor for one year, the town must permit 40 affordable units. This project would do just that, meaning the town will return to safe harbor once Civico receives the necessary permits. That could happen as soon as next year (assuming the deal isn’t rejected again through a referendum vote).
This new deal isn’t significantly different from the original one; however, the town will receive more affordable units, more public parking spaces and more money ($1.5M to the town). In return, the town, through its Affordable Housing Trust, will loan Civico $500,000, which the developer will pay back over a 13-year period (with five percent interest).
In total, the project adds 60 units with a 40/20 split and 119 parking spaces with 48 private and 71 public over a four-story building within 60,000 sq. ft. The town expects to receive nearly $8M over a 15-year period from the project including property taxes ($3M), the money from Civico ($1.5M) and parking ($2M for a parking garage).
This new proposal also checks many of the boxes suggested by the Waterfield Task Force the Select Board created after the referendum question failed. Civico will demolition the Chamber of Commerce building on site, add more public parking, remove the retail/commercial space to add more housing units, add more affordable units, change 80 percent Area Median Income to 60 percent AMI (thus making the units even more affordable), and consider sustainability and climate change as an important design feature.
This project could also allow for “local preference” for 70 percent of the units (should the state agree to that request). Local preference means anyone already living in town (i.e. seniors), municipal employees, local business employees, and any families with children in the public school system would have first crack in the lottery drawing. This was very important to some members of Town Meeting.
On Civico’s end, Kris Galletta from the town’s Affordable Housing Trust, said Civico will spend roughly $30M on this project, which seems expensive but he called the industry-standard nowadays. He said half of the project’s income will come from the affordable units.
Every board and committee who spoke on the article gave the project a favorable recommendation. Megan Blackwell, Chair of the Finance Committee, said her committee voted 8-3 to recommend favorable action. She shared some concerns, such as the project trying to do too much (increase affordable housing and parking and be sustainable).
She outlined some alternatives such as a new Request for Proposals potentially getting the town a better deal, but that would push back the timeline and also possibly sour developers on working with Winchester. Blackwell mentioned selling the lot and receiving more money, but that would force the town to lose control of the land (and the number of affordable units and parking spaces).
In the end, FinCom believed this plan made the most sense in terms of getting the town the most affordable units and parking spaces (while still keeping control of the land).
Diab Jerius, Chair of the Planning Board, said his board voted unanimously to recommend favorable action. He said it was consistent with the town’s Master Plan and Housing Production Plan, it would reaffirm the town’s support for affordable housing, set the bar for sustainability, act as the epitome of transit-oriented housing (as it abuts the Winchester Center station), and offer a deeper level of affordability.
John Suhrbier, Chair of the Housing Partnership Board, said his board also unanimously recommended favorable action and he urged Town Meeting to vote yes. He said the project would meet the needs of seniors, young adults and those with disabilities, increase the town’s rental housing stock (which he remarked is sorely lacking), support the town center businesses through new residents and potential customers, add 71 public parking spaces, be consistent with Center Business District zoning, the Master Plan and the Housing Production Plan, and support the town’s climate goals.
Galletta, speaking for the Affordable Housing Trust, said his committee unanimously recommended favorable action, as well, calling the plan a “great use of the site” that would diversify the town’s housing stock. He said the plan was the “outcome of a competitive process.”
Town Meeting speaks
Most people speaking out favored the deal and asked Town Meeting to support it. Stephanie Zaremba, a member of the Waterfield Task Force, said her group found a lot of common ground and they struck a good compromise.
“Be proud of the proposal before us,” she urged Town Meeting, adding the deal is not intended to be a money maker. “This is about community and values.”
Tom Howley, Chair of the Council on Aging, pushed for Town Meeting to pass this article to help seniors continue to live in Winchester (and relocate to the downtown, near public transportation and retail and restaurants).
“The Council on Aging supported the original project and I’m sure they would support this new proposal,” he noted.
Lance Grenzeback reminded Town Meeting the town debated what to do with the Waterfield lot for the past 12 years. He said this proposal would bring customers to shops and keep the project small. He added the site is not very attractive to someone looking to build luxury apartments as it’s a small site situated next to a noisy rail line.
Soumya Ganapathy, also a member of the Waterfield Task Force, echoed Zaremba’s comments about the common ground members found. She said she voted against rereleasing the RFP because she didn’t think the town would receive a better deal and it could damage the town’s reputation.
Sheamus Brady, a member of the School Committee, said his committee voted 4-0 to recommend favorable action. He mentioned being raised by a single mother and how he’d never have the opportunity to live in a place like Winchester without affordable housing.
“Every day we delay, we are delaying the chance for (single parents) to live in town,” he argued.
Rich Mucci, Chair of the Select Board but speaking as a Town Meeting member, said he had a unique vantage point in overseeing the process.
“This process restored my faith in democracy,” he stressed. “It can be painful at times, but this is democracy.”
He called the deal a “true compromise, a settlement” and said with a yes vote “we can all claim victory.” He asked those voting no to ask themselves why.
“What are you searching for,” he questioned.
Other members, like Paul Manganaro, didn’t wholeheartedly support the project. Manganaro, who led the referendum vote last year and served on the Waterfield Task Force, wondered if this deal truly honored the vote of the town. He voted to recommend reissuing the RFP and starting all over again (along with other members Bill Cummings and Patrick Fortin).
“We represent the 20,000 residents,” he said about Town Meeting’s role, adding that voters were right when they struck down the original agreement because a better deal existed.
Manganaro felt the intent of the voters was not being adhered to with this new proposal, saying the town should redo the RFP. He urged Town Meeting not to govern out of fear that no one would respond to a new RFP.
“We face major needs that require a lot of revenue,” Manganaro pushed. “Vote your conscience.”
Another member, John Dobbins, called the plan “the wrong development at the wrong place and wrong time.” He argued the town was already making progress on affordable housing and shouldn’t give away “the most valuable parcel the town owns.”
Steve Boksanski called the agreement a “really big deal” and said it would dramatically change the downtown.
“My gut says we can do better,” he opined, adding how he wished the town rebid the project.
Like Manganaro, he asked Town Meeting to vote their conscience.
In the end, Town Meeting voted (conscience or not) to accept the LDA.
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