Hospitality District will need approval by two-thirds of voters, rules Planning Board

Apr 8, 2021

In a short meeting on Thursday night, the Planning Board voted unanimously that the hotly contested “Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment District” proposed by the Notos Group would need to be approved by two-thirds of voters.

At their regular meeting on Monday night, the board decided to wait to decide about the necessary votes to pass the measure until Thursday in hopes the board’s query to the state would be answered.

Town Planner Ken Buckland and Town Counsel Richard Bowen had reached out to the state to see if GATRA qualified as transit access for the purpose of the vote, but neither received a response.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Buckland read a letter from Bowen to the board. Bowen wrote that, following extensive discussion with various state officials, he came to the conclusion that the district required approval by two-thirds of voters.

If the district was passed by a simple majority at Saturday’s Town Meeting, Bowen said he was confident the Attorney General’s office would overturn the decision.

Bowen said part of his decision came down to a lack of clarity in state guidance. A recent frequently asked questions document released by the state, he said, was “generalized to the point of inaccuracy.”

Planning Board Richard Swenson said he wished Bowen had attended the meeting so he could ask questions to better understand the attorney’s rationale, but all members voted in favor of requiring a two-thirds majority to pass the district.

The 756-acre Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment district was created by the Notos Group, a Quincy-based developer, along with town officials. The district requires projects on at least 100-acre parcels and would require all proposals to go through a special permit process with the Planning Board, which gives the town a fair amount of say about what is built.

Currently, the land is zoned to allow only single-family homes on three acre lots.

Previously, all zoning changes needed to be approved by two-thirds of Town Meeting attendees. Following the passage of a new state law in January, zoning changes that include measures like allowing certain mixed-use developments, increased housing density or allowing “in-law” apartments can be approved by a simple majority vote.

As at the Board’s March 23 meeting, discussion of the vote threshold on Monday came down to one question: Does the GATRA stop at the 7-Eleven on Glen Charlie counts as “access to transit?” To pass with a simple majority, the area to be rezoned must meet certain criteria, including being “near transit stations, including rapid transit, commuter rail and bus and ferry terminals.” The Hospitality District meets all other criteria.

The Board then voted to recommend that Town Meeting voters pass the rezoning measure.

Swenson and George Barrett have always voted in favor of passing the district. Board Member Mike King said he recommended passing the measure because of the two-thirds vote requirement, but said he would not have voted to recommend it with a simple majority vote.

Board member Mike Baptiste voted against recommending the district’s passage.

Town Meeting will be held at noon on Spillane Field, and voters can check in beginning at 11 a.m.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day and everybody’s going to be well-behaved,” joked Barrett.