Opinion: Objections to rezoning Article 1
To the Editor:
I am a registered voter in the Town of Wareham opposed to the rezoning Article 1.
I do not believe that any of the criteria under the Governor’s order, nor the guidance issued in February 2021 are met for other than a two-thirds quantum of vote. The section of the new law that focuses on zoning reform appears to be geared toward new housing (not commercial) development. The law focuses on “smart growth” i.e., making sure housing is close to existing transit, while promoting mixed use so that people can *walk* to a train or the grocery store. That is not the case on Glen Charlie Road. Wareham has effectively no reliable and consistent public transit.
As to the substance of the proposed change, I object on a number of grounds.
I believe the voting public has been misled and misinformed regarding the scope and impact of the proposed change.
Town Hall remains closed to the public as of today, yet the town deems schools safe and a large gathering on April 10, 2021, as safe. The only avenue for information is the town’s website and information is scattered across many tabs and pages. Documents are poorly named (“letter from abutter”). Many versions of the warrant article remain posted in different locations. The Town has posted a document entitled “Town Meeting Article 1 Facts” that are entirely the opinion of the Notos Group, LLC. It states that any project would be subject to review and approval by two federal agencies, which is not a fact at all. Federal agencies only review questions brought under federal law, not routine local ordinances and projects.
The economic information provided by FXM Group went unchallenged. Much of it is not factual and badly constructed yet heralded by the Board of Selectmen and some of the Finance Committee.
Dr. Frederic Jennings has conducted an extensive analysis of the FXM study, and de-bunked the majority of it. Dr. Jennings reviewed four documents by FXM Associates: “Wareham Economic Development Strategy” (March 2019); “Assessment of Municipal Revenues and Costs of Potential New Residential Development in Wareham: Executive Summary Report” (two versions, 16 November and 7 December 2020); and “Potential Market Driven Economic and Fiscal Impacts to the Town of Wareham of the COVID-19 Pandemic” (December 2020). The last three of these four reports were prepared under contract for the NOTOS Group, the developer proposing this rezoning plan.
Dr. Jennings, an expert in the field of Economics, discusses six major flaws in detail:
• FXM Associates projected the prospective financial losses to Wareham without the re-zoning using an invalid series of economic arguments.
• First, the number of new homes is overstated; 90 homes cannot be placed on a 275-acre parcel zoned for three-acre lots and still leave room for roads and other facilities.
• Second, taking the average value of existing homes as a benchmark for the taxable value of new homes understates their tax revenue impacts.
• Third, the FXM analysis also exaggerated people per household to overstate their cost effects.
• Fourth, the scaling up of average cost per student to determine the cost impact of new enrollments is only valid where there no fixed costs in education!
• Fifth, excess capacity (from falling enrollments in Wareham’s schools) has inflated the average cost per student (due to significant fixed costs and COVID-19), which has further biased these cost effects upward.
• Sixth, the FXM measure of non-school costs, by scaling average residential use costs for municipal services upward, suffers from the same mistake of assuming no fixed costs in the provision of town services, so biases these costs upward as well.
The analysis, attached, is exhaustive. I ask that this report be attached to the materials given to voters at Town Meeting along with the summary.
Additionally, citizen Don Jepson, candidly pointed out Wareham’s unwillingness to apply for grant money already available, something I have brought up for many years. He states:
“Wareham has decided to focus its efforts on obtaining a Seaport Economic Council Grant to improve/repair the Onset Pier. My understanding is that an application was submitted in the past but rejected because the Town did not address climate change and the impact of sea-level rise. The Town of Swansea applied for and received in 2017 a $1 million Seaport Economic Council Grant to revitalize its waterfront. There appears to be a lack of multitasking ability within the Town of Wareham and a refusal to hire a full-time grant writer. The singular focus on Onset Pier has precluded Wareham from applying for other grants such as the Commonwealth's Dredging Program whereby Swansea obtained $728,000 and Barnstable received $1 million. Over the time period 2019 and 2020, other cities and towns received $7,687,000 in dredging grants and $18,552,700 in Seaport EconomicGrants, Wareham via the Coalition for Buzzards Bay received $350,000 towards the bathhouse.”
I myself have raised the Town’s lack of grant applications over the past five years.
Rezoning will open Wareham to years of expensive litigation to attempt to stop over-development.
Statements by the Board of Selectmen have been erroneous and/or misleading.
The board, as of March 30, 2021, vehemently disagreed upon the acreage to be rezoned. Selectman Slavin stated that approval of the rezoning is “risk free.” Selectman Tropeano stated that the property is “primed for 40B housing.” Selectman Whiteside stated that “many environmental protections will prevent abuse of the land.”
“Any future development will be subject to a rigorous local, state, and federal environmental review and NO regulatory requirements are waived with the proposed zoning amendment. In fact, Article1 includes more environmental protections than any other zoning district in Wareham including a minimum of 25% open space preservation.”
We have witnessed many instances of the town, through different boards and offices, granting special permits and exemptions to environmental and other regulations including density. The town has even used special acts of the legislature to subvert conservation requirements. There is, in fact, great risk that this pattern and practice will continue. Most of the space at issue is now undeveloped and while in need of remediation is functioning to filter rainwater for the aquifer.
Conserving 25% of the land does not mean contiguous land. Even when pockets of habitat are set aside, fragmented habitat is very damaging and can cause species’ extinction.
It is presented as a fact that there is only scrub pine of no value. The coastal pine barrens in Wareham are a globally rare habitat. There are only two habitat types on Earth that are similar — one in NJ and one in NY. Two hundred and twenty rare and endangered species of animals and plants rely on MA pine barrens for survival, at least 50 of these species are found in Wareham. While the land is not currently protected, it was listed as an area that SHOULD be protected under Wareham’s 2020 Master Plan. The townspeople and all government agencies contributed to developing the Master Plan. The Trustees of Reservations opposes the rezoning, stating that:
“The lands proposed for this zoning change represent some the last undeveloped Pine Barrens habitat in the region. These barrens have global significance due to their size and concentration of rare species and species of concern. The area is designated as Priority Habitat, Core Habitat or Critical Natural Landscape by the state. Proposed zoning changes and related developments will threaten the habitat value and integrity of the barrens, in particular the existing corridor between the greater Myles Standish State Forest and the Upper Cape.
The proposed zoning change will lead to dense developments that threaten the water quality and quantity that supports these ecosystems, especially during warmer months when groundwater maintains the water flow and lower temperatures are needed for the fisheries’ survival. Allowing dense development in this area would negatively impact groundwater resources through nutrient enrichment from runoff and wastewater disposal. In addition to concerns about nitrogen, groundwater could be negatively impacted by dissolved oxygen depletion, other dissolved nutrients and chemical constituents and emerging contaminants of concern.”
The stormwater system will not provide storage and treatment capacity sufficient to store, treat and infiltrate all runoff from parking areas and roadways onsite. Groundwater from the project site does not head in the direction of Red Brook. The watershed to Red Brook is approximately 10 square miles, a significant portion of which is permanently protected open space. Our entire region is suffering from a massive wastewater crisis, Wareham particularly. It is imprudent to even pave the way for large-scale commercial development until the wastewater issue is resolved. The Buzzards Bay Coalition, for which the town has had high praise, opposes the rezoning and says:
“The town is in a wastewater crisis. In addition to needing to expand sewer infrastructure to alleviate pollution from existing on‐site septic systems and restore water quality in the town’s critical coastal waters, the town is out of capacity to discharge any new wastewater and has implemented a sewer moratorium preventing new sewer hookups. The Coalition continues to work with Wareham on evaluating the relocation of the wastewater discharge from the Agawam River to the existing discharge at Massachusetts Maritime Academy at the Cape Cod Canal, an alternative, that if implemented would result in huge water quality benefits for Wareham and provide a long‐term solution to Wareham’s wastewater discharge needs. However, until Wareham pursues a discharge alternative, the current state of infrastructure cannot support new economic development on this scale.
The proposed zoning change is within the watershed to Buttermilk Bay, a water body that is already overloaded with nitrogen from on‐site wastewater sources and listed on the federal dirty waters list. Any new development and discharge of new sources of wastewater within this watershed will further impair Buttermilk Bay in contravention of state law. Prior to rezoning, the town must have a comprehensive plan on how wastewater would be managed from new development so as not to further impair an already threatened water body.”
For all these reasons, as well as the inherent degradation of the quality of life that a gambling parlor will bring to East Wareham, I oppose the re-zoning, and feel it is unjust to force the electorate to come out during a pandemic with infections rising. I have many friends who simply cannot attend an outdoor meeting, in the cold of April weather, when they have not yet been vaccinated through no fault of their own.
Lisa Morales, M.Sci.