Planning Board recommends taking downtown to new heights

Mar 13, 2023

At its meeting on Monday, March 13, the Planning Board voted to recommend the Wareham Redevelopment Authority’s proposed zoning bylaw changes for Town Meeting this April. 

The vote was another step forward for the urban renewal plan, which would allow mixed-use zoning, increase density and up the maximum building height to 50 feet in downtown Wareham. 

It is now up to the Select Board and Finance Committee to recommend the proposed changes prior to Town Meeting. 

The Planning Board previously endorsed the proposed changes at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 27. 

Planning Board Chair Michael King said that there is an urgent need to change the zoning laws. 

“The longer we drag our feet,” he said, “the faster the sea rises and the smaller our chances are.” 

King was referring to a recent report by the Fuss & O’Neill and Woods Hole Group consulting firms, which found that sea level rise could cause Main Street and Merchants Way to routinely flood by 2070. 

Planning Board member Sherry Quirk cautioned that the report was “only a worst-case scenario,” but Director of Planning and Community Development Ken Buckland said that the Redevelopment Authority’s vision accounted for flooding. 

He showed illustrations of buildings on raised platforms, getting as high above the floodplain as possible. These platforms would be connected to the main road by short sets of stairs and ramps for disability access. 

The Planning Board agreed that height and density are needed to revitalize downtown. 

“The town needs a shot in the arm, so to speak,” said Planning Board member Jane Gleason. 

When it came time for local citizens to comment, they raised familiar concerns about 50-foot buildings spoiling the town’s scenery. 

“I’m all in favor of doing something to improve downtown and attract business,” said former Select Board member Jim Munise, “but I think we need to be considerate to the people who live in that area, the people that live on High Street.”

Another former Select Board member, Peter Teitelbaum, said that Wareham would not “look like Miami Beach,” with tall towers blocking the waterfront view. 

“60 feet is not going to block that much,” he said, referring to the possibility that the maximum building height could increase in the future. 

He said that the current zoning laws were not sustainable for Wareham Village. 

“If the current height worked, you would see the developers banging on our door,” he said. “The whole point of going up is to incentivize people and make money.” 

Terraced construction, Teitelbaum said, could prevent buildings from blocking sunlight.