Public weighs in on design guidelines for Main Street, vote postponed to next meeting

May 8, 2023

Should downtown Wareham have a traditional Cape Cod look, or pay homage to the town’s industrial past? Should Main Street be completely uniform in design, or more of a “hodgepodge?’

These possibilities and others were heard by the Planning Board at a public hearing on Monday, May 8.

After Town Meeting’s vote to approve taller, denser mixed-used development on Main Street, the Planning Board is working to create a series of rules and regulations for what new buildings on Main Street should look like, and how they should contribute to the town’s quality of life.

The Board postponed voting to put any guidelines in place, however, until its meeting on Monday, May 22. That’s because the draft guidelines, which the Planning Board wants to use as a starting point, were not posted online in advance of the meeting. 

Planning Board Chair Michael King made it clear that the town needs to put some design guidelines in place sooner rather than later, as a lack of guidelines could allow developers to come in and take advantage. The initial guidelines would be “a stake in the ground,” he said, which the Board could continually improve upon thereafter. 

Around 25 residents came to the meeting, with some expressing their ideas for what the design guidelines should say. 

Onset Bay Association board member Milly Burrows liked the concept art that the Wareham Redevelopment Authority showed at Town Meeting, and encouraged the Board to look to those designs for inspiration. She also advocated for preserving the buildings currently in Wareham Village.

Select Board member Alan Slavin said the Board should consider the possibility that Wareham will become a commuter rail town via the railroad tracks along Merchants Way, which would require a substantial amount of new affordable housing in the area per state guidelines.

Former Select Board member Brenda Eckstrom said other New England towns have used their guidelines to control everything down to the color of paint used on new buildings, and suggested that the Planning Board follow those towns’ example.

Planning Board member Jane Gleason said Eckstrom’s comments were accurate, but that excessively strict design guidelines may make it “onerous” for developers to invest.

Gleason pointed to Nantucket as an example of a town with beautiful design, but strict guidelines that make new development difficult.

Local resident Annie Hayes suggested that more specific guidelines may be worth the hassle, as “the only way Wareham Village is going to work as an enterprise is if it’s attractive to be in.”

The Planning Board plans to post its draft design guidelines to the town website before Thursday, May 18, so that it may hold another public hearing and vote on May 22.