Town Meeting votes to increase height, density on Main Street
Despite outspoken opposition from some citizens, Town Meeting voted 174-67 on Monday, April 24 to approve sweeping changes to the zoning laws on Main Street and Merchants Way, part of an urban renewal plan years in the making.
The changes will increase building height from 40 to 50 feet (or even 65 feet, in special cases approved by the Planning Board), double density from 15 to 30 housing units per acre and decrease parking space requirements from two to one space per unit. Buildings will be mixed-use, with parking lots on the ground floor and businesses, apartments and offices on the upper floors, safely out of the flood plain. New uses allowed for buildings on Main Street will include breweries, tap rooms and health and athletic facilities. Marijuana establishments will be prohibited.
Advocates of the changes, such as Redevelopment Authority Chair Dan Butler and former Select Board member Peter Teitelbaum, argued that they would revitalize a flagging Main Street and attract new businesses.
Local resident Jared Frederickson said that the prime waterfront real estate on Merchants Way should be used for more than “dumpsters and parking spaces.”
“We need to be able to work with these local businesses,” he said. “I’ve lived here my entire life. I think we can do a little better than empty storefronts and unused parking lots.”
Businessman Danny Warren, who is building a marina, events space, restaurant and ice cream stand on Main Street, supported the changes.
“I have a vision of the town being a good place,” he said. “I love the town. I could’ve gone to a lot of towns, but I chose this one... There needs to be change... We got to find that balance for keeping the town that we love, and also allowing investors to invest.”
Opponents of the changes, including some Main Street business owners, worried that a sudden increase in downtown’s population would increase taxes and add more students to an already burdened school system, while pushing out businesses that are currently there.
“These town fathers don’t give a rat’s behind about what happens to me,” said Rick England, owner of Legacy Insurance. “If this goes through, I’ll be out of business.”
Jessica Braley, owner of the Grey Witches Gallery on Main Street, feared that 50-foot-high apartments would “ruin” the “quaint” historic nature of Wareham Village.
Local resident Ervin Russell made a motion for the town to study the urban renewal plan further, but the motion failed.
The zoning changes are only the beginning of an extensive makeover that the Redevelopment Authority has planned for Main Street in the coming decades.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow,” Butler said. “It’s not going to be completed in five years. It’s a long-term plan.”