Wareham Selectmen call for impact studies on affordable housing project

Public hearing set for Feb. 28
Feb 21, 2018

Selectmen restated their opposition to a proposed 174-unit housing project ahead of an upcoming public hearing, saying they want potential impacts on town resources studied extensively.

Unveiled in June by Waltham-based developer Dakota Partners, the project calls for constructing six, three- and four-story buildings along with a community building, an open space area and parking. The project is slated for 3102 Cranberry Highway, near the Red Brook Road intersection in East Wareham. The hearing set for Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the Multi-Service Center on the project. The public is invited to participate.

On Tuesday, Selectmen formally asked the Zoning Board of Appeals to have developers study the project’s impacts on a variety of services, including the Onset Water Department, the Onset and Wareham Fire Departments, Wareham Police, schools and more.

Under state law, cities and towns may ask developers to minimize impacts from affordable housing projects. Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum said it's important for officials to know what those impact will be via the studies.

Selectmen noted the project is too large for Wareham, saying it would increase the town’s population by roughly 3 percent.

“A town this size shouldn’t be forced to absorb a project this size,” said Teitelbaum. “There’s a lot going on here and a lot at stake.”

In June, dozens of residents attended a hearing to express concerns about the project. They said it would strain town resources, while increasing traffic and crime. After that, little was heard from the developers until November when a proposed increase in the project’s size prompted a letter from Teitelbaum. He called on the developers to restart the review process, saying they failed to notify the board of the change in accordance with state law. Those new plans called for building a 240-unit project.

In a letter to Stephen Kaminski of Dakota Partners Inc., Teitelbaum cited state law that requires developers to notify the town of major changes to affordable housing plans. Developers have since scaled back to the original 174-unit plan.

Teitelbaum said the issue is part of a larger problem related to affordable housing. Under Chapter 40B, a state law, zoning regulations are relaxed for developers in towns where less than 10 percent of homes or apartments are considered affordable. In Wareham, 7.7 percent of residences are affordable. Officials estimate that if the project were built it would add roughly 2 percent to the amount of affordable housing in town.

For many years, Wareham officials have attempted to get the town’s mobile homes classified as affordable via a special exemption from state lawmakers. Doing so would allow the town to apply local zoning bylaws to affordable housing projects. That would give leaders more control over such projects. However, the act has failed to make it before lawmakers for a vote each time it was brought forth on Beacon Hill.

In some promising news, Teitelbaum said town officials have a meeting scheduled with Jay Ash, the state’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development. Local leaders will air their concerns with Ash, said Teitelbaum.

“This is part of a larger approach the town needs to take with 40B,” said Teitelbaum.