Wareham officials and residents demand action against proposed affordable housing project

Mar 1, 2018

Residents against a 174-unit affordable housing complex proposed for East Wareham packed a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Wednesday and urged officials to fight the project.

Nearly 40 people arrived for the hearing, which triggered a 180-day deadline for officials to rule on the project, slated for 3102 Cranberry Highway, near the Red Brook Road intersection.

Unveiled in June by Waltham-based developer Dakota Partners, the project, dubbed Woodland Cove, calls for constructing six, three- and four-story buildings on an 8.6-acre site. Plans include an open space area in the center of the complex with an adjacent playground, community center and 260 parking spaces. Of the 174 units, 106 will be classified as affordable under state guidelines.

Residents learned that the state’s affordable housing law, known as Chapter 40B, will likely compel board members to approve construction or face legal action.

“As a board we probably cannot stop this project,” said James Eacobacci. “We can only mitigate its impact on the town.”

Under 40B, local zoning regulations are relaxed for affordable housing projects 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.

While officials likely can’t nix the project, they can require the developer to study its potential impacts on infrastructure and then take steps to lessen those impacts.

Members voted to have Dakota Partners fund a study that would examine how the project will affect water and sewer use. Specifically, members want to see if Wareham’s sewage treatment plant will have the capacity to accommodate the project. Under state law, the developer’s study is subject to review from an independent third party.

Many residents and a handful of officials from other boards, including the Onset Water Department, opposed the project. Among them was Board of Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum. Last week, Selectmen approved a letter calling on the Zoning Board to study impacts the project would have on a myriad of town services. Those services include: Wareham Public Schools, the Wareham Police Department, the Wareham and Onset Fire Departments, the Wareham Department of Natural Resources (Animal Control Division) and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation – due to the project’s location on Cranberry Highway, a state road.

“I cannot overstate the Board of Selectmen’s level of concern over the potential impacts that the size, scope and location of the project proposed would have upon public services and infrastructure,” said Teitelbaum.

Residents at the meeting echoed those concerns.

“It will drain our services,” said Lucille Dodson, who lives near the project site. “Put all the restrictions possible into place. At the very, very least, this is not the right location.”

According to a consultant hired by the Zoning Board to navigate the process, members are limited by state law to studying impacts on infrastructure and not the other town services listed by Selectmen.

Attorney Peter Freeman, who is representing Dakota Partners, said his client is prepared to meet the board’s demands during the application process.

“We want to be as cooperative as we can,” said Freeman.

The Zoning Board continued the public hearing to March 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Multi-Service Center.