Billerica Reps Reject PUD for 172 Boston Road
BILLERICA -- After months of contentious debate surrounding Planned Urban Developments, only one of the three PUD-related articles appeared on the floor of Town Meeting Thursday night.
After lengthy discussion, Town Meeting rejected a PUD article to extend the district to include property at 172 Boston Road.
PUDs allow commericial and residential development in specific areas around town. The mixed-use zoning districts have long been a contentious subject in town. Those who support bringing PUDs to town say they are an economic development tool, while those opposed say they risk large, unwanted projects that impact traffic and town services.
Those arguments for and against PUDs were echoed during Town Meeting’s discussion Thursday.
Speaking in support of the article, Town Manager John Curran said extending the PUD to include 172 Boston Road would help encourage “higher and betters uses” along the stretch of Boston Road between Treble Cove Road and Route 129.
“This is about Town Meeting helping to facilitate a positive outcome in a neighborhood that has been stagnant for many years,” Curran said.
Presenting the Minority Report to Town Meeting, Selectman Dan Burns said that by approving PUDs, the town risked losing control over projects in town. He argued that the projects that Town Meeting reviews and votes on are better.
Burns said he supported the PUDs a few years ago because they were an opportunity that the town had not taken advantage of yet. Now, Burns said, he was concerned about what project might go up there.
In response to Burns’ argument, a few Town Meeting representatives, including Planning Board member Chris Tribou, reminded those gathered that projects still had to go through the permitting process with the Planning Board.
“If you don’t like what the Planning Board is doing you can vote them out,” Tribou said.
Town Meeting Rep. Emily Wood echoed Tribou. Wood, who works in commercial property, said developers look for a straightforward and speedy process when looking to bring projects to a community. Having to go before Town Meeting for a project would not meet that criteria, she said.
The fate of Mac Two’s Lounge, a strip club next to 172 Boston Road, was a point of focus in the PUD debate. Some wondered if passage of the article would force Mac Two’s out.
According to Curran, including 172 Boston Road would not allow strip club or adult entertainment use to expand to the site. The hope was that creating the PUD at 172 Boston Road would make the site more desirable and possibly prompt Mac Two’s to sell to a different business. Burns countered that passage of the article would not get rid of Mac Two’s, either.
Town Meeting Rep. George Simolaris said he talked to two abutters of the Boston Road property and one abutter told him they would like to see Mac Two’s gone but did not want to see something worse come in.
The two other articles on PUDs were withdrawn ahead of Town Meeting establishing PUD-Industrial Park (PUD-IP) districts and implementing one at Technology Park. The goal was to encourage development at Technology Park. Ahead of Town Meeting the debate surrounding the PUD-IP was a particularly contentious one. Those in support argued it would foster needed economic development, while those opposed questioned the need for more large housing projects and worried over the impact on traffic and town services like emergency response and schools.
The articles were withdrawn, Curran later told The Sun, because “after the April election it was obvious that more education needs to be done for it to be successful.”
Curran said they kept in the one PUD article, hoping that the potential impact to Mac Two’s would garner support.
In other business, Town Meeting also voted to fund the purchase and installation of LED streetlights in town.
According to Curran’s presentation, the town would work with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to the study the placement, brightness and location of the streetlights in town.
With the help of two state grants, Curran said the project would cost around $304,000 but noted that the town would recoup the money in ensuing years.
A common concern among speakers was the intensity of the lights.
Town Meeting Rep. Mary Leach said the AMA said the LED lights should be shielded to minimize glare as there were some health concerns including impact to sleep.
According to Curran the lights would be shielded and light pollution would reduce in town.
In one of the last votes of the night, Town Meeting voted to adopt a state statute that would prohibit any establishment licensed for alcohol pouring from displaying nudity on the premises. Once again Mac Two’s came up in the discussion as adoption of the statute would affect that site. Though Mac Two’s lost its liquor license in 1996, the statute could affect any buyers looking to continue the business.
The Finance Committee Minority Report indicated that the statute raised questions over whether it was constitutional. In response, town counsel said that the statute had not been ruled unconstitutional but noted that applying the statute would raise the issue of whether it was being applied in a discriminatory manner.
Follow Emma R. Murphy on Twitter @MurphReports.