Resounding Rezoning Opposition in Chelmsford
CHELMSFORD -- North Chelmsford residents once again made passionate calls for the Planning Board to reject a proposal to rezone Route 40 between Route 3 and the Westford line at a Wednesday night public hearing at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts.
Lynn Avenue resident Larry Sweeney said the area in question is one of the “last vestiges of rural life” along Route 3 in Chelmsford, and it’s “on the brink of being disrupted and destroyed.”
The draft proposal calls for changing both the underlying zoning and creating a Route 40 Groton Road Mixed Use Redevelopment Overlay District that would direct the permitting process, based on Community Enhancement and Investment Overlay District, or CEIOD, guidelines.
Under this iteration of the proposal, zoning of 38 acres on the north side of Groton Road would change from industrial to commercial. On the south side, which is all zoned residential, about 7 1/2 acres directly abutting the road would be changed to commercial, and another 7 1/2 acres behind that would be changed to multifamily.
Based on input and research, the Planning Board could decide to propose changes, recommend it as written or recommend against any zoning changes. The Board of Selectmen will decide whether the article, as proposed or amended, will go before fall Town Meeting, where it would need a two-thirds vote to be enacted.
Assistant Town Manager Mike McCall said development in this area could bring in upwards of $1 million annually.
A presentation by McCall and Community Development Director Evan Belansky included a list of about 16 properties within the area that Lowell developer Christopher Cox, via Northstar Realty LLC, had control of, either by ownership or agreement, as of Tuesday. Belansky said town officials learned Wednesday that one more Groton Road property was under agreement, and another on Ward Way had signed a letter of interest.
Knowing Cox’s interest in this area and the growing number of properties coming under his control, town officials said they felt taking a proactive approach on the zoning was the best way to ensure control over what eventually goes there.
But attorney Peter Lawlor, representing property owners on Groton Road and surrounding streets, said leaving the zoning as it stands is actually more restrictive and gives the town stronger ability to negotiate with the developer.
He said adding shopping centers on either side of Groton Road will only worsen already bad traffic.
According to diagrams and illustrations included in the presentation, Cox’s vision for the area has changed over time. Prior to the last Planning Board meeting, he had envisioned commercial development on both sides of Groton Road, with senior housing and assisted living behind the commercial development on the south side. The most recent drawing removed the multifamily housing component, leaving only the commercial pieces.
Many residents expressed concerns about traffic, noise and light pollution, removing woodland barriers to the detriment of wildlife and making neighborhoods less safe for children. There was also mention of a petition signed by at least 250 residents who are against the rezoning.
Some said they felt there was a lack of transparency in how the zoning proposal came about, and that town should have given them notice much sooner in the process.
Everett Olsen Jr., a 70-year Groton Road resident, said the area’s homes are already an attractive gateway to Chelmsford.
He said the proposal “doesn’t sound right, doesn’t look right, doesn’t feel right.”
Olsen said the kind of development the zoning would cause the residents who comprise the tapestry of the town, who have made it what it is today, to leave.
“Once you start pulling these threads out, the picture of that town is gone, and it’s gone forever,” he said.
David Andrade, a Groton Road resident whose property is one of the ones under agreement with Cox, said he’s in favor of the proposal. He said the area is not a neighborhood, but a “group of homes under siege” by traffic and noise.
Dan Castellano, whose Groton Road property is also under agreement, said Cox is giving residents in this “horror show” of an area a chance to get out and move somewhere quieter. Given the current conditions, Castellano said he thinks the area would be better as a commercial development.
Planning Board member Ed Roux said he felt the board should hear from Cox before making any decisions.
Attorney Doug Deschenes, who represents Cox and Northstar, said they will prepare for that and be available at the next meeting.
The board continued the hearing to next Wednesday, Aug. 29.
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