Skip to content

Wellesley's MBTA Communities plan isn't much of a plan at all

Need to Knows

Wellesley's MBTA Communities plan isn't much of a plan at all

Happy December! (And happy birthday to me.)

Both Needham and Wellesley will hold tax classification hearings on Tuesday.

It's never a bad idea to remind our elected officials that your commercial property taxes impact your ability to contribute to the community's economic and cultural vitality. And that's particularly true now due to inflation, wage increases, soaring utility and insurance bills and the high cost of borrowing.

Wellesley's MBTA Communities plan isn't much of a plan at all

Wellesley officials unveiled their proposed approach to complying with MBTA Communities Law last night and it was, well, disapointing.

By law, the town must allow for the creation 1,392 units of multi-family housing (which we need to remind everyone doesn’t mean that 1,392 new homes will be created, only that the zoning must allow for that many possible units by-right).

However, rather than following the lead of BrooklineArlington, and Lexington -- which all approved plans that allow for many more units than legally required -- Wellesley’s proposal allows for 1,433 potential units, a piddly 41 units above the mandate.
But that’s not most discouraging part.
Most discouraging is that Wellesley’s proposal includes 850 units at the Nines on Williams Street.

But that project and those units are already approved, a little less than half built and 90% occupied!
That means, at best, Wellesley is creating a path for only for 583 new homes that aren't already in the pipeline.

That's not likely either. Consider that many of the remaining 583 units (split between Wellesley Hills and Wellesley Square) includes parcels that may not be redeveloped for decades. Or ever.
The approach may be legal (the state does have to approve it). And anyone watching the zoning fights in Newton, Littleton and other communities, may even believe it’s politically smart.
But this path does little to address our region’s housing crisis. It does little to create homes for young adults or new families or add diversity. It does little to create homes for downsizing seniors. And it does little to create homes that our local employers need to attract and retain workers.
The hopeful news is that at last night’s presentation Wellesley Executive Director Meghan Jop and Planning Director Eric Arbeene both indicated an openness to expanding the footprint and unit count based on community feedback. They even suggested some potential added locations.
Also: It’s worth noting that although Wellesley certainly has a strong anti-growth residential contingent, the leadership at Town Hall and on the select board have been strong advocates for diversifying and expanding the town's housing supply.
I believe they want Wellesley to be part of the housing crisis solution. And who knows, perhaps a strategy of starting low and waiting for the YIMBYs to demand more, rather than NIMBYs asking for less, will prove savvy.
But the current plan, slated to go before Town Meeting this spring, does little to contribute to a very significant problem. 

Meanwhile, pro-housing side makes concessions in Newton

As I said above, you can’t really blame the leadership in Wellesley if they want to avoid the food fight that’s divided Newton as the city attempts to comply with MBTA Communities.

But while Wellesley (as well as Needham and Watertown) have until the end of 2024 to create their zoning plans, Newton must do so before the ball drops in Times Square this New Years Eve.

On Wednesday, advocates for a wide-reaching plan that would have allowed for more housing and village vitality inside virtually all village centers, made big time concessions to opponents empowered by the results of last month’s municipal election.

The biggest concession was that they agreed to amend the VCOD plan so that only Newton Centre, Newton Highlands, Waban, West Newton, Newtonville and Auburndale will now benefit from upzoning,
And Auburndale is still in play only because of the commuter rail issue and is pending further negotiations and finagling.
The good news is the council did agree to add back Border Street back into West Newton zone. Bryan McGonigle at the Newton Beacon does a good job explaining that here and here. 
But those councilors who favor only meeting slightly more than the 8,330 state mandate are basically demanding quid pro quo. They’ll be looking to offset the 450 potential units added by Border Street by removing units elsewhere when they hash it out some more on Monday.

Watertown also talked about housing and more this week

Many hundreds of residents and other stakeholders just wrapped up last three days at an invigorating charette exploring the future of Watertown Square.

The vision process covered everything from design of roadways to the city’s MBTA compliance. Charlie Breitrose at Watertown News basically camped out there this week and the chamber team attended every session too. We'll share the video links next week.

Don't forget: 2023's last big networking event Tuesday.

Once again this holiday season, the chamber’s Young Professionals Group has teamed up with chamber member retailers Just Next Door in Auburndale and Henry Bear’s Park in Newtonville to support the Village Bank and City of Newton’s annual holiday gift drive.

Donations collected via this online portal and at our big After Hours Networking event Tuesday will be used to purchase toys and gifts from these local chamber member merchants.

You can also visit both shops to pick out gifts directly (for ages newborn to 10) and drop in the collection boxes there or at any Village Bank location.

To make sure all age groups and interests served, the YPG group spends all donated funds at local retailers. No amount is too big or too small to support local families while shopping locally!

 Friday grab bag

  • Watertown has hired an energy advocate to connect small businesses and residents to Mass Save energy efficiency programs and benefits. Connect with Ryan Hamilton directly to get started.
  • MassHire’s next virtual Multi-Industry Job Fair I set for Dec. 13, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Open to employers with multiple, immediate openings. Employer registration deadline is Dec. 8.
  • A reminder that all Newton businesses and multi-family properties are now required to recycle cardboard under a new city ordinance. And starting in July of 2024 Newton businesses and multi-family properties will be required to also recycle all common recyclable materials, including aluminum cans, plastic and glass and office paper. 

  • Watertown native Justin Hanrahan is the city's new police chief. Hanrahan is currently a captain in the department with 28 years of service with the Watertown PD. (Watertown News)

  • The Healey administration is considering possible changes to Chapter 40B law regulations, in order to give developers a better shot at making the projects a reality while still giving opponents time to be heard. (BBJ)

  • Needham Local has this profile of the Hometown Weekly, Needham’s last remaining print paper and a remnant and reminder of an industry that once dominated the local journalism space.

Needham biotech backing off drug study, cuts staff

Candel Therapeutics is cutting its staff in half, a layoff that equates to 37 employees.
The 24-year old company, located at 117 Kendrick Street in Needham, will phase out two of its clinical-stage cancer drugs and directing its attention towards another drug that's currently being tested as a treatment for a type of brain cancer, reports Rowan Walrath at the BBJ.

Jumbo explains $48.5M Wellesley investment

We’re learning more about the decision by real estate investment firm Jumbo Capital Inc. to acquire a seven-building office portfolio in Wellesley from Haynes Management Inc for $48.5 million.

In an interview with Greg Ryan at the BBJ, Jumbo managing partner Jay Hirsh said the acquired buildings were primarily medical and small professional services businesses which he felt were a stronger investment than offices with “50 employees traveling from multiple communities to a central location."

"...These types of office properties make a ton of sense to me,” Hirsh told Ryan.

Many reasons to get out with the family this weekend 

Finally today, all four of our chamber communities host holiday themed events this weekend, which we hope will get you into the spirit of shopping and dining locally.

  • Newton City Hall will be transformed into an 18 hole mini golf course from today through Sunday complete with greens and holes winding through the secret staircase in the Mayor’s Office, City Council Chambers, and War Memorial. Details.

  • Watertown's Whoville Jubilee and City Tree Lighting will be on Saturday from 5:30 to 8 p.m., at the Commander’s Mansion 440 Talcott Ave. Tree Lighting is at 7pm. Details.
  • Needham's Annual Blue Tree Lighting takes place on the newly renovated Town Common on Saturday at 5 p.m. Santa and other special guests will help with the countdown to the tree lighting. Santa will stay for photos after the event. Details.
  • The Wellesley Holiday Stroll and Scavenger Hunt is Sunday. Head to Wellesley Square throughout the day for holiday activities, merchant discounts with the tree lighting at the Wellesley Square Fire Station at 5 p.m. Details.
  • The Nonantum Children's Christmas Party Association will hold its annual Park Lighting at Coletti-Magni Park in Newton Sunday. Hot chocolate and caroling at 6:15 p.m. and the countdown to turn on the lights at 7 p.m.

For shopping ideas explore our chamber member directory. You can also help our local businesses by sharing our support Local graphics on your newsletters and social media feeds.

That’s what you need to know for today -- the anniversary of when Rosa Parks was jailed for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man in 1955 -- unless you need to know if you're a cheapskate.

See you next week!

Greg Reibman (he, him)
President & CEO
Powered By GrowthZone