Our neighborhood, consisting of Rice Road, Thomas Hill Road, Aldrich Avenue, Captain Peter Simpson Road, and beyond has been engaged with various town boards and officials for more than a year to ensure that the character and integrity of our neighborhood remains consistent, as it has for more than 60-years. What we discovered early in the permitting process for the recently denied proposed Rice Pond Village project is that Millbury does not have any specific multi-family regulations. Millbury’s Planning Board struggles with how to evaluate these types of projects to ensure compliance with the existing rules and regulations, which quite simply do not adequately address the nuances and complexities of multi-family developments.
Therefore, to help protect and preserve our neighborhood’s character and integrity, we put forth Town Warrant Article 26 to address the competing and inconsistent zoning districts on the north and south sides of Rice Road, entitled “Rezoning To Suburban II A Portion Of Residential I North Of Rice Road”. The proposed rezoning seeks to change the north side of Rice Road from Residential I (R-1) to Suburban II (S-2) to match the south side, which introduces minor changes to the current zoning by: (a) decreasing the high density development down to moderate density of one- and two-family homes, (b) increases the frontage from 100-feet to 150-feet, (c) increases the minimum lot area from 12,500 to 15,000 square feet, and (d) that any multi-family development over two dwelling units would require a variance due to Rice Road not being a “major street”.
To see if the Town will vote to amend the Zoning Map by rezoning to Suburban II District that portion of the Residential I District that includes the following lots as shown on the Town of Millbury Official Zoning Map, and on file in the Town Clerk’s Office: Assessors Map 63, Lots 74, 75, 75-A, 75-B, 75-C, 76, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, and 144 or to take any action thereto.
Most landowners of the properties contained within this town warrant article signed the citizen’s petition to bring this matter forward to the voters of Millbury, fully understanding what the zoning changes would mean to them. Two households who were unavailable to sign the citizen’s petition, however, conveyed their support in favor of this rezoning effort. The landowners of the undeveloped properties on the north side of Rice Road have made their intention of building a single-family development known to several neighbors, as attested to in the public hearing records. The overwhelming majority of the neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods are in favor of rezoning the north side of Rice Road.
Our neighborhood would gladly welcome a reasonable number of new neighbors, as we are not opposed to the development of the undeveloped land in our neighborhood. We simply want consistent, harmonious, safe, and responsible development that does not increase potential public safety hazards (i.e., more traffic over a narrow and already unsafe railroad crossing) while not drastically increasing traffic on an inadequate road (i.e., only 16-feet wide in spots with two non-standard intersections with poor visibility), which was the basis for the Millbury Planning Board‘s denial of the proposed 46-unit condominium Rice Pond Village project; and with no drastic increase in dwelling units, or restrictions of normal or emergency access to or from our neighborhood (i.e., Rice Road, Thomas Hill Road, Aldrich Avenue, Captain Peter Simpson Road, or Providence Street).
During one of the public hearings, Planning Board Chairperson, Richard J. Gosselin, Jr., stated that he personally felt that this citizen’s petition was a good solution since any potential future application for special permit for multi-family development on Rice Road would have all the same public safety issues that would need to be eliminated.
Upgrading Rice Road to current design and traffic standards to handle the developer threatened Chapter 40B ~225 additional dwelling units and resulting traffic increases, would likely require land takings from all landowners along Rice Road, like what McCracken Road is experiencing, and would require all railroad assets be upgraded to current American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) standards, including the public at grade crossing and signal systems. We think that reasonable people can all agree that eminent domain should never be an option for the financial benefit of a private developer and/or the current undeveloped landowners; nor should public safety ever be sacrificed for “affordable housing”.
Millbury’s Code Enforcement Officer, Paul Stringham, stated during the first public hearing that “The applicants have made a valuable point and noticed that you’ve got conflicting zoning districts. This is [the] challenge that’s out there and you’ve got two competing districts. One side of the street has this particular rights and the other side of the street has other particular rights. This case has some merits to look at.”
After careful deliberation at two public hearings, the Millbury Planning Board voted in majority to make a favorable recommendation on this citizen’s petition.
The contention of multi-family developments does not just impact the Rice Road neighborhood, as other multi-family projects will likely target other neighborhoods in Millbury sooner rather than later, much like the recently approved Canal Street Apartments (under construction), Singletary Arms (under review), Clearview Townhouses (under construction), Cobblestone Village Apartments, and Stratford Village.
Have you heard about the new MBTA zoning district, that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is “mandating” that Millbury create a “by right” zoning district for a minimum of 750 multi-family dwelling units, consisting of 50-acres with a density of 15-dwelling units per acre requiring availability of town water and sewer, located near public transit or within a town or village center? Millbury’s downtown is currently under consideration; however, nothing has officially been disclosed. If approved by Millbury voters and then built, then Millbury will likely not look like Millbury anymore; the small-town charm that drew a lot of residents to Millbury in the first place will be a thing of the past. Millbury voters do have the option to reject the state “mandate” and would then not be eligible to obtain grants from three programs. To date, no town official has been able to provide a definitive answer of just how much grant money Millbury has historically received from the three grant programs. According to published accounts, the Town of Sutton is contemplating rejecting the new MBTA zoning district.
Any new developments in Millbury must be properly regulated and sited, so that all developments are an asset to our small and growing town, not a liability. There are a lot of opinions floating around about recently approved multi-family projects. Let’s learn from past experiences and do our absolute best moving forward for all residents of Millbury by enacting specific multi-family zoning regulations with specific findings requirements.
Our neighborhood is respectfully asking every Millbury voter to please help protect and preserve our neighborhood and the town by voting to pass Town Warrant Article 26 on May 3, 2022, at the Millbury Junior/Senior High School, beginning at 7:00 PM.