Proposed Project At 17 Rice Road Will Destroy Neighborhood

It is April 2021, I walk out to my mailbox and find a letter with no return address listed. In large bold font the letter states, “52 Condominiums Proposed.” Reading through the fine print, I can see this proposed development is at 17 Rice Road. As a direct abutter to the proposed project, I found myself in a state of shock. How can this be happening? Who would propose such a monstrosity in this small neighborhood?

Once the initial shock wore off, I began thinking about what actions a 32-year-old (whose never attended a town meeting), could take to bring this project into harmony with the existing neighborhood at large. About a week and a half later, pursuant to the minimum legal requirements of notification, the notice of intent letter arrives from the town of Millbury, this nightmare is officially a reality.

You may be saying to yourself, “I do not live on Rice Road, this is not a concern of mine,” but I would challenge you to read this letter simply because it will serve as a stark warning to those with vacant buildable land near you and what your future may hold. Secondly, as a resident of Millbury you can provide feedback against this project, I provide a means to do this from the comfort of your home (links below). Millbury’s elected officials still have time to reconcile this project before it does irreversible damage, please help us to be heard.

An opposition letter was taken door-to-door, to 30+ homes, and 69% of direct abutters hand signed this opposition letter (8% of direct abutting properties are nonresidential) and this package was presented to the Planning Board Director and all members of the Planning Board ahead of the May 2021 Planning Board meeting.

To be clear, the letter explicitly states that the neighbors do not oppose the McLaughlin Family [Living] Trust’s right to build on their property at 17 Rice Road; however, we want this development brought into harmony with the existing neighborhood.

Our neighbors are hardworking people from all walks of life, and we have representation from many different generations. It was incredibly gratifying to see the outpouring of neighborhood support against this project.

The letter clearly outlined our rationale for opposing this project. The two main points of contention are the extremely high density and the construction of units directly on top of the pristine ecosystem that is Rice Pond. The proposed development has a ~1.98 times greater density than the surrounding neighborhood and when completed, ~56% of all the dwelling units making up the entire neighborhood will be crammed onto a land area making up ~39% of the total neighborhood.

As a resident of Millbury for six years, I have photographed a thriving wildlife population inhabiting the pond and the surrounding woodlands (deer, foxes, cranes, ducks, turkeys, woodchucks, skunks, opossums, hawks, etc.). Photographs of some of these animals were sent directly to the Millbury Conservation Commission (ConCom).

The first Planning Board meeting was an overwhelming success when compared with all other projects discussed on the May 2021 agenda. We had exponentially more speakers; our neighbors provided clear opinions on many topics of concern not all of which will be addressed in this letter. As you’ll read, our consistent showing of opposition with more than reasonable requests continues to go unheard.

Rice Road is a cut-through street; people drive very fast down this road. Due to the addition of a minimum of 100± cars (based on the current number of proposed units), in addition to visitors and deliveries, the existing residents of this street will experience a major uptick in traffic and a marked change in the overall dynamic of our neighborhood.

If you have ever driven Rice Road, you would know that both ends of the street pose significant traffic dangers. When driving from the center of town on Route 122A and turning right onto Rice Road, you physically cannot make this turn up the hill without going into the lane of oncoming traffic. The island on the end of Rice Road connecting to South Main [Street] is a disaster, and people consistently enter and exit this series of islands on the wrong side of the road posing a serious safety risk.

To date, we have not seen any finalized plans to mitigate these hazards. A traffic study was conducted, and the real-world application of this study was completely dismantled by the Planning Board members and the residents of the neighborhood. As of the Nov. 22, 2021, Planning Board meeting documents, there have been no finalized plans to deal with these serious dangers. How can the town approve a project that brings considerably more traffic onto an already dangerous road with existing concerns at both ends?

The 2019 Town of Millbury Master Plan takes feedback from residents and serves as a roadmap to guide the town in future development projects. The 2019 Town of Millbury Master Plan was generated with significant inputs from members of the community with 970+ respondents providing valuable feedback on the direction they would like to see the town head.

I call your attention to two critical poll questions, “What are the top housing needs in Millbury?” and “Are you concerned about the following open/space historic resource-related issues in Millbury?” Those 970+ residents of Millbury overwhelmingly voted that they want the construction of single-family homes for future development projects. “Disappearing wildlife habitat & forests” was the number one concern voiced by those same residents.

The direct abutters want balance brought to the proposed development of 17 Rice Road, which is in exact alignment with the 970+ respondents to the Town of Millbury’s Master Plan survey. The projects at 19 Canal Street and 66 Park Hill Avenue (both approved by the Planning Board) will add 130 multi-family units to this town. Why does Millbury need to try and cram more multi-family units on a small road when the people of this town want to see single-family residences as the primary type of new construction?

According to the 2020 Census, Millbury’s population grew by 4.3% from 2010, which translates to 570 new residents moving into town in the last decade. Using a conservative estimate of 100 new residents at 17 Rice Road, this would be the same as cramming 17% of everyone that moved into town in the last decade onto this tiny parcel of land. I argue that those density numbers may be acceptable in Worcester, but those numbers should not be tolerated in the small town of Millbury.

This information was reiterated in the form of a public comment to highlight the matching sentiment of opposers to 17 Rice Road and the town’s residents at large. Yes, change is inevitable, we do not seek to halt change, but we want to see sustainable change.

I want to publicly commend our neighbors for their consistent presence throughout the permitting phase of this project. Our neighborhood has stood strong and provided consistent feedback in person, via Zoom, and through various written means. The number of oppositional speakers present to provide constructive comments against this development has massively dwarfed any other project in town this year.

There have been countless hours dedicated by members of this small community to try and tip the scales toward a more sustainable development. It is tremendously disheartening to report, that after all these efforts, the only reduction in density observed was from 52 to 46 multi-family units total.

During the Oct. 25, 2021, Planning Board meeting, the developer publicly stated he had a willingness to work with the community at large. Have the existing residents of this community not been clear since day one? We are once again publicly requesting that this project be denied a special permit for multi-family dwellings as it is not in accordance with the existing neighborhood.

The approved project at 19 Canal Street has an altogether different dynamic as it is located downtown. At 66 Park Hill Avenue, the Clearview project, will preserve over 88 acres as protected open space. We ask for the construction of 15 single-family homes, as it stands now this project will have lasting adverse impacts on this community.

Millbury does not have a 100-foot buffer-zone enacted to protect wetlands and the associated wildlife. I was present during Tony [Cameron]’s final ConCom meeting, a long-time member who has since retired, had expressed great uncertainty as to why the town does not have these protections in place and requested the ConCom work to establish these protections. I was extremely shocked and dissatisfied when I was told that the ConCom would have no recourse to stop buildings from being built on the pond. From my perspective, the ConCom would have been the logical defender of the wetlands around Rice Pond, but we do not have zoning protection laws on the books.

What progress has been made to enact a 100-foot buffer zoning law? We must protect the thriving ecosystem of Rice Pond now and in parallel enact a 100-foot buffer zone that protects wildlife and preserves it for future generations.

We are at a critical point in the life of this project. The developer is now proposing a sidewalk down one side of Rice Road, thus taking away land from current residents. Has he not done enough to try and turn the existing neighborhood upside down? The developer has tactfully utilized many propositions such as this to bring the focus away from the real concern, the alarming level of density.

For those elected town officials reading this letter, why not take a stand with the 60+ residents that hand-signed in opposition and help bring a favorable result to the existing residents of this community? The residents want 15 single-family homes built in lieu of these multi-family units and no units should be built within 100 feet of the wetlands to protect the natural ecological resource that is Rice Pond. When assessing the value proposition, will the vehement vocalizations by the community be enough to tip the scales against the prospect of tax revenue generated for the town?

As a reader of this article, what can you do to support this steadfast part of the community in their stance against the proposed project at 17 Rice Road? You can attend the November 22, 2021, Planning Board meeting as a show of support for your fellow residents. By taking five minutes out of your busy schedule, you can write a message to the Planning Board Director and members of the Planning Board (or any other elected official), you can exercise your right to be heard. We, the existing members of this small community on Rice Road, Thomas Hill Road, and Aldrich Avenue [and Captain Peter Simpson Road] are avidly seeking your support. I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and for any support you can provide.

Best regards,

Cody Mathieu

Provide Feedback To

Millbury Planning Board

Millbury Planning Director

Millbury Board of Selectmen

Next Planning Board Meeting

The next Millbury Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 22, 2017, at 7:00 PM at the Millbury Town Hall at 127 Elm Street in Millbury, Massachusetts.

This open community letter was additionally published in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle on November 17, 2021.