Large 40B Apartment Complex Proposed for Sterritt Lumber Site

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An illustration of the 40B apartment complex proposed for 148 Waltham St., the former Sterritt Lumber site.

Developers proposing to build a 40B apartment complex on the site of the former Sterritt Lumber location will host a community meeting on the project.

The community meeting will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 from 7-9 p.m. in the Lecture Hall at Watertown High School, 50 Columbia St.

The project is proposed for the Sterritt Lumber site at 148 Waltham St. in the Westside of Watertown. The developer, Nordblom Development Company, has submitted an application to MassHousing to build a 40B housing project with 253 apartments. The building would be six stories tall, with parking on the ground floor and five floors of apartments and amenities (including a pool) above.

Documents submitted by developers to the Town’s Planning Department also show a drawing of a 60,000 sq. ft. biotech laboratory building with 120 parking spaces. This alternative could be built under the current zoning for the land.

Chapter 40B allows developers to build more dense housing projects in return for renting or selling 25 percent of the units at affordable rates. The project proposed on Waltham Street would have 64 affordable units. Under 40B rules, the Town does not have authority to approve or deny 40B projects, and the developers are allowed to bypass a municipality’s zoning. The Town would still have some input on the project.

Communities can seek “Safe Harbor” from 40B by showing they have met their requirement for affordable housing. That is usually done by having 10 percent or more of housing units deemed as affordable. Watertown does not meet this standard. According to Nordblom’s application, the Town has 1,105 affordable units, but would need 447 more to reach 10 percent.

However, Watertown applied for Safe Harbor using a different method which looks at the percentage of total land used for affordable housing. A community must have at least 1.5 percent of developable land used for affordable housing, and Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said that State officials declared the Town has 1.7 percent of its land used for affordable housing.

The calculation must be made for each proposed 40B project, and Watertown’s application was made for a proposed project at 13 Coolidge Hill Road. Developers of that property are now seeking to build a self-storage facility.

See the application for the 148 Waltham Street project by clicking here. Plans for the proposed project can be seen by clicking here.

18 thoughts on “Large 40B Apartment Complex Proposed for Sterritt Lumber Site

      • ‘Rental Housing –Either 25% of Units must be priced to be Affordable to Households with total Household Income at 80% of Median Family Income OR 20% of the Units must be priced to be Affordable to Households with total Household Income at 50% of Median Family Income. Eligibility Income levels are adjusted for Household size. Rents are based upon the agency-calculated allowable Household size for the unit bedroom size and must include all utilities or a Utility Allowance must be deducted from the maximum allowable rent for each utility paid directly by the Household. Ownership Housing–Either 25% of Units must be Affordable to Households with total Household Income at 80% of Median Family Income OR 20% of the Units must be Affordable to Households with total Household Income at 50% of Median Family Income. Eligibility Income Levels are adjusted for Household size. Almost all Ownership housing 40B projects use the 25% at 80% of Median Family Income alternative. However, in order to expand the “Window of Affordability” the Maximum Allowable Sales Price for such ownership 40B units must be calculated based upon 70% of Median Family Income for the agency-calculated allowable Household size ─even though the Household Eligibility Income level remains at 80% of Median Family Income, adjusted for Household size. This requirement increases the degree of affordability for Households whose total income exceeds 70% of Median Family Income.’ https://www.mhp.net/writable/resources/documents/Municipal-role-in-Ch.-40B.pdf. Also, this link provides an excellent explanation of Chapter 40B projects https://s-e-b.com/what-we-do/chapter-40b/ and additional info can be found at https://www.mass.gov/service-details/chapter-40b-sale-prices-and-rents.

  1. That is insanity how many apartments this town can handle???
    How come all the commercial zone areas turn to residential— Pleaseant st—
    What are the plans for schools we already more than capacity???
    Please stop, the traffic in town is horrific
    Enough,,, why we keep voting for people that do not care about the residents in this town. ,

    • That’s right! It’s time we get some new people running this town that have the best intentions of its residents. The more apartments that go up, the more money the town can collect. The more money the town collects, the bigger the raises for town workers. Town Manager=200k a year. Must be nice.

      • Thanks for your comment Tom. Just to add to that, a commercial or office development brings in more tax dollars than an apartment or other residential due to the town’s 175% shift of the taxes to CIP (commercial, industrial and personal) properties

  2. Maybe the developer should apply for a Special Permit without the threat of 40B cramming 253 units down our collective throats. Someone also needs to tell this developer that Watertown has achieved safe harbor status in East Watertown. Unless I’m missing something this should end this 40B blackmail application in West Watertown. too. 253 units on the old Sterritt Lumber site is an over reach, at best. That neighborhood specifically. and our Town in general, can not handle the traffic. Looks like lab space (by right) will be coming to West Watertown.
    Count me as opposed.

  3. Thanks to Elodia Thomas, who got the town to apply for the total land percentage method, which puts us past the minimum for 40B. Glad someone was thinking.
    We need affordable housing but not in huge apartment bldgs. Take a look at the low income development next to Star Market in Brighton Ave. They managed to design a mixed group of townhouses and smaller apartment buildings that created a real neighborhood and connected to the existing one behind it. That’s what can happen if you have thoughtful planning.

  4. Even though we have now met the Safe Harbor plateau, people STILL NEED TO COME TO THIS MEETING ON 1/29 to express their feelings about the size of the development that still could go on this site. These developers are trying to take advantage wherever they can and the town needs to back our desires first. I would like to see an over 55 community go on this land, but we are being told that it’s part of the Pleasant St. corridor and needs to be mixed use. With an over 55 community, there would be less density, less cars, and also meet the needs of seniors who would like to move out of their bigger houses.

  5. This meeting is bogus. It is not a community meeting formally required or sanctioned by our Planning Department. This meeting is being held by a developer trying to run roughshod over the town. We have met Safe Harbor standards. This developer has no standing to build this 40B complex. Please don’t get played by this developer’s baloney. Better yet – boycott this meeting!
    Instead….
    Go positive and attend the Community Preservation Committee’s 1st public forum.
    Wednesday, January 29th, 2020
    7-9 PM
    Tufts Health Plan, 705 Mount Auburn Street
    Atlantic Room (Yes, we’ve to a bigger space with easy entry.)
    Please enter through Grove Street. Free parking available.

    Come learn about the Community Preservation Act (CPA) as we kick-off the planning process. We want to hear from you. Share your ideas and priorities to help guide the Committee in planning and future decision-making regarding the four CPA categories: affordable housing, outdoor recreation, open space protection and historic preservation.

    There will be a short presentation followed by an open house with plenty of visuals, where you can find out about Watertown’s needs and resources in the four CPA categories, share your ideas, and ask questions. Your tax dollars will be funding future projects in Watertown. Meet your neighbors. Unleash your imagination. And please remember – We Are All Watertown.

    Hope to see you January 29th,
    Elodia
    Chair, CPC

    • Thanks Elodia as I thought this was a town sponsored meeting(and thus wanted to get this meeting rescheduled due to the CPA). Please disregard my other post and go to CPA community meeting!

      • I think it is as official as other community meetings for proposed projects. Those are always hosted by the developer. The other recent 40B had a similar meeting. Councilor Woodland announced it at a recent meeting. However it did not go out on the Town’s email blast.

    • Elodie,
      I find it disheartening that you would even say boycott this meeting. This is our town, our neighborhood and going to this meeting will demonstrate we care. The more people that come shows that we won’t be push overs. We need responsible building.

      • Dear CDC,

        Let me clarify. What I am trying to say is that Watertown has achieved Safe Harbor status i.e., Watertown 1.5% “safe harbor” ruling from Ch. 40B

        “On Friday December 20, 2019, the state Dept. of Housing and Community Development issued a so-called “1.5 percent ruling” concerning an application by a developer for a Ch. 40B comprehensive land use permit in Watertown. DHCD found that Watertown is in compliance with the requirement that 1.5 percent of the town’s land that is zoned for residential, commercial or industrial use is being used for affordable housing. Thus, the town has achieved “safe harbor” from having to accept Ch. 40B permit applications. This is the first community to achieve the 1.5 percent since new regulations went into effect in 2008. Prior to this, towns that have achieved “safe harbor” have done so by having 10 percent of its housing affordable.”

        As did a previous developer, this developer is trying to get in front of you to sell you his big plan. No one that I know believes that Watertown needs another project like this. This developer has no standing to proceed other than ego and greed. At this time, Safe Harbor protects our community from this kind of development. Does this help clarify my boycott statement? Why give the developer the time of day. The project is dead in the water.

  6. UGh! This is also the same night as the CPA Community Engagement: Wed, January 29, 2020
    7:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST

    The CPA event has been in the books for quite sometime and I would suggest this new building community event is moved to another date!(if community feedback is truly what is wanted).

  7. Totally agree with Elodia Thomas. This is a meeting being held by the developers and not town endorsed. Developers aren’t stupid either. They put out an insane number of apartments they want to build when they actually know the number is far less. The residents then feel like “Oh hey, we made a difference, they went from 253 to 175” when in fact that was what the developer wanted all along.

    If that land is zoned for business then it should remain that so the town can reap the benefits of higher and more taxes.

    Even if you don’t live in this area don’t think it can’t happen to you. Imagine if Oakley decided to close down and build a massive apartment complex? Anyone on any type of land can use the 40B tactic. Let’s hope our town officials and lawyer are up for a good fight.

  8. Just want to clear up some of the confusion here. I, as District D Town Councilor, personally asked the developer to hold a community meeting on this proposal. Though the Town has rules in place that require developers to hold community meetings (rules I helped write), the developer in this case is pursuing their project under state law 40B and is therefore not held to traditional local rules (which is why they are allowed to propose residential units when the area is zoned for only commercial). I did not want the first time residents got to see the proposal and give feedback to be when the developer went in front of the Zoning Board so I requested a community meeting and we set this date. Though staff is aware of the meeting, there is absolutely no requirement that the Planning Department “sanction” or “endorse” community meetings of this nature. The meeting is being held to allow residents to see the proposal and provide feedback because, again, I, as a member of the Town Council, requested it.

    It’s probably worthwhile to also note that all safe harbor status does is prevent a developer who has been rejected (or given too stringent conditions) by the Zoning Board from appealing that decision to the state. Safe harbor status does not mean that they do not have the right to pursue a 40B project or that they do not have the right to ask our Zoning Board to approve it. It just means the Zoning Board can reject the plans and assert our safe harbor status (which the state affirms each time it is asserted – so in this case having just received the status a few weeks ago it is safe to say we would achieve it again now). It is my understanding that the developer intends to move forward with the proposal to the Zoning Board. So this first look is not “bogus” and I appreciate the developer be willing to accommodate my request without having the obligation to do so.

    As a side note, Chapter 40B was enacted in 1969. Having gone through the housing production plan and multiple rezoning issues with the Planning Department that concerned affordability, I’ve known for years that safe harbor status can be achieved by a percentage of land devoted to affordable housing. These discussions happen not infrequently with staff when developments have considering “friendly” 40B proposals, even though none materialized. So it seems audacious to me to see someone suggest that it was anyone but Town staff that was the inspiration for pursuing or achieving safe harbor status.

    As I’ve conveyed to many people in Town, I do not support this project. First, I don’t support a residential use at this location. When we rezoned the PSCD in 2015 we purposefully preserved certain parcels for commercial only zoning. This was to preserve the original mixed-use vision of the corridor and to maintain a diverse tax base throughout Town (which is very important in a Town that does the CIP shift every year). Second, even if residential was allowed here, the scale is much larger than I would ever be comfortable with given the traffic and infrastructure implications that would sure follow.

    In the end, I do not think that the Zoning Board will approve this project. It does not fit the vision we have set out for this area or the Town in general. The Planning Department does not support this project and will express those concerns to the Zoning Board as well. I’d bet, just like the 40B in the east end, the Zoning Board will reject the plan and assert safe harbor status. But as part of that process it is important that residents have an opportunity to see what is being proposed and provide feedback in both the community meeting and Zoning Board settings. That way the developer and Zoning Board alike know and understand the issues folks are concerned about and those comments will factor into any decisions that are made.

    We set the date for this meeting before the Town achieved safe harbor status and before knowing that the CPC was holding a meeting the same day. Usually 40B proposals follow a strict timeline so it was decided not to delay our meeting. If anyone has strong feelings about not being able to attend both meetings, I’d encourage you to reach out to me directly (my email and cell phone are on the Council website) and I’m more than happy to discuss the proposal with you and submit your comments along to the developer so you can attend the other meeting. We Are All Watertown.

    Ken Woodland
    District D Town Councilor

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