The 253-unit residential project proposed for the former Sterritt Lumber site on the Westside of town was stopped by the Zoning Board on Wednesday night when it asserted that the Town has met the state requirements for subsidized housing.
The developers of the project at 148 Waltham St., Nordblom Development Company, submitted the request for a comprehensive plan under the Chapter 40B law, which allows for denser housing developments in communities that have not met the minimum standards for subsidized housing. The project would have had more than a quarter of its units, 64, rented at below market rate.
The ZBA, however, asserted “Safe Harbor” which allows towns with more than 1.5 percent of the land zoned for residential, commercial or industrial use is being used for subsidized housing, said ZBA member Kelly Donato when she made the motion.
“The board elects to proceed with the full local hearing with the board having the right to deny the application or grant the application with conditions, and with the finding that the board’s denial or grant of the application would be consistent with local needs and with the applicant having no right of appeal to the Housing Appeals Committee from the board’s decision,” Donato said.
The ZBA voted unanimously to have its Chair, Melissa SantucciRozzi, send a letter to the applicant informing them that the town has invoked the 1.5 percent area safe harbor exception. A copy will also be sent to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Watertown qualified for the safe harbor in January by making the land use calculation for another 40B project proposed on Coolidge Hill Road. A self-storage facility is now planned for that site.
The board did not hear a presentation from the developers, nor comments from the public because there was no formal public hearing, SantucciRozzi said. She added that the comments will be read if and when any part of the proposal comes before the board for a public hearing in the future.
The ZBA met for the first time since the Governor’s orders limited public gatherings, which led to the cancellation of its March meeting. Wednesday’s session was held online using the Zoom app, and members participating remotely. It was also televised on Watertown Cable.
Assistant Town Manger Steve Magoon said that board met to hear cases that were already in the works before the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The Town feels it’s appropriate to allow existing projects that were disrupted mid-process to have the review and approval process continue to completion,” Magoon said at the beginning of the meeting. “At this point in time, a freeze has been put on new applications, but this allows some certainty in this uncertain time for existing applications.”