Town Officials Schizophrenic about Population Growth?

Author: John Lukach          Date: January 30, 2015

I) On One Hand,
STATE LAW CHAPTER 40B – Allows Developers to Build Residential Units on Commercially Zoned Properties, bypassing local zoning bylaws.

Town officials complain (rightly) that Chapter 40B penalizes Shrewsbury unfairly. Shrewsbury does not have ‘snob zoning’, and unlike most other towns, less than 15% of Shrewsbury’s total land area is zoned commercial;
Shrewsbury already has a population density much higher than most suburban towns (NOTE A). But all town officials do is complain, they don’t act.

II) Meanwhile, On the Other Hand,
TOWN OFFICIALS, by their actions and inactions, have caused increases in the town’s population that are greater than increases caused by 40B! Over the last 15 years or so, their dismal record on limiting the growth of residential units includes:

1) Failure to increase minimum residential lot sizes (1998).
2) Failure to make an increase in residential lot sizes an important part of the town’s Master Plan (2001).
3) Allowing pork-chop lots in the early 2000’s that increased the number of buildable lots on a property (subsequently revoked).
4) Creating a Lakeway District about 10 years ago that allowed 125 residential units in a commercial development project, units that would otherwise be forbidden. (NOTE B)
5) Increasing further the number of residential units allowed in any Lakeway District development project to 270 units (2014)
6) Increasing the size of the Lakeway District, thus further increasing the maximum number of potential new residential units (2014) that could be built in Shrewsbury.

The creation and expansion of the Lakeway District alone has done the following:
a) Grossman Development plans to build 260+ residential units in its Lakeway District project.
b) The design of a second development (bordering on Route 9 and Maple Avenue) in the Lakeway District has now been revised to allow for at least 150 residential units.
c) Preliminary plans for the old Fairlawn Plaza (corner of Route 9 and Maple Avenue) have been suspended. New plans may well include more residential units.

III) RESULT of these Actions/Inactions:
Higher population density and an increase in the total number of residential units that can potentially be built in Shrewsbury.

If the Lakeway District did not exist for just these three projects, there could be over 700 FEWER residential units eventually built in Shrewsbury

CONCLUSION: Town officials are correct in saying that 40B projects are bad because they further increase the town’s already high population density. But their actions and inactions on local initiatives, over which they have some control, have increased population density even more!

So are town officials just short-sighted, illogical, or schizophrenic? Whatever the cause, town officials are NOT serving the needs of the general public with regard to population growth!

NOTE A) Selected Town Population Densities

Town                                            Population (a)                Land Area in Sq.Mi. (b)           Calc. Density

Shrewsbury

36,077

20.7

1,743

Northborough

14,724

18.5

796

Westborough

18,455

20.5

900

Grafton

18,045

22.7

795

Concord

18,957

24.9

761

Holden

17,636

35.0

504

Auburn

16,287

15.5

1,053

Franklin

32,374

26.7

1,213

(a) Source: MA Dept. of Revenue’s At-a-Glance reports as of 2012          (b) Source: Wikipedia

Instead of whining about how unfair 40B is to a densely populated town like Shrewsbury, town officials should be developing hard data, like what is shown above, that shows that Shrewsbury deserves relief from 40B. How about a Home Rule petition?

NOTE B) Town officials claim that developers had not proposed projects in the Lakeway District prior to 2014 because the regulations were too onerous. But the main reason why developers weren’t building in the Lakeway District were the high vacancy rates for commercial properties throughout the region over the last 10 years, which got even worse during the recession. Commercial properties in neighboring towns continue to be vacant, and here in Shrewsbury good commercial properties like those on South Street and the Allen property are still begging for development.