Tired of living in crowded cities, Regan and Dan Roderigues were thrilled to find a new two-story Colonial in Randolph, on a dead-end street in a diverse neighborhood surrounded by woods. It had the small-town vibe they wanted their daughter, Harper, to grow up in.
Now, one year later and with a few boxes still unpacked, the Roderigues family wants out.
“We’ve just settled in. Now we’re trying to figure out how we can get out,” Regan Roderigues in an interview.
The backyard of their new home on Army Street directly abuts the Pacella Industrial Park, where a proposal to build a 250-unit apartment complex won a key zoning change in December.
The Roderigues family, as well as many of the people who have fought the development for five years, are now preparing for what they are sure will be a painful transition as their neighborhood doubles in size.
The developer and some town officials, however, say the project will have minimal impact on the neighborhood and benefit the town. As the “highest and best” use of the property, town officials estimate it will generate $350,000 to $550,000 in annual tax revenue.
“We think we are doing something that will be an asset to the town,” said Drew Dolben, executive vice president of Dolben Co. of Woburn. “While the number [of units] sounds like a lot, it will be attractive. There will be plenty of green space. We’re not going to have impact on the neighborhood per se. [The neighbors’] concerns are more the fear of the unknown.”
The company has developed and manages about 12,000 apartment units on the East Coast. “We think we’re good neighbors,” Dolben said.
At an emotional meeting in December, the Town Council voted 6-to-3 to approve a zoning overlay district that could allow up to 300 apartments to be built on about 13.5 acres and requires the owner to get a special permit.
The land had been set aside for industrial and commercial uses since the 1950s and lost its major tenant, Dunkin’ Donuts, to Canton in 1999. It currently houses various educational, industrial, and commercial companies.
Dolben Co. and the owner of the property, Equity Industrial Partners, plans this spring to seek a special permit calling for about 250 one- and two-bedroom apartments, Dolben said. A Plan Review Authority, which will give residents additional say, will be set up once an application for the permit is received.
“It’s something we need to grow the tax base,” Town Councilor Richard A. Brewer Jr. said in his final meeting as a councilor.
The vote comes as the town is beginning to get a foothold in recovering from the tough economic times and as it enters its fourth year under a town council form of government, Town Manager David C. Murphy said.
A supporter of the rezoning, Murphy said the town has to expand its tax base in order to move forward. Some councilors who voted in favor of the proposal said they felt enough safeguards were in place for the roughly 500 people who live in the 250 single-family homes near the park, including the main provision that any construction will require the vote of the Town Council.
For five years, Joe LaMarre of the Russ Street Neighborhood Association has been leading the fight against the rezoning proposal. He said he feels the development is a done deal at this point, even though the developer still needs to apply for a special permit
“How can you turn it down if it meets all the required specifications?” LaMarre asked.
“We get accused at every single meeting of not cooperating. The density is so obnoxious. What are we supposed to do? If they wanted to put 70 units in, we wouldn’t complain, but [300 units] is beyond anything that you can imagine,” LaMarre said.
He said more than 65 residents spoke in public meetings against the proposal and many more, including those from other parts of town, signed a petition against it.
A retired engineer, LaMarre said the town needs more industry, especially in its industrial park. He added that the move goes against the values of the town’s master plan, which, although 13 years old, states that no multifamily dwellings be constructed.
Neighbors don’t believe studies that show no significant impact on traffic on their narrow winding streets. Trucks are currently prohibited from passing through their neighborhood, and the industrial Park does not draw weekend traffic, LaMarre said.
Rich and Nancy Fahey, who live on Russ Street, said the town seems to be minimizing potential costs to the town. Randolph, which has its own reservoir, frequently has water bans and could be forced to rely on such sources as the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, they say.
Regan Roderigues said she has received a quick education in town politics. “I didn’t even know what a master plan was, or that towns have them. I want to be a good supportive member of the community. I just felt that whatever we said didn’t matter. It was all about the money. That money isn’t even guaranteed,” she said.
Roderigues said her family were apartment dwellers in Boston, and owned a three-family in Quincy’s Wollaston neighborhood. “We enjoyed it at the time, but they were always kind of loud and noisy and not family-oriented. We were looking for a quiet suburban place to raise our child,” she said.
Roderigues admitted that she and her husband didn’t do enough research to dispel the impression they were given that the wooded area that starts about 300 feet from their property was protected land.
A neighbor, John T. Pacella, lives on McKim Street abutting the park on what he calls an “idyllic” 2½ acres where he and his husband, Marc Fournier, can raise a few goats and chickens.
“As of April 1, we are putting our house on the market,” said Pacella, whose grandfather was behind the creation of the industrial park.
Pacella, who is a Realtor, said he feels the town’s market for apartments is already saturated and the new units will reduce the already low home values in what he considers one of Randolph’s best neighborhoods.
“The town has kicked us aside like we’re a piece of garbage. I can’t trust our town officials anymore, “ Pacella said.