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Housing proposal gets mixed reaction in Wellesley

The six-story development would be built across from the Wellesley Square commuter rail station.
The six-story development would be built across from the Wellesley Square commuter rail station.EMBARC Studio

WELLESLEY — A proposed housing development that would add 95 new rental units across the street from the MBTA’s Wellesley Square commuter rail station has some town officials concerned about the impact on the neighborhood.

Developer Victor Sheen, president of Brookline-based Oakgrove Residential, wants to replace five homes on Delanson Circle with a six-story development with 95 rental units, including 19 apartments that would be affordable to households earning 50 percent of the median income in the Boston area.

Sheen is seeking a waiver from local zoning rules to build under Chapter 40B, a state law designed to spur the development of affordable housing.


According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, a family of four with an income of $51,700 in 2017 would be earning 50 percent of the area’s median income.

In Wellesley, rents are significant: Nearly one-third of Wellesley households that pay rent spend at least 30 percent of their monthly income on housing, according to the US Census’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey.

“I think we can demonstrate that our project will be a safe and friendly project to the neighborhood,” Sheen said.

But town officials who spoke Monday night during a packed joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board opposed the project over concerns about increased traffic on already-busy streets, risks to public safety, and environmental issues, such as heavier stormwater runoff.

“I don’t think you’re hearing from this board that we oppose a development in this location. But this is too intense a use,” said Marjorie Freiman, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.

Town officials will send their comments to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, which is considering Sheen’s Chapter 40B application, Freiman said.

State officials may allow a developer to build under the law if the number of affordable units in a municipality makes up less than 10 percent of its total housing stock.


In Wellesley, 6.2 percent of the housing stock meets the criteria, according to Michael D. Zehner, planning director.

Sheen said he was interested in the Delanson Circle project due the “transit-oriented nature” of the location.

The proposal calls for 84 parking spaces inside the building, plus a publicly accessible courtyard. Planners said in filings that the building would be nestled into the existing incline of the property, to minimize its impact on the neighborhood.

Sheen said his firm has a track record of working with local communities. Earlier this year, Brookline officials approved Sheen’s proposal for a Chapter 40B development with 25 rental units.

Sheen said he has already made some changes to the development, including the location of the garage entrance to address traffic concerns, based on the feedback from town officials.

But Jean McCorry, of Linden Street, said the Wellesley proposal’s details remain poorly thought out, such as the use of a narrow side street to connect with an entrance.

“This is basically saying you can go into any neighborhood in any town . . . and throw anything up there without thinking about the safety and the aesthetics of the rest of the town,” McCorry said.

McCorry’s brother, Paul Mortarelli, who also lives on Linden Street, said the development would be out of place in a suburban neighborhood. “It’s like a project being done in South Boston, on the highway, rather than a little residential area,” Mortarelli said.


May Carey of Westerly Street said the complex would add too many homes to the neighborhood. “Ninety-five units, for the population, that is unimaginable,” she said.

Westerly Street resident Polly Conlon also believes the project is too dense for Wellesley, but said residents would support smaller-scale affordable housing.

“I think most of the people are really in favor of 40B,” Conlon said. “People don’t want to live here to be so exclusive that other people can’t live here.”

Raymond Niro, also of Westerly Street, worries that increased traffic could block emergency vehicles.

“I certainly think the town needs more affordable housing; I’m all for that. It’s just the scale of the project is the problem,” Niro said.

Selectman Jack Morgan said the town needs a plan to erect more affordable housing and reach the 10 percent threshold under the housing law.

“If we had a housing production plan that the state had approved, and we were meeting the goals of, we would have a reasonably powerful defense against this. Frankly, we don’t right now,” he said.

Morgan said he didn’t want to create “overly optimistic expectations” that town officials could complete such an effort quickly, but they need to work on it.

“We really need to move on that, and frankly, that’s going to require the town making decisions that some neighborhoods or some residents may not like,” Morgan said during the meeting.

The proposal comes as the Boston area faces a recent downturn in housing construction, particularly for multi-family developments. The number of permits for new housing units had grown from about 4,700 in 2009 to nearly 14,000 in 2015, according to a report released in November by Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy. But researchers said there was an 18 percent drop in permits in 2016.


And virtually all of the decline in permitting is for multi-family housing with five or more units, falling from 9,042 permits in 2015 to 6,140 last year, the report said.

Wellesley officials are also reviewing a Chapter 40B proposal along a stretch of Route 9 at 680 Worcester St. It would replace a single-family home with a four-story, 20-unit apartment building, according to documents filed by developer Jay Derenzo of J. Derenzo Properties LLC in Needham. Five units would be affordable to households earning 80 percent of the median income.

The proposal is similar to one reviewed by town officials for the same site last summer, according to selectmen records. But instead being developed, the property was sold to Derenzo for $662,500 in August, according to the town assessor’s records.

Derenzo could not be reached for comment.

Pete Buhler of Stearns Road, an informal spokesman for 20 families in the neighborhood near the Route 9 site, said his group opposed both 20-unit developments over concerns about traffic and safety.

He said he supports affordable housing, but the development would not fit at the site. “It would be doubling the size of our neighborhood on one piece of property,” Buhler said.


Selectmen will post draft copies of their comments on the town’s website and consider further input from the Planning Board during at a July 18 meeting, said Meghan Jop, assistant executive director of Wellesley’s office of general government.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.