Wellesley eyes adding apartments, condos near rail station
Wellesley officials are exploring a developer’s proposal to build apartments and condominiums at two municipal parking lots in Wellesley Square as part of an ongoing effort to create more affordable homes in town.
The development proposed by Boston-based Trinity Financial would be built at the Tailby Lot on Linden Street and the Railroad Lot on Railroad Avenue, near the Wellesley Square commuter rail station.
“We certainly have identified an ongoing need for affordable housing,” said Meghan Jop, Wellesley’s executive director of general government services.
Under Trinity’s proposal, the Railroad lot would be replaced with 45 mixed-income rental apartments in a 76,000-square foot building that would also include a 200-seat theater and art gallery. The site also would include 45 parking spaces for the rental units and new public open space.
The Tailby lot would become the location for a 116,000-square-foot building with 45 luxury condos. That site also would feature a 293-space parking lot for commuters, plus 90 spaces for the condos and an additional 22 “flex” spaces that are shared between the two uses.
The project comes as local officials have been prioritizing additional affordable housing as the cost of homes soars in the Boston area.
In February, for example, the median price for a single-family home in the Boston area was $577,500, up nearly 7 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the Greater Boston Association of Realtors.
In Wellesley, the pressure of high housing costs is a significant concern for residents, especially those who are retired and living on a fixed income.
“The town has been seeking diversification in our housing stock. The town is primarily single-family residential, and we often hear, particularly from residents 55-plus who are looking to downsize, that there’s really not [any] alternatives,” Jop said.
Under state guidelines, at least 10 percent of the housing stock in each community must be affordable to avoid Chapter 40B, the law that allows developers to seek waivers from some local zoning rules if that threshold is not met.
In Wellesley, the town will need 909 units to reach 10 percent, Jop said. It currently has 590 affordable units.
But the town could close that gap: Officials are reviewing a development at the Wellesley Office Park on William Street that would include 350 rental units, 25 percent of which would be affordable, she said.
Beyond that project, the town has several other developments under review that could bring additional affordable housing to Wellesley, she said.
Town officials also are looking to address what Jop called “the missing middle” for housing: places to live for residents earning 80 percent to 130 percent of the area median income.
In 2019, 80 percent of the median income for the Boston area would be $62,450 for a single person and $89,200 for a family of four, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We’re really lacking in that particular segment of affordability — of workforce housing,” Jop said.
In Wellesley Square, the town for years has considered other uses for the two parking lots, which combined have about 300 spaces on nearly 3 acres of land near the commuter rail station. The lots also are in walking distance to local restaurants, schools, and grocery stores.
Last year, selectmen put out a request for proposals to redevelop the parking lots, and chose Trinity from six respondents.
Trinity recently concluded its first phase of a “listening tour” with residents and local organizations. It included a June 18 meeting with residents where the proposal met with mixed reviews, Jop said — some very positive, some very much against it.
Dan Drazen, the vice president of development at Trinity Financial, said in a statement there has been excitement for a potential art gallery and theater. Developers also have heard from people who think the site makes sense as a place to create housing.
“After engaging with the Wellesley community, we have also come to understand that like any project that will create new housing and amenities, careful consideration must be given to concerns around parking, traffic, and density,” Drazen said. “Our plan is to spend the next few months refining our plans based upon what we have learned.”
Trinity’s listening tour will resume in the fall, when it shares updated design plans that incorporate the community’s input and feedback, according to the developer.
To move ahead with a project, a lease agreement for the lots will have to be negotiated by selectmen with the developer. If an agreement is reached, it would also have to be approved by Town Meeting, Jop said.
“It will be a controversial project because it’s a dramatic change to the area,” Jop said. “But it could have some really positive impacts.”