Natick Fall Annual Town Meeting picked things up for night #2 on Thursday, Oct. 19, with Article 15, which involved lots of numbers and letters, plus a handful of other zoning articles and a few citizen petitions.
Director of Community & Economic Development Amanda Loomis took Town Meeting through proposed zoning updates in Articles 15, 16 and 17, largely of a housecleaning nature related to land use. Loomis described the changes as “setting the stage for future substantive amendments” by reorganizing information so it’s easier to use based on an ordering of letters and numbers. She called out a few items, such as making it clearer where research & development and lab uses might fall, in light of recent town discussions on the bio lab front and the emergence of more energy-related developments.
Zoning clean-ups do always tend to excite the crowd. Town Meeting member Rick Jennett, showing enthusiasm for Article 15, said “I’m thrilled. Organizational therapy for our community is fantastic…” Apparently he had company on that thought: the article passed unanimously.
Other zoning cleanups included removing references to subsidized housing districts in the bylaws since nothing in the community is zoned that way. Such zoning was unnecessary in light of other developments in town, including the addition of an inclusionary zoning bylaw, smart growth overlay districts, and a housing production plan to ensure Natick supports.
Article 20 involved expanding on amended zoning from the Spring Annual Town Meeting for parcels along Lake Cochituate, shifting them from Industrial-II to Highway Mixed Use-I. The goal is to allow for a more cohesive district, Loomis said, that goes from the FedEx-MathWorks campus to the Cochituate Rail Trail (there’s still a residential buffer there), and to allow for future growth of a small corporate campus but with fewer different types of zoning districts in the location. The motion for this article easily passed.
Bring on the citizen petitions
Here’s where things got a bit uncomfortable, as Town Meeting took up a series of citizen petitions.
In Article 21, the proponent sought to have properties at 24, 26, and 30 North Main Street rezoned from Residential General to Downtown Mixed-Use or Center Gateway, extending that zoning past Cochituate Street along Rte. 27. Unfortunately, for 30 North Main St., in particular, where the property had long been used for retail and residential, approval for retail at the site expired due to lack of use for that purpose for too long.
30 North Main St., has had a history of retail use, and was last home to Natick Appliance, but that business stopped operating before the pandemic. It had previously housed a furniture shop and gift store for many years. The proponent pitched the property as an ideal mixed use candidate given its proximity to town improvements in that area, such as the train station, Rte. 27 itself, and the rail trail.
Attorney Kenneth Phillips, speaking on behalf of the owners, said one of the “heartbreaking components” of the situation is that the owners have been approached by many prospective business tenants but that they’ve had to be referred to town hall. Donna Bradley, a member of the family that owns the property, reiterated these sentiments during remarks, stressing the predicament that she and her family are now in given their inability to lease the property to possible tenants.
Phillips asked for a referral back to the article sponsor, which seeks to work with the Planning Board on a plan that might get approval at Spring Annual Town Meeting.
Going more smoothly was Article 22, which sought to extend Downtown Mixed Use zoning to allow for body art establishments. This proposed amendment, which Town Meeting approved, was sparked by a business owner that provides skin care services seeking to add micro-blading and other such permanent make-up offerings. Further expansion of this allowed use could be back for discussion in the spring.
Article 23, seeking to safeguard roads from disproportionate housing developments for safety reasons, spurred discussion of whether the article should be referred back to the sponsor or that no action should be taken. There were concerns raised that the article was specifically designed to derail a plan to plop 32 affordable units onto 5 Auburn St., a dead-end street with just a few homes on it. “During the prior debate, it seemed very clear that there was, as a previous speaker referred to, a Trojan horse hidden in this article,” said one Town Meeting member in urging others to dispatch of it. In the end, Town Meeting voted for no action.
Town Meeting peters out
Article 27, regarding roles and responsibilities of the Personnel Board, was being discussed nearly two hours into the meeting, when a call was made to figure out if a quorum remained at the high school auditorium. Nope, and that was that for the night, with things slated to pick up again on Tuesday, Oct. 24.