40B on Grove Street Could Have the Winning Formula


Above, highlighted area on assessor's map shows location of proposed 40B at 121 Grove Street.

Though we are very sensitive to the multigenerational problem of too little and too expensive housing, we have also been wary of schemes that try to jam more housing into mature and thriving neighborhoods in Franklin. And we don’t love the state’s 40B law that gives developers a pass on many local development requirements if a portion of a project includes affordability.

So, we didn’t iimmediately cheerlead on a 40B housing project aimed for industrial-zoned Grove Street. And despite a convincing presentation from the developer Wednesday night, neither did the Town Council, declining to recommend the project to the Planning Board in a 4 yes and 5 no decision, something my colleague, Steve Sherlock at Franklin Matters, called out in blunt language. [“Town Council whiffs on an easy layup to bring more housing and "Affordable" housing to Franklin”].

After hearing the developer's presentation, including an amazing potential increase in tax revenues from the site, we are inclined to agree. Given the options facing the town, it may just be that this is one project that deserves the green light. In fact, as one citizen who testified at the hearing noted, in this one project the town could get 80 affordable unit – a number that could only be equaled by permitting perhaps 10 smaller projects with an affordable component.

The 121 Grove Street project has been making the rounds of town officials and boards and commissions, pursuing what is being called a “Friendly” 40B process that aims to produce a win-win, with less money wasted on costly submissions and revisions and sometimes litigation and instead getting the developer most of what they want, usually with some sweetener for the town, too.

121 Grove Street, is a 26-acre parcel and Fairfield Residential, the same company that developed the Station 117 apartment complex on Dean Avenue a few years ago, has similarly ambitious plans here. Having walked the property with the town’s original Open Space Committee more than 20 years ago, I can vouch for the wet conditions in enough locations that the site is far from ideal for most any industrial or commercial uses. But for housing, it is far more favorable. Architects and engineers reckon they can work around sensitive parts of the property potentially producing a project that is able to accommodate many residents while also being aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sensitive. Aesthetically it would probably be a better neighbor for the State Forest than any industrial use. And it doesn't disrupt the town center, which is in gridlock for hours on some days.

And while its location on Grove does present some traffic challenges it also brings life to a sterile section of the road and may come with sidewalk improvements. Furthermore, future tenants will have three good ways to get to stores, schools, entertainment, and work, namely via the intersection with West Central and the  improved intersection with Washington Street and via Beaver to West Central.

According to the company’s website, the San Diego-based Fairfield organization is a “leading owner, developer, and operator of apartment communities throughout the U.S.,” managing in excess of 40,000 units ranging from luxury to affordable. The company is majority-owned by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).

The project has been discussed with Town Manager Jamie Hellen and with the town’s Technical Review Committee, as well as Historical Commission, Conservation Commission, etc.

The next stop is the Zoning Board of Appeals.

In the end, 40B puts most of the cards in the hand of the developer. So, maybe, just maybe Bruce Hunchard and his ZBA colleagues will find a winning formula that works for the town and the developer.

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