Wrentham might not have the burden of having a large population, but its residents have always been actively involved in the town’s development process. While they’ve had more than a few major proposals over my lifetime, most of my memories associated with Wrentham town hall meetings have to deal with the rejection of proposals.
Planning Board member Alex Lyon commented on the lack of truly noticeable development in Wrentham. According to him, many different factors have played into the inaction between town residents and the planning board. One misconception that Lyon believes townspeople have is that the planning board has the ability to initiate and prevent projects from moving forward.
“We merely guide projects along. Ultimately, the (towns) people have the tools to promote and stop development,” Lyon argues. “Disagreement will only limit growth in the town.”
In addition to disagreement, Wrentham’s developmental progress has been hindered by the lack of funds for many of the proposed projects. This is surprising, considering that towns with less development usually have lower property taxes. In any event, the lack of funds might also be attributed to Wrentham’s inability to attract any new sources of revenue. (ex. commercial development)
According to a 2013 report by the Town Finance Committee, Wrentham’s unappropriated funds, called “free cash,” have been used to fund recurring town expenses over the past few years. This has severely limited the capital budget (needed for development). It’s notable to mention that our free cash amounts to just a little over $1 million. The fact that town residents have rejected several potential revenue-producing projects in the past decade has almost certainly contributed to such a predicament.
In 2008, Wrentham residents chose to reject the construction of a CVS on an empty plot of land behind the Mobil station in the center of town. One resident cited her reasoning to vote against the proposal: “We have a quaint little downtown Wrentham. I want it to stay that way…who’s to say Walmart’s not following behind?”
Perhaps residents are truly satisfied with their low taxes, or maybe they just aren’t looking at the whole situation. Yet another proposal to bring money into the town has been met with hostility.
A roughly 50 acre parcel of land on Madison Street has attracted the interest of several developers for commercial use, due to its close proximity to Route 1 and Patriots Place in Foxborough. For years, landowner Joe Lorusso has strongly advocated for the rezoning of this area – 37 residential acres and 6.7 C-1 acres – to C-2, under Article 9 of the Town Zoning Bylaws. Section 9 gives a developer (within health and safety regulations) the ability to request a special zoning permit. Check out this Q&A document prepared by the Wrentham Economic Development Commission to get a better idea.
(Sorry the image is rather small, it’s bigger if you click on it)
The land has gained interest from a major hotel brand that would be developed by Madison Properties. Another developer, Wluka Real Estate, listed the area on it’s website as a “great opportunity for mixed use retail/commercial/hotel/residential development,” that “requires rezoning”. Both proposals can only be fulfilled if the residential area is rezoned to C-2. Of the roughly 50 acres, 6.7 in neighboring town of Plainville are already zoned commercially: a relatively easy second choice for the hotel brand if Wrentham rejects this proposal.
These 6.7 acres in Plainville are already being developed into a plaza that includes a Market Basket and two other stores. Not to mention, the Plainville Racecourse is attempting to install slot machines on its premises. In a statement issued by the Wrentham Economic Development Commission on June 10 of last year, the “Madison St. Development” is estimated to generate around $700,000 in annual commercial tax revenue for Wrentham. This would make it the 2nd largest commercial taxpayer in town (the first being Wrentham Outlets).
Madison Street residents strongly oppose this proposal, claiming that the street is small enough to be considered residential. Most point to the influx of traffic that a commercial development will drag along with it. Residents who purchased property on the street did so on the understanding that it would be considered residential. “It’s on Madison. It’s off a residential street. It’s our residential street,” claimed one Madison Street resident.
So, if C-2 commercial development is out of the question, what do Wrentham residents want? For one, claims Lyon, residents want to see more local businesses that are convenient for the individual and the town as a whole. At the office of his self owned company, Lyon Landscape Nursery Inc, Lyon has planted his own christmas tree farm, an example of what he believes townspeople want.
“People want to see more farmer’s markets, local businesses that reduce the cost of transportation and promote local production.”
Here’s where I did my homework: