Tag Archives: Wrentham

Smartgrowth in Wrentham, Pt. 3: What Do Residents Want?

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.

Madison St. proposal map


(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:











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Smartgrowth in Wrentham, Pt.2: Cluster Developments and Effluent Drainage

As I tried to highlight in my last post, Wrentham is a town that does not require a complete “Smartgrowth” approach to its town planning and construction. With a population slightly over 10,000 and density of around 500 residents per square mile, Wrentham is not yet big enough to effectively support an approach like that of Portland, Oregon. The other two towns in the “tri-town” region, Norfolk and Plainville, are in roughly the same situation.

According to Wrentham Planning Board member Alex Lyon, Wrentham and surrounding towns in the proximity of the Charles River have taken a proactive approach to Smart-planning. While more densely populated cities center their Smartgrowth planning around infrastructure, Wrentham employs a conservationist approach when building new housing developments.

Possessing much of the rural land that Wrentham is known for, Sheldonville’s (West Wrentham) housing developments are quite large (and affluent). A great example of the adoption of Smart planning is at the Oak Hill Avenue development. Oak Hill Avenue possesses several aspects of a Smart residential development. As a residential cluster development, developer Howard Bailey makes Oak Hill stand out from most other large-home residential developments in Wrentham.

The Wrentham Open Space Preservation District (OSPD) has advocated cluster development, a process in which a developer purchases a certain number of acres to construct houses on, yet decreases the average zoning size of each lot. With decreased lot sizes, the developer is left with more open space – conserved land for communal use by residents. This land “communal use” usually involves an environmentally friendly idea, like a walking trail or bike path.

According to Lyon, this “tighter density” building allows for the developer to make more money than that of the traditional approach of building larger lot sizes. Obviously, the developer saves money on building materials such as gas and asphalt. In addition, he or she can charge the normal price for a lot, despite the decreased size by advertising the communal space. In the case of Oak Hill, Bailey appealed to the town to decrease the average lot size of 62 large homes in Sheldonville (2 acres) to only one, while preserving the $2 million worth of undeveloped forest for communal walking trails.

While not necessarily “Smart” in the urban sense, cluster development certainly focuses on minimalist use of energy. Take a look in your back yard. Most likely, you have a septic tank that needs to be pumped manually when it fills up with solid waste. As it fills, the wastewater (mildly referred to as “effluent”) overflows into an overflow tube, seeping into the group elsewhere in a leeching field. This effluent includes that of your washing machine, sink, and shower.

In cluster developments, developers are creating effluent sewage systems rather than septic ones. Rather than having all the waste and effluent sit in a septic tank, an effluent system leaves solid waste behind while draining the wastewater to an centralized treatment plant underground through gravity. From there, it percolates back into the water table, usable again for drinking. Often, groundwater recharge ponds are created to help rainwater and surface water leech back into the ground. Cluster developments are perfect for this system, as narrower streets and underground utilities make for easy maintenance and “very little impact on natural surroundings” according to Lyon. For residents living on one of the three lakes in town, extra care is taken – drainage requires frequent solid waste removal as well as constant pumping to keep effluent away from the water body.

New developments are being build all around east Wrentham too, for example: Fox Run (Park Street), Eagle Brook Village (140), and Christina Drive (Creek Street). Unlike the rural landscape that is more permissive to construction in Sheldonville, development closer to Wrentham’s center poses the challenge of constructing around wetlands. All three of these developments are close to bodies of water, mainly the Eagle Brook, which flows south to feed Lake Pearl. Certainly, a Smartgrowth method such as cluster development will be used in lieu of other traditional development methods.


Fox Run on Park Street (that’s a lot of land!)


Developments close to the Eagle Brook and Lake Pearl


In my next blog, I’ll discuss potential planning ideas for the town as well as bad proposals that have been made over recent years. Of course, it will be related to Smartgrowth!





-Eagle Brook Village


-Fox Run (look at the price of those houses! The housing bubble is still inflating!)



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Addressing “Smartgrowth” in Wrentham, Pt. 1: An Overview

On the East and West coasts, urban sprawl is everywhere. You may not have heard the term “sprawl” before, but you’ve almost certainly grasped the idea of it. The most popular (yet indirect) depiction of sprawl can be seen in AMC’s “Breaking Bad”. The urban sprawl in Arizona and New Mexico is incredible – nearly one million lots were prepared for use in Arizona at the time of the market crash – yet, those who couldn’t afford such expensive property simply halted development.

For example, the Laveen Farms community in Central Arizona contains lots that were in the early stages of development, yet were abandoned as the project got more expensive. Fire hydrants, utility stanchions, and even manholes sit in the sand of empty lots, strikingly out of place.


Sprawl outside of Rio Rancho, NM (the balloon really tells the story here)

This the most obvious, yet underreported story outside of major cities on the East and West coasts. Whether land is unused or pre-developed, unresolved economic shortcomings have truly exposed the rate at which sprawl is affecting states. Thankfully, more and more city planners have come up with the idea of Smart growth as a viable social and economic solution to unnecessary neglect of usable land.

For those who are unfamiliar with Smart growth, it is a method that originated in cities, with the purpose of reducing sprawl. An ambiguous term, sprawl is most commonly associated with decentralization of an urban center as the population moves outward.

Many people have the perception that suburbs are “cleaner” and more community-oriented than cities. This is a complete misperception. Unlike cities, most suburbs are not planned out with community in mind. Nothing is within walking distance. Houses are either built in isolated clusters, or with at least an acre of lot space. Workers commuting to their city centers flood state and interstate highways, creating traffic and the potential for injury (not to mention they pollute the air)!


“While densely-populated cities produce less greenhouse gas emissions per person, the suburban sprawl around these cities — and the increased driving, bigger homes, and higher emissions from goods and services that accompany suburban living — essentially cancels out that benefit, according to new research from the University of California at Berkeley.” (Think Progress)


Although it seems like a straightforward process, it isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution, according to Daniel Kammen, a professor of Public Policy at Berkeley’s Goldman School. For example, Portland, Oregon has reduced it’s CO2 emissions by approaching Smartgrowth through transportation policies; as a result, it has the lowest per-capita vehicle ownership of all large cities in the US.

My hometown, Wrentham, is a great example of a town that hasn’t experienced the full effects of sprawl, but is en-route to such an end result. (GPL as example) I remember the dangerous and lengthy process of riding my bike from the East side of town to the West as a teenager. The discontinuous sidewalks on a major roads had me checking over my shoulder for cars for the entire 30 minute cycle. MOST residents in Wrentham commute and get where they want by car. Aside from the daily joggers, our town-center is usually devoid of pedestrians – but there’s ALWAYS traffic impatiently edging forward at a four-way intersection.


In my next blog post, I’ll discuss an interview that I conducted with a town planner, and how Wrentham (and other towns around us) are approaching Smartgrowth and sprawl.



Some sources for my “general knowledge” statements (unquoted information)





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