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Neighbors protesting Main Street development

New zoning allows retail, housing mix

By John Dyer
Globe Correspondent / March 15, 2012
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Three years ago, Town Meeting voters changed the zoning on the east side of Northborough to encourage new developments mixing shops, offices, and apartments. The idea was to create clusters that would generate tax revenue but require fewer public services.

Now, residents in the newly zoned neighborhood are having second thoughts.

Homeowners in the so-called Business East District are angry about local developer Tim Shay’s plan to tear down a single-family house at 130 Main St., and build three buildings with shops, offices, and 12 apartments in its place.

The altered zoning laws might allow for the project, but the proposal would make the heavily congested intersection of Brigham Street and Route 20 (Main Street) worse, and kill the character of the neighborhood, the homeowners say.

“It’s too dense,’’ said Deidre Merritt, who lives on Wesson Terrace, about a quarter-mile from Route 20. “It spills into a residential area with lots of single-family homes and young families with kids.’’

Shay could not be reached for comment.

Homeowners said Shay had discussed the project with them, and had even agreed to remove balconies that would have given his tenants a bird’s-eye view of their yards. But he has rebuffed their requests that he build only two buildings on the 1.8-acre lot, they said.

Residents will have another chance to ask Shay to curtail his proposal when the Zoning Board of Appeals resumes its hearing on the project, slated for 7 p.m. March 27.

Around 75 people attended the board’s hearing last month, according to Northborough’s town planner, Kathryn Joubert, who said she expects a similar audience to show up at the upcoming Tuesday night session.

The zoning in the district requires the board to approve Shay’s plan, said Joubert. She understands why residents might be critical of the project, Joubert said, but pointed out that it fits with the development envisioned in the new zoning approved by Town Meeting in 2009.

“The neighbors are used to seeing this small, abandoned white house there,’’ said Joubert. “Yet that house is sitting in the middle of a commercial district. Change is very hard.’’

Meanwhile, the town’s Historical Commission is taking a look at the project. On March 7, the commission designated 130 Main St. as a historically significant property, citing its legacy as home to a shoemaker’s business in the mid-1800s, said the building inspector, Bill Farnsworth.

The designation triggered Northborough’s demolition bylaw, which requires Shay to wait until early August before he can tear down the single-family house; in the meantime, the Historical Commission will be seeking alternatives to the structure’s razing.

Most homeowners said they wanted Shay to reduce the amount of cars that would use the site’s proposed 66-space parking lot. The development would face Route 20, but it also would have an entryway on Brigham Street that could divert drivers through residential areas, they said.

Shay provided a traffic study with his application to the Zoning Board of Appeals that forecast around 462 cars entering and leaving the proposed development every day, a fraction of the 18,400 cars that the study said commonly pass on Route 20 during weekdays.

Homeowners weren’t persuaded. “Adding one more car is a quality-of-life issue, and they are talking about 462 cars daily,’’ said Carol Chione, who lives on Brigham Street. “It’s not that I’m against business, but I think there needs to be some serious modifications.’’

Joubert sympathized with Chione and her neighbors. She said the town was working on improving the crossroads.

“The intersection where this is being located is definitely a difficult intersection in town,’’ said Joubert, adding that state transportation officials who have jurisdiction over the road had repeatedly denied the town’s requests to put a traffic signal there.

The town has been studying the feasibility of adding a connecting road that would link Brigham to Maple Street, which is less than 50 feet east from Brigham’s intersection with Route 20, said Joubert.

Drivers heading from Brigham Street to Maple Street often clog up Route 20. A connector would help clear up the intersection, she said.

It’s not clear whether the new link would satisfy local residents, however.

“We are just trying to keep this small, quaint look to our town,’’ said Leland Drive resident Karen Ares.

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