In a public hearing last night, residents expressed concern about three scenarios proposed for approximately half of the 163.3 acres of land on which stand the remains of the Westborough State Hospital. Concerns included the emphasis on residential housing, a lack of lakefront open space and the impact to from development.
About a hundred people filled Room 23 of the Forbes Municipal Building, including officials from Westborough, Northborough and the state.
At issue is the future of a prime piece of real estate, primarily wooded, sitting north of Route 9. The parcel includes Lake Chauncy and is zoned in Westborough for mixed use.
The remains of the hospital dot the acreage. Neglected buildings, declared protected by the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC), remain untouched and boarded closed. Approximately 500,000 square feet of space from these vacant buildings will have to be reused because of MHC regulations.
The audience listened as three very similar proposals were presented by Sasaki Associates, a firm hired to create workable plans. In each, townhouses, apartments, multi-family units, restaurants, shops, a pier into Lake Chauncy, assisted living and office space would create a new community.
On average, the proposals included about 25,000 to 35,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 to 35,000 square feet of office space, 250 to 350 apartment units, 200 to 300 townhouse units and 80 to 120 beds of assisted living space. The impact, it was explained, would result in about 1,200 new town residents and introduce about 130 students into the school system.
While almost all of the development would be in Westborough, a small parcel in Northborough would also be developed, consultants explained, and could include cottages or an assisted living complex using the existing Chauncy Hall.
To illustrate the possibilities for the land, photographs were shown of similar state hospital transformations. These included Foxboro State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital in Lexington and Danvers State Hospital.
Before sharing a presentation about the fiscal impact of the proposals, the meeting was opened to public comment. It was then that the excitement for land development was put to the test.
The concerns were many and included the impact to the town’s already strained water and sewer system, intrusion and possible pollution into Lake Chauncy, the traffic impact to the Lyman and Route 9 intersection, the loss of open space, and the possible need to redistrict a school system that is already buckling from crowded classrooms and years of budget constraints.
“Who’s going to pay for this?” asked Blake Street resident Paula Less. “What kind of an impact will there be on the town for infrastructure?” She also expressed concern about water and sewer demands.
Town Engineer Carl Balduf explained that the state hospital predates the town water and sewer system and had never been served by the town when it was operating. The facility runs off the MWRA from Northborough, he said. Resident Don Burns later explained that the MWRA was built in 1890 and never updated.
Warren Street resident Deb Veatch noted the many vacant commercial properties and hard-to-sell condos in the Bay State Commons area. “It just seems like overkill to have more of it all,” she said.
Wheeler Road resident Scott Shumway said, “I don’t believe that this plan expresses the will or the interests of the Westborough people.” All of the plans will destroy the scenic vistas of the area, he said.
Town Planner Jim Robbins reminded the audience that this is not Westborough’s property. It belongs to the state. He recognized that the people in the room want this land to stay as an open space. “My chagrin is that this site will have to be developed …short of the town purchasing the land,” he said.
When it was time for Selectman Lydia Goldblatt to comment, she scolded state representatives. “I strongly feel that Westborough has more than paid its due to the Westborough State Hopistal,” she said.
Goldblatt went on to say that the Town of Westborough had provided generations of service, such as police and fire, to the hospital. She wanted to know how the town would be repaid for that. She asked that the town receive a portion of the proceeds that the state will receive for selling the land.
“The town is at the breaking point of where we can go financially,” she said. “If it were up to me personally, I would like to see it remain open space and fields for the kids in town and we’re done.”
Selectman Rod Jane added, “I was very disappointed to see the heavy emphasis on residential.” He suggested that a more commercial, or all commercial, development might integrate well with recreational fields.
Two and a half hours into the hearing, it was suggested that the proceedings be ended to allow everyone to digest comments and suggestions. Consultants did not present the fiscal impact of the proposal, as was planned. A new public hearing to continue discussions will be announced soon, officials agreed.
The three scenarios presented at the meeting can be reviewed on the Town of Westborough website. recorded the hearing for future broadcast.