Majority of Westwood Voters Approve New Areas Zoned for Mixed Use and Multi-family Housing (Updated)


Westwood’s Annual Town meeting on May 6th held in the Westwood High School auditorium, was notable for two things: (1) the unusual prevalence of voter opposition to several articles recommended by town officials, and (2) the passage of Article 21, which establishes new Mixed Use & Multi-Family Residential Overlay District (MUMFROD) areas in four select areas of Westwood, thereby removing hurdles to multi-family housing development, which will be allowed by right in those locations.

In recent memory, articles submitted to the town for vote have tended to sail through for the most part, with voters appearing to unquestionably follow the recommendations of the Finance and Warrant Commission (FinCom) and the town officials proposing the articles. But there have been exceptions.

This year, voters rejected Article 8, a request for additional capital improvements in the amount of $550,000, to upgrade and replace generators in municipal buildings and acoustic tiles for the swimming pool. Despite a unanimous FinCom recommendation in favor of Article 8 being adopted and the opportunity for a re-vote following a motion for reconsideration, Article 8 failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Voters also initially rejected Article 11, which provides for an appropriation of $725,000 for costs of purchasing and equipping a replacement brush/squad style fire truck. After failing to reach the required two-thirds majority vote, this article was also reconsidered. An additional 74 voters participated in the second round of voting, with 81 percent of those additional voters casting votes in favor of Article 11 passing. It passed.

Voters also initially rejected Article 18, Planning Board’s proposal to amend definitions of terms, including a new definition for “Affordable Dwelling Units.” After the article failed to garner the required two-thirds majority vote, a successful motion for reconsideration brought about a re-vote. The article passed on a re-vote.

Following the Article 18 discussion, Select Board member Robert Gotti felt compelled to address the votes rejecting articles. “I just want to acknowledge that there seems to be a large contingent voting ‘no’ on anything Planning Board-related, currently,” he observed. He asked for “the courtesy of respect of the people who spend a great deal of time,” referencing the work of Planning Board and Finance and Warrant Committee members in preparing the articles and recommendation on the articles for voter consideration.

When it came to the discussion of Article 21, which Planning Board proposed in response to the MBTA Communities Act that requires towns like Westwood with commuter or bus stops to create zones for multi-family housing located near those areas of public transit, a number of residents rose to speak:

  • Select Board outgoing chair Marianne LeBlanc Cummings reiterated that following the state housing law, to encourage production of affordable housing near public transit, is not optional. A rejection of Article 21 could put Westwood at risk of losing state funding and being the subject of a suit by the state’s Attorney General, she said. Additionally, a special master could be appointed to prepare the state-required zoning, taking discretion away from local residents.
  • Planning Board member Phil Giordano noted that Article 21 is an attempt to comply with state law with which Westwood does not have discretion. “We cannot say we are going to pick and choose the state laws we comply with,” he said, and also brought up the desire to avoid an outsider being appointed to decide zoning in Westwood.
  • Maria Constantini noted her belief that a right to public transportation is similar to a human right.
  • Planning Board member Kate Nee commented that the MUMFROD areas are mostly already in commercial use, and speculated that very few companies would close in order to develop multi-family housing.
  • Mr. Gotti spoke up again, this time to praise the participation of residents in the Article 21 discussion. “I just want to applaud everyone for being here,” he said, calling the forum the purest form of democracy in action. He noted that if Article 21 is rejected, there would be no time to become compliant with state housing law before Westwood’s end of year deadline. He noted the prudency of passing Article 21 to avoid the risk of the state exerting discretion in Westwood for siting multi-family housing.
  • David Atkins noted that it is a false idea that resistance to Article 21 will mean the status quo is preserved. Instead, he noted that Westwood houses continue to get larger, residential areas are not static, and it becomes harder to afford to live in Westwood.
  • Michael Kraft noted that people have a misconception of what affordable housing is. It’s not necessarily an area of poverty-stricken people, he said, but it could mean people who make less than the median income of the town. This includes the aging population, and children of Westwood residents who cannot afford to buy their own home in Westwood.

There were fewer voices arguing the other side:

  • George Laham urged voters to vote for the “values” of Westwood, noting that the town should not be fearful of litigation. “That’s why lawyers make money,” he said, indicating that fighting the requirements by the state to develop affordable housing should remain an option. 
  • Professor Peter Ittig asked voters to reject Article 21 as premature, stating that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is considering the issue as applied to the Town of Milton, and that Westwood should wait for the outcome of that case. 
  • Paul O’Brian called Article 21 a prime example of broad government overreach.

There were more comments as well. A motion to call the question passed with a two-thirds vote majority. The article itself passed with a majority in favor, 229 yes votes to 165 no votes.

Aside from Article 8, voters passed all other articles at Town Meeting.

Updated 5.17.2024 at 9:43 a.m. A sentence incorrectly stated that Westwood's Article 21 requires communities to establish zones for multi-family housing near public transit.  A correction has been made to state that Article 21 was proposed in response to the state requirement in the MBTA Communities Act for zones for multi-family housing near public transit.

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