On two recent nights, residents from Norwood spilled out into the hallway outside a hearing room to consider a proposal to change the zoning of approximately eight acres of wooded land on Morse Street running along the Neponset River and Hawes Brook from a “Manufacturing” zone to a “General Residential” zone. The citizen-backed proposal, heard by the Planning Board, aims to head off a plan by Boch Enterprises to pave over the land for use as a car storage facility.
Supporters hope that rezoning the area as a residential lot will allow for a more beneficial and environmentally-sensitive development project.
Local residents say they recently met with company representatives who described the plan to use the land for car storage (though the company has not yet finalized its purchase of the land, nor has it formally proposed the project or applied for the appropriate development permits). Residents have expressed significant concern about the location of the project.
The parcel of land at issue is one of the few naturally vegetated and undeveloped stretches of riverfront in Norwood. It not only abuts the river, but also Eliot Park and several residential blocks. The land acts as a buffer between the river and people’s homes, storing floodwater when the river rises. Additionally, it serves as important habitat for wildlife in a busy, suburban community.
Residents are understandably worried about potential flooding to their homes should the natural vegetation be removed and the floodplain filled. They are also worried about the effect of a bridge that the company might build over Hawes Brook to access the lot from Morse Street, as well as potential water and light pollution from the lot itself. Additionally, residents cited public safety issues caused by the potential truck route through residential neighborhoods and near schools.
As NepRWA’s Advocacy Director, I attended the meeting to represent NepRWA’s strong interest in seeing this natural riverfront and floodplain protected. Community members expressed frustration with how many car lots the local car dealerships have built and continue to build in town, to the detriment of residential interests. They told the planning board that the zoning for this and other lots must be changed to reflect the needs of this residential neighborhood.
One resident said he felt it was a David and Goliath fight, and that rezoning the area was the town’s only hope of protecting the neighborhood. I expressed NepRWA’s support for the measure, and was able to answer residents questions about statutory protections for riverfront areas (for example, the Wetlands Protection Act restricts development within 200 feet of a river).
NepRWA would prefer to see the Town of Norwood purchase the land pursuant to its Open Space and Recreation Master Plan and open the riverfront to the public. Nevertheless, NepRWA supports the zoning amendment as an option that may be more amenable to providing public access and providing some environmental protections.
The Planning Board closed the hearing on Monday, April 9th. The Board plans to decide whether to recommend the measure at Town Meeting at its next public meeting on April 23rd. Whether the board recommends the zoning amendment favorably or does not, the petition will be considered by Town Meeting members this spring. We encourage all Norwood residents to contact their elected Town Meeting members to express their support for the measure, and ask members to vote favorably on the amendment at Town Meeting.
Finally, a Boch Enterprises representative indicated that an application for a special building permit will be submitted to the Planning Board within the next two weeks. Once that happens, the Board will set a date for a public hearing on the application. We encourage all Norwood residents to review the application and attend the hearing to ask questions of the developer and voice any concerns about the proposed project.
April 2018 — Kerry Snyder, Advocacy Director