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The Lynnfield Board of Selectmen is facing sharp criticism after its decision to name a short road leading into the MarketStreet Lynnfield mixed-use development, just weeks after Town Meeting said no.
On May 19, the board named the state-owned road Market Street. By naming the road, the town fulfilled a state Department of Transportation requirement that will allow signs on Route 128/Interstate 95 directing motorists to the street — and the businesses, restaurants, golf course, and residences within the development.
Proponents say the signs will improve safety by providing better directions to the development. However, critics say the vote circumvents the will of town residents: At the April 28 annual Town Meeting, voters defeated an article asking the town to accept the road leading into the development as a public way.
“You can’t just override that vote, and that’s what I felt they did,” said Selectman Tom Terranova, the dissenting vote in the board’s 2-to-1 decision. “It was like they were thumbing their nose [at citizens], and just doing what they thought was right. I could not agree with that.”
“It’s a slap in the face to the people who voted at Town Meeting,” said resident Wally MacKenzie. “People who have lived [in Lynnfield] all their lives have told me they’ve never seen anything like this.”
But Selectman Phil Crawford said the move addresses the traffic concerns as well as the major objections raised at Town Meeting. Specifically, residents were concerned the town would still have liability issues, despite an agreement that the development would accept maintenance and liability. There were also other concerns, including that the town was accepting a road it had little role in designing.
“This gets rid of all those objections and still protects the town of Lynnfield,” said Crawford.
Some of those who opposed the vote criticized the swiftness of the action. Selectmen were asked to delay their vote for two weeks.
“I don’t know why it had to be done then and there,” said Katy Shea, a resident.
“I don’t object to what they did; I object to the process,” said Frank Sawin, a neighbor of the development.
But Board of Selectmen chairman David Nelson said it was necessary to move quickly for public safety.
Police Chief David Breen “stood up at both meetings and said it was a public safety issue,” Nelson said. “When there’s a public safety issue, our responsibility is to react.
“We don’t want to circumvent Town Meeting — Town Meeting is sacred,” Nelson said. “I wish people would just get the right information before they shoot negative e-mails all over the place.”
National Development’s Ted Tye, a MarketStreet partner with WD Development, has requested that state highway officials install four signs — on both northbound and southbound lanes of the highway and on both ramps at Exit 43 — to help direct drivers to the development.
The transportation department won’t put up signs for businesses, but it commonly puts up signs to streets that major developments are located on.
Town officials say that as a result of delivery truck drivers and shoppers losing their way, there have been accidents as well as reports of drivers turning around in residential neighborhoods, and in some cases knocking on doors to ask for directions.
McKenzie noted that the signs will provide more than a public safety benefit for the development.
“Public safety may play a small part of it, but for somebody to say it’s purely for public safety is kind of Orwellian,” he said. “It’s a piece, but not the whole thing.”
As McKenzie and Sawin see it, the town could have used the marketing value of the signs to negotiate with MarketStreet Lynnfield. “We gave them something for nothing,” McKenzie said.
“My take is that we want MarketStreet to succeed,” said Nelson. “We want our businesses to be healthy and financially secure, because that will help Lynnfield be healthy and financially secure. There’s a lot of revenue coming to Lynnfield from MarketStreet.”
“We want MarketStreet to be as successful as possible,” he said. “We don’t want to do anything that will be detrimental to the town, but putting a sign on the highway? How is that detrimental to the town?”
Currently in its second building phase, MarketStreet Lynnfield opened in August 2013, mixing retail, restaurants, community activities, office space, and residences.
Located at the former Colonial Golf Course, the project includes 180 apartments, and (on land donated by the developer) a public nine-hole golf course and a 48-unit residential building for people age 60 or older.
The town has estimated that annual real estate taxes, the local meals tax, and other revenues generated by MarketStreet will total $2.5 million to $3 million, said Crawford, a former vice chairman of the Lynnfield Finance Committee. Factoring in the costs of additional police and fire coverage, and anticipated schooling costs from those in the apartment buildings, he said the town anticipates netting $2 million in annual tax revenue. Nelson said that amount could be even greater.
As Crawford sees it, the people who oppose the street name seem to be a group opposed to anything the town does to accommodate the development.
“They’re just dead set against anything that would benefit MarketStreet,” he said.
Sawin, a MarketStreet neighbor, said that’s not an accurate depiction. While he has opposed the development in the past, he said, he now frequents it regularly, purchasing food from Whole Foods Market and dining at the development’s restaurants.
“I want it to thrive,” said Sawin, who said that with the exception of some “growing pains” including an occasional noise issue, the development has been a good neighbor.
He is still concerned that traffic will increase as the development is completed, Sawin said. And Shea noted that she had concerns about pedestrian access.
Tye said MarketStreet has tried to be responsive to neighbors’ concerns.
“It’s in our best interest to be sure we work well with neighbors, that our customers get to the site whether they’re driving or walking in the safest and easiest possible way,’” he said. “And if there are any continued issues along those lines, we’ll be right out in front of them.”