FOXBORO – Sometimes, neighborhood issues spill over into neighboring towns.
Now, South Walpole residents fear that Foxboro’s at-times cozy partnership with the Kraft Group could leave their families stuck in the flickering shadows of a wind turbine taller than Boston’s 496-foot Custom House Tower.
They fear that Foxboro’s commitment to economic growth on Route 1 could come at the cost of their quality of life, as an already bustling Gillette Stadium area gains 25- to 30-story buildings in a high-tech complex with a hotel, convention center, apartment towers – and served by commuter rail on what is now a slow-go freight line.
Prepared with data to support their concerns with three major rezoning articles proposed by the Kraft Group, about 30 Walpole residents and officials implored Foxboro officials last month to act with fairness, knowledge and empathy when evaluating Kraft Group zoning requests designed to remake the face of Route 1 in Foxboro at the Walpole border.
“Passage of these articles would likely result in large-scale construction that would drastically alter the area by adding over-sized buildings and structures, heavy motor vehicle and train traffic, unsightly signage, increased noise and light pollution and a general change in the overall nature of the area,” Walpole planning board members told their Foxboro counterparts in a letter. “We ask that your board take into consideration the impacts these changes could have on the people of Walpole.”
Foxboro officials offered assurances they grasp the magnitude of the Kraft Group’s vision, and the work that lies ahead in shaping zoning bylaws that allow growth on Route 1 while protecting the interests of residents in and beyond Foxboro.
Foxboro planning board Chairman Kevin Weinfeld said his board has already declined to place three Kraft Group articles on the Dec. 5 special town meeting warrant.
Weinfeld conceded that any one of Kraft’s three requested re-zoning measure could mean huge changes on Route 1, and will require months of public review by the board.
Zoning changes require a two-thirds vote of town meeting, and without the board’s support, any zoning article would stand little chance of passage at town meeting, Weinfeld said.
Weinfeld said the Kraft Group has a proven history of meeting its promises to the town. He said that record does not give Kraft Group “any plenipotentiary rights” but that a record of honest dealings is comforting, a point endorsed by Walpole planning board member John Murtagh.
But Murtagh said the high tech park, with its hotel, convention center and wind turbines “could devastate our little homes and our lives.”
He said the board needs to grasp “the enormity of the situation.”
“The traffic on Route 1 would be horrendous,” Walpole planning board member Richard Mazzocca said in a meeting with Foxboro officials last month. “The impact on the quality of life in the area would be tremendous.”
The residents said converting the CSX freight rail for use as a busier and faster commuter rail to Boston would result in even greater traffic jams, noise and danger.
Former Walpole Selectman Bill Hamilton said it’s obvious to him that the Kraft Group is the driving force behind the commuter rail plan. He noted that the stadium hosted a private rail study session with the MBTA.
Another Walpole resident quoted from that 2010 feasibility study, and questioned why the cash-strapped MBTA would be even consider expanding commuter rail to Foxboro at a projected loss of $4 million a year.
But commuter rail is just one concern of Walpole officials.
As currently worded, the zoning changes submitted by Kraft lawyer John Twohig envision a high-tech office park with a hotel, convention center, commuter rail service, multi-family dwellings and wind turbines 500-feet tall or higher.
“Clearly a structure of that size has no place on Route 1, especially when there are residential neighborhoods immediately abutting it,” the Walpole officials commented in their letter.
They wrote that one of Kraft Group’s proposed zoning articles creates the possibility of 25- to 30-story towers only 50 feet from residential property in Walpole and “permanently blocking sunlight from nearby residences.”