Things That Make You Say “Hunh”? – Potential Retail Retrofits in Weston
And now in a continuation of my most favoritest column for the Owl: Things that Make You Say “Hunh?” which I’ll summarize as a look at things that make sense to someone somewhere but not to me. The Owl’s last “Hunh” column is from January 2022 when the state came up with the idea of MBTA Communities which is essentially affordable housing clustered around public transportation that is either nonworking, not in our Town, or not geographically possible. Admirable but first we need a working train system. Just an idea. And I don’t mean working as in “just add another 40 minutes to your commute and it’s working fine, folks.” True story.
A reader sent me a newish plan (okay it’s from 2022 but I missed it) from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). First of all, what is MAPC? According to their website, MAPC is the regional planning agency that serves the people who live and work in the 101 cities and towns of Metropolitan Boston. Their mission is to “promote smart growth and regional collaboration.” This is a most admirable goal.
As part of that mission, MAPC has put forward the idea of retail retrofit–changing suburban retail malls into housing, which we all agree is sorely needed in metro Boston. Let’s see what the website says:
“MAPC’s analysis shows that the Greater Boston region has thousands of acres of strip malls and similar commercial properties: more than 13.7 square miles. (That’s larger than the land area of Woburn.) Many of these are underutilized, underperforming, or obsolete. These sites—especially those that sit unused—offer the space and infrastructure to build the mixed-use and multifamily housing that the region needs.
The report found that if just 10% were redeveloped into mixed-use projects, 124,000 homes could be created, increasing building values to the tune of $479 million in extra tax revenue for host communities. What’s more, if new developments are built using the state’s 40R smart growth zoning bylaw, municipalities could be eligible for payments totaling $1.2 billion upon rezoning, an average of $3.2 million per site.
And because nearly 30 percent of sites studied were within a half mile of transit, rezoning them could also help communities meet strict new state regulations requiring multifamily zoning within the MBTA region.” (Ed.: this link is the subject of the last “Things that make you go hunh?” post.
Now, let’s away to the MAPC site where they have a fun Kandinsky-without-many-tints map of possible retrofit target areas. Here’s a screenshot of it, and you can search on town.
Now you can’t see Weston written on the map, but there we are just left of Waltham…and what? we have three dots on our territory! Shut the front door! We have a retail area or four to retrofit. Let’s take a closer look, shall we? We shall:
So…Weston has four retail retrofit possibilities and they range from less favorable to most favorable. Let’s take a look first at the three in “downtown” Weston, home of the Weston Beach and Bistro, Knox Park, and apparently “Lampson” Park [sic] and somehow our large stone church called First Parish has up and usurped St. Julia’s. I have been watching Derry Girls and I don’t think we want to get into the religious wars here. MAPC and map-making are not a match made in heaven.
So our number 2, 3 and 4 retail retrofit targets are in order:
2. Center Street mall including Bros, some banks, Intuitive Wellness, some offices, not-anymore Weston Table and some real estate agencies. Wait, Heirloom and Dumpling Daughter and Theo’s? There goes 3/4 of our eating places in town. Well, it would suit for 50-100 housing units apparently. Not close to public transport.
3. Walgreens plaza including Walgreens, The Training Lab, dry cleaners, Weston Provisions, Weston Driving School and a bank. Nowhere near transit, all paved, and I quite like my roast beef sandwiches, but fine. Seems nice for some townhouses.
4. Weston Automotive/UPS Store/Tula’s/Shoe Repair. .3 acres, nowhere near transit, all paved and next to the cemetery. Yep, looks good to me.
But …drumroll please…the number one possibility for a retail retrofit in Weston is…. Dairy Joy!
Yes, Dairy Joy. The Joy. From reading this report it seems that there is the possibility of 50-100 units on those 1.4 acres and guess what? It’s within a half-mile of Hastings MBTA stop..only…if only…Hastings were still open but that there closed in December 2020. Could MAPC and MBTA get together on this? I’m confused about how this is our number one retail retrofit in Weston.
What is actually going on here? DJ is not retail location; it is a mecca of summer fun all wrapped up in a $15 ice cream cone. I don’t know how to tell MAPC this but if anyone messes with the Joy, there will be rioting in the streets of MetroWest. Also, Weston barely limps along as a “town” with its current retail. Why in the world would it be a good idea to repurpose it? Sigh. Maybe we just throw in the towel on retail and go to Waltham and Wellesley and Concord and Wayland and everywhere else. I am, in case you were wondering, kidding.
What’s next, MAPC? I love that you’re coming up with some new ideas but what about retrofitting churches? Or …say…taverns? Hahaha, just kidding…no hate mail please, I love the JST. We could chuck all our elementary school kids into one school and retrofit Woodland. Hey, how about that shooting club near I-95…oh wait, I didn’t mean it, I forgot y’all are armed. Hmmm.
Okay, back to the drawing board.
What MAPC fails to acknowledge is the lack of any septic capacity in Weston Center. Can’t build housing without it.