Planning Board delays decision on votes needed to pass Hospitality District

Apr 5, 2021

Voters hoping to learn whether the proposed Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment District will need to be approved by two-thirds or a simple majority will be left in suspense until Thursday night. 

The Planning Board voted to delay their decision on the vote threshold needed — and whether or not they will recommend the district’s passage — until 6 p.m. on Thursday, at which point they expect to have heard back from the state about a key question.

That means the final decision about the vote threshold will be made less than 48 hours before the Special Town Meeting, scheduled for noon on Saturday at Spillane Field.

The 756-acre Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment district was created by the Notos Group, a Quincy-based developer, along with town officials. The district requires projects on at least 100-acre parcels and would require all proposals to go through a special permit process with the Planning Board, which gives the town a fair amount of say about what is built.

Currently, the land is zoned to allow only single-family homes on three acre lots.

Previously, all zoning changes needed to be approved by two-thirds of Town Meeting attendees. Following the passage of a new state law in January, zoning changes that include measures like allowing certain mixed-use developments, increased housing density or allowing “in-law” apartments can be approved by a simple majority vote.

As at the Board’s March 23 meeting, discussion of the vote threshold came down to one question: Does the GATRA stop at the 7-Eleven on Glen Charlie counts as “access to transit?” To pass with a simple majority, the area to be rezoned must meet certain criteria, including being “near transit stations, including rapid transit, commuter rail and bus and ferry terminals.” The Hospitality District meets all other criteria.

Buckland has reached out to the state to see if the GATRA stop is sufficient transit access for a simple majority vote, and expects to get a response on Wednesday.

GATRA, the Greater Attleboro and Taunton Regional Transit Authority, includes two bus lines that stop at the 7-Eleven, which is within walking distance of the area to be rezoned. Those buses, however, run somewhat infrequently and don’t have many scheduled stops.

Resident Annie Hayes pointed out that it would be nearly impossible for someone to use the GATRA line to commute to a job in New Bedford or Plymouth due to the bus schedule.

Jeffery Tocchio, the attorney for the Notos Group, said that the bus stop was sufficient because, in part, GATRA is a regional transit authority, and prospective bus riders can flag down a GATRA bus at any point on Glen Charlie Road.

Planning Director Ken Buckland that he and Town Counsel Richard Bowen both think the transit access is sufficient to qualify the district for a simple majority vote. 

“I don’t buy the definition of a transportation center being a flag-down bus stop,” said Planning Board member Mike King.

The board will meet again at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 8.