What are the arguments for and against the Hospitality District?

Apr 5, 2021

The Notos Group and some local officials and business people are advocating for the passage of the Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment district. Conservation advocates and some local officials have raised concerns about the impact of potential development on the environment and the aquifer.

To learn more about the proposal itself, click here.

Why do officials say this should be passed?

Along with the Notos Group, the rezoning has been recommended by four of the five Selectmen, three of four Planning Board Members present at that meeting, and some local business owners. 

At the March 23 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Alan Slavin, Patrick Tropeano, Peter Teitelbaum, and Judith Whiteside voted to recommend the article’s passage, while Jim Munise voted against it. 

Slavin said that he trusts various governing bodies — including local boards and federal and state regulators — to ensure that the land is protected and any projects will not be harmful to the town. 

Selectman Jim Munise was more trepidatious. 

“All I know is you don’t know what you don’t know until you find out after that maybe we shouldn’t have done it,” Munise said. 

Munise added that he thought the land, particularly that which was mined by the Graziano gravel company, would be a great location for a solar field.

“I obviously am in favor of this,” said Selectman Judith Whiteside, who emphasized that there would be a number of authorities regulating any potential development and that there are no current plans for the property.

Selectman Peter Teitelbaum said that he is hopeful that under the Biden administration, spending on infrastructure would increase, and said he thought the zoning change would put the town in a good position to be eligible for that funding, but did not get into specifics about what that could mean. 

Tropeano argued that because the land is currently covered with litter, environmental concerns about future development are moot. 

“All of this stuff that people say about whatever is all just feel-good stuff,” Tropeano said. “It’s all just personal thought. It doesn’t mean anything to fact. Fact is what matters.”

At a February 23 Planning Board meeting, Richard Swenson, Mike King, and George Barrett voted in favor of the proposal, while Mike Baptiste was against it.

Who is opposed to the project? Why? 

Numerous conservation groups have come out against the project, including the Wareham Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, the Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance, the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the Trustees, the Community Land and Water Coalition, the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition, Wildlands Trust and the Northeast Wilderness Trust. The Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe has also opposed the measure.

A petition opposing the zoning change had collected nearly 1,300 signatures by April 2. Citizens opposed to the project have put together a website, www.norezoningwareham.com.

On Saturday, March 27, protesters held signs opposing the measure at Town Hall and each of the town’s four post offices, and reported lots of positive feedback from drivers: Honked horns, waves and thumbs up.

Meg Sheehan of the Community Land and Water Coalition said she was not convinced by some officials’ claims that the town’s existing bylaws and boards would ensure that the land was not harmed by development. Sheehan said that the tires and litter strewn across the site, cited by Selectman Patrick Tropeano as a reason to approve development, are proof that the town does not enforce its existing environmental protections.

Land Trust President Kathy Pappalardo said that protecting the land is integral to protecting the area’s water supply and staving off climate change. Pappalardo explained that the environment naturally filters water and allows it to refill the aquifer — a process she said would be stymied by large-scale development and paving.

Additionally, she said, trees are “the best help we have” to fight climate change. The trees absorb carbon monoxide, release oxygen, and provide a multitude of other benefits to the ecosystem.

Activists have also cited the town’s Master Plan, which recommends protecting the land in question as a way to safeguard the aquifer.

The Onset Water Commissioners have not formally opposed the rezoning, but all three said they had significant concerns about the impact of potential development on the Onset wellfield, which is downhill from the property Notos is hoping to develop.

Why do developers think this should be passed?

The Notos Group’s argument for the passage of the zoning change is an economic one.

Advocates say the rezoning would allow new business development in town that would help fund the town’s operations and could reduce the burden on individual taxpayers. 

“It’s all about economics,” said Will O’Connell, a Notos Group Partner. “I think currently, most of the residents of Wareham, the town lives off the back of the taxes on their homes. And what we want to do is develop more commercial opportunities that will bring in business taxes to the town and benefit everybody.”

Jeffery Tocchio, the group’s attorney said that the rezoning could put Wareham in a stronger economic position as towns compete for jobs and new development as the covid pandemic and associated recession abate.
“This has the opportunity to put Wareham in an excellent position, and as Wareham looks at where its revenue needs are and where its revenue sources come from, we believe that this provides an excellent opportunity for there to be a commercial revenue source so it isn’t a situation where any revenue growth in the future is going to have to be supported on the backs of the homeowners,” Tocchio said.

O’Connell put it simply: “It’s the rebound to remember… It’s our job to stoke the economy.”

What would be the Notos Group’s next step if the zoning change passes?

Tocchio said that if the zoning change passes, the group’s next step would be to continue assessing the site and work toward developing a master plan for the overall site. The group would then sit down with the Planning Board for their feedback on the master plan.

“In order for us to get to that point, we need to get the zoning in place so we can then start to understand what we can actually propose for the specific site,” Tocchio said.

The group declined to get into the specifics of what could be developed.