Residents seek to ban industrial development on portion of Harding Street

Apr 12, 2024

MIDDLEBORO — In an effort to prevent commercial development in an area around 27 Harding St., Town Meeting voters will be asked on April 22 whether to change zoning to prohibit industrial use on the site.

The change to residential zoning, which would impact about 50 parcels, would preserve the environmental character of the area and prevent potential traffic impacts from large projects, supporters have said.

Two-thirds of voters must approve the Town Meeting article, which was proposed by The Vernon Street Re-zoning Committee. The land in question includes the former Meadowbrook Drive-In property on Harding Street, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods on Vernon Street, Cordial Road, and Clayton Road

Some town officials have questioned whether a zoning switch would encourage development of housing, in potentially large numbers, that could burden the town schools and infrastructure. 

The Planning Board on April 16 voted against supporting the change while the Select Board decided not to take a stand, although some board members expressed reservations.

The zoning change, even if approved by Town Meeting voters, may be too late to stop a newly proposed project on the site. The owner of the property, Bharti Patel, submitted a warehouse proposal for the site several days ago. His submission means the current zoning would remain in place, Director of Planning and Community Development Leeann Bradley said at the Planning Board meeting.

Resident Matthew Brufee, a member of The Vernon Street Re-zoning Committee, said he has lived in and studied the area for years and supports the zoning change.

“Overdevelopment will stress the environment,’’ he said. He said the area is home to myriad wildlife, including coyotes, bobcats and deer.  “Development of that land is just plain wrong,’’ he said.

He also expressed concern about the traffic impact, because the only entrance and exit would be through the Route 44 egress, where the former Meadowbrook Drive-In was located in the 1950s through the 1980s.

This is already a “congested, accident-prone area,’’ Bruffee said.

The area was the subject of controversy last year when Lincoln Project Company proposed constructing three buildings on the site. 

The first building would have featured approximately 147,800 square feet with 48 loading docks and 118 employee parking spaces to the north and 36 employee parking spaces to the east. The second building would have covered about 145,000 square feet with 50 loading docks. The third building would have consisted of 380,000 square feet with 75 loading docks.

The concept was met with anger by nearby residents and questions from town officials. The developer eventually withdrew the proposal. That proposal in part prompted the call from residents for a zoning change. 

But some town officials, while generally sympathetic to the neighbors’ concerns, have countered that, with the change to residential zoning, developers could, and likely would, swoop in and construct housing.

Rezoning the property “could be your worst nightmare,’’ Planning Board member Tracie Craig-McGee told residents who attended the April 16 meeting.

If 100 homes were built on the land, that could result in 150 new students in the school systems, adding to the tax burden, she said, and additional traffic and noise.

Echoing thoughts expressed previously by Select board member Brian Giovanoni, she noted that hundreds of residences were possible if a potential developer worked under the auspices of Chapter 40B. This would allow a developer to bypass certain zoning regulations and potentially construct far more housing units if at least 20 percent were deemed affordable.

In the end, Planning Board members John Healey, Craig-McGee and William Garceau voted against supporting the change. Member Allin Frawley cast the sole board vote in favor.

One way to stop development is to purchase the property, Craig-McGee noted. 

State grant programs have helped the Town of Plympton protect land, Plympton Open Space Committee member Vicki Alberti noted. 

A state grant protected a portion of land in Plympton, Alberti said. Vernon Street resident Anita Rodriguez offered to help seek out similar funding for Middleboro. 

Select Board member Thomas White said at the April 8 meeting that he was concerned residents would “open up Pandora’s Box’’ with a zoning change.

“I too search for a solution to this problem,’’ he said. “But I don’t know if this is it.’’

But Neil Rosenthal, who recently left the Select Board, said at the Planning Board meeting that the decision shouldn’t be based on economic concerns. “The real issue is quality of life,’’ he said.