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    Should Marlborough approve the zoning change needed to build a proposed retirement community on the airport land?


    Arthur Bergeron

    Marlborough resident; former city councilor; attorney whose firm represents the proposed airport land developer

    Arthur Bergeron

    Fifty years ago, when Interstate 495 was just opening, Marlborough radically changed its zoning map, creating a new kind of zoning district called Limited Industrial in which practically nothing was permitted except office buildings and related uses. The only allowed residential use in the zone was trailer parks. Practically all the land along Interstate 495 was rezoned Limited Industrial. Thousands of people now work in the Limited Industrial Districts, in buildings that annually generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue for Marlborough.

    One other group of land parcels was zoned Limited Industrial 50 years ago: the parcels including and around the then-bustling Marlborough Airport. At the time the parcels consisted mostly of single-family homes along the street with vast amounts of vacant back land.

    Given the airport’s location far from Interstate 495, it’s unlikely that the types of office and commercial buildings that have sprouted up along Interstate 495 will ever be built on the airport property. Today the land surrounding the mostly idle airport, while still mostly zoned Limited Industrial, consists of single-family homes built before the existing zoning and mobile homes. It also includes commercial and retail businesses, a fitness facility, and vacant land, but residential is still the predominant use.


    About 20 years ago, Marlborough started planning for the predicted bulge in the senior population by creating a Retirement Community Overlay District, which enabled the City Council to allow more densely populated retirement communities in Limited Industrial Districts. Today, Marlborough has three successful retirement communities, two of them in such overlaty districts.

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    We are asking the council to allow another Retirement Community Overlay District so we can build a new community on the airport land, a use and need confirmed in a recent town study. The resulting project would generate five times more tax revenue than would a project built under the existing zoning. More important, it would fill a void in the city by providing much needed for-sale housing for Marlborough’s seniors no longer wanting a single-family home. This project is about the future and should be approved.


    Kathleen Robey

    Marlborough City Councilor at large

    Kathleen Robey

    A question currently before the Marlborough City Council is whether to approve the creation of a Retirement Community Overlay District on about 19 acres of land known as Marlborough Airport. The city allows the creation of Retirement Community Overlay Districts to provide for development of retirement communities specifically on land zoned Limited Industrial or Industrial. The underlying zoning doesn’t go away, but a new use — housing for persons aged 55 and over— is additionally allowed. Once the overlay is created, any project requires a Special Permit granted by the council.

    A potential buyer is proposing to build such housing but will not purchase the land if it can only be developed as Limited Industrial. The developer has indicated that allowed uses on Limited Industrial land would not bring in as much revenue to the city as housing would. However, since the current developer is not interested in using the land as Limited Industrial, he may not be the most objective source on this question What is clear is that money talks, as several councilors already have plans for the projected new revenue.

    Farm Road is not the country lane it used to be. Councilors often receive complaints about speeding and the number of cars using the road. A business use would bring some traffic but under controlled hours. The proposed 114-unit condominium development will have cars coming and going from the single entrance onto Farm Road all through the day and into evening.


    Do we need housing for Marlborough’s growing 55-and-over population? Absolutely, but it needs to be affordable and appropriately sized. Many of Marlborough’s 55-and-over residents could not afford the proposed homes, which would be priced about $400,000, and hence would gain no benefit from the development. There is no guarantee the retirement community would include any low-priced units.

    Marlborough’s Planning Board also weighs in on zoning changes. It voted for a negative recommendation (without prejudice) on this proposal. The City Council is currently discussing multi-family housing design guidelines. Those would be more helpful if we had a clear plan for where that housing should go rather than approve piecemeal changes requested by developers. The council should deny this proposal.

    (This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)

    As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at