That's the debate right now as the developer for a proposed mixed-used retail/commercial/residential project seeks to change some details.
Originally, the 400,000-square-foot project was supposed to have commercial, retail and an extended-stay hotel on the first floor, with apartments on upper floors. Town Meeting approved new mixed-use residential zoning for the project on that basis.
Now, though, the developer of the so-called Arcade project says he needs to have some apartments on the first floor after all, because he can't get financing based on a long-term hotel plan.
Incredibly, planning officials are balking because this might go against the will of Town Meeting -- even though the Zoning Board of Appeals has every legal right to issue variances, and even though they'd be replacing what in essence could be a boarding house with residents who will have stronger ties to the community.
Now it's a legitimate question whether residences on the first floor in a downtown business district are appropriate. I'd much prefer to see retail, followed by commercial/office. But I truly fail to see how apartments are worse than a long-term residence.
The questions that should be asked: What will the public-facing windows look like? What will the entrance look like? Was there public atrium space before that's being taken away now?
Instead, you see messages such as one posted to a local e-mail list by a Town Meeting member whing that "it's quite disturbing to think that the ZBA would even consider overturning the decision of town meeting." How dare the ZBA exercise its rightful and legal authority in light of changed circumstances, if it doesn't follow to the letter what we have decreed! We have spoken!
Sorry, but this one isn't about who has rightful claim as voice of the people. It's about what's best for the downtown business district. If you're going to argue, please argue on the merits.
A MetroWest Daily News editorial today says that "The developer still plans retail storefronts on Concord Street -- the proposed apartments would be on the back side of the building." That's promising, but is there public parking around the back? Is there a way to incorporate public access space with any first-floor residences? What would it take to get office space back there instead?