While I was unable to take a complete headcount at the Planning Board meeting Monday night (2/27/17), it is safe to predict there were at least 100 residents in attendance (we counted 55 chairs), including a huddle of people at least 4 layers deep trying to peek into the room from library’s entryway. A sign-in sheet was available, and was collected by the Town Planner for the official records.
After a short introduction, and a plea from the Planning Board chair to keep comments ‘civil’ – as well as an expression of appreciation for the level of interest apparent in the high turnout – the applicants (owners Fenton, Jeanson, and Lyons) and a representative from the Toll Bros (who are the builders / developers who are ‘in contract’ to buy the property “under a set of conditions that include Town approval of the submitted plans”) were given the opportunity to speak and present both the original and since modified plans that are currently under consideration by the Planning Board.
Some things that were specifically called out by the presenter included that, based on the 2012 Town bylaws (which are the relevant rules in this case, due to the timing of the owner’s originally submitted plans), they are “legally allowed” to propose a 300+ unit site plan. [Though these original plans looked as though they would infringe on the existing wetland, so I question whether they ever would have had a plan of that magnitude approved – but they mentioned it in great detail in order to show that they have “significantly reduced” the scope of their request.]
The plans also called out that the owners have explored adding a turning lane to Mass Ave at the entrance to the private development, but were turned down by Mass DOT. [This issue strikes us as a bit of an impasse – since it is a State Highway, the Town does not have jurisdiction, yet our local police and fire have raised significant concerns regarding the safety of the entrance, due to sightlines and the grade / curve of the road at that location].
Considerable introduction was also provided regarding the plans to add ‘emergency access’ to the 100 homes through Sherriff’s Meadow onto Stow Road, and through Priest Lane onto Burroughs Road. [Another impasse seems at hand in this issue, since Town Emergency personnel have expressed strong safety reservations about the presence of gates on these entrances, yet without gates, the potential for considerable traffic through these roads seems significant.]
Some discussion was raised regarding materials that were provided in a ‘packet’ of documents to the Planning Board members in advance of Monday’s hearing. Several of these documents pertained to the questions of who would occupy the 100 units, how many bedrooms they would include, how the occupancy would be determined and enforced, and if the 55+ occupancy would also be restricted to 55+ ownership. The Toll Bros representative indicated that there would be significantly less interest & marketability, on their part as Developers, if the housing built on the Town Center zoned property was limited to 55+ ownership.
The second major documentation provided to the Planning Board was a Fiscal Assessment (now in public record, and available on our website, under ‘Additional Resources’), that uses data from a collection of sources (previous Toll Bros properties, national, state, and local census and municipal data) to outline how the town may benefit financially from the 100 units of ‘active senior’ housing. This income comes in the form of property taxes, short and long term job creation, and potential local spending by the (50% still employed) 55+ residents of the development. Having now read this document in its entirety, I have a large number of questions regarding the validity of many assumptions that were made in compiling the numbers that are presented in this Assessment, and plan to raise them in future Hearings (some of which I will share in a future blog post and/or a Facebook post and/or a letter to the Beacon). I encourage you to look at the documents to form your own opinions, and raise any impressions you may have, or questions that come to mind.
It is important to highlight that not all questions and comments raised from the attendees of this meeting were critical in nature. In fact, two residents expressed support for the planned development, with some caveats regarding the request that updated traffic easements and water drainage be added to 111 near the main entrance to the property, and that gates be added to prevent non-emergency traffic flow through the additional street access points to the development.
One of the most tense moments of the meeting arose after a resident posed the question (directed to the Toll Bros) of whether or not they would consider revising the current proposal to include additional buildings, resources, or businesses that might be more aligned with the concept of a ‘Town Center’. Before anyone was able to respond, presumably to indicate that an open RFP was left unanswered for years (ie, no developer opted to submit a mixed-use proposal for this land), the representative from Jeanson spoke very loudly and abruptly to say that he and his colleagues had spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in an effort to arrive at a mutually-agreed upon mixed use proposal for the land, and that such a compromise had been prepared for presentation at Town Meeting, yet, when that Meeting took place, he exclaimed that “You All Lied!!”. I’m serious. That is what was said – yelled, even – at the entire room. It was very uncomfortable.
The Town Planner stepped in to try to diffuse and clarify the situation, which evidently was that while one compromise plan had been architected to present at Town Meeting, the proposal that was added to the Warrant article did not completely align with what Mr. Jeanson had expected to be voted upon. Another speaker with experience on both the Planning Board and the Library Trustees spoke up to share that she had been in attendance at a highly charged meeting “full of obscenities” regarding the proposal to build Sargent Memorial Library on the Town Center zoned land. In light of the lack of agreement between the parties involved, the Library was instead built in its current location next to Blanchard Elementary.
Finally, in addition to the issues raised above, the questions of well placement, predicted water usage, wetlands crossing, tree removal, occupancy and ownership, and traffic flow were all addressed at length in response to the open public comment / question period that followed. These questions from attendees began at ~7:50pm, and were still going strong at almost 9:30pm. At this time, the Planning Board Chair (together with the Town Planner) indicated that a continuation of the hearing would be scheduled for Monday, March 20th.
I hope this summary is of value to those who were unable to attend the meeting. If any official minutes of the event are posted, I will add a link to them in the comments. Similarly, I welcome comments from other participants, either to add to my recounting, or to correct any aspects that I have not represented faithfully – I’m happy to correct anything that requires revision.