Oct 11 Newsletter: Public Hearing remains open; PB considering ‘conditions’

The next Public Hearing will be held at 30 Middle Road (across from Town Hall) on Monday, October 16th, at 8:15pm. The Planning Board starts at 7:30, but this issue will be opened at 8:15pm.

A new, public Facebook group has been launched since 10/2, and we will start broadcasting the Hearings via Facebook Live in this location (i.e., you will not have to be a member of the closed BTC group to see the videos either in real time, or the archived version after-the-fact).

While I am thrilled that technology allows us to provide this option for community members to view the proceedings without attending in person, I also firmly believe that it is VERY important to have a strong in-person showing at the Hearings. Thus far, we have not been able to specifically ask questions on behalf of those people ‘watching at home’, and the sound isn’t always great.

If you can possibly make it in person, please come. There were plenty of seats available last week.

A few highlights from the 10/2 meeting (which can be viewed in the closed FB group, with comments that have been timestamped with notes about when various topics are being discussed. There was also a short article covered in the Beacon.):

  • The Chair spent a great deal of time reading from the 2012 by-laws, to highlight sections of the existing code that pertain to the application at hand. The inference from the audience is that he wanted to draw attention to the fact that the PB’s decision (and any conditions they place on a possible approval) will and must be guided by these by-laws. There was a lot of attention paid to concerns about safety.
  • Both the Fire and Police chiefs were present to field questions from both the PB and the public. Many of these questions had to do with blasting, and also with traffic on 111. The Fire Chief’s stance seemed to be largely “blasting has happened in town before, and we’ll handle it again just fine” (though he did acknowledge that he had NOT explored the extent of blasting that is anticipated for the current application), whereas the Police Chief took a largely opposite stance re his area of purview, namely that he “wanted to learn from past mistakes that had been made in Town, so as to ensure the safety of all, and minimize expense to the Town’s Public Works, in the design and implementation of this proposal”. i.e., The Fire Chief’s approach felt very ‘retrospective’ and ‘reactive’, whereas the Police Chief’s struck me as pro-active and prospective. Very disappointing and refreshing, respectively, in equal measures.
  • The Toll Brothers’ representative presented their estimates that 25,000 cubic yards of blasting was anticipated. I used this statement as an opportunity to present the PB with my 3D model of the topography of the area in question, to highlight just how much elevation would need to be removed to achieve the <5% grade that is required by the State for Senior housing developments. James Fenton suggested that the existing site plan did take that original topography into account, and directed us to pages 16-23 to see the profiles of the roads they are planning. I have tried to interpret the drawings and find them very hard to interpret, I may go into Town Hall to ask for Adam to help me read them.
  • There was a LONG debate between the developers, their lawyers, and the Planning Board regarding whether and what and when the details of the Purchase and Sale agreement between the current applicants and Toll Brothers would be made available to the Town. The boiled down version is that it likely won’t become public until after the property has been transferred to Toll – presumably not until Toll is ready to break ground (according to Mr Ballard). This decision seemed largely determined by the lawyers, despite the applicants having offered to provide this information at the previous Public Hearing. The Planning Board’s interest appeared to be based on reservations as to whether any conditional agreements being extended to the current applicants would be carried out / honored by the soon-to-be-owners, Toll Brothers. A resident raised a concern based on a recent (and ongoing) lawsuit in nearby Belmont, that alleges that Toll refused to honor a previous agreement with the Town to cover environmental expenses related to a new development, and instead pushed a multi-million dollar price tag back to the Town. Personally, I believe there are still some very important open questions at hand. I will watch to see if this discussion is resumed on Monday.
  • A great deal of discussion was also focused on the question of safe turning and stopping distances (and sight lines) at the proposed entrance onto 111. The Police Chief acknowledged that he is not a trained expert in this form of traffic engineering, but that one of his officers did have this specialist knowledge. (I did post a short video of the road from this location in the Facebook group on 9/27) The Planning Board decided to arrange to meet with this expert (or possibly another consultant – I wasn’t quite sure with whom they ended up deciding to meet), and to avoid needing to make it an open public meeting, they would meet in pairs with the consultant in question, to stand at the site of the new roadway. They offered to try to photograph that meeting, and also to pass along any questions that were submitted to the Planning Board in advance (via contact with Adam, the Town Planner). I am not sure if that meeting has been scheduled yet, but if you have any questions you would like to see included in that discussion, please direct them to Adam (aduchesneau@boxborough-ma.gov) asap.
  • Finally, the PB Chair made it clear that he intended to be a bit unconventional as to when he would close the Public Hearing component of the application. He said that while the Board is not yet ready to vote on their final decision on the proposed development site plan, they would start to shift into a phase in which they would consider possible ‘conditions’ that would be counter-proposed to the applicants and attached to a potential approval of their plan. Normally, that phase of consideration would be done in a public space – i.e., could be *observed* by the public, but not open for comment from residents. Instead, the Chair prefers to conduct that phase with the Public Hearing still open, so that we can contribute to the discussion before a set of potential conditions is finalized. The chair also encouraged residents to pass along any requests or input on that condition-setting process to the PB, again, via Adam.

This is good time to stress that while the Planning Board is considering possible conditions, that does NOT mean that they have committed to voting to approve this current proposal (with or without conditions). They may determine that they have grounds to deny the application (as has been encouraged by over 300 Boxborough residents, in a survey that was submitted to the Board last week), but that possible denial would have to be based either in an interpreted mis-use of the 2012 zoning by-laws, OR as Adam indicated back this spring if:

“A Site Plan where, although proper in form, may be so intrusive on the needs of the public in one regulated aspect or another that rejection by the Planning Board would be tenable. This would typically be a case in which, despite best efforts, no form of reasonable conditions could be devised to satisfy the problem with the plan.” 

Hence, it is an important stage of the process for the PB to ascertain whether any suitable conditions can be arrived at that suit both the applicants and the PB (representing the good of the town).

Finally, as mentioned above, we have a new public Facebook group where we will share news and updates (events, Live videos, opportunities to volunteer, etc) of interest to the entire community – and also beyond Boxborough. The existing Boxborough Town Center Facebook group will remain an active place for brainstorming about possible community actions surrounding the current proposal. We will also continue to update the website, and send periodic (but not too frequent!) email updates. Those email newsletters have also been archived , and starting next week will be sent using an email distribution program that will make it easier to format the messages in a visually-comfortable way, and also for recipients to ‘unsubscribe’, if they so choose.

The last thing that I will leave you with is a note about how encouraged i am to see the recent growth in both the number of residents who are actively involved in helping to raise awareness and objection to this proposal, but also the lengths to which these neighbors are going to make a difference.

Back in February, there were two households of abutters who got together to seek out ways to engage and inform the Town. Now, almost 8000 website views, 230 Facebook group members, over 6000 flyers delivered, over 1500 digital and in-person Public Hearing attendees, and 100 red signs around town later, we have an engaged community who are clearly invested in informing the Planning Board that they are NOT fighting a simple ‘not in my yard’ battle, but rather that this is a matter of principle, and of what is (and isn’t) right for *our Town*.

Please, continue to stay informed. Attend the Hearings to have your voice heard. Share your ideas with the Planning Board and your neighbors. 

Also, there are other meetings that are important to follow, and hopefully attend. For example, tomorrow (10/12), the Housing Board will discuss this proposal as their first item of business at 7:30pm (Town Hall).

We are also asking the BoS to weigh in. To date, they have failed to provide comments to the Town Planner to use in his Staff report (which, btw, is a great summary of the property, and the Town Planners first draft of proposed conditions), whereas other relevant Boards and Committees in town have shared their assessments.

Let’s hold on to what our community voted for in 1989. And if that isn’t possible, for logical, fact-based reasons… then why would a dense, luxury housing development be a better choice?



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