Because the Beacon may not print it…

Did you see us at the Annual Town Meeting?

We were the ones working to encourage residents to check out our website and get informed about the ongoing Town Center development proposal(s).

We’ll be back tonight, though we gave away almost all of our treats!

And in case the Beacon fails (again!) to print a letter written by one of our contributors, I have her permission to post it here.

Please keep helping to spread the word about the May 15th meeting! (And let us know if you’d like a (free!) sign to post on your lawn.)

 

Dear Editor:

I am writing to ask Boxborough residents to please attend the May 15th Boxborough Planning Board meeting to hear how a Fenton & Jeanson development will overtake a major natural habitat in Boxborough. We must consider the “urban sprawl” that will end any hope for a Town Center designed for the benefit of Boxborough residents.

The proposed development – to be built by the Toll Brothers, if approved – will build one hundred tightly-packed condos (plus private pool) on a Town Center-zoned wetland on Mass Ave. These two and three bedroom homes could easily house four to six people, versus the “1.9” people that Toll’s lawyers predict based on towns 10 times the size of Boxborough.

While tests conducted for five days showed no immediate change to neighbors’ wells, this temporary experiment provides zero insight into how our wells will survive another drought, or the cumulative effect of the 40,000-plus upstream gallons drawn daily by Paddock Estates, plus the “Town Center” development use of 15-20,000 gallons per day.

Furthermore, consider that after 5 plus YEARS of construction and blasting, the conservative forecast is 600-1,000 more cars on Boxborough’s roads each day – right in the heart of town, near Blanchard, Flerra, and the library. This will create traffic we’ve never imagined.

Come to the Planning Board Public Hearing on May 15th.

Ask the Developers and your elected officials any questions, and express your opinion and concerns.

The 7:30pm meeting will be held at the Community Center across from Town Hall.

 

See you at the Annual Town Meeting!

** repurposing my Facebook group post **

Tonight is the night! My first Annual Town Meeting.

I’m feeling a bit sheepish that this will be my first time attending, but having little kids at home has made (until recently) evening outings a bit challenging.

I’d love some advice! Any tips or tricks? Thoughts on what to expect?

I’ll be reading through the warrant today, and I spent last night making name tags and handouts to share this evening… hoping to keep spreading the word about BTC.

I’m amazed at how many people – even abutters! – have just heard what is being planned in the last week or so. We still have a lot of residents to reach with our message to join the conversation!

If you’d like a name tag sticker to wear tonight, look for me. I have lots (in neon pink, yellow, and green) and am hoping it will identify us as ‘people to ask’ about what all the red ‘save our town center‘ signs mean.

New material for May 1 meeting

While this isn’t a lot of notice, I wanted to share that there have been some public record additions with regard to the BTC LLC’s application to the Planning Board. This material will likely be presented in detail tomorrow evening (7:30pm, 30 Middle Road).

Here is a draft of the area calculations that were requested in March (which the Applicants previously refused to provide at the last meeting) that removes the wetland-containing area from the denominator.  Based on this plan, the covered land increases from 18.3% (including the wetland), to 33.7% – though these figures do not include sidewalks or sports courts / pool. Personally, the math seems to check out, but visually it looks like a lot more than a 15% difference, to me (see pictured below, or the link)

A second document was also posted, which is an external review of the Traffic Impact and Access Study (provided, December 2016).

This current review cites some inconsistencies with the data used to forecast possible changes in traffic flow / crashes in light of the proposed development. And some larger concerns are also raised, regarding the sight lines and safety of the planned traffic entrance on 111/Mass Ave were also raised.

I’m sure these issues will be raised on Monday night. And I fear it brings us back to the question of what is the safest place for traffic to turn/enter into the development: Mass Ave, or Stow Road, or Priest Lane / Burroughs road.

For one, I know I have a lot of questions, and I expect you will, too.

Please be sure to sign-in when you arrive, so that the Beacon will have a more accurate head count if they write up this story again.

And if you absolutely can’t attend in person, feel free to join our Facebook group and watch for our videos. The Developer is taping each meeting session, so we are recording a public copy, as well.

If we can, we’d be happy to ask questions on your behalf. (I know a lot of us may not be able to arrange for babysitters both this week, and next week for Town Meeting!)

Environmental Concerns and Status

From a environmental perspective, it has been very gratifying to see the town mostly unified in opposition to this proposed development.  At the recent Planning Board meeting (March 20, 2017, a continuation of last month’s (February 27th) meeting), residents and Board members continued to raise insightful and valid concerns, ranging from the locations and impacts of blasting, the duration of the construction, the lack of willingness to compromise on the part of the developers, to a general sense of disbelief that the units will appeal to local, downsizing retirees (or, according to the proponent’s own estimates, mostly still employed 55+ residents).  Repeatedly, town residents expressed concern and downright outrage that such an enormous proposal is being considered for an already strained aquifer (think cumulative effects, along with Paddock Estates, and the unknowns of future climate change and drought).  Several people have reflected on the fact that the entire development will be clearcut before blasting and building can begin: acres of hardwood and pine trees that are hundreds of years old, holding topsoil that prevents erosion and flooding, supporting wildlife from coyotes, to fishers and foxes, from salamanders, to pileated woodpeckers… all lost.

Some residents have wondered what documentation of this wildlife exists, before it is wiped from the landscape.  Unfortunately, all that is required is a wetlands delineation (to be provided by the project proponent, and checked by the Conservation Commission) to mark the boundary of the wetlands, in order for the development to adhere to the state’s Wetlands Protection Act (WPA).  To check for the presence of rare or endangered species, the applicant is only obligated to consult the State’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species (NHESP) Atlas for Estimated and Priority Habitat in order to confirm the presence or absence of any species that would be protected by the state’s Endangered Species Act (MESA).  The proponent did confirm that the area is not mapped for rare species.  However, this step does NOT equal proof of a confirmed absence of rare and endangered species. On the contrary, it merely means that no one has checked, and if they have, no rare species were found. (Notably, any available data would be years out of date, since the NHESP Atlas is only published every couple of years.) In fact, and as I stress in lectures to my Conservation Biology students, it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove the absence of anything.  To my knowledge, I am unaware of any systematic wildlife surveys having been done on the Town Center zoned property.  So really, we don’t know that there are no rare amphibians burrowed under the leaf litter in the uplands; we don’t know that there are no rare ancient turtles lurking below the mud.  What we do know, per the NHESP Town Species viewer, is that the following MESA-listed species do occur in the Town of Boxborough:

Eastern Box Turtle (SC, 2014)

Blanding’s Turtle (T, 2012)

Blue-spotted Salamander (SC, 2009)

Wood Turtle (SC, 2002)

(SC is ‘Special Concern’; T is ‘Threatened’; date is the most recent observation submitted to the state)

 

So how do we discover what we may be about to lose?

We already know from basic knowledge of the ecology of the site and neighboring woods that numerous large charismatic species reside in these woods (see images above of foxes, fishers, and coyotes – taken on a contiguous property).  It is also clear from the location of large areas of wetlands on the property that these wetlands and associated aquatic species (salamanders, turtles, frogs, aquatic invertebrates, etc.) will be heavily impacted by the runoff from lawns, pavement and other impervious surfaces, the pool, sewage treatment, etc.).

But beyond considering what we can see, or infer, with our own eyes / observations, the state has a clear path for assessing overall environmental impact. Primarily, these considerations fall under ‘MEPA’, or the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, enforced by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA). The assessments come in the form of an ENF (Environmental Notification Form) and (if required) a subsequent, more extensive EIR (Environmental Impact Report) – generally provided as a 2 stage process with a ‘Draft EIR’ and ‘Final EIR’. According to the ENF, which has already been submitted, the proposed project will alter 136 linear feet of bank (permanent), 471 square feet of Bordering Vegetated Wetland (temporary), 371 square feet of Land Under Water (temporary), and 128,844 square feet of Buffer Zone associated with a stream crossing and sidewalk extension.

Furthermore, because the development will create 10 or more acres of impervious area (in our case, there is a predicted alteration of 32.98 acres of land, with a total of 12.14 acres of impervious surface), and exceeds the ENF review threshold of 25 acres of land altered, as well as construction of new sewer mains on half mile or more in length, it is subject to a Mandatory EIR (pursuant to 301 CMR Section 11.03(1)(a)(2) of the MEPA regulations (***see ENF Certificate from the State here, EEA #15624).  The project will also require Water Supply Permits from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and is subject to the MEPA Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Policy and Protocol. (We’re hoping to provide another blog post to summarize these processes, too.)

The project also will be reviewed by the Boxborough Conservation Commission, to assess its consistency with the Wetlands Protection Act (WPA), the Wetlands Regulations (310 CMR 10.00) and associated performance standards, including storm water management standards.  According to the ENF Certificate, the Boxborough Conservation Commission issued an Order of Resource Area Delineation (ORAD) on August 17, 2011, which confirmed the locations of the Bordering Vegetated Wetlands (BVW, 471 square feet), which is valid until August 17, 2018. It is my understanding that the Conservation Commission will not review the project in detail until the EIR is submitted and approved via the state’s MEPA process.

There is no timeline for when the applicant needs to submit the Draft EIR, but once it is submitted and part of the public record, the public has 30 days to comment.  It will be made public here http://web1.env.state.ma.us/EEA/emepa/emonitor.aspx, and we will post it on this site as soon as it becomes available.  For more information, Purvi Patel (purvi.patel@state.ma.us) is the MEPA analyst working on this project.  The project proponent has requested a streamlined process (i.e., that only a single EIR be required, rather than a Draft EIR and Final EIR). However, it appears that the MEPA analyst(s) will not honor that request, based on the scope of the project and because information was omitted from the initial ENF.

As for what information we can expect to see in these documents, the ENF Certificate requests that the proponent should quantify the total amount of land alteration, including types and locations of all land changes.  The Draft EIR is also supposed to provide a comprehensive evaluation of all steps that will be taken to reduce the amount of land alteration, including reducing roadway widths and use of pervious pavement for low intensity parking areas and sidewalks.  The ENF Certificate also outlines standard detailed requests for reduction in water use (including drought tolerant ornamental plants and limitations of nonessential outside watering), sustainable building options, and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

In sum, there is plenty of encouraging language from the state regarding its expectations of how new developments should minimize environmental impacts, particularly with regards to sustainable building, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.  But the simple fact remains: even if the developers took all those recommendations to heart (unlikely, given their fiscal focus), a development of this scope with 100 housing units, amenities, and all the associated pavement, roads, bridges, and parking spaces is going to have an enormous impact on our natural resources.

The wetlands on the site, although “protected” by the Wetlands Protection Act, will never be the same.  The wildlife will disappear, and the precedent will have been set.  Inch by inch, acre by acre, the development of one beautiful landscape after another will forever eliminate and fragment habitats, and forever change this town’s character – not to mention all the planning that has gone into the ‘Boxborough 2030’ master plan that is just brushed aside (also a topic for a future blog post!).   It is so vital to think of cumulative impacts – even beyond our town’s borders: aquifers do not know boundaries, nor do wildlife.  But if we are concerned about “death by a thousand cuts” we should be very concerned about this enormous gash.

Concerned about Water and Traffic?

(contributed by a community member – Thank you!)

At the Planning Board meeting earlier this week, concerned residents were urged to contact officials responsible for water permits (Mass DEP) and traffic studies (Mass DOT), as soon as possible. (I believe the PB said that additional water testing is taking place this coming week).

For those who want to call or email to express their concern, here is some contact information for people at MassDEP and MassDOT:
MassDEP for Water Capacity and Quality: Susan Connors, Drinking Water and Water Management Programs – 508-792-7650 or Susan.Connors@state.ma.us. Ask for Susan, reference the project name “Regency at Boxborough” or the property addresses “700, 750, & 800 Massachusetts Avenue.”

You may want to point out that a new high-density housing complex (Paddock Estates, which I believe has in the neighborhood of 240 units) is also going up in town.

The question I have: Have they taken into account the implications of more than 340 new families vying for the available water? How can they tell there will be sufficient water over time?

MassDOT:

Jonathan Gulliver – District Three Highway Director: 508-929-3800.

District Three Permits Office: 508-929-3819. Barry Lorian,

District Three Operations Engineer: barry.lorian@state.ma.us.

Dave Blodgett, District Three Permit Compliance Engineer: 617-892-3640.

You may have to reach out to a couple of these people at MassDOT to get them to point you to the right person. I would reference the property addresses “700, 750, & 800 Massachusetts Avenue.”

Here I would want to make sure that any studies are conducted at rush hour, both morning and evenings, as well as at the height of school start and end hours.

Having Boxborough residents express their concern may be enough to, at minimum, influence the size and scope of this development.

Synopsis of the Boxborough Town Center, LLC Proposal Hearing

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.

What can we do to stop this?

By far the most frequent question we receive is some variant of: “What can we do to stop this?”

Regency at Stow: https://www.tollbrothers.com/luxury-homes-for-sale/Massachusetts/Regency-at-Stow

Like all things related to the government, there is no fast or direct way to stop or reduce the development. Much of the “fight” will play out in 3 arenas: Planning Board, Conservation Committee, and the State’s Board of Health (Water & Sewage issues).

One of the most important things that we can do is to talk about it and raise awareness within the town. Individually we may not have any ideas or a right idea, but together with the town we may be able to reduce or stop the development.

Here is a list of boards that are involved and what types of things they handle:

Planning Board:
All things related to the building codes, town planning, etc.

  • Population Density
  • Traffic Concerns
  • Strain of public services
  • Rainwater runoff

Conservation Committee:
All things related to the wetlands and conservation areas within and bordering of the development.

  • Water that is pumped out of the pool containing chemicals
  • Clear cutting of trees
  • Impervious surface

State Board of Health:
All things related to the public wells being drilled, as well as water treatment facility and plans.

  • Draw of water on shared water source
  • Drainage of treated water

Massive turnout at the Planning Board Hearing (2/27)

Greetings, Boxborough-ians 🙂

It was truly gratifying to see so many people in attendance at last night’s Planning Board hearing. For those who couldn’t make it, we counted just under 60 seats in the room – all of which were filled, and at least that many people were crammed into the remaining standing room.

Please note that the volume of discussion prompted the Board to extend the hearing to a second meeting, scheduled for March 20th.

Very soon, we will post updated meeting schedules, links to the materials submitted by the Developers to the planning board, and other research on similar developments (past and present) by the Toll Brothers.

Please keep an eye on this site, share with neighbors, and join our mailing list (or Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/boxboroughtowncenter/) to receive updates.

A long history with Fenton & Jeanson (Boxborough Town Center LLC)

Developers Michael J. Jeanson and James D. Fenton have a long history of questionable ethics when it comes to their building developments. Several towns have taken them to court for hiding profits, some of the suits have been dropped however some have been settled.

What several suits have alleged is that they will hire and pay subcontractors which they themselves or immediate family have a financial interest in, so that they can keep the reported profit to a minimum.

Builders Hiding Profits
2011 Acton Lawsuit Dropped
2009 Mass Lawsuit
$1.2 Million Settlement with Boxborough
2003 Boxborough Lawsuit