Friday, March 4, 2005
Board of Appeals hearing on Maple Street 40B is closed: Decision on comprehensive permit for controversial development due on March 14
With an air of inevitability, the Board of Appeals closed the hearing on the proposed 40B development off Maple Street on the Carlisle-Billerica line ("Carlisle Woods") in order to buy the developer's agreement to extend the deadline on this application by another two weeks.
Earlier, the board had dismissed the application by Massapoag Real Estate Development Corporation stating that the developer had not surveyed the property accurately. When the developer appealed the decision, the State Housing Authority, "sympathetic to the applicant," returned the application to the BOA and gave the developer the sole power to agree to an extension if requested. Two extensions have already been granted. This time when asked again by the board for another extension, developer Walter Ericson and his lawyer James Harrington Jr. said, "You need to close the public hearing if you want us to agree." The board complied, the meeting was closed and a final decision was put off for another two weeks, until March 14, when a decision must be filed.
Cost of land an issue
Neither the board nor the vocal abutters were pleased with the decision to close the meeting. Once a meeting is closed, no new evidence or information can be put into the record. Ericson had just supplied the board that day with a purchase and sale agreement for the property, and without an opportunity to review it, the abutters were upset that they would not be able to comment on the controversial document.
The purchase and sale agreement has been one of the issues at the heart of this rancorous application process. Ericson and Harrington have apparently stated in their financial documents that the price of this land is much higher than the $15,000 for which it has been assessed. This three-parcel property, consisting of approximately 4.4 acres, has been before town boards in the past for waivers, but because of its lack of frontage, it has been denied and has been considered unbuildable.
The cost of the land is important because it is the basis for determining the developer's total cost. Under state law, the profit for a 40B development may not exceed 20%. The analysis of the financial underpinnings, or pro forma, for this development has been controversial.
The abutters were represented by Attorney Peter Fenn, who asked repeatedly for the opportunity to look at the document, so that he would be able to comment. The board had not yet reviewed the information themselves, and reassured the abutters that the BOA has sufficient legal resources to review this important piece of the financial puzzle.
Fenn said," The purchase and sale agreement is a critical documentIf it demonstrates inflated costs, by a series of transfers, inflating the property value, the pro forma should be revised downwardand density can be decreased."
Currently, the application is for an eight-townhouse condominium home-ownership units in three buildings, with two units restricted for sale to income-eligible persons or families. If the board reduces the number of structures allowed, or conditions the plan in a manner which the applicant believes will make the project un-economic, the developer may appeal the decision to the State Housing Appeals Committee, which can overrule the town.
The 40B law is a state statute which permits developers to build higher density housing than what is allowed under local zoning bylaws if at least 25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.
Safety concerns continue to be the major issue in front of this board. This unique development has no access road in Carlisle. Its access is through the project way, called Carlisle Street, which is entered through Billerica. Although Carlisle is responsible for the safety and well being of the residents who will live in the new development, the road issues will be largely decided on by Billerica. The question arises if Carlisle can provide for the safety of its own citizens when Billerica has control of the access road. Other safety concerns center around the poor sight lines as Carlisle Street intersects with Maple Street/ Treble Cove Road. In addition, the fire chief has set certain conditions for access for emergency vehicles, mainly a 50-foot radius turnaround at the Estey Road (in Billerica) end of the project roadway.
Fenn raised additional concerns over the site control of the property. He said there were questions of access and improvements to the access. "The ability to get there and improve the easement to get to the site is a complex issue." He said the board should consider denial of the application based on public safety and site control issues. At the very least he said the board should limit the density because the pro forma is not accurate.
The board asked Associate Town Counsel Rich Hucksam to be a conduit of information between the board and the developers, and the board will meet again on March 10 to make a decision on this application.
© 2005 The