Friday, April 7, 2006
Coventry Woods plan shrinks to 41 housing units Compromise reached with builder, abutters and town
In an unemotional one-hour public hearing on Monday night, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and about a dozen citizens heard a presentation by applicant Mark O'Hagan detailing major revisions in a plan to build a 40B development on Concord Street called Coventry Woods. The old plan had met opposition from abutters who voiced concerns about the project's size and density. The new plan has fewer housing units, yet still includes 12 units of affordable housing, enough to qualify Carlisle for a one-year moratorium on other 40B applications.
Chapter 40B is a state statute that allows developers to build higher density housing than allowed under local zoning bylaws, if at least 25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.
With the assistance of attorneys, neighbors and members of the Board of Selectmen have met with O'Hagan in the last weeks to address concerns about density (number and closeness of buildings), water use, drainage and septic, access, vegetation and sightlines. O'Hagan has also met with Carlisle Fire Chief David Flannery to address his concerns about access, cisterns, fire lanes and parking. This latest revision represents the efforts of O'Hagan, the abutters to the proposed development, the Fire Department and the Selectmen to reach a compromise that will work not only for the developer, but also for the town and abutters long-term.
Changes in the plan
The total number of housing units is reduced from the original 56 to 41. To make this reduction financially viable for the developer, application will be made to the Massachusetts Housing Authority to adjust from $163,000 to $183,000 (a figure in line with the formula used to establish affordability for Carlisle) the price for the twelve affordable units. Reduction of the number of housing units addresses the problem of density, and establishing the number of affordable units at 12 gives the town the opportunity for a year-long moratorium on 40B development applications.
An application will be made to Carlisle's Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for $200,000 to help fund the affordable units. The Selectmen will sponsor the application to the CPC. The CPC reviews all requests to use money collected under the Community Preservation Act (CPA) 2% real estate tax surcharge. If the CPC recommends the application, it will then be voted by Town Meeting on May 1. While this would be the first time that Carlisle contributed financially to a private housing development, the method has been used in other towns as a tool to create affordable housing.
Housing units will have varying designs that can be plugged into different areas. Some, however, will have a "senior-friendly design" of the master bedroom on the first floor. If placed on the edges of the cluster, they will lower the profile of the buildings to address abutters' concerns about visible lighting and walls.
The housing units will be clustered closer to the center of the property, opening up the sides. This will create more efficient access for fire vehicles, and also provide a wider visual buffer. The larger buffer area will also allow for more flexible treatments of the perimeter of the property in terms of plantings. It also facilitates the placement of the main cistern within 100 feet of Concord Street (as requested by the Fire Department). The cistern can be masked from view with vegetation, and the 40-foot buffer zone at the perimeter of the property remains intact.
According to the developer, water and septic usage is not anticipated to affect the abutters; however, townspeople have questioned whether the development will adversely affect the area's water table. The developer will provide some evaluation of each of the neighbors' wells while working on the project to be sure that it does not adversely affect them. O'Hagan is still working on getting consensus with the abutters on the buffer zone and well testing.
Attorney Daniel Hill, representing the ZBA, stated that when the applicant and the abutters reach an agreement on water issues, they should provide the ZBA with an appropriate proposal to be included in the final plan.The development will still have five wells at the back to provide water for the units as well as three septic systems.
O'Hagan is addressing drainage concerns by providing in the plan small basins in several different areas, mimicking the way the water presently drains from the property.
If the conceptual plan is accepted by the ZBA, one of the next steps will be to have a full engineering review, expected to take three to four weeks. In the meantime, O'Hagan suggested circulating the plan to relevant town boards, like the Conservation Commission and Board of Health for feedback. The Selectmen will then sponsor the application for CPA funding, and the state will be asked to sign off on $183,000 as the new price for the affordable units.
As soon as the ZBA grants a comprehensive permit, they will request that the 40B project be certified by the state. The moratorium starts on the date of the certification request, retroactive to the permit date, and lasts one year. Construction must begin within a year in order to retain the moratorium.
If the town does not accept this particular plan, or does not fund all or part of it through CPA funds (or if the State refuses to raise the price of the affordable units), the developer will revert to a plan of building 40 units, only ten of which will be affordable. According to Selectman Doug Stevenson, this proposal was first mentioned several months ago. An effort was made during negotiations to find a way to provide the two additional affordable units needed for the town to obtain the year-long moratorium on 40B applications. Stevenson said that former Selectman John Ballantine "should get due credit" for his help in the negotiations.
When ZBA chair Cindy Nock opened the hearing to audience questions and comments, several citizens thanked everyone who has given time and effort to the process of reaching this new compromise plan and working in good faith to find a solution that will work for everyone involved. Alex Parker, of Russell Street, suggested adding a hydrologist to the review team in order to provide an independent view to the ZBA. Michael Epstein of Spencer Brook Road said that there will be a memorandum of understanding among the abutters, the Town, and the applicant dealing with landscaping, water protocols, and a comprehensive permit draft to present to the ZBA, and stressed that although there is a need for speed, there is an even greater need for the engineering review to be meticulous and thorough so that the "job will work long-term." Alex Parker hoped that the process of cooperation and willingness to reach a viable solution in this case would become "a model for future 40B developments" in Carlisle.
ZBA Chair Cindy Nock concluded the discussion by declaring that the ZBA is "thrilled that the applicant, the abutters and the Selectmen came together to create this remarkable agreement." She continued the public hearing to May 8 at 8 p.m.
© 2006 The