Friday, April 13, 2007
Site value debated for Coventry Woods 40B
Although the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) will likely begin deliberations on the Coventry Woods 40B application before the end of April, they have not yet closed the hearing and as of their April 9 meeting, have not made any formal, official decisions. The applicant, Mark O'Hagan, however, recently submitted a cost analysis to the ZBA stating that certain conditions proposed for the planned Concord Street development would result in a cost of an additional $3.055 million dollars, which would make the project uneconomic.
Under state statute Chapter 40B, a developer is able to circumvent local density restrictions and submit a comprehensive permit application to the ZBA if at least a quarter of the housing created meets state criteria for affordability by low and moderate income families.
Will ZBA conditions make project uneconomic?
In general, if developers find their projects to be uneconomic because of conditions imposed by the their ZBAs, they can appeal to the Housing Appeals Committee (HAC), which can overrule the ZBA's decision unless the proposed project contains risks to the health and safety of the community that cannot otherwise be resolved. According to HAC literature, in 32 years (1970-2002), only 415 40B cases have been appealed. Of those 415 cases, 31% were ultimately decided by the HAC. Of those 31% of cases, 84% were ruled in favor of the developer and 16% in favor of the town (see www.chapa.org/40b_fact.html).
The majority of the ZBA Monday night's hearing focused on the "pro formas" — itemized expenses and revenues for the project — submitted by the applicant and by the abutters' attorney, Jon Witten. In total, three pro formas were discussed: one describing costs for a 48-unit project, one for a 41-unit project, and one submitted by Witten, presented by abutter Ken Hoffman, for a 24-unit project.
Land appraised at $1.6 million
vs. cost listed at $3 million
Those itemized expenses, namely the $3 million site acquisition cost to the applicant in both the 41- and 48-unit pro formas, were impacted by the introduction of the newly obtained Avery Associates property appraisal of $1.6 million for the 22.6 acre parcel on which the Coventry Woods development would be built.
Appraisal is based
on development without 40B
The new appraisal was funded by the Board of Selectmen. According to Doug Stevenson, Chairman of the Board of Selectman, who read part of the Avery Associates report to the ZBA, the appraisal was based on analysis of a residentially zoned property to a single buyer, as it currently stands today. Under local zoning regulations for size, road frontage, etc. the property qualifies for development as a six-unit conservation cluster. Planning Administrator George Mansfield later explained that perhaps two more houses could be built if a subdivision road were added to create more legal frontage, but the road would cost much more to build than a cluster's common driveway. Another alternative, a subdivision with a loop and two wetland crossings might allow more houses, but may be prohibited under the Wetland Protection Act.
ZBA attorney Dan Hill further commented that the appraisal was "to determine the highest value for the best use of the land." Avery Associates did not present an appraisal for the property if it were to be used specifically for a 40+ unit subdivision. Their report did however include the assessment amount of $643,500 as of January 2007.
The pro forma cost figures, although used by the ZBA at this point for reference and discussion, were not wholly specific or current to the 40B Coventry Woods project application. In fact, there is confusion as to which project and site plan should be used as a basis for consideration.
In March, the applicant formally withdrew the 41-unit plan and submitted a 48-unit, age-restricted project plan because of major concerns over septic system "C," which was located approximately 150 feet from abutters' Epstein/Stone's well. (The applicant also reinstated the age-restriction criterion to the project in an effort to reduce per-day water consumption. ) The 48-unit project plan was summarily rejected by the ZBA because they lacked the time to have it adequately peer reviewed. The 24-unit pro forma, developed by Witten with abutter input, which the ZBA also discussed at Monday's hearing, does not have an associated project plan that describes or illustrates the 24-unit development.
Furthermore, the 48-unit plan, which the applicant wants the ZBA to consider as the current project and ultimately grant a 40B special permit for, is not supported by Fire Chief Flannery. In his April 6 letter to the ZBA, " the addition of a structure containing four units on the far end of the complex, several hundred feet in from the main access roadway now creates a public safety access issue for the complex." Chief Flannery also identified problems with fire lane requirements, setbacks and a lack of guest parking.
With respect to the unit size of the project, David Freedman reminded the ZBA of the Board of Health's guidelines for water usage/gallons per day per bedroom. "165 gallons per day is the Board of Health's restriction for a condo development. This threshold is well below what the plan is for shared septic. [In an appropriate project plan], the max number of bedrooms would be 60," which would indicate a subdivision size of approximately 30 units.
ZBA attorney Art Krieger suggested that the ZBA keep the hearing open for at least one more session in order to collect additional information from hydrogeology expert Jim Vernon of ENSOR, an environmental consulting firm headquartered in Westford, regarding setbacks and abutters' wells, and how the ZBA should translate his previous hydrogeologic recommendations into permit conditions.
The Coventry Woods 40B hearing is continued to April 18 at 7p.m.
© 2007 The