Friday, February 8, 2008
Working Group wants to revamp 40B process
Developers wishing to build 40B housing in Carlisle will be governed by a new set of regulations and procedures if a draft report issued by the 40B Working Group is adopted. The report proposes a more formalized application, fees to recoup more of town costs, and the appointment of an application facilitator and Town Hall Advisory Group to see an application through the review process. The report has been distributed to town boards with a deadline for comments of March 31.
State law 40B allows a developer to bypass town zoning laws if 25% of a new development is affordable. Carlisle has had three 40B applications come before the town's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The ZBA must hold hearings to ensure that non-zoning laws governing health and safety are adhered to before issuing a Comprehensive Permit.
The 40B Working Group was formed by the Selectmen in August 2007 after a review of past 40B hearings exposed a need for a more structured process with increased financial protections for the town. Members include Carlisle's Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett; current and former members of the ZBA, Steve Hinton, Cindy Nock and Chair Ed Rolfe; and Selectmen Doug Stevenson and John Williams. Barnett had researched 40B processes and fees in other towns, and, based on this research, the working group spent the past months vetting the possibilities and deciding which changes should be adopted in Carlisle.
gets information up front
One goal, according to Barnett, was to amass all needed information with the application so the hearing can flow smoothly. The new application contains a checklist of as many as 35 required items, including information on the developer, full financials, evidence of site control, various impact reports, several versions of the site plans, descriptions of the units to be built, and the proposed on-going management structure. Also included is a form for monitoring conformance to the 40B limitations on profit.
The report suggests that Barnett be designated an Application Facilitator to assist the developer in the application for a comprehensive permit. The application would then be reviewed for completeness by representatives of the Board of Health, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, and other town boards and entities. All fees and deposits would be required before it could be filed with the Town Clerk.
Fees help recoup town's costs
A range of new fees are proposed to more accurately reflect real costs to the town. A filing fee of $500 would cover advertising and abutter notification, except in a Local Initiative Project, and an application fee of $1,000 plus $100 per dwelling unit would cover the board secretary during hearings. The developer would be required to deposit $30,000 in an escrow account with replenishment in $10,000 increments if the level falls below half. New regulations would suspend a hearing if financials are not kept up to date. After a hearing is completed and a permit issued, a new escrow account of $20,000 would cover the cost of hiring an engineer to monitor conformance.
Another significant change is the inclusion of legal fees under costs paid by the developer from their escrow account. Previously, this account covered other kinds of consultants and engineers, with legal bills sent to the town. In the Coventry Woods 40B, Carlisle amassed $120,000 in legal costs. Barnett notes that the state has ruled that not all legal fees can be billed back, and it is possible this addition will be curtailed or eliminated after Town Counsel reviews the final document.
Moving the process along
Once the application is filed, a Town Hall Advisory Group, consisting of representatives of various boards, would facilitate decisions and advise on issues that arise throughout the process. The report suggests that Planning Administrator George Mansfield and Barnett co-chair the group, and that Barnett attend the ZBA hearings and act as coordinator for information flow.
The report outlines other procedural details and sets time limits for suspensions and responses. In addition it specifies that a new application must be submitted if the scope of the project changes significantly. The goal is to "streamline, get information up front, and move the process along," says Barnett.
The report suggests that, in the future, the town develop a "best practices" document for Town Meeting approval that would delineate what Carlisle wants to see in a development. This document could specify design, materials, and landscaping preferences, and address lighting, traffic, safety, water, and environmental protection. As an example, it refers to the Town of Franklin's document at www. franklin.ma.us/auto/town/pacdev/currplan/bdguide/.
The report also suggests that town boards review their own rules and regulations with an eye toward adding requirements for higher-density developments. Finally, it suggests training offered by Town Counsel or state organizations for ZBA members on managing 40Bs.
Barnett notes the bottom line is that the town needs to continue to attract top talent to the ZBA. "Volunteer leadership is a huge gift" she says, and streamlining the 40B process to make the best use of volunteer time repays and encourages that commitment.
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