Friday, September 18, 2009
Benfield project faces stiff timetable
Will the Benfield Farm affordable housing developers obtain a comprehensive permit by February, in time to qualify for the next round of financing offered by the state? The developers, Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), distributed a schedule to meet that goal when they met with members of town land-use boards at the Town Hall Advisory Group (THAG) meeting on September 15. In addition, they presented new plans that show the septic system location moved from the front of the property to the rear, as a result of recent soil perc tests.
Carlisle’s Housing Authority is working with NOAH to build 26 units of senior affordable housing on land purchased by the town in 2004. Whenever projects include at least 25% affordable units, Massachusetts statute Chapter 40B allows developers to bypass local zoning and Planning Board review and instead request a comprehensive permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The Benfield project is considered a “friendly 40B” in that it is being initiated by the town and, unlike most private 40B projects, all the Benfield units will be affordable by low- and moderate-income households.
Schedule starts with community meeting Oct. 7
NOAH hopes to host a community information session on October 7 and begin the public hearing for the 40B application with the ZBA in mid-October. The ZBA legally has up to six months to consider a 40B application, but if the board issues a permit by the end of January, NOAH plans to quickly submit a funding application with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Mark Beaudry of Meridian Associates, NOAH’s senior project manager for the Benfield development, said that if they miss the winter deadline, the next opportunity to apply for the DHCD’s “one-stop” financing will be roughly ten months later, next fall.
Other boards involved in the permitting process include the Conservation Commission (ConsCom), which oversees work near wetlands and the Board of Health (BOH), which will review the septic system and well designs. Because of the size of the project, the well field must meet Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) requirements for a public water supply.
THAG Chair Jeff Brem began the 7 a.m. meeting by reiterating that the ad hoc group’s purpose is not to replace board review of 40B projects. Instead, the advisory group is to provide an informal forum where questions and suggestions can be shared, both among boards and with the developer. Gathered around the table were representatives from the Board of Selectmen, BOH, ConsCom, Land Stewardship Committee, Planning Board and Housing Authority.
Brem kicked off the discussion with the idea that it might be more efficient if one party were hired to perform peer review simultaneously for the ZBA, ConsCom and BOH, rather than three separate consultants hired sequentially. Beaudry agreed that a single peer review was preferable. It may cost NOAH more initially to create plans with sufficient detail for a combined peer review, noted Brem, but he said that the advisory group might investigate the possibility of town funding to support the peer review process.
NOAH finds original septic site too wet
Beaudry described changes made to the plans over the summer. The housing location remains in the front field near South Street. Because soils near South Street proved unsuitable for a leach field, the septic system will be in the interior of the property, where perc tests in 2004 yielded better results. The front area had perc rates of roughly 30 minutes per inch and a water table as high as two feet below ground level. In comparison, the four best sites in the interior had perc rates of two to five minutes per inch, with the water table six to nine feet below the surface.
There were questions raised about the septic system, which will now extend into the portion of the 45-acre parcel that is under a conservation restriction (CR). Land Steward Committee representative Warren Lyman requested the septic leach field be sited so that the open field will still be suitable for farming and observed that the CR required the final leach field contours match the existing topography as closely as possible. Beaudry had been considering a stepped-trench leach field, but said that the final topography can be smoothed if more fill is used. ConsCom member Tom Brownrigg asked if the 120-foot separation between the septic area and a certified vernal pool would provide sufficient protection, since the septic system would be used by far more people than a normal single family home. NOAH Executive Director Phil Griffee noted that the state allows septic systems within 100 feet of a vernal pool.
To lessen the footprint and impact on the conservation area, Brem suggested using a Presby alternative technology septic system. While it would cost more, he said the Presby system would allow a 40% reduction in the size of the leach field. Beaudry explained that alternative technology was already under consideration because the system must handle over 2,000 gallons per day. Treatment will reduce the nitrogen load of the effluent before it is pumped out to the leach field.
After the advisory group discussed the preliminary designs, Griffee asked for recommendations on future meetings NOAH should attend in preparation for the upcoming permit hearings. There was no ZBA representative present to comment; however, Planning Board Chair David Freedman suggested it might be helpful if he and the ZBA chair met with NOAH outside the regularly scheduled board meetings in order to discuss details of the new local 40B application guidelines. ∆
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