The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 4, 2009

ZBA begins Benfield 40B review

Selectmen, Board of Health, Housing Authority and Planning Board representatives were among those who attended the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on November 30 for the opening presentation and initial discussion regarding the 40B comprehensive permit application for the proposed Benfield Farms senior affordable housing development. The 26-unit housing project is to be built and managed by NOAH, a non-profit community development corporation, on the town-owned Benfield Land off South Street. According to ZBA Chair Ed Rolfe, the meeting “was a good introduction. We got to meet the players.” However, uppermost on his mind were the tight time constraints facing both the ZBA and the developer.

The ZBA is required by new state regulations to complete deliberations within 180 days, considerably shorter than the roughly two years the board took on its last major 40B application, Coventry Woods. NOAH, for its part, would like the ZBA to finish in three months instead of six, in order to make the February deadline for the next round of state one-stop grant funding. If NOAH misses the winter round of grants, construction would be delayed until after the next round of grants in the fall of 2010.

Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky began with a powerpoint presentation recapping the demand for senior affordable housing and the project planning process. NOAH showed plans for the housing, to be located within a single structure, varying between two and three stories high. Rolfe said the plans were essentially the same as those presented earlier to the Board of Selectmen and at a community forum in the fall. One change noted by Administrative Coordinator Elisabeth Barnett was the addition of a second closet to the apartments, made as a result of suggestions made by Carlisle seniors interested in the development.

Initial observations

Planning Board Chair David Freedman gave the ZBA a memo sharing initial Planning Board comments on the application and Fire Chief David Flannery provided a list of 11 conditions he would like to see in the comprehensive permit to facilitate fire protection and emergency vehicle access. As the project designs undergo refinement, he will continue to monitor safety issues.

Rolfe said that one point raised concerned the driveway depth and width. He suggested that while a wide, strong road surface would best meet the needs of emergency vehicles, a smaller paved surface might be desired for other reasons. Also, the driveway size, number of parking spaces and the fire cistern location are interrelated and will affect the storm-water drainage calculations. Rolfe said this might be a case where the Town Advisory Group (TAG), formerly known as the Town Hall Advisory Group, might be of assistance in helping different town officials and land-use boards reach an agreement on a preferred design as soon as possible. Once NOAH has input from the town, it can proceed with the necessary roadway engineering and storm water calculations.

Rolfe noted that additional data is needed for the application before the board can hire a peer review firm. For instance, he said that the waiver requests were too general. Comprehensive permits normally include requests for waivers from local zoning restrictions, but Rolfe would like the requests to target narrow, specific sections of the zoning bylaws. If the requests are too broad, the ZBA might inadvertently permit additional uses beyond what were anticipated, he said.

Peer review and next steps

Once the application is more complete, Rolfe said the board will hire an engineering firm to provide a peer review of the application. He explained that since the costs are expected to fall below $25,000, the state will allow the ZBA to hire a firm using “sound business practices” without going out for bids. NOAH is to pay for the peer review costs, and will therefore have a voice in the selection of the firm.

Rolfe said that the Planning Board has recommended four possible firms and NOAH has approved all but one of them. ZBA member Kent Gonzales will make initial contact with the three mutually-agreed firms and see which may be available. He said the final choice will be made by NOAH and the land-use boards who are most familiar with the engineering questions that need to be addressed, “As long as the Planning Board, applicant, Board of Health and Conservation Commission are happy with the selection, there’s no reason for the ZBA to get involved in the decision.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 15. Rolfe said that the ZBA will rely on the land-use boards for advice and expertise throughout the 40B application review. While he worries that it may be difficult to reach a decision by the end of January, he noted it was important the ZBA take enough time, because they “have to get it right.” He quoted David Freedman’s observation, “Development is forever.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito