The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 18, 2009

ZBA reviews Benfield Farms senior affordable housing project

On December 15, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) continued the hearing for the 40B comprehensive permit application for the proposed Benfield Farms, a 26-unit senior, affordable housing development off South Street. The board began by reading aloud letters from abutters and addressing issues raised. Predominant concerns were over the size of the building (approximately 28,000 square feet and three-stories), the short setback of 50-feet from the road, the large amount of screening required to shield the housing from abutters, and the ability of the Fire Department to enter and exit the development during an emergency.

Applicants Toby Kramer of Riverside Consulting and Phillip Giffee of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) explained that they had been working with the town for over a year and wanted to allay concerns. While they had considered alternative designs, Kramer said that they went forward with the current design because it was visually the most interesting and best designed plan. Furthermore, the height of the proposed three-story building is no higher than many single-family homes already in Carlisle.

Health room questioned

Abutter Martha McConnell, trustee and abutter at 545 South Street, addressed the board with her concern that she understood one of the rental units was being considered as space for an on-site doctor and said that this turns the development “into an assisted- living property, not a low-income rental property for seniors.”

Kramer responded to McConnell, “We were asked by the Council on Aging (COA) to have a recreation area, a seating area [and] an area for staff who may come and go. In the case of seniors, there are regional services that may come and provide blood pressure checks, for example, when a group of seniors are in one place.” She told McConnell. “There isn’t a doctor on staff; this isn’t assisted living [or a] commercial venture.” A room has been designed for that, based on input from the COA and Housing Authority “to make it a more pleasant environment for the seniors.”

Fire safety looks okay so far

ZBA Chair Ed Rolfe invited Fire Chief David Flannery to address the ZBA with public safety findings and also to address abutters’ questions. Chief Flannery described how his department is using the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 1141 in order to determine public safety requirements in the Benfield property and that the first pass of the project meets with the Carlisle Fire Department’s plan.

Flannery described the proposed Benfield project as “unusual’ in Carlisle and described how the residents of the complex, some with cognitive impairments or mobility challenges, present particular concerns to the Fire Department. “It’s a facility where people sleep…. There can be a lot of confusion and panic in the middle of the night… In situations where you [need to evacuate residents], you need to have ambulances able to get in and out… if fire trucks are [also] in the roadway.”

Kramer added that “the building will be fully sprinkled and connected to the [municipal] fire system. Deputy Fire Chief Jonathan White said that he was in the process of setting up a meeting with the NOAH engineers to discuss design of the cistern, which also has to run the sprinkler system.

Planning Board airs concerns

Raising three major issues of the Planning Board, Chairman David Freedman addressed the ZBA. Freedman said that their first issue concerned the submitted 40B application, which he said contained many errors and omissions. Freedman also said that the architectural plan is not a part of the project plan given to the ZBA and that it is confusing to have multiple sets of plans. Freedman went on to say that changes to the project plan must be made with an understanding that they will impact other aspects that may not be immediately resolved. Lastly, Freedman requested that justifications must be given by the applicant for each waiver (to ZBA rules and regulations and other laws) requested.

Kramer responded, saying that they felt it was more important to have a peer reviewer selected. “These plans are the first layer. The second for ConsCom will be even more detailed.” She explained, “We looked at the list of waivers. Many of them were general. Many related to the Conservation Commission.” She continued, “Our intention was to review the list again and eliminate the ones that we can and then give more information on those that we could. Some are purely design; some are economic; some don’t make sense. We didn’t spend the time yet to go through the Planning Board’s list because we thought we would hit that point later when we had more detail.”

NOAH asks to begin peer review

Giffee of NOAH added that they were ready to begin the peer review process part of the application, whereby a mutually agreed upon civil engineering firm is selected and given the special permit project files and reviews them for feasibility and viability. “It’s been a year since we were selected [to submit our 40B application]. We’ve been responding to many townspeople and boards throughout the process. You have a lot of regulations developed by an anti-40B attorney [but] the goal here is to meet as many town requirements as possible and build a housing development. I think we are prepared to go through a peer review process, meet as many expectations as possible…. It’s been a challenge to keep costs down and meet public safety requirements…. I think if you use common sense, you can say conceptually, ‘Is this a good plan and does the town want it?’ So yes, we would like to proceed and to continue to meet with town boards.”

ZBA Chair Ed Rolfe responded to Giffee saying “We can work through the waiver list…. What we are trying to do is insure for the residents of the town… that we have a good understanding about what [the project] is all about, that we are doing our due diligence.” He added, “The ZBA will rigorously defend the town if we can’t do this properly and safely.”

The ZBA, the applicant and Board of Health Chair Jeff Brem, who is also a civil engineer and runs a planning, civil engineering and land surveying company, engaged in a lengthy discussion about securing a peer reviewer and the language they should use when creating a scope of work for the peer reviewer.

At the close of the meeting, the ZBA and applicant agreed to craft a bulleted list of requirements to be met by the peer reviewer and to submit a request for a proposal and cost estimates to three firms, one of which is Nitsch Engineering. The ZBA and the applicant set a working meeting for December 22 from 7 to 8 p.m. at Town Hall to review the proposal to be sent to the engineering firms, and then chose their next meeting date for January 12 at 7 p.m.∆

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