Friday, May 28, 2010
Benfield hearings end in sight
The Carlisle Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hopes to finalize a set of conditions for development of the Benfield Farms senior housing project within the next few weeks. Although the affordable project is proceeding in partnership with the town, the developer, NOAH, is required to obtain a comprehensive permit under the state’s 40B law. The permit is issued by the ZBA after a set of hearings in which all interested boards, committees, and other parties supply feedback on the application. A variety of conditions can then be incorporated.
Hearings on the application opened November 23, 2009, and, according to state law, should be completed within 180 days from that date, or May 22. On Wednesday, May 19, the ZBA and Toby Kramer, representing the developer, agreed to an extension to allow Town Counsel to finish drafting the conditions. A hearing was called for Tuesday, June 8, to discuss the proposed conditions, incorporate input, and attempt to finalize the conditions by July 2.
Abutters take one last shot
Citizens from Benfield’s South Street area attended the hearing May 19 to present a letter signed by several neighbors. ZBA Chair Ed Rolfe read the letter, which proposed reducing the size of the development from the currently planned 26 units to 20. The letter noted parking overload for 26 units could provide a problem on South Street and block emergency vehicles. It also said that the Town Meeting that approved the development had not voted for a large building but had expected smaller distributed buildings, and had been subjected to a “bait and switch.”
ZBA member Kevin Smith noted that phrase and asked, “Who’s the finger pointing to?” Alan Carpenito of South Street said the conceptual plan presented at the Town Meeting showed a much different look. He suggested the Housing Authority should have limited the request for proposals to similar structures. Ray Kubacki of South Street said of the currently planned three-story building, “If they (voters) had seen that big structure, who knows how they would have voted?”
Alan Lehotsky of the Housing Authority noted that there have been many changes since the preliminary concept plan, including a change from family housing in response to neighborhood preferences, “We switched to senior housing because it would have a smaller footprint.” The current apartments are about 2/3 the size the family units would have been, according to Housing Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett.
400 trucks needed to provide fill
The meeting quickly moved on, with engineer Wayne Keefner of Meridian Associates presenting a stack of plans recently updated to incorporate “all comments to date.” The overall site plan included the location of a vernal pool identified a few weeks before that may or may not be certifiable. Several cross sections were also presented for the site showing the current topography overlaid by the proposed topography once construction is complete. Some areas will be leveled and fill will be needed. Grades for the bio-retention area, where run-off will collect, were shown. Keefner noted that the basin will be three feet at its deepest point and the water will last up to 24 hours before draining completely. Nitsch project engineer Steven Ventresca, who provides peer review, said that the short time period before water drains would remove any need for mosquito control.
Keefner had determined 5,700 cubic yards of fill will be needed, or 550 truckloads. But after considering space taken up for cisterns and systems, he agreed the number “is maybe less than 5,000 cubic yards, “ or more like 400 trucks. If outfitted with trailers, that number might be cut in half. Concerns were raised about avoiding wetlands violations and coordinating trucks so that none would be parking on South Street. Rolfe said the police and DPW need to be informed so they can weigh in on what restrictions are needed.
Access around the retention basin is provided for tree removal. Keefner pointed to a driveway guard rail and proposed it be made of steel posts with a wood hand rail because steel is easy to install and maintain. Rolfe suggested waiting for feedback before making that decision. The walkway would not require a guardrail because the slope is gradual. Handicapped spots are as close to the main door as possible and all doors will be accessible. There is no parking in front because of fire safety requirements. The existing cart path will be protected by painting or inlaying a “no parking” area. Most lighting is on pathways, and a decision on fixtures has not been made. A few 12-foot lampposts which will send light downward.
Snow removal, landscaping plans
A plan for snow removal was shown that would keep melt water out of wetlands. The plower will need to be instructed where the designated storage spots are. No large plowing equipment bigger than a pickup truck will be needed. Smith questioned whether enough snow storage was provided. Keefner explained there are “no good references” for making the calculations so he had taken the open area times eight inches and applied a 50% compaction to obtain 8,400 cubic feet of snow.
Arborist John Bakewell had reviewed the site and the landscape plan showed trees clustered as had been suggested. A list of recommended tree types was provided without detail as to which would go where, as the landscape architect will review the layout before planting once trees are set around. It was suggested that additional landscaping flank the easement line to provide screening for the neighbor.
David Freedman of the Planning Board questioned the tree placement behind the stone wall, noting that once the honeysuckle and bittersweet are removed from the roadside, the view into the development will be much more open. He said that earlier it had been suggested that trees closely line the wall, and this did not seem to be reflected in the plan. He asked that the plans be revisited and the conditions reflect this concern.
Pathway easement to be defined
An easement on conservation land to provide access to the well and septic system, has not been defined. Keefner said it could run against the tree line and stone wall. Rolfe said this is something that will need to be shown on plans before a building permit is issued. The easement cannot be a roadway as this would violate the conservation restriction. Excavation of a rough dirt cart path could be incorporated as utilities are installed, said Keefner. It is assumed the path will not need plowing as servicing will be infrequent and an inspector should be able to walk to the well head.
Freedman asked for more detail on the pathway, including materials, width, topography, and size of vehicles accommodated. Also, how will it be made clear where vehicles can go? Of special concern is the possibility of violation of the restrictions for the “zone one” area nearest the public water supply well. The Housing Authority is working with Town Counsel to put the language together to finalize the easement.
Rural character for pump house, signage
Frank Valdes of DiMella Shaffer showed the design of the well-pump house. The housing would be 20 x 12 x 9 feet high and will be simple, using the same shingles and siding as the main building so it will look like an outbuilding to the farmhouse. Rolfe suggested moving a generator behind the pump house to the side so it would be away from an abutter, and Valdes agreed, noting that because a gas generator is planned it will not be noisy and will avoid the need for an above-ground oil tank. The area by the generator will be landscaped.
A carved wood sign for Benfield Farms has not yet been designed. Lehotsky humorously suggested pink and orange neon with palm trees. Valdes assured him it would not be lighted. Rolfe asked to know the dimensions and materials for this sign, the construction sign, and any rental marketing signs that will be temporarily erected. Building Inspector John Luther noted there are no ordinances and in the past he has been guided by “what seems reasonable.” Freedman said the board can add any conditions they want regarding signage, but Rolfe asked Valdes to “propose something. That’s probably better.” A cluster mailbox is planned, and there was a question as to whether mail carriers would enter the building or require an outside location. Luther will check with the postmaster.
Crossing the Ts
A number of issues were raised during the public hearing process, and assigned to various parties to resolve. Rolfe noted that most issues have been resolved, with a few open. Landscape screening from the street is an open issue and it was suggested that conditions include a review once plants are placed on site but before they are planted. Signage is still to be discussed. Freedman noted that conditions should be based on “adequacy and appropriateness,” not just compliance with codes.
The pump house was to have storage space for tools for the community gardens. Valdes was unaware of this request, and Luther did not want people coming in and out of the pump house. Valdes suggested a spot might be found inside the main house. A few rain barrels were planned for the garden but not throughout the site. Outside spigots will be available. but water use is to be monitored by the DEP, according to Freedman, and over a certain threshold, can not be used for the gardens.
Solar panels may not be possible because of cost. A decision will be made at a later date. The Planning Board is not requiring LEED certification for using green technologies, but is asking for “best effort.” The new Stretch Code passed at Town Meeting is equivalent to Energy Star, a standard the developer had planned to achieve anyway. An effort will be made for the development to be LEED silver certifiable, according to Kramer.
A request from the Conservation Commission (ConsCom) for access to conservation land through the Benfield site using the 40-foot easement may not be possible due to liability issues at some points in construction, said Keefner. The ConsCom also wants assurance that a mower can get onto the meadow twice a year. The Selectmen hold the easement and will be notified of this need. Construction management plans and finalized building plans were requested.
Carpenito was concerned that light pollution from the driveway would be bothersome to the abutter, and suggested a fence. Keefner was worried about the cost, and Kramer said she would prefer landscaping. The issue will be examined.
Rolfe has asked Town Counsel to begin drafting conditions based on common conditions for 40Bs to which the ZBA can then add some specifics to this project. The draft conditions will not be received until May 28, requiring an extension of the hearings, granted by the ZBA and NOAH. There was discussion of whether to allow input from other boards, with Selectman John Williams noting that “an open hearing is an open hearing” and Freedman asking for “a presumption that input is helpful.” It was agreed that a review will be included.
A letter will be drafted for the signatures of both the ZBA and NOAH representatives, agreeing to extend the hearing to June 8. The ZBA hopes to close the hearing that evening.
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