Friday, June 18, 2010
Zoning Board of Appeals waits for Town Counsel input on Benfield 40B
The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) met on June 8 to continue the Benfield Farms 40B hearing with its key agenda item being a discussion of the draft conditions that Town Counsel Rich Hucksam, Jr. of Deutsch, Williams et al., had committed to complete by May 28. This document is to be a compilation of all the conditions communicated to the ZBA from all town boards and concerned parties. However, at the meeting Chairman Ed Rolfe announced that Hucksam had not yet submitted the conditions document to the ZBA.
The proposed Benfield Farms affordable housing development calls for 26 units of senior rental housing to be built on South Street and managed by the firm Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), on land to be leased from the town.
Rolfe said he only recently had been in communication with Hucksam, who did not offer a reason why he had not completed the conditions document as promised and only alluded to Rolfe that scheduling issues impeded his work on the document. According to Rolfe, Hucksam said the ZBA would receive the conditions document “by week’s end,” but would not give a specific date or time. Rolfe said it could be Friday, June 11, at 5 p.m. or Sunday, June 13 at noon.
Other ZBA members as well as NOAH applicant Phil Giffee expressed concern over whether or not the document would ultimately be completed by “week’s end. “Not having any communication from . . . attorney [Hucksam] is disturbing to us. There might have been a disaster, but without letting us know, we have no idea how to go further.”
The ZBA agreed to meet on June 21 and 24 at 6:30 p.m., based on the good faith assumption that they would receive the conditions document by June 11 from Hucksam. That would leave enough time to review the document and prepare for the meetings. Rolfe said that once they receive the conditions document it would be sent to the other town boards, but that the meetings wouldn’t be a “re-review” of the conditions. Rolfe said, “We won’t be taking any new issues. We [will] note objections and consider it in our deliberations.” ZBA member Kent Gonzales concurred, saying, “this is to [discover and fix] glaring omissions and incorrect statements.”
Other topics on the agenda concerned landscaping and mailbox placement. Town Housing Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett went to the Benfield Farms location and personally counted the trees (approximately 50) on the lot with respect to the landscaping and screening plan. Barnett said, “a lot of trees are alive, but they are wrapped about [and being strangled to death] by bittersweet.” Michael Epstein from the Planning Board asked the applicant’s engineering consultant, Wayne Keefner of Meridian Associates (engineer for NOAH), how many trees the applicant was planning on planting. Keefner said he didn’t have the exact number, but concurred with ZBA member Marty Galligan when Galligan had offered 100. Keefner said, “that might be close to it. Maybe 30 alone, along South Street.”
From the plan submitted from Meridian Associates, trees of varying heights – up to seven to eight feet – will be planted as screening. Abutter Ray Kubacki of South Street asked about the growth rate of trees. The answer from audience members seemed to reach consensus on the average growth rate of one foot a year, but that it also depends of the species of the tree.
Regarding mailbox placement, Building Inspector John Luther said he spoke with the postmaster and that because the complex is an elderly residence, the mailboxes would be in the actual building instead of on the street. Mail trucks, therefore, would drive into the complex to deliver mail.
Fire safety again was discussed. Steve Benz from Nitsch Engineering requested a test drive of a fire engine making a right-hand turn into the complex and a left-hand turn out to ensure that first responders from other towns would have easy access to the complex through the driveway. Wayne from Meridian Engineering commented that the “turning templates” showed that the turns from both directions could be accomplished.
Abutter Alan Carpenito read an excerpt from a recent Boston Globe article about a fire at an elderly complex in Woburn. The fire station was 200 yards away and the response time from firefighters was two minutes. In Carlisle, fire safety reports indicate that response time to fires averages between 10 and 12 minutes. Carpenito said that it is the job of the ZBA to ensure the public safety of the occupants. Luther interjected and said that it was not entirely the ZBA in charge of safety. The applicant/developer had to meet the building and safety codes mandated by the state of Massachusetts.
Other final issues concerned signage and security for the complex. The ZBA and applicants agreed that a sign, approximately four feet by eight feet, would be appropriate for the work site and would not, as Rolfe commented, “look like a Century 21 sign hanging in front.” Regarding security, applicant Giffee said that they probably were not going to have security cameras installed at this point. People however will not be able to just walk into the building. There will be a vestibule at the front and the doors will always be locked. Contact information and numbers to call in case of an emergency will be posted outside.
Wrapping up the meeting, NOAH discussed the possibiity of obtaining a decision on or before June 30 because their fiscal year ends then. That way, they will be able to report on the status of the project, particularly to auditors and investors who have an interest in the project. Rolfe and other ZBA members concurred. They would make a good-faith effort to have a decision by June 30 – contingent upon the prompt receipt of the conditions document.
The next ZBA meeting, scheduled for June 14, discussed non-40B issues (see article, on left). The Benfield Farms 40B hearing will continue on June 21 and June 24 starting at 6:30 p.m. ∆
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