Park Central continued again; Developer claims Planning Board not informed on traffic impacts

by beth on December 4, 2014

Once again, hearings on projects at Park Central were continued for another day. (Specifically, January 7th.)

In previous meetings, the Zoning Board of Appeals pushed for the Use Variance permit to be resolved by last night, so the board could act on the linked 40B project.

Last night, the board voted to continue the 40B hearing and bring in Town Counsel. They will be getting their attorney up to speed on hearings to date, and he will be involved in future meetings.

According to Chair Leo Bartolini, the action was recommended by selectmen. This followed a letter from the Planning Board to the ZBA and shared with the Board of Selectmen advised seeking counsel.

The same letter also urged the ZBA to deny the 40B permit.

The letter was read into record without comments. It is scheduled for discussion at the next meeting. (But developer Bill Depietri hasn’t waited to make his feelings known. More on that later.)

Before the continuance, Depietri agreed to a board request. The developer will cover costs for use of a Mass Housing consultant in some future stages. (That consultant had been paid for under a grant by Mass Housing. The grant ran out.)

The Use Variance permit hearing was continued at the request of Depitei at support of abutters. It was his second continuance request in a row.

Attorney Dan Hill, representing neighbors, assured the board that these continuances have been productive. He said they have been working with the developer and making progress.

Depietri asserted that by January 7th he’ll be ready to move forward with or scrap the Use Variance.

Another letter from the Planning Board was read into record for discussion at the next meeting. This letter questioned the propriety of approving a Use Variance permit to impose conditions on a 40B.

The letters were written by Planning Board Chair Don Morris at approval of the board. At the November 17th Planning Board meeting, Morris told board members that he believed it was their job to comment on the Park Central projects:

We’re an elected board and people would expect us to have an opinion on such an enormous revision.

Referring to increased traffic from the project on Flagg Road, Lovers Lane and Deerfoot Road among others, Morris stated, “It just doesn’t pass that sanity test for safety.”

Member Phil Jenks warned that a ZBA denial would result in developer appeal. He furthered the “pro-developer” housing committee has a history of overruling claims that increased traffic on narrow, windy roads is a safety issue.

But Jenks and the rest of the board agreed that they should submit the letter anyway. Morris summed up sentiments:

If we don’t do the letter, then I don’t think we’re doing our job. And if we do the letter and it crashes and burns, at least we tried. That’s our job – is to try.

According to Southborough Wicked Local, Depietri objects to the letters. He stated the Planning Board’s claims were inaccurate. Two traffic studies and a peer review concluded that the 40B project wouldn’t pose safety risks.

SWL wrote:

“The streets can more than handle the additional traffic,” [Depietri] said.

Depietri said the hearings have been taking place over the past year and Planning Board members “need to be more informed.”

“I don’t think anyone on the Planning Board reviewed or read the traffic reports,” he said. “Prior to them writing off-the-cuff letters they should get up to speed.”

To read that full article, click here.

The ZBA has scheduled both hearings for Wednesday, January 7. The 40B will be scheduled for 7:30 pm, but Bartolini expects to continue that to the end of the meeting. That would allow the board to hold the 7:35 pm Use Variance hearing first.

Update (12/4/14 3:30 pm): I corrected the section about the Use Variance continuance. I was corrected by a reader that the request was made by DePietri, not the abutters.

1 Kathryn Rose December 4, 2014 at 11:33 AM

The planning board did their job. Thank you Don for representing them. As a member of the abutting neighborhood, I am encouraged by the talks we are having with the developer but I still have serious concerns on the impact the traffic will have. Anyone who walks on Flagg and Deerfoot knows how dangerous it can be. Adding a significant amount of additional traffic will absolutely impact the safety of the residents who live along that route as well as pedestrians and the children who use that route to go to school. The traffic impact on those who want to enter route 9 during morning rush hour will be significant as well.

2 Wendy December 4, 2014 at 11:49 AM

I give a big Thank You to the Planning Board for weighing in on this project and to the Selectmen for recommending legal representation for the town. This IS the largest project Southborough has ever seen and the input from the town boards is important and valuable. What goes in on this property won’t just affect the abutting neighborhood, but everyone in town.

Also, just a small correction – last night’s request for a continuance on the Use Variance hearing was submitted by Capital Group and supported by the abutters.

3 beth December 4, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Thank you. I misheard Bartolini as saying the letter being from the abutters. I’ll make the correction.

4 Conflic of Interest? December 4, 2014 at 5:21 PM

AM I the only one who wonders if Mr. Bartolini should be the Chairman of the ZBA? If the ZBA is supposed to ensure that developers’ projects that do not conform with zoning laws get a fair hearing, well does it make any sense to have a developer in that position?

I’m sure Mr. Bartolini is a fine person, but it smacks of a conflict of interest. I’m sure there are other ways he could volunteer to help the town but this just rubs me the wrong way.

5 Jo December 5, 2014 at 7:00 AM

I think it is great the planning board is weighing in on the matter and it’s much appreciated. I believe it is unfortunate that the Selectman have taken so long to do so. Mr. Bartolini is appointed by the Selectman not elected. His actions which have been very questionable are a direct reflection on the Selectman who is an elected official including the fact that Bartolini should not be taking part in this hearing due to conflict if interest. The Selectman should be recommending outside Professional Counsel on this matter not the town attorney who I would question on his experience with 40b and tight nit relationships in town with parties involved.

6 Wendy December 5, 2014 at 11:02 AM

I agree. It’s a big step in the right direction to have town council involved, but 40B law is very specialized. Many other towns choose to hire professional 40B counsel in this type of situation.

7 resident December 5, 2014 at 6:25 PM

Let’s see leadership and help the developer get some assistance with state government for Rte 9 and 495 to make the site a shopping and commercial office location as it should be used with improved access to directly to 495/rt 9 w. And rt 30. Get the state to expand the rte 9 improve mentioned plan they are working on. . Let them build the tallest office buildings in metrowest with shopping communities . Generate tax revenues witthout significantly impacting our school forecasts in the next 10 years. Public and private bonds with state backed highway improvements. Thinking small and short term profit does not serve this community. Leadership is needed. It’s 495 for God sake.

8 Elizabeth W. December 5, 2014 at 7:48 PM

Elected Southborough Planning Board member and Selectmen have voiced serious and legitimate public safety concerns in response to Capital Group’s proposed 40B development. This has been demonstrated most recently in the form of two letters submitted to the Board of Selectman on behalf of the entire Planning Board by Chairman Don Morris.

The Developer, Mr. Depietri, responds that the Planning Board “needs to be more informed” and should “get up to speed” on traffic issues. Implicit in these statements is the suggestion that the Planning Board has simply not read the traffic reports and are not informed about traffic and safety issues. I could not disagree more and, in fact, the letters seem to demonstrate a level of insight and deep understanding of safety issues posed by the proposed project.

The Planning Board and a vast number of residents remain deeply concerned about the safety hazards posed by the proposed 180-unit complex. Yet, the traffic experts hired by Capital Group Properties state that “the increases to Flagg Road volume during the peak hours are expected to be manageable and well within the roadways’ capacity.” Should we rely on experts in “traffic” to evaluate “safety?” In fact, the traffic studies focus on items such as “wait time and sight lines at intersections,” and not the safety of pedestrian as they walk around blind corners or along narrow roadways.
Neighborhood concerns are not about the “capacity” of Flagg Road or possible “fender benders,” but rather, about the safety of residents, on bike and on foot. The undeniable fact is that two of Southborough’s four schools are accessible by the footpath at the intersection of Flagg and Deerfoot Roads. Children walk and ride their bike along Flagg Road to access this footpath; they will be put in harm’s way should this project go forward. It is reassuring to know that our Planning Board members are carefully considering this real safety concern.

The original traffic study did not ease residents’ safety concerns. Furthermore, peer review of the original traffic study was undertaken and completed without public hearing into the consultant’s qualifications. Also, the peer review lacks the rigor and inquisitiveness this community should rightfully expect. For example, the study data indicates that greater than 80% of residents in the Blackthorn, Bantry, Tara neighborhood take a left-hand turn onto Flagg Road and travel north along Flagg Road (toward the Neary/Trottier School Complex) during peak hours. However, only 14% of residents in the proposed 180-unit complex are projected to travel in the same direction. At one hearing, a neighbor asked about this discrepancy. The peer reviewer asserted that it was more reasonable for residents to directly access the state/interstate highway system (eg. 9 West → 495 South → 90 East). As a traffic expert he failed to consider that these highways are clogged with cars during rush hour. Data shows that the vast majority of current residents use Flagg Road and travel through Southborough’s town center to access major highways (Mass Pike, 90-East). He ignored this data. Data points cannot be simply ignored because they don’t fit with one’s working hypotheses.

Moreover, the peer reviewer stated that additional traffic added to local roadways (eg. Flagg Rd.) from this 180-unit complex would equate to eight (8) single-family homes. This is a bewildering assertion and, along with the choice to exclude existing traffic pattern data, suggests bias in this peer review. This runs completely contrary to the “blind” and “double-blind” studies so standard in scientific research. These standards are necessary to eliminate the bias attached to experimentation or data analysis. It seems to me that a full and fair review of real and fresh data needs to be completed. If for practical reasons this cannot be done, then at least, a new peer review should be initiated. This needs to occur as part of the public hearing process. This did not occur when the recent peer review firm was hired and, it is my understanding, that this in violation of at least two laws. The town needs an unbiased peer reviewer who considers all data points and is willing to work with appropriate town committees in order to understand the full impact of this project on safety, not just the impact on road capacity.

Finally, the Planning Board members suggest that they work together with the ZBA to develop a “master plan of the entire site which would include broader participation of town boards, committees and the public.” This is a reasonable way forward and I believe in the best interest of the entire Southborough community.

9 beth December 6, 2014 at 11:47 AM

Just clarification. I was initially bewildered by equation to 8 single family homes. Then I realized that statement referred to specifically belief of how many would travel within the Bantry/Tara neighborhood instead of taking Flagg Road to Route 9.

Whether that assertion is accurate or not is another matter. But the number wasn’t covering to all Flagg Road traffic.

10 Donna McDaniel December 8, 2014 at 11:36 PM

Two comments:
1) re the “housing committee’ referred to in one of the comments above..just to make sure t a reminder that is the state’s committee (not another town committee) which MAY, with 40B projects, accept a developer’s appeal and over-rule the town.
2) Way back when this first came up and the traffic consultant gave the statement about the small impact Park Central would have, I asked him where his data on the existing traffic came from… had his firm done an estimate which included an actual count — someone or a camera– at the corner of Rte. 9 and Flagg?
No.
So where did they get their numbers?
His reply–they have plentiful national data. I’m quite stunned by the idea that “national data” would be applicable to and sufficient for a particular situation like this.

11 Southborough Resident December 15, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Traffic Truth: There is no huge problem with traffic in the morning on Rt 9 Westbound. AM traffic is Eastbound. PM traffic is Westbound, beginning as early as 3:30 some days. Even if you take the safety of walkers and bikers (who routinely walk or ride on the incorrect side of Flagg and Deerfoot) out of the equation, the problem is exiting onto Rt 9. In a car, there is not enough line-of-sight down Rt 9 to pull out 100% safely. There’s always a little “Hail Mary” action involved. In a pickup or otherwise elevated vehicle, it’s increased, but not by much. It’s already a difficult and dangerous place to pull out of- why would we want to have that compounded by doubling or tripling the number of cars pulling out of there?

Regarding Mr. Bartolini and Conflict of Interest, I wonder if he has signed off on the Conflict Of Interest acknowledgement that all municipal employees have to sign off on each year. According to the summary, “Anyone performing services for a city or town or holding a municipal position, whether paid or unpaid, including full- and part-time municipal employees, elected officials, volunteers, and consultants, is a municipal employee under the conflict of interest law.”

While he may not have an immediate financial interest in this matter, I strongly agree with the person above that it smacks of COI.

12 Mark Ford December 15, 2014 at 8:06 PM

I pull out of Flagg road one weekday morning per week, at approx. 6:35 a.m., and it always seems like a dangerous adventure to me. Cars flying Westbound on Route 9, some trying to quickly exit onto 495N (or the gas station!), quick lane switches…I can’t imagine it’s easier at 7:30, or 8:30. I often feel compelled to punch the gas or risk getting hit from behind on Route 9, and I doubt I’m the only one who experiences this.

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