Last night, the Zoning Board of Appeals opened their public hearings on the proposed Park Central 40B project. The hearing room was standing room only as members from surrounding neighborhoods came to voice their concerns.
ZBA’s meeting was their first to be recorded by Southborough Access Media. (You can click here to view the streaming content.) Going forward, SAM hopes to broadcast ZBA meetings live when possible.
The hearing opened with an explanation by the town’s consultant of the permitting process. He made it clear that the permit denials or neighbor appeals are rarely successfully upheld.
Cases where the state has upheld a permit denial are related to safety. While traffic safety is sometimes considered, he said the volume of traffic isn’t.
ZBA Chair Leo Bartolini informed the crowd that he understood that traffic from the project is the most critical issue for residents. He announced that the ZBA will, for the first time, hire a peer review consultant to look at the applicant’s traffic plans. (The consultant is picked by the board, but fees are paid by the applicant.) The board also plans to contract an engineering peer review down the road.
Several residents complained that a peer review would be insufficient, as they believed the original plan didn’t study the right information.
Bartolini responded that determining that is part of the peer review’s scope. A reviewer won’t do original work, but will inform the town if the applicant hasn’t provide enough data for an effective review. He insisted that the board needs to follow a process. He expects traffic hearings alone to take place every two weeks for multiple months.
Hearings focused on traffic impacts will open on April 23, at 8:30 pm, in the Town House hearing room. At that meeting, the applicant’s traffic consultant will present their plan. The town’s police and fire departments will make their comments. And residents will have the chance to comment and ask questions.
Answering questions from residents, developer Bill Depietri revealed his potential plans for the remainder of the property. They included industrial buildings, assisted living and possibly another small residential building if the town is still under the 10% for affordable housing projects.
That 10% was already a point of contention among commenters. Some residents expressed concerns about how many other 40B projects could be forced through, since the project would still leave the town short of reaching Mass Housing’s threshold.
According to the town’s consultant, Southborough will still be 13 units short of the 10% of affordable housing units if Park Central is approved.
The ZBA put that number lower, at 8-9. Their figure includes the four units currently approved for Stonebrook Village. However, Depietri is in process of trying to change that from 40B housing to 55+ housing.*
Bartolini asked if Depietri would consider changing the Park Central plan to rental properties, thereby turning all units to 40B. By his calculation that would put Southborough over the 10% through 2030, allowing the town to only allow 40Bs on their terms. He posited that with small 40Bs approved in future years, Southborough could remain above the 10% in perpetuity.
Depietri responded that the plan was developed as for sale and presented to Mass Housing as such. A change that significant would require going back to Mass Housing. It would also require major changes to his plans. He didn’t refuse to consider, but was not inclined to do so.
Planning Board member Paul Cimino asked Depietri to consider simply upping the number of affordable units to bring Southborough to 10%. Depietri didn’t comment.
Responding to more comments about the traffic plan, Bartolini pointed out that some of the plans are in response to Mass Department of Transportation’s announced plans for changes to Route 9. He told the crowd he’s very unhappy with Mass DOT’s design and hopes he and other town officials can meet with the department to influence a change.
[Editor’s note: I can’t find the DOT’s current versions of the plan. But I do have images from their study that I covered in September (click here) and a January announcement by DOT of their plans to move forward on the project (click here).]
Former Selectman David Parry insisted that the town and Depietri should form a joint task force and a “very highly skilled team of traffic engineers” to come up with a route 9 solution to both Park Central access and traffic issues for the Fayville community posed by the DOT plan.
Parry pitched to Depietri that the increased value for his land, which could be “worth a fortune”, should compel him to “ditch this plan” and support his idea. Again, Depietri didn’t comment.
The ZBA asked that residents who want to be alerted on developments between meetings provide the board’s secretary with 1-2 contacts who will be responsible for an email chain to others.
*A permit allowing Stonebrook Village to change their plans to 55+ housing was previously granted by the ZBA. It has been appealed by neighbors and is still pending litigation.
Toward the end of last night’s meeting, the ZBA granted an extension on the Stonebrook 40B permit. Depietri requested the extension so that he can pursue the 40B project if the appeal of the 55+ project is upheld by the court.