Roundup of SWL news: Campaign ethics, last minute delay on Park Central hearing, Primate Center cited and report rescinded

Here are some recent Southborough Wicked Local stories about town news. Full disclosure, the first story relates to the candidate position papers I corralled for posting on the blog.

Southborough School Committee chief violated campaign ethics law – April 23:
A challenger in this year’s K-8 School Committee race is calling out incumbent Chairwoman Kathleen Harragan for apparently using a public email account for political purposes.

“Ms. Harragan has violated Massachusetts election law and ethics by utilizing a public resource, namely her school email address, in pursuit of re-election to the Southborough School Committee,” Tim Martel wrote in an April 21 letter to Superintendent Charles Gobron. . .

(Public employees) may not send campaign-related emails using official computers or email,” the [State Ethics] Commission writes in one advisory on the topic.. . .

“In fairness to myself, Mr. Desmond and the general public, a thorough review of her school email account is both warranted and required to determine if further violations have occurred,” [Martel] wrote.

Desmond Tuesday called Harragan a “dedicated, thoughtful, tireless and effective” committee member.

“While I appreciate Mr. Martel looking out for my interests, I do not share his concerns over this issue,” he wrote in an email. (read more)

Developer cancels traffic hearing in Southborough  April 23:
More than 30 residents showed up to the Town House Wednesday for a traffic hearing regarding a controversial housing project to find that the developer had requested it be postponed hours earlier.

Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Leo Bartolini Jr. said developer William Depietri asked the town to postpone a hearing on his proposed 180-condo Residences at Park Central affordable housing project just after 2 p.m. Wednesday. . .

Depietri’s Capital Development Group requested an extension to May 28, writing that it has in fact appealed the ruling to the state and expects a decision in its favor within 30 days. . .

Bartolini said he would ask the town attorney about whether the board could institute a policy to prevent similar situations in the future. As it stands, applicants don’t need to give any notice to request a continuance so long as they show up at the hearing. (read more)

Two stories on Southborough Primate Center – activists release information and the government response: 

Southborough Primate Center cited for improper animal handling – April 3:

Harvard’s Primate Research Center has been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture following a complaint filed by an animal-rights activist group concerning allegations a marmoset’s leg was fractured and a primate was incorrectly dosed.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) on Wednesday released information about the USDA’s recent report on a 2012 incident at the research facility.

The USDA report cited the Primate Center for improper animal handling.  (read more)

USDA rescinds report on Southborough Primate Center – April 4:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Care division on Friday issued a statement that recent postings of inspection reports, including one involving Harvard’s Primate Research Center in Southborough, have been rescinded.

“Animal Care regrets the recent web posting of inspection reports that had been rescinded,” the agency said in a statement. “When inspection reports are amended to reflect corrections, only the accurate report should be posted to the website. (read more)

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Frank Crowell
8 years ago

Mr. Desmond, … “I do not share his (Mr. Martel) concerns over this issue,…” with respect to campaign ethics laws violation by Ms Harragan.

Well, it’s looking like one yes and one write in candidate on my ballot for K-8 school committee.

David Parry
8 years ago

SOUTHBOROUGH’S THIRD BIGGEST PROBLEM.: “ PARK CENTRAL “.

BAD PLANNING AND IMPACTS. AGGRESSIVE LEGAL TACTICS.

The “Park Central” affordable housing project is becoming extremely controversial, and deservedly so. In the last month we have witnessed increasingly aggressive legal tactics, and a continuing lack of resolution of the traffic problem. This has now risen to the level of being the third most serious issue in Southborough. It needs to be stopped, now, the Application withdrawn, and the entire scheme totally reconsidered.

———————————–

The first major problem is Route 9, namely the congestion and the lack of long range planning to resolve it. The second major problem is the State Reconstruction of 1 mile of Main St, in the town center.

The third major problem is Park Central, which is seeking rapid approval right now, causing an entire neighborhood to be seriously threatened, providing no long term traffic solution, and utilizing aggressive legal tactics to push through a state sponsored project. Does that sound familiar ?

———————————

OUTLINE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTS:

This is a 100 acre site, east of I-495, north of Rte 9, zoned “Light Industrial”, where no housing is permitted, except under State Law Ch 40B for affordable housing. The current application, Phase 1, is for 180 condominium (for-sale) housing units, with 25% being affordable, and located on a thin sliver of the site linked into existing housing subdivision roads, leading to Flagg Rd. Phase 2 is another 180 units, again linking into existing subdivision roads. The vast remainder of the site is planned for office and similar uses. Only the frontage strip along Rte 9 has been developed to date, because of access problems at Rte 9. Future access is proposed IN off Rt 9 (where it now exists), and OUT via a new access drive behind the Red Roof Inn, leading to Flagg Rd, and then to Rte 9, for a west-only entry to Rte 9. Additional access is provided through road links into the existing subdivision roads of Flagg Rd. This project would not be possible were it not for State Law Ch40B which allows a zoning over-ride when the town does not have 10% affordable housing. Southborough needs 58 units to get to 10%.

———————————-

Application for this Project started earlier in 2014. The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) held the first meeting of the Public Hearing on March 26. This was introductory. The second meeting was scheduled for April 23, and was intended to be about traffic, but it was cancelled abruptly, amidst much acrimony.

The story printed in My Southboro, about the most recent cancellation of the ZBA meeting, comes from the Metrowest Daily News. This short story did not mention the impact of this cancelled meeting. Both the ZBA and residents of Flagg and Deerfoot Rds were all very annoyed at the lack of courtesy and respect of the developer: Capital Group Properties, the principal being Mr William Depietri. I know Mr Depietri, and cannot believe this was deliberate on his part. But his attorney has acted aggressively. This cancellation was filed in mid-afternoon of the same day as the intended evening meeting. This caused great frustration to both the ZBA and the residents. It is legally permissible to file such a late notice, even up to the last minute, but that does not mean it is reasonable or justified. These hardball tactics are becoming familiar. The ZBA was inconvenienced, because they could have rescheduled their meeting agenda to accommodate other applicants on other matters. Dozens of residents were inconvenienced because they drove to Town Hall and wasted an evening to wait around for a non-existent meeting.

The notice of meeting cancellation could easily have been filed two weeks earlier, when the developer had notified the ZBA that he intended to file an appeal against the ZBA’s decision to assign “Safe Harbor” status to the project, thereby causing several months delay. The town earned this Safe Harbor delay because of 28 additional affordable units added to Madison Place, which is the other, large, affordable housing project in Southborough. Madison Place is located on the other (south) side of Rte 9. and is nearing completion.

It is notable that Mr Depietri’s attorney has a pattern of playing aggressively. For instance, the Metrowest Daily News reported on April 9, as follows: “A letter was obtained from the Building Department showing that on March 25, (before the hearing opened) Depietri’s attorney requested that ZBA member Edward Estella recuse (remove) himself from the hearing … In the letter, Attorney Angelo Catanzaro cites a “disturbing pattern of conduct” by Estella which he said “could result in future litigation. Estella recused himself on March 26 … He declined to comment on the letter.” (I wish to add here that there is no evidence that Estella has ever done anything wrong, but Mr Depietri’s attorney succeeded in removing him from the ZBA panel sitting on this case). That is playing hardball.

But now we have worse. We have “mitigation” funding of $540,000 being discussed and offered before the case even opened. Quote from Metrowest Daily News, April 9 : ”They just cost the Town a half a million bucks, so far as I’m concerned, developer William Depietri said Tuesday. He said he informed the ZBA before its vote that he wouldn’t be providing mitigation money if it denied the project. Depietri said he had planned on giving the town about $540,000 in a voluntary gift as mitigation. “I told them that I’m not giving them one red cent now,” Depeitri said. “I live in this town, and I’m tired of getting kicked around.”

That is not the last you will hear about this matter. It is strictly forbidden for any ZBA member to discuss mitigation funding, or any other substantive matter, with a developer in advance of a public hearing, for very obvious reasons … including avoiding private influence, interference and bias into a supposedly neutral and public hearing process, especially before the public hearing process has even started. Discussing specific amounts of mitigation funding in return for approval, in advance of a public hearing, is certainly way out of order.

We all know this is a very serious “game” involving many “players”, who suffer different benefits and impacts. The residents living in the subdivision of Blackthorn, Bantry and Tara Rds, (off of Flagg Rd), are adjacent to the proposed project and will therefore be severely impacted, with possibly significant loss of property values. The residents living along Flagg Rd and Deerfoot Rd will also be impacted because of more traffic. But it is not the traffic that is necessarily the biggest potential impact. It is the threatened loss of mature, canopy trees along Flagg Rd. These trees will definitely have to be cut down if sidewalks are provided, for school children to walk from the proposed housing project to Neary and Trottier Schools. If sidewalks are NOT provided, there will certainly be increased danger, as the road is already narrow.

Therefore this is no-win situation. $540,000 is not going to solve it. It is important to note that the existing residents like (meaning prefer) the road the way it is, with a narrow pavement, stone walls and mature canopy trees along both sides. They like it this way because it is very beautiful, and the narrowness of the road makes traffic drive more slowly. Flagg Rd is the epitome of the small, rural, country roads that Southborough’s Master Plan calls for. That is why property values are so high along Deerfoot and Flagg Roads — today.

Apart from these neighborhood issues, we have a dangerous traffic situation, where the proposed site drive enters Flagg Road close to Rte 9, and all that additional traffic, from the entire 100 acre project, will enter Rte 9 westbound, uphill and close to the intersection with I-495. No accommodation is made for traffic wanting to head east. It must all head west, and then pass through two full circles, on the I-495 ramps, before returning in the opposite direction, heading back east. This unresolved traffic problem has plagued this 100 acre industrial site for decades, and that is the sole reason why it has not been developed for decades. In my opinion, it should not be further developed until a workable traffic solution is found. (More on this below).

This all goes to show that the addition of 180 units of housing, followed by another 180 in Phase 2, into this particular area, is a potential disaster for the entire neighborhood. Property values are likely to fall by differing amounts. Mr Depietri’s threat to pull the $540,000 mitigation funding, in return for approval, is a drop in the bucket compared to the potential loss in home values throughout the neighborhood. The $540,000 offered is the value on one house. Dozens of houses may decline substantially in value, cumulatively far more than the $540,000.

Now the developer is appealing the ZBA decision on Safe Harbor, for obvious reasons – because Safe harbor will cause many months of delay, and delay costs the developer more money. But delay is exactly what the neighborhood and the town needs to force this project to a dead stop, so that it can be entirely reconsidered. One unanswered question is whether the ZBA has asked Town Counsel to represent them and to file a counter to the developer’s appeal. If this has not been done yet, then it should be done immediately. Otherwise the State agency will hear only one side of the case, and the Town’s (ZBA’s) case will be missing, which may bias the Agency toward agreement with the developer.

The contrast between Park Central (on the north side of Rte 9), and Madison Place (on the south side of Rte 9), is stark. Mr Bob Moss, the developer of Madison Place, has contributed a huge amount of affordable housing, (168 units, all counting as affordable because they are rentals); there is no impact on any residential abutters; and he has cooperated fully with the town and State DOT on improving a future Rte 9, (by providing the right-of-way for a ”Jersey Left” at Crystal Pond Road). Therefore we can all offer a big “thank you” to Bob Moss for Madison Place. As for Park Central, I think not. At least not in its present form. But maybe that could change.

It may still be possible to transform the site access at Park Central, into what is generally termed “full” accessibility, capable of supporting a first class industrial/office site. Then the site can have no housing at all, no access thru local subdivision roads, and therefore create no need for cutting of mature trees to provide unnecessary sidewalks. It could have excellent access to Rte 9, providing egress (OUT) from near Flagg Rd to allow traffic to head both EAST, as well as west, along Route 9. I have explained one such scheme to Mr Depietri, which I am reasonably confident will work. I understand his reluctance to undertake a major re-think. Letting go is hard, especially when you have large “sunk” costs. (We see this same phenomenon in the State Main St project).

My main point is that there does appear to be a really good, long term solution out there. If it can be done, then it will avoid all negative impacts on the neighborhood. It will serve the neighborhood, the town, the State DOT, and also the developer himself, because he will have a more valuable site for the long term.

Thank you for this opportunity to elaborate on this controversial project. I believe there is a workable solution where ALL can benefit. It will take vision and leadership to get there, but it is still possible.

David Parry

Marvin Ostrovsky
8 years ago

I read Mr. Parry’s response to 40 B Housing at Park Central as regards to the traffic plans. His objections are right on. It is only appropriate that proper traffic plans be developped for Park Central. Using 40B housing as a way to by pass the need to address traffic impact on Rt. 9 and concerns for local road safety issues is simply wrong in my opinion. The threat of the developer to withdraw mitigation funds in response to citizens trying to arrive at a proper solution to our mutual problem is not the way to find a harmonious solution to this serious issue.

This is a most serious issue for the town as this developpment not down with proper percautions will adversely effect those who use route 9 and those who wish to safely use local roads in the way it is designed. I hope the editor will continue to bring this issue to the public so that the responsible citizens of this town may participate in any actions needed for a better Southboro.

Wendy
8 years ago

It’s laughable that Mr. Depetri thinks he’s tired of being kicked around by this town. The fact is, it’s the other way around. No one can look at his 40B plan and traffic study and not see him as the aggressor. I was at that ZBA meeting where the board decided to invoke ‘safe harbor’ and it was not done without a lot of thought and discussion. The board tried very hard to balance the concerns of the neighbors as well as Mr. Depetri. They didn’t have to continue the hearings, but they did, out of respect for the applicant. Mr. Depetri’s lawyer vehemently threatened the board and the neighbors with a future lack of mitigation money/planning – a basic bully tactic! Capital Group shouldn’t forget that it’s the ZBA’s responsibility to consider the interests of the entire town of Southborough, not an individual developer. It was a brave decision by the ZBA and much appreciated by the many neighborhoods that would be negatively impacted by this proposed 40B.

Publius
8 years ago

If opponents of this project are relying on a traffic study as their main tool to defeat this project they have a very weak case. A project of this size will have virtually no discernible negative impact on traffic. The second losing argument is property values.

Matthew Brownell
8 years ago
Reply to  Publius

???

Publius, do you even live in Southborough?? Because I don’t think I’ve ever read a comment so inane and ignorant of the foreseeable, reckless dangers that Mr. Depetri’s 40B development bring to our town.

Anyone who has taken a random walk or drive down Flagg Rd ** immediately** knows that it is ill-equipped to serve as a traffic egress dumping ground to a large development. Unfortunately, this is the very kind of dangerous, “round-peg-in-square-hole” scenario that confronts us when developers skirt local zoning laws by leveraging Chapter 40B.

Elizabeth Whitney
8 years ago

Mr. Parry’s and Dr. Ostrovsky’s comments demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the serious safety issues associated with the massive 40B project proposed at Park Central. The traffic from all 180 units will exit onto Flagg Road. Residents that drive along Flagg Road know it is extremely narrow with several “blind” corners. In many locations, as two vehicles approach one other from opposite directions, one driver must pull over and stop, while the other proceeds. Local resident are also aware that Flagg Road leads to 2 of our neighborhood schools; the foot-path at the intersection of Flagg Road and Deerfoot Road leads to the Neary School and Trottier Middle School. Southborough school children walk along Flagg Road to both Neary and Trottier. Also, after school, it is not uncommon to see groups of kids walking along Flagg Road, in the direct of Wendy’s, frequently at least 2-3 abreast.

It is also important to mention that Flagg Road frequents runners and parents pushing baby joggers and stroller. In fact, my husband had a “close call” on Flagg Road less than two weeks ago (4/15/2014). It was early morning, just before 6am. As one vehicle approached him, it moved toward the median. A minivan traveling in the opposite direction (north) was force further to the edge of the road where it clipped a mailbox, which went crashing to the ground (24 Flagg Road). Fortunately, it wasn’t a group of kids walking 2-3 abreast.

In a traffic report sponsored by Mr. Depietri’s Capital Group Properties, LLC, the preparer of the report states that the “the increases to Flagg Road volume during the peak hours are expected to be manageable and well within the roadways’ capacity.” The issue is not the “capacity” of cars on Flagg and Deerfoot Roads! This is about the safety of residents, especially children walking along these roads! In the nice weather, I frequently see gaggles of kids heading toward Wendy’s after school and, most times, they are not paying any attention to cars. There are legitimate and serious safety concerns that must be addressed.

Brian
8 years ago

I have to believe that anyone who says “a project of this size will have virtually no discernible negative impact on traffic” has never driven the roads which will be impacted. The concern is not how long you will wait at a stop light because of the traffic…the concern is the safety of the roads, which have no shoulder and are windy, narrow, and have mature trees right up to the edge of the pavement. If you or your child ever walked, jogged, or biked on Flagg Rd., you would quickly get a feel for how unsafe it would be to add any additional trips to that road, much less over 1,000 trips per day, as the developer’s study indicates would happen.

SC
8 years ago

@ Publius – how can you claim that “A project of this size will have virtually no discernible negative impact on traffic?” A project of this size will absolutely have a discernible impact.

At a minimum level, the surrounding neighborhood will see an increase of at least 360 car trips a day, assuming there is 1 car per condo and the owners leave once a day – which is conservative. Furthermore this fails to account for external visitors, friends, service people, personal deliveries, etc. This project will drastically alter the neighborhood with the amount of traffic being funneled through streets that were not designed to accommodate that volume.

I encourage you to take a close look at the surrounding neighborhoods and imagine what life there would look like with this increase.

David Parry
8 years ago

Publius states : “The second losing argument is property values”.

I note that Publius is anonymous and offers no explanation of that statement. Does he (or she) have any idea of the distance between (1) the proposed 3 storey 40B housing with their huge parking lots and (2) the existing houses in the Bantry Rd subdivision? They are so close you could throw a stone and hit them. Don’t you think that might effect property values?

Or how about the houses along Flagg Rd . These are beautiful older homes, set back behind rows of mature oak trees which line both sides of the road, in front of original stone walls. Do you really think that those trees can be cut down and a sidewalk put in, without affecting property values? The entire street scene is defined by the mature canopy trees, and these trees will be gone along either one side or the other…. so that is 50% gone. How could that not affect property values, when it is the single most important defining element in the landscape ?

I would like to ask some real estate experts in this town to write — but only under their own, real names, and not hide behind some pseudonym — what they think the likely impact on property values is going to be, if these trees are cut down, along the entire length of Flagg Rd and Deerfoot Rd, all the way to Trottier School.

When I was a Selectman some years ago, we actually presented a plan, at the request of the neighborhood, to add sidewalks from Main St along both Parkerville Rd and Deerfoot Rd, to the schools. Parkerville Rd residents agreed, but very reluctantly, and a sidewalk was built along Parkerville Rd, along with several “speed humps” to slow traffic. But Deerfoot Rd residents rejected the plan, along the section of Deerfoot Rd from Main St to Trottier School. Residents objections were that they did not want to lose any of the grass beside the roadway, and there was hardly a single tree that would be lost in that section of Deerfoot Rd. So no sidewalk was ever installed from Main along Deerfoot Rd to Trottier School. .

Therefore, it is perfectly obvious what the most probable resident response is going to be, regarding installing a sidewalk along Flagg Rd and Deerfoot Rd from the other direction, from the Park Central project heading north up Flagg Rd and Deerfoot Rd to Trottier School. It is certainly going to be a resounding “NO”, we want to keep our trees and grass and stone walls, and narrow road. .

This matter is not a joke or wild threat, because public safety requires that there be sidewalks for the safety of significant numbers of new school children. These children will certainly walk or bicycle to school from the proposed 180 + 180 = 360 housing units at Park Central. If sidewalks are not installed, then this project must be denied as a public safety hazard. Pubic safety is one of the very few arguments that have legitimate weight for a denial of a Comprehensive Permit.

Public Safety is what it may come down to in the end, after many more months of acrimonious argument. Will the ZBA have the courage to decide that this project must be denied because it creates a public safety hazard, because of lack of sidewalks, and narrow dangerous roads? To make it safe means that a sidewalk must be installed and the road widened, and that requires cutting down 50% of the trees, and that will cause a huge diminution in property values. If the ZBA does deny the project on these grounds, then the developer will of course appeal to the State to overturn any such ZBA denial. However, the State has historically upheld denials when they are based on issues of public safety.

Ironically, however, the State could demand that the trees must be cut down and the road widened, to resolve the safety issue, despite the huge loss in property values .

It that turns out to be the case, then it is going to cost a lot more than the $540,000 of promised mitigation funding to accomplish that task. (This is the $540,000 funding promised by the developer to the ZBA, in return for approval, that was accidentally revealed only recently, and that has since been abruptly withdrawn by the developer because he was angered by the ZBA denial. That denial was based on the recent Safe Harbor approval from the State, which gave the town more time between 40B applications).

By the way, three cheers for the ZBA in denying the project based on the Safe Harbor approval. The town earned this denial and delay, fair and square, with the additional units added at Madison Place, on the south side of Route 9.

We come to the conclusion that is a no-win project for all the neighbors.

If it goes ahead, then I predict it will be a decision this developer is going to deeply regret, because he will lose all his good faith efforts over the years to build a good reputation. He will lose all credibility over this one project, because it is such a colossal blunder affecting such a large and wealthy neighborhood. That is my firm conviction. It is a serious mistake, and it should be withdrawn, before more harm is done.

Rob
8 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Remember the surprise resignation of the old town planner?? Coming on the back of a story about the Madison Place “affordable” housing paperwork being “lost or forgotten to be filed”. How does that play into the Park Central Development? Would the town even be in need of the 58 more low income housing units if that was handled in a competent manner? If not, then this should be looked at closer. Although competency is hard to find lately, I find it difficult to believe that it simply slipped through the cracks.

David Parry
8 years ago
Reply to  Rob

Rob — you are correct. That was wither simple incompetence, or worse, giving the new developer an undeserved break, Now this huge neighborhood is paying the consequences.

ON the other matter.– how many units of affordable are still needed before we reach 10%? We need a total of 58 more units. IF the Park Central Project is approved ( I hope not) then 43 will go there (plus a whole lot more non-affordable units, and that is the problem. After the 10%.threshold is reached, then there can be NO more aggressive Ch40b housing applications. We can build more, but only if we want to. No developer will be able to threaten our small town, by putting them in the wrong place and overturning our zoning .However, until then we remain at the mercy of ruthless developers who seek to make a quick buck at our expense. .

Where can those 58 (or more) affordable housing units be located ? I know of other good sites in town where this can be achieved, without impacting neighborhoods. . If I am elected a selectmen, then I will seek other developers to use those better sites so that we can get to our 10% soon.

David Parry
8 years ago

This comment concerns the readability of this story, and is really addressed more the Editor and readers, rather than to the issue of the Park Central 40b housing.

But I do ask, please, that this comment be printed, because it is becoming exasperating now that we almost a week beyond the cancellation of the hearing,
and I keep getting calls about where the storey is in My Southborough.

I get these calls because your readers cannot find the issue, and this is because you have it buried in a story titled as follows: “Round up of SWL news: Campaign ethics, last minute delay on 40b hearing, Primate Center cited and report rescinded”.

Now that is a mouthful of a story title. And the 40b is buried in the middle. So obviously that is the reason that readers cannot find it.

May I again respectfully suggest that this story be given the proper, single, stand-alone headline it really deserves, like, for instance, “Park Central 40b Hearing Cancelled”.

I will note that the huge majority of comments concern the Park Central 40b housing. None are on the SWL (whatever that means) and none are on the Primate Center. So it is clearly Park Central that readers want to read about and comment on, because it affects many hundreds of homes, and few can find the story, and they keep calling me to complain.

Please, editor, would you help clear this up by giving the story its own, single, clear, headline?

Thank you for the excellent service you are providing. It is invaluable to this town.

Publius
8 years ago

This blog/website/newsource is a tremendous newsource for the residents and must take much time to maintain. If a reader is interested in an issue they will find ways to find the answers. A blog of this sort must balance the demand for information in the internet age of instant gratification with the need to be fare. This blog does that in a wonderful way. Also remember there are other news and other items to report. Not every one is interested in minutiae of every issue. Sometimes the human interest stories are equally important.

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