Mention Park Central to some residents and their blood pressure shoots up.
If it isn’t the most controversial development project the Town has ever had, it has to be pretty close. The residential development project inspired heated resident speeches at countless town meetings, several appeals (some ongoing) and counter claims, corruption allegations, and a variety of Citizen Petition Town Meeting Articles. And Town officials are still grappling with how to handle road safety issues if appeals are denied.
All of that is why a potential new commercial project on the site is guaranteed to attract attention. So, it’s not surprising that recent not-in-public talks about road plans drew passionate criticism on behalf of a potentially impacted abutter.
At last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, resident Ben Keyes raised his objections. He decried the appearance that officials were “jumping through hoops” to help the developer co-opt land privately owned by others.
According to public updates by the Town Planner and the Town Administrator, developer Bill Depietri has been seeking feedback on the Town’s interest in facilitating a new project that would require variances. To do that, he has been informally meeting with Town officials prior to making any public presentations.
The project is for a 100,000 – 160,000 square foot office building on land between Park Central Drive and Route 495. Town Administrator Mark Purple publicly estimated the potential for new taxes as $200K-300K. He said the project was for a 14-year tenant now looking to expand.
It appears the Economic Development Committee coordinated at least one meeting on the subject. With mostly Town employees and no committee quorums, the meetings didn’t require posted agendas and open doors.
Keyes, who works for and lives at the L’Abri Fellowship, complained to selectmen about an option he heard was being floated around Town. It entailed building a road through L’Abri owned land.
Keyes told the Board of Selectmen he had been disturbed by all the rumors he was hearing when no one had approached the fellowship about their opinion. He said he wanted it on the record that they were not willing to sell the land. And he told the board that the meetings that were held had “a sinister feel”.
The resident showed up at the BOS meeting after being alerted by someone that the project had been discussed earlier in the meeting that night. As the board clarified, it was part of Purple’s public report to the board.
The Town Admin informed the public and board that the developer had reached out to permitting boards to “gauge the climate”, find out what the potential hurdles would be, and learn whether there was willingness by the Town to get over the hurdles. He summed up the project challenges in “one word – traffic”.
According to Purple, the building owner and Depietri had also reached out to the Governor’s office to see if there was any way to mitigate traffic issues. He said that a possibility entertained was another North-South road from the parcel up along 495, back out to route 30.
Keyes told the board that would mean crossing L’Abri land. (In the map right, the proposed office lot is noted by the red marker. North of that, parcels are owned by Park Central LLC, until you reach parcels North and South of Lynbrook, owned by L’Abri. North of those, another parcel appears to be owned by residents of 164 Main St.)
Keyes indicated that he had also heard that a conversation with the Fire Chief included a suggestion that the L’Abri land could be used for emergency access to the land-locked Park Central parcel.
Purple told Keyes that he wasn’t aware the talks “has been going on long”. Earlier in the meeting, he told selectmen the first public meeting would be in front of the Planning Board for informal feedback. Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf advised Keyes to reach out to the Town Planner Karina Quinn to be alerted when the project is on that board’s agenda.
The night prior, Quinn made her public update on the project at Planning’s meeting.
According to Quinn, at EDC’s request, she attended a meeting last week to discuss the project with Public Works, the Building Department, the Conservation Commissioner, a couple members of the EDC, Purple, and the Asst. Town Administrator. Based on comments by Purple, Depietri appears to have also attended. Quinn explained the developer wanted to learn whether the project was viable or he would just be spinning his wheels.
The Planner said that EDC was looking to help the developer and the Town was looking for avenues to try and increase its commercial tax. At the meeting, Quinn invited Depietri to bring an informal presentation to the board, ask questions and get their feedback. She said he was receptive.
Based on the process Purple outlined, the developer would next pull permits. Those would be denied by the Building Inspector and forwarded to the Zoning Board of Appeals. If the ZBA approved variances, the project would then go to the Planning Board for Site Plan Approval and the Conservation Commission.
Planning Chair Don Morris explained to fellow members that the needed variances relate to plans for the building to be 4 stories and the restriction for the square footage allowed per the property’s curb cut.
Quinn’s update made no mention of any alternate North-South road from the project. Instead, she referenced the developer’s hope to connect to the 495 off ramp. As for other access to the project via Route 9 and/or Flagg Road she was uncertain.
Planning Member Meme Luttrell told Quinn the road access details would make a big difference in whether or not the Town would support the project. Quinn responded that was why she urged Depietri to approach Planning directly.
Selectmen got into more detail on the road issues during Purple’s update.
There was talk between Purple and selectmen of pursuing a MassWorks grant to help build a road. They would also take up the offer made by the Director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council during an earlier presentation that night. He had offered the board help advising on several issues, including dealing with difficult parcels. Purple said they could with them to brainstorm solutions.
They also discussed getting needed assistance from the state. Purple warned that any real help would likely be a decade away, meaning the Town was likely to “to need to carry the water” on some of the road issues themselves.
So far, no meeting agenda is posted for a discussion on the “2 Park Central” project. The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for February 26th, but there’s no promise that topic will be covered.
The best way to stay posted on upcoming Planning agendas is by signing up for the Town’s e-alerts. You can opt to be emailed a link whenever a new agenda is posted for that board (and/or others).