Conservation denied Park Central application

Above: The large proposed development of condos and townhouses at Park Central hit another roadblock last week. (images cropped from NOI application materials)

Last Thursday, the Southborough Conservation Commission voted to deny Park Central’s Notice of Intent. An NOI approval is required to permit removal, dredging, filling, or altering of wetlands. Without it, the developer is (currently) unable to proceed to the Planning Board for needed Major Site Plan Approval.*

The Commission expects the developer of the proposed large housing development to appeal the decision to MassDEP (Dept of Environmental Protection). Though, commissioners noted that it would have likely ended up back at DEP however they ruled.

In last week’s deliberations, Commission members acknowledged significant improvements were made to the project since the last time it came before them. But across the board, they agreed that the project still didn’t meet requirements of the Wetland Protections Act. Member Ben Smith summed up:

I can’t approve a project that so flagrantly fails to meet the stormwater standards.

Member Jeffrey Peet credited the development team for putting in a great deal of work into improving the project since their initial filing. He remarked he was surprised in the end that given their investment in time and money, they didn’t take the final steps to make it compliant.

Prior to the vote Chair Mark Possemato pointed out that if the commission denied the project and DEP ultimately sided with the developer, they would be giving up local control of the project. But he also noted that if they approved it, abutters would likely appeal to DEP anyway. 

Member Carl Guyer responded by asking which side of that the commission wanted to be on. Possemato answered that there was no question, the Commission is required to uphold the Water Protection Act. 

Participating members voted 7-0 to deny the NOI based on a detailed statement explaining the application deficiencies. You can read the decision (apparently issued today) here. (All documents related to the application are posted on the Town website here.) You can watch last week’s deliberations and vote here.

As for the developer’s next steps, the developer had previously appealed to the DEP and was sent back to work out issues with the Conservation Commission. But Thursday night’s discussion indicated that Possemato believes the agency could have a different response to the revised plans. 

Commission members recapped the development team’s pitch that while they would be adding some stormwater to wetlands, the designed system wouldn’t “harm” wetlands. Possemato asserted that wasn’t allowable under the language of the WPA. He said that the Commission wasn’t authorized to override that language. But he indicated that as a state agency, the DEP may be able to approve the developer’s plans if it finds it acceptable. Still, he noted that in his many years on the Commission, he couldn’t recall DEP not upholding one of their decisions.

DEP is only one of the appeals routes available. Park Central, LLC is also suing the Commission in Worcester Superior Court over its initial denial. A Pre-Trial Conference has been postponed multiple times due to the pandemic. It is currently scheduled for November 3rd.

*Park Central LLC is suing the Town for the decision that requires getting a Conservation Commission approval, then return to the Planning Board for Major Site Plan approval. The developer had maintained that the site plan was already constructively approved due to a delay in the Planning Board issuing a written denial. The ZBA’s decision denying that is under appeal in Land Court. That case had been on hold while the developer was dealing with the initial DEP appeal and then waiting for a new Commission decision. The next conference on the case is currently scheduled for February.

Updated (9/16/20 8:26 am) I initially failed to properly identify Chair Mark Possemato.

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you say Tomato, I say Possemato...
3 years ago

The article fails to note who (Mr.?) Possemato is and/or what (s)he represents. This makes it difficult to understand which “agency” may have a “different response”…

We need a program to keep track of all of the players in this more than complicated imbroglio!

3 years ago

Thank you to Conservation and putting the appeal on the developer as opposed to forcing citizens to pay to appeal decisions that are a matter of law. If our ZBA was only so careful and the then Selectmen overseeing this debacle acted appropriately we wouldn’t be in this situation.

So who defends ConCom? Cipriano who has been fighting in favor of the project? Shouldn’t our town counsel have considered all boards and processes prior to arguing on behalf of the project on tax payers dollars? How can Aldo play both sides ethically and take money from citizens? And finally how does our now much improved BOS allow it to go on?!?!?! Remove Aldo he’s been a source of the problem since the beginning from when he coached the ZBA to close public hearing based on an agreement with neighbors that couldn’t be produced at the meeting and that was later included in a document with waivers added all around it and voted on without public input to pass the variance. Somebody please remind me how he then defends these actions in court on our dime and keeps his job?!?! I don’t get it…

Kudos to the Conservation Commission for doing what’s right and not sacrificing the law and process!

Insider Trading?
3 years ago

This commission upheld the Wetlands Protection Act, and supported the findings of Fuss & O’Neill, Lucas Environmental, and other professionals. The commission chair stated that he is an engineer, and it is black or white, no gray (see YouTube tape 3.39.00 mark). The commission found that project does not qualify and the project was rightfully denied by a vote of 7 – 0.

Contrast that meeting with a recent prior Conservation Commission meeting where the developer’s attorney, Mr. Watsky who is former general counsel for DEP, was pressuring the commission to close the public hearing and vote, as he was eager to bump the matter to DEP where he seemed confident that the developer might just get the approval he is looking for. Now why is that? DEP stands for Department of Environmental Protection. Isn’t it their job to also uphold the law? Wouldn’t it be illogical, unreasonable, and illegal to go against the findings of all the qualified professionals above who worked extraordinarily hard to review the matter and reach a unanimous decision?

There are also concerning ties of former Southborough town government officials now working at DEP and possible influences on the appeal process. It is additionally seriously concerning that Mr. Watsky, as former general counsel of DEP, appeared bully and eager to move the matter on to DEP. The project also has been referred to as “political,” equally concerning, since all projects need to comply with the law and protect the environment and the health and safety of residents as well. Thank you to this commission for its fair, just, considered and good decision. All the professionals involved didn’t buy into the obstinate runaround and upheld the law.

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