Controversial Seaside Avenue housing gets green light for construction

Amidst outbursts from some of the 35 people in attendance at its July 5 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) approved an 11-unit version of a 12-unit townhouse project at 178 Seaside Ave., which was filed under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law.

Board member John Grant made the motion to approve the project with a list of conditions, which he said were intended “to try to make this a little bit more palatable for the neighbors.” The motion passed by a 6-3 vote.

The proposal removed Unit D3 from the building at the rear of the property, decreasing that building’s size from three units to two. The additional space this change yielded would be landscaped with “tall and thick vegetation to screen the buildings,” said Grant.

Grant also proposed tall trees along the north and south property lines to screen the neighbors on those sides as well. He proposed increasing the buffer on the north side to 10 feet from eight feet.

Criticizing the building design, saying the structures look very similar to other 8-30g projects with an appearance “that looks like a box; it should look more like a home,” Grant distributed a sketch of changes to the exterior of buildings 1 and 3 that he said would allow them to blend better with neighboring homes.

Speaking in favor of the motion, board member Michael Dolan said that nobody on the board wanted to approve this application, commenting, “Our power is extremely limited.” He said the changes proposed by Grant are “one of the small steps we can take.”

One woman shouted out from the audience, “You work for the city. You work for the people,” while another yelled out that the motion was “outrageous.”

Board member Rick Varrone, who also voted in favor of the motion said, the board is not opposed to 8-30g projects and suggested the developer build a project on Plains Road where they are encouraged.

“I just don’t think this project is within the spirit of the law,” said Varrone. “This will abuse the neighborhood. This will abuse the neighbors. Our hands are tied on this property.”

Board Chairman Scott Marlow, who voted in favor of the motion, said, “We are reluctantly going to vote on this. We put some changes forth to ease the burden on the neighbors.” Marlow said if the board rejected the plan, the developer would appeal to court, and the court would side with the developer.

Marlow and Dolan both said they voted against a proposed zone change for the Corridor Design Development District-1 (CDD-1) zone because they believed that zone is the appropriate location for an 8-30g project.

Marlow said by having regulations to encourage 8-30g projects, it gives the city “some sense of credibility if we go to court.” Without such regulations, a judge could say the city had an opportunity for 8-30g projects, and it opposed the opportunity.

Board member Jim Quish voted against the motion saying the board made some slight changes to the 8-30g project on Meadowside Road, commenting, “We will probably lose, but I cannot support it [Grant’s motion].”

The board conducted two public hearings on the plans. At its June 6 hearing, 34 people spoke in opposition to the project, citing concerns about the project’s density, the negative effect it might have on their property values, and the increased traffic it would generate.

At the June 20 hearing, 13 people expressed opposition to the project, mostly commenting about the traffic. Almost all had spoken at the June 6 hearing.

GAMS LLC owns the 0.76-acre property in the R-12.5 zone, which permits only single-family houses. The project involved three applications for the 12, one-bedroom townhouses: one for a special permit, another for site plan approval, and a third for Coastal Area Management site plan approval.

GAMS LLC lists Angelo Lisi, Gregory W. Field, Michael Field and Seann Lisi of Milford as members. The LLC was formed on Aug. 12, 2016. Angelo Lisi and Gregory Field constructed the 22-unit 8-30g project at 14-26 Gulf St.

The project was filed under the state’s 8-30g law, which supersedes local zoning regulations, allowing the construction of multi-unit housing in single-family zones.

To prevail in court, the P&Z has to prove the project poses a hazard to public health, safety or welfare, a threat that outweighs the need for affordable housing. The P&Z has not convinced the court that any 8-30g project it has denied or modified failed to meet this standard.

Following the meeting, Thomas Lynch, attorney for GAMS LLC, said he would discuss the board’s decision with his clients to determine if they would accept the changes, or resubmit plans to the board.