Planning and Zoning Board members repeatedly stated at their June 16 meeting that they wanted to deny a proposed 18-unit apartment complex on a one-acre lot at 335 Meadowside Road on the basis of it being too dense and out of character with the adjacent neighborhood of single-family homes.
However, board members said they knew they would be at the losing end of an appeal for the plan, which was filed under the state's affordable housing statute, 8-30g, a law that overrides local zoning regulations.
The board worked through three motions before finally reaching a decision to approve a 15-unit development on Meadowside Road with other conditions.
Shouting from neighbors
Following the meeting, Attorney Thomas Lynch had a meeting with his client, developer Christopher F. Field, owner of the property, to discuss options following the board's vote. Lynch said Field has not made a decision, but if he decided to appeal, he would most likely win in court.
“I have to commend the board,” said Lynch. “They tried to weigh the public's interests and the constraints under the law.”
The board's discussion was punctuated by shouted comments from three of the eight neighbors in attendance. As she left the meeting following the vote, Sharon Reilly of 24 West Shore Drive, whose yard backs onto 335 Meadowside Road, yelled at the board, saying, “You failed at your job.”
Richard Reilly, husband of Sharon, was the most vocal during the meeting, calling out that he wanted to be able to comment on the motion for a 15-unit complex. Since the public hearing was closed, the board legally could not let anyone speak.
After Richard Reilly interrupted the board's discussion on several occasions, Board Chairman Benjamin Gettinger told Reilly that he could be removed from the room if he continued to speak.
Board member Jim Quish started the discussion when he said, “If I come out against a particular 8-30g application, it really has nothing to do with the affordability component. This site is too dense. It is unsafe due to a lack of sidewalks and a lack of space in general. I would like to see this site having half as many units.”
Agreeing with Quish, board member Thomas Nichol said, “I don't think 8-30g was meant to affect the character and the appearance of the surrounding neighborhood…The density is unbelievable.” Nichol further commented that the 290-foot long driveway would not allow an emergency vehicle to turn around.
Board Vice Chair Jeanne Cervin said she had the same concerns about the project density as other board members. She said with so many bedrooms, there would certainly be children living in the apartments. She said there was no provision for the safety of children. She said the two rear buildings presented issues of access and parking, which raised additional safety issues.
Board member Michael Dolan said, “I'm not a big fan of the proposed development and if I had the discretion to vote it down, I would. I don't have the discretion to turn it down, so I will vote in favor.”
Board Vice Chairman Edward Mead said, “With 8-30g, your hands are kind of tied.”
Cervin made the first proposal on the application, making a mo-tion to approve with the following conditions: remove Units O and N due to safety concerns, and use the resulting land to add four visitor parking spaces and green space for an adult and child recreation area, and provide a safe walkway to access Meadowside Road from the rear of the property, and keep the number of affordable units at six.
That motion failed on a 5-5 vote with Cervin, Dolan, John Grant, Mead and Carl Moore voting in favor, while Gettinger, Nichol, Thomas Panzella, Quish and Sutton were in opposition.
Motion to Deny Fails
When that motion failed, Quish made a motion to deny the application, due to concerns about excess density, rendering the project unsafe.
“The concerns of the neighbors and the city at large outweigh the need for affordable housing,” said Quish in making the motion.
Commenting on the motion, Sutton said, “I have concerns about the density of the proposed development. I hope in the appeals process, the city and the developer can work toward something less dense.”
In response, Quish said, “I definitely feel the developer has a right to so something in a configuration that makes sense.”
Making a prediction about the result of a vote to deny, Dolan said, “I think we all know what is going to be happening. We will meet in executive session and the deal may not be better than what Jeanne proposed.”
Quish said, “If we get a second bite of the apple through negotiations, we can see substantive details. What Jeanne said was vague and there is no reason to believe the applicant would agree to that.”
Disagreeing with Quish, Mead said, “I agree with Jeanne. I'd rather have a public negotiation, so the public can see what we do right here if we go to appeal.”
Dolan said he and Cervin are extremely sympathetic to the neighbors' concerns. “I don't think any of us think it fits the character of the neighborhood. 8-30g has some serious, serious flaws.”
Stating his opposition to the motion to deny, Grant said, “To make a compromise would be much better than spending taxpayers' money when we know what is going to happen.”
The motion to deny failed with only Quish and Panzella voting in favor.
Modified Motion Passes
Cervin then made a third motion to approve the plan with conditions. The revised motion called for removal of units P, O and N, and increasing the number of affordable units from six to seven. She also recommended the same other conditions of having four visitor parking spaces, green space, and a sidewalk from the rear to front.
Gettinger said the proposal highlights a problem with the 8-30g statute, saying, “It puts the board in a very tough position.”
Expressing his support for Cervin's motion, he said, “I think it's an absolute disaster for the people who live in the neighborhood. I think the law needs to be changed. I don't think there is a member on this board who wants to vote in favor of this.”
City Planner David B. Sulkis commented, “The site is pretty tight” and said if the developer does not appeal the board's decision, he could work with the developer to reconfigure the site to create the best layout.
Quish said, “The reality of the situation is that if we get this passed, it is probably as good as we are going to get.”
Gettinger said, “Do you want 18 units in a year or do you want 15 units now? This motion protects the neighbors.”
Agreeing with Gettinger, Panzella said, “I sympathize with the neighbors. You have to be able to realize this deal is better than what you will get a year from now,” saying he had changed his mind and would vote in favor of the proposal.
The motion passed by a 9-1 vote with all board members but Nichols voting in favor of a modified approval.
Near the close of the discussion, Sulkis warned the board by saying, “The city has never won an 8-30g appeal.”
In discussing the project at the June 2 public hearing, Sulkis expressed concern about the design of the sidewalk and driveway near units N, O and P, saying the design was “highly unusual” be-cause if someone parked in front of Unit N, it blocked pedestrian access to these three units.
About 50 residents attended the June 2 public hearing with one person speaking in favor and 12 speaking in opposition.