The Board of Appeals on Zoning held a continued public hearing on Monday night on the proposed affordable housing project off West Street.
This was a continued public hearing on the application by The Gatehouse Group, LLC for “The Parc at Medfield,” a 96-unit residential complex in two buildings on 9.22 acres -- with limited upland -- of industrial land between West Street and North Meadows Road (Route 27).
Davis Square Architects performed an architectural review on the town's behalf and one of its principal, Clifford Boehmer, presented their findings at Monday's meeting.
"A development of this size needs to be a very pleasant place to live and i think it has to enhance the town in which it is," said Bohemia, who said the work on the site should also be seized as an opportunity to enhance the corridor between Dover Road (Millis) and Route 27.
"I have to believe that this can enhance that stretch through good design," he said. Boehmer noted the speed of vehicles on that stretch of roadway and said developers "better be very careful in making sure that that driveway does have adequate siting around that corner" and suggested traffic calming measures to do so.
Some of Boehmer's other key points included:
- the site is "pretty constrained" and the buildings "seem a bit shoe-horned"
- the lack of sidewalks is "notable"the project could bring 60 to 70 children to the area
- carefully consider parking setbacks from view of West Street
- consider landscape improvements to both sides of West Street
- scale of proposed buildings is much larger than any of the residential structures across the street
- should mitigate the headlight impact on the houses across from egress
- suggested centralizing all amenities that are proposed to be placed throughout the site
- consider rotating buildings so the small elevation is facing the street
- consider placing the smaller scale buildings closer to the streetconsider a more "front yard concept" with landscaping
- consider flat-topped roofs consider relocating air conditioning units from the ground to free up lawn space and lessen noise
- increase plantings especially on south side of buildings
- consider islands in the parking lots
- consider insect mitigation as "this is a lot of housing put between a lot of wetlands"
- consider an alternative to vinyl siding
- consider meeting the "stretch code" regarding energy savings
- consider solar power where possible
- consider rain barrels to harvest rain water
- consider two-speed bath fans, venting kitchen exhaust fans to the exterior, alternatives to carpeting, and increasing size of living rooms in 3-bedroom units
- consider hiring Clerk of the Works to be on-site continuously during construction
"This is a 9.22 acre site and only about 5.2 acres of it are useable; the rest of it are all ponds and wetlands," said Sylvia, voicing concerns over the aquifer protection district in which the project lies. "It seems to me the buildings are too large and there are too many of them."
Boehmer responded, "I wouldn't say that," adding "They are much larger than the single family homes across the street." Sylvia said, "The permit ball stops in this particular court" so the board wants to make sure it addresses all aspects of the project.
Gatehouse development consultant James Koningisor responded to Boehmer's report saying, "We fundamentally disagree with his list," calling it "subjective in nature" and "not an objective review."
Koningsor said Boehmer has suggested Gatehouse completely redesign the site which he said they will not do.
He said Gatehouse manages over 5,000 units of affordable housing and have a "superb" product design.
"Our number one priority was to preserve and enhance the landscape buffer between the development and West Street," he said, noting they intend to keep the natural border that is there now and had pushed back the buildings as much as they could to be furthest away from the street.
"This is not inexpensive, low-end housing. We couldn't be more proud of the architectural design of these buildings."
Koningsor said Gatehouse would cooperate with any town-wide insect mitigation but would not do anything specific to their development.
Site designer Dan Merrikin of Merrikin Engineering in Millis has been working with this site for 10 years.
"We're actually 12,000 square feet less than the Medfield Woods site that the board approved four years ago," he said, referring to a previous, now-defunct, project that had been proposed for the site.
Merrikin said The Parc at Medfield, as it is currently designed, is a transitional piece of property in the neighborhood that "will help serve as a transition from single family homes to the commercial" buildings in the area.
Other points made by Merrikin include:
- keeping the natural tree border has been a priority for 10 years they plan to keep as many of the current trees -- estimated to be 35-40 feet tall -- as they can
- they have moved the driveway to optimize the site
- they have traffic calming measures in mindthe project may or may not be phased; if it is, all amenities will be part of the first phase (along with two housing units)
The hearing got heated when Merrikin and ZBA Chairman Sylvia got into a heated debate over the amount of upland on the site.
"It looks to me that this site has a total of 5.2 acres that are useable," Sylvia said, noting 3.2 acres on Lot 4 and 2 acres on Lot 5.
Against Sylvia's wishes, Merrikin said the calculations appear skewed because there is a difference in between a zoning definition and wetlands definition of what is useable land.
Gatehouse's project architect Mark Major said the project is a "high quality project" and a similar project in Walpole had received a design award (as they hope the Medfield project will as well).
Major also said:
- they will use shingle style vinyl siding of two colors on all exterior public areas and will also use vinyl lattice because it is low maintenance and is easy to install
- there will be a stronger siding choice in the stairways and near the doors of each units
- Gatehouse is exceeding accessibility codes
- carpeting will be used on second and third floor units to help with noise; first floor units will have "real tile" floors
- there will be numerous inspections done during the project and "Gatehouse is extremely quality conscious" and have often hired third-party inspectors to be on site
Gatehouse attorney Benjamin Tymann addressed the board to remind them that the Gatehouse 40B application should be treated the same as any other application filed with the town and warned against "unequal treatment" such as being held to a higher standard then other developers.
He said the proposed project is "consistent with local needs."
Sylvia assured Tymann that the town has dealt with similar projects in the past and reiterated his concerns about wetlands and buffer zones.
Also on Monday, the ZBA heard from Fire Chief William Kingsbury who said the representatives for Gatehouse have made some adjustments to the preliminary plans that would allow the Medfield Fire Department to gain better access to ventilate the three-story roofs in the event of a fire.
Kingsbury said the town's tallest ladder can reach 75 feet and accessing the roof should "not really be a problem," adding that the buildings are projected to have sprinkler systems and early warning detectors.
Police Chief Robert Meaney said he continues to be concerned about the lack of sidewalks in the area but he said Gatehouse is resistant to installing them for the town.
"If you're going to have housing for 96 units, it's going to generate some pedestrian traffic in an area where we don't have sidewalks," Meaney told the ZBA.
He said his request for sidewalks is controversial with both the applicant and some of the West Street residents who will be affected.
The hearing was continued to September 24 where the public will be invited to speak about the project. There will also be a subsequent meeting on October 1. Both meetings are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. in the Town House. There will be a financial analysis at one of those meetings.
"There's going to be a lot of homework by us and our consultants between now and the 24th," Sylvia said. "When the 24th comes, we intend to spend most of the time that night with public comments because everybody has been very patient and has waited until now to express their opinions."
The meeting was 2 hours and 15 minutes long. Board members present were Chairman Robert Sylvia, Russ Hallissey and Charles Peck.