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ZBA Opens Public Hearing on 40B Proposal but Affordable Housing Questions Remain Unanswered

The Zoning Board of Appeals held its first public hearing on April 11 at which the Gatehouse Group described the proposed 96-unit affordable housing complex it hopes to build between West Street and Route 27.

Concerned with an affordable housing complex proposed for their
neighborhood, West Street residents walked away from another public meeting without answers.

Town officials to discuss the rumored possible application for a 96-unit affordable housing complex on industrial land near the old Potpourri building, but the meeting was limited only to discussion about the application process itself and nothing about the
specific project. 

Last Wednesday's public hearing, much to the disappointment of the 80-plus people in attendance, had a very limited scope, which included a presentation from the applicant, Gatehouse Group LLC, to discuss retention of expert consultants (which Gatehouse will fund), and a verbal report from Board of Health Agent Bill Domey.

Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Robert Sylvia said the law requires that a hearing be held within 30 days of an initial filing of an application, which is often, as in this case, premature because the board is still gathering information.

“There will be an ample time later on when we have all the facts for people who wish to speak for this application or against it, but that issue is not going to come up [on April 11] because it’s way too early in the process,” he said.  "I must say that we, at this point, know very, very little about this project."

Sylvia explained the board will review the application; hear from experts, other town boards and residents; accept any evidence they feel is relevant; and then render a decision. He cautioned residents, however, that under the state’s affordable housing law (Chapter 40B), towns have very little discretion if the town does not have 10 percent affordable housing as required under state law. Medfield currently has 4.4 percent.

“Whether we think this project is good, bad or indifferent for the town of Medfield makes no difference. We have to follow the law and that’s what we intend to do,” said Sylvia. “Our discretion in these matters is extremely limited.”

In fact, under the law, if the local boards reject the plan, the applicant can apply to the state where the decision is almost always overturned and the projects proceed as originally proposed.

Brian McMillin, a Gatehouse vice president, said his company wants to
be a good neighbor and the company plans to be in Medfield "long term."

McMillin described the proposed "Parc at Medfield" as a “high quality development" that will be “aesthetically pleasing" and “highly desirable.” He said it will be an exact replica of The Retreat at Union Pond, a recently completed complex in Wareham.

The Parc at Medfield calls for four buildings of one, two and three-bedroom rental units on 9.22 acres of land near the former Potpourri building between West Street and Route 27 on “an underutilized industrially-zoned property that is extremely well-suited for re-use as a multi-family infrastructure," according to the Executive Summary of Gatehouse’s application filed with the state.

McMillin said all 96 units would be ‘affordable’ and would help the town work toward its goal of 10 percent. After the completion of the project
(proposed in two phases), the town would rise to 6.7 percent.

McMillin told residents what the project is not.

“It is not a Section 8 project; it is not a public housing project; it is not an inexpensive or cheap building; it is not welfare; it is not unsightly or poorly-maintained,” he said.

He said that all applicants undergo “rigorous prescreening” including
employment and credit checks, criminal background checks, and reference checks.

He said Gatehouse conducts a current home visit to evaluate an applicant’s
current household before they are accepted into a Gatehouse community, and the management company also inspects apartments on a quarterly basis to ensure that all rules are being followed.

McMillin said that rents are based on limits established by the federal
government and that, based on today’s rates, rents would be $1,101 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,321 for a two-bedroom apartment, and $1,526 for a three-bedroom apartment.

The development (including 158 parking spaces) would be maintained –
grounds, trash pickup, etc. – by Gatehouse.

“We believe the quality of any neighborhood depends on the people who
live there,” he said, adding that prospective renters might include single
professionals, young people starting out, older people who are downsizing and want to stay in town, seniors or empty nesters, and people who “don’t want the burden of a mortgage.”

James Koningisor with Gatehouse said, “We feel this is an ideal site for
affordable housing and it meets virtually all of the criteria that we look
for … it’s been previously disturbed and it’s surrounded by development so it’s very much a suburban setting,” adding the site has pre-existing infrastructure, and direct access to a major roadway system."

Koningisor said the company would not be disturbing the wetlands on the
property, which is in an aquifer protection overlay district, and has “virtually no residential neighbors” though they would add supplemental buffer screening between the development and West Street.

Gatehouse’s traffic engineer, Giles Ham, said the development would
create an additional 638 vehicle trips on a daily basis.

“This project will generate about 49 of the trips during the one [peak]
hour in the morning, and 60 vehicle trips in the one [peak] hour in the evening and about 638 cars on a daily basis,” said Ham. “During the busy hours, we’re about a vehicle a minute or less traveling onto West Street.”

Ham said a traffic count showed 8,000 car trips per day on West Street with 750 cars during the peak hours. He said the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour but the average speed is 43 miles per hour. This speed would require a site distance clearing of 360 feet at which there would be a stop sign, he said.

Health Agent Bill Domey said the Board of Health is concerned with the
long list of waivers the applicant is seeking which he says, “totally decimates all the Board of Health regulations” and is a “serious concern to the public health.”

“It’s a great concern and probably not in the best interest of the town,” he said, noting the issues of storm water runoff, slope of storage basins, anticipated rainfall statistics as some of the board’s many concerns.

“The Board of Health regulations are superior to what are used for this
particular project,” said Domey.

Sylvia said his board is also concerned with the requested waivers and he
said he will work with town boards to review those waivers.

“There is much more to do; there are many more hearings to hold,” he
said.

The public hearing was continued to May 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the _ gymnasium; however, Sylvia said the hearing would be postponed if the town has not yet received answers and information. 

Jim April 16, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Just moved to Medfield and regret it.
A Clark April 17, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Can you explain that, Jim ?
Jim April 18, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Hi A. Clark, I'm frustrated because I've worked very hard to move to a town like Medfield. It has a reputation for being a small, safe, and secluded neighborhood. I recently moved from the Canton/Stoughton area which I've watched rapidly decline in the past 10-15 years. Affordable housing has plagued those towns with an influx of undesirable characters which has caused a strain on the school systems, town resources, and resulted in increased crime. I know this management company will present appealing figures in their proposals but I’ve seen the reality and results of these projects. The next step will be public transportation via bus or commuter rail and Medfield will be on its way to becoming a commuter town. Had I known what I do now about the proposal I would have moved to Dover or Sherborn. Those towns have already been deemed low possibilities for affordable housing.

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