ZBA Chairman Resigns After 40 Years Because of Board's Approval of 40B Project

Robert Sylvia resigned this afternoon as a member of the Board of Appeals on Zoning. Sylvia said the town needs to stand on principal and deny (or reduce) the project because it is bad for Medfield.


Robert Sylvia has served as a member of the Medfield Board of Appeals on Zoning for 40 years.

Sylvia resigned this afternoon after the majority of the board approved The Parc at Medfield, a 96-unit affordable housing development proposed by Gatehouse Group LLC, a move that Sylvia said was wrong for the town of Medfield. 

Last week, the board reviewed a draft approval letter (with conditions) presented to them by their legal consultant.

Sylvia, a trial lawyer by profession, asked the board for one more week so that he could draft his own letter as he has done in several other applications over the years. 

The ZBA met today to discuss Sylvia's draft and compare it to last week's draft approval letter.  

Sylvia said he spent 30 to 40 hours over the last week drafting the the letter and said he could not approve the project because of the negative impact it would have on the town.

Other board members Russell Hallissey and Charles Peck thanked Sylvia for creating his draft which they appreciated, but ultimately voted to approve the project with conditions, saying that was the best strategy to protect the town.

Historically, the Housing Appeals Court overturns local decisions to reject affordable housing projects if the towns do not have 10 percent of its housing stock as affordable. Medfield has just over four percent. 

Hallissey expressed concern that a denial would ultimately be overturned in the Housing Appeals Court. He agreed with town counsel Mark Cerel who said that approving the project with concessions, already agreed to by the applicant, made more sense then losing everything in the Housing Appeals Court.

Peck had previously voiced concerns over the impact on the town's wetlands and aquifer. Consulant Tom Houston attended the meeting and said he had discusssed that issue with the applicant and they were willing to make further concessions to further reduce the impact. 

Sylvia maintained his position that he was fundamentally opposed to the project that he said "is bad for the town of Medfield" and said the town had to stand on principle and not be afraid to defend its position in court.

"I don't think it's right to build a project of this mass on that lot and I think we cn defend that argument logically [to the housing court]," he told the board. "I've drafted it to give the town a decision that's defensible." 

To which town counsel Cerel said, "We're facing overwhelming obstacles."

After Hallissey proposed a motion to approve with conditions, Sylvia said he would not vote to approve the project, that he had wasted 40 hours work, and that he would be resigning from the board.

Sylvia said, "This is a volunteer job where I've contributed over 40 years of my life to the effort, and if Im so dumb that I can't get my colleagues to follow me in voting on something I feel is pretty important, then I shouldn't be here." 

Board members and town counsel told Sylvia it was not necessary to resign, however, after the ZBA approved the project 2 to 1 (a simple majority was required) and adjourned its meeting at 3 p.m., Sylvia drafted his letter of resignation to the Board of Selectmen. 

The ZBA will meet with its legal consultant on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. at the Town House to finalize the approval and the conditions. 

Mark December 07, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Not only was this project preventable IF the town had a plan to get to 10% and was actively pursuing their plan, but the town is STILL open to any developer who wants to follow this same path. Sorry to say, it would not have been worth town money to fight this in court. Town after town have already lost that battle.
marian December 07, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I respect Mr Sylvia , he has integrity and honor . His resignation is a loss for the town it is also a wake up call to all of the people in the Medfield that don't care or are " not aware " about the Gatehouse Project that this is i a serious issue . People in Medfield should take an interest and have a voice at the State House . Thank you to Mr Sylvia for all you have done for Medfield . It is a sad day for Medfield
Errin Chapin December 07, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Does this development then limit the 40b idea from the Hospital proposal? Maybe our newly elected Kennedy can follow through with his promise to help with that pandora's box. Hopefully it was not an empty campaign promise.
Shawn Collins December 08, 2012 at 09:14 PM
I was at this meeting. It is important to clarify that the Chairman's letter was not a denial of the Parc at Medfield but rather a revision of the conditional approval letter drafted by the Town's 40B attorney/consultant. The major point of dispute between Mr. Hallisey, Chairman Sylvia and Mr. Peck was the Chairman's proposed reduction in the number of units from the 92 units currently proposed by the Comprehensive Permit applicant to 60 units. Chairman Sylvia thought that his version of the conditional approval was defensible before the Housing Appeals Court (HAC). Mr. Hallisey was concerned that the HAC would allow the applicant to build the project without any conditions. The Chairman disagreed. Part of his argument, as I understand it, was that the HAC would not allow the applicant to avoid complying with the many public/tenant safety conditions imposed by the ZBA. Unfortunately the Chairman was unsuccessful in obtaining the support from Town Counsel or his fellow ZBA members. I appreciate and applaud his effort as he can walk away holding his head high.
chuck ferullo December 08, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Over the course of my three short decades in Medfield, I have watched with frustration as the town boards that are charged with protecting our quality of life and property values fight the good fight, only to give up, in the end, when the spectre of a court battle appears. From the paving, widening and straightening of scenic roads to the approval of subdivision construction from developers with escrow funds that are marginal at best, to this debacle, these volunteers, dedicated though they may be, seem unwilling to consider any possiblity that the details of a plan may sufficiently distinguish it from other towns' court cases that look similar only on the surface. When Mr. Sylvia, far and away the most experienced and knowledgable voice on that board, is unable to save the day, then I don't blame him for quitting. As long as there are powerul voices on the town payroll who appear at the hearings like a Greek chorus chanting "avoid court at all costs," or "it's all the state's fault," we will continue to get steamrolled by any developer who indicates that, if he doesn't get his way, he'll sue.


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