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Gravel pit neighbors see hostile 40B elements in affordable housing plan


HARVARD — A meeting of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) drew a lot more attendance than usual Tuesday with the controversial gravel pit on the agenda.

The healthy turnout was not unexpected, but the 7 p.m. meeting at town hall looked more like a public hearing and, at times, it sounded that way, too.

CPC Chairman Steve Rowse summed up the purview and purpose of the meeting when he said that conversation about the gravel pit project should focus on the Harvard Housing Partnership application.

With the annual CPC review process underway, the board has begun to evaluate applications for CPC funding. Tuesday, the gravel pit was first on the agenda, and people had their say.

Selectman Scott Kimball offered perspective from the Department of Public Works (DPW) side of the issue. His board has been concerned with finding an alternative site for the themselves. The gravel pit the HHP hopes to build on is now used as a staging area by the department, and Kimball said DPW Director Jim Smith knows of no other place in town where his crew could do the same work.

“He told me he needs (the space),” Kimball said.

Like several of the gravel pit neighbors who have spoken out against the project, Kimball said he is concerned about safety issues. Adding 100 cars a day to that stretch of Stow Road would be risky, he said, and the project would not be a welcome addition.

About 30 neighbors who came to the meeting seemed to have similar concerns, presenting a united front that was anything but favorable.

The issue is a 45-unit condo development the HHP has proposed for a 13-acre site on Stow Road, also known as the gravel pit.

The neighbors’ stand firmly against the project. Airing their objections Tuesday, some compared the plan to the kind of “hostile 40B” affordable housing project HHP proponents say they want to avoid.

Among those who characterized the development this way was Anthony Marolda, of Jacob Gates Road.

“There is no support for this ” he said, adding that the plan proponents have described is inconsistent with the HHP mission statement and goals set forth in the Community Preservation Act (CPA) application. The HHP is requesting $50,000 in CPA funds to pay for various components of a feasibility study, including engineering evaluations of the site.

Over the last couple of months, neighbors have been showing up at HHP and Board of Selectmen (BOS) meetings and speaking out against the project, which some have said they learned about late in the game. But according to HHP member and Selectman Lucy Wallace, the HHP believed that a neighborhood representative was acting as liaison. They want to work with the neighbors, she said.

After hearing several people voice their concerns, one CPC member wanted to know how the HHP would address them.

“What is the plan to win these people over?” he asked.

Wallace cited the communications glitch and pledged to keep information conduits open. She said it should be a cooperative effort, however, if opponents swamp every HHP meeting with 30 people at a time, their combined input would make the planning process all but impossible. Instead, she suggested designating specific dates for community input and said HHP members would work with neighbors to set up a schedule.

Wallace and Ready, who presented the HHP application at the CPC meeting, outlined the basics of a plan they have described several times before. They said the group hopes to negotiate acceptable arrangements if possible, including a reduced number of units if that is economically feasible. They also want to solve problems the neighbors are concerned about such as traffic. Those issues would be addressed by the studies the group wants CPA funding for, Wallace said.

“It is still very much a work in progress,” she said.

But one Stow Road resident’s remark summed up the wall of resistance the HHP may be facing.

“The driveway (of the condo development) would be right across from mine. I don’t think you’re going to win me over,” he said.