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Construction begins after lengthy start for Apple Orchard Estates

Construction begins after lengthy start for Apple Orchard Estates
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SHIRLEY — Development company GFI-Shirley, LLC has taken on the largest project the town has ever seen, according to Planning Board Chairman Charles Colburn.

It’s no surprise that residents and town officials have closely watched and often criticized the progress of the 110-home development off Lancaster Road.

”This is far beyond what anyone has ever done,” Colburn said.

Representatives of GFI-Shirley, LLC, have appeared at meetings with the Board of Health, Board of Selectmen and Historic Commission over the last several months in addition to completing monthly progress reports for the Planning Board.

”It’s a huge project,” Conservation Commission administrator Anne Gagnon said.

”No matter what type of project you’re doing in a community, people want to know what you’re doing, and we respond to it,” said Robert LaRochelle, a spokesperson for the company.

GFI-Shirley, LLC, secured the site in August 2005 as recorded in the property records. At that time the company paid $262,000 in back taxes on the land. Another source of income for the town will be sewer betterment fees, which LaRochelle said are in excess of $1 million.

Just before winter set in was less-than-favorable timing to begin work on the 39,000-acre site, since much of its soil was contaminated by deposits caused by pesticide use at the former apple orchard.

The remediation of the soil was required before the developer could begin building. Using the approved plans of Ross Associates, a prior potential developer, Colburn said GFI-Shirley, LLC, often needed to revise the procedures because of inconsistencies.

Working with the plan was a challenge, said LaRochelle. Developers often pick up the plans of other developers, he said, so the difficulties were not unexpected.

The original plans set forth by Ross Associates were sometimes incomplete or the grades didn’t match, said Colburn.

”You find stuff as you go,” Colburn said. “They call them plans because they’re plans.”

”The unexpected is not always desirable, but it’s part of doing business,” said LaRochelle.

”The remediation part was a huge learning curve for GFI and the town,” Colburn said.

Today the remediation process is almost complete, except for a mountain of soil that will be placed in containment cells at the rear portion of the site. The containment cells will hold the soil that was tested to be within reasonable levels of contamination in order to be stored and capped.

The soil planned for the cells is covered with tarps, as it is still too wet for permanent placement, another snag that required some revisions in coordination with various boards.

As for several truckloads of soil from identified “hot spots” on the site, GFI-Shirley, LLC, was responsible for their removal. The loads were trucked to Canada for incineration.

”(GFI-Shirley) went in knowing we could do a good job with the cleanup of (the site),” LaRochelle said.

Another difficulty for the developer arose when a small amount of sediment ran into wetlands on the site. LaRochelle attributed the problem to adverse weather conditions between October and February. An enforcement order was issued to GFI-Shirley, LLC, by the Conservation Commission, according to Gagnon.

”No good turn goes unpunished,” LaRochelle said. The developer has gone to great lengths to avoid sedimentation, he said, including the implementation of all of the Department of Environmental Protection’s recommendations and hiring a specialist to address the possibility.

GFI-Shirley, LLC, responded on April 26 with a letter that spells out its plans for the removal response, which will take place when drier weather permits, according to LaRochelle.

”They’re trying to overcome it,” Colburn said.

Representatives from GFI-Shirley, LLC, have also met with land abutters to try to come to reasonable terms regarding the grading of the entrance to the site.

In a meeting with the Historic Commission, GFI-Shirley, LLC, was stalled on the demolition of a barn located on the open space at the site.

The Hazen-Davis barn was deemed by commission members as preferably preserved. According to a bylaw, this placed a six-month demolition delay on the 1800-era building.

The barn is in good shape and has sustained little water damage because of its roof, according to Senior Project Manager Joseph Cataldo.

The commission has tried to help GFI-Shirley seek an alternative to having the barn moved to Lancaster, which was the developer’s original plan. The developer has actively sought to preserve the barn, not necessarily in its location, but by searching for parties who wish to dismantle and reassemble the barn.

To date, little progress has been made toward finding a home for the barn within Shirley’s boundaries. However, GFI-Shirley representatives have continued to speak with the commission about the building, which is an important piece of Shirley’s history, according to members.

Meanwhile, building has begun at the site, with one house framed at Lot 1. Each of the 110 houses will take between 90 and 120 days to complete, according to on-site Project Manager John Franks.

Several driveway permits were issued by the selectmen after GFI-Shirley, LLC, met the regulations in place, town administrator Kyle Keady said.

The impact of the homes can only be determined by the type of people that buy them, he said.

Several of the homes have been pre-sold, said LaRochelle.

GFI-Shirley intends to build quality homes in a great location, offered for a great price, he said.

”We’re very excited,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to be happy with it, the buyers are going to be happy and the town’s going to be proud.”