PEPPERELL — The Zoning Board of Appeals has sent the “comprehensive permit” for a Lowell Road affordable housing development back to the drawing board.
Plans submitted by Lowell developer Dennis Page, of Lowell Realty Trust, for a four-home — one affordable — complex on roughly one acre at 131 Lowell Road were turned back for resubmission because not all conditions detailed by the board were shown on the drawing.
”All the things required by the board should be shown on the plan,” board member Christine Morrissey said. “This must be resubmitted.”
A letter to that effect is being sent to Page’s attorneys, Douglas Deschesnes and Melissa Robbins, stating the board’s “disappointment” that not everything appears on the plan. One thing missing was a fence at the rear of the lot that separates the housing units from a depression, at the rear of the lot, which acts as a swale to catch rainwater.
The project was the first 40B proposal in town to move all the way through the comprehensive permit process. It also prompted a town meeting approval of $15,000 to pay for a consultant on the town’s behalf.
Page originally planned to build eight two-and-a-half to three-story housing units contained in four separate buildings — two units to be affordable. Once MassHousing approved the proposal, it was presented to the zoning board, bypassing Planning Board, Conservation Commission, and Board of Health hearings, as is authorized in the state’s Chapter 40B law.
A zoning board hearing began in December 2004 and was continued several times. The other boards, as well as police, fire, and public works, had input in the form of letters to the zoning board.
There were concerns about drainage, access by fire apparatus and trash removal. Abutters attended several continued hearing sessions, listing numerous objections that included limited parking, near-maximum building height, screening from neighbors, increased traffic and lack of open space for children to play.
At one point the zoning board’s consultant, John Bowman, said, “I’ve never spoken out against a project but on the face of this one I have a problem. I’ve been involved in small projects but never this small. My feeling is this project is not consistent with the intent of [Chapter] 40B.
Describing Lowell Realty Trust’s proposal as “out of context with abutters” and an “inconsistent design,” Bowman said, “The question is whether it is appropriate to this site. No. It seems to be an attempt to put eight units on a single-family lot. And that’s what it is. There is no particular evidence this is against the intent of 40B, but it is out of character.”
Throughout the process, Page and his attorneys were approachable and open to concerns. Bowman explained that a MassHousing approval leaves the details to be worked out at the local level.
The zoning board made at least two site visits accompanied by abutters and Page.
Eventually Page presented a plan with half the number of houses, which mollified most of the neighbors. A comprehensive permit was granted in November 2005.
Page was to have broken into Lowell Road pavement to install a sewer connection to the 42,000 square-foot property. He has been asked by the Highway Department to work quickly in order for repaving to be completed before winter. That has yet to be done.
The single affordable home Page is building will be reserved for sale to households earning no more than 80 percent of the median income for the Lowell Metropolitan Statistical Area which is currently $80,000, according to available information. The right of first refusal to purchase the home upon resale is reserved by the town.
No estimate of the delay in construction caused by the zoning board’s refusal to accept the plan was given. Neither Page nor his attorneys were present at the May 16 zoning board meeting.