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ZBA orders independent traffic study for 40B plan

PEPPERELL — Questions raised about the validity and accuracy of a traffic study prompted the Zoning Board of Appeals to request that an independent traffic consultant be hired to report to the board.

The traffic study is as part of a comprehensive permit affordable housing application for Bayberry Estates in west Pepperell.

More than 150 residents appeared at the Senior Center Aug. 22 for a continued public hearing regarding the highly-contested 22-duplex development off Bayberry Street. The Bayberry Enterprise Realty Trust residential development is proposed under Chapter 40B, which automatically circumvents a normal hearing process.

Unsafe, narrow roads with limited site distance and the study’s lack of attention to them are key reasons why the zoning board should deny the permit, according to opponents.

Bayberry Street intersects with narrow, twisty Heald Street near a crumbling dam that manages water flow in the Heald Pond conservation area. It joins Heald Street halfway up a steep grade with a limited line of sight in both directions. The grade is the steepest of any road in town and particularly dangerous in the winter.

At the outset, attorney Douglas Deschenes, representing the developer, responded to letters from town engineer Robert Lee and the Conservation Commission regarding the interior drainage design of the development and the effect construction vehicles might have crossing the dam.

He said a filing under the Wetlands Protection Act will be ready within a week. A filing under Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) is necessary because the site is a habitat area.

A septic design is also under development, and additional soil testing is planned with results hopefully available by the next session on Oct. 3.

The trust will continue to comply with a zoning board request that all changes to the plans be submitted in writing, said Deschene. He said he is preparing cost and profit estimates for zoning board consultant Toby Kramer in response to questions that had been raised.

“We’ll have an engineer look at what effect our construction vehicles could have. To the extent we could damage the dam we can be held responsible,” Deschenes said. “But I point out the (previously read) report says the dam is in poor condition now and not attributable to us.”

An automatic tube count showed 156 vehicles using Bayberry Street in a 24-hour weekday, 11 between the peak hours of 7:15 to 8:15 a.m. and 19 between 5 to 6 p.m.

In comparison, Chestnut Street was used by 30 and 31 vehicles at peak hours east of Bayberry Road and 28 and 29 vehicles west of the road. Heald Street east of the Bayberry Road counted 67 vehicles and 81 to the west of the intersection. Average vehicle speed 36 and 38 miles per hour.

Using “accepted” projection methods, Hajec estimated 320 daily trips on Bayberry Road once the development is built. A safe stopping site distance at the project’s intersection with Bayberry Road was put at 261 feet north of the site and 283 feet south of it, both exceeding safety requirements.

Hajec recommended a stop sign or stop bar at the entrance to the development, a yellow road line be painted at the entrance bordering vegetation limited to a height of three-and-a-half feet and widening Bayberry Road from 18 feet to 24 feet from Heald Street to the development’s entrance.

Zoning board member Sherrill Rosoff was the first of several to note that the traffic study was not done during busier weekend periods, so the estimated numbers are skewed.

“With 44 two-bedroom units, that’s 88 people and in theory each could have a car, but you’re coming up with very low numbers,” she said. “Then there are visitors and deliveries. I don’t get it.”

Rosoff asked why traffic counts weren’t done on Heald and Chestnut streets, both of which are “busy” roads.

Residents James W. Van Gilder, P.E.; Richard K. Elmer, Michael Andreason, Richard G. Potts and David M. Pease read a letter based upon a traffic study conducted by the Pepperell Natural Resources Association (PNRA) that refutes what Hajec presented. It called for the independent study the zoning board voted for.

First and foremost, the PNRA and several other residents argue it is 17-foot-wide Heald Street that needs to be addressed, not Bayberry Road, and that site distances at the intersection with Bayberry Road are far less than what is considered safe.

The letter argues that the traffic study’s conclusion is not consistent or complete within its own data because the projected generation of 320 vehicles per day — an increase of 223 percent — at project completion in 2011 is concluded to be an “imperceptible and insignificant impact on study area roadways.”

Further along, the letter states, “Quoting from the (traffic) study, there will be ‘no perceptible adverse operational impacts (such as increased congestion and delay).”

Regarding whether anyone expected traffic jams on Bayberry Road or at the Heald Street intersection, the letter states, “Local residents are not as concerned about this as they are about safety. There is practically no mention of safety in the report.

“Finally, the study recommends that the limited widening of Bayberry, which is proposed to be completed prior to project occupancy. This is unacceptable. All widening and improvements to area roadways must be completed prior to any housing construction,” it reads. “Short of a massive highway project to widen and improve the sight distances of local roadways, in particular Heald Street, the increased vehicle and pedestrian traffic associated with the proposed project will significantly increase the opportunities for accidents involving property damage, injuries and possible fatalities.”

“We strongly urge that you, our Zoning Board of Appeals, deny this application for a comprehensive building permit,” it concludes.

Potts submitted a letter stating he found “no indication that a registered professional engineer has been involved with this study. According to the board administrator of the Massachusetts Board of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors, there are no records of a Paul Hajec or anyone with the last name of Hajec being licensed in the commonwealth.”

Potts said he has not pursued any action regarding his allegation, but it is an option. Deschenes, speaking for Hajec, said the engineer’s credentials will be given to the zoning board.

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