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By M.E. Jones


SHIRLEY — Apple Orchards Estates, a sprawling subdivision under construction off Lancaster Road that is the town’s largest development to date, has had its share of headaches, including permit problems from the start. Before the first shovel hit soil, that soil had to be tested for toxic residue from the old orchard and contaminated material removed.

Since then, the project has had drainage problems and construction issues that include a former subcontractor’s mistakes, silt runoff into a nearby pond, and wrangling with the town over the clerk of the works, a position the Planning Board controls via a contract with an engineering firm. The Boston-based developer, GFI, has contested the arrangement more than once, over several points, including the time the clerk spends at the site and the size of the bill GFI must pay.

Now, several homeowners who moved into their new houses with “punch list” items pending, have aired their troubles on TV. In a report on WCVB Channel 5 last week, reporter Janet Wu interviewed homeowners and spoke with Frank Hartnett Jr., whose real estate firm, Hartnett Homes, is marketing the properties.

Confronted on camera by the Browns, a pair of irate homeowners who say their house should have been ready to move into in May but still isn’t complete, Hartnett sparred briefly with them over their interpretation of the purchase and sale agreement.

Another angry homeowner, Eric Davis of McCoun Way, hung a sign over his deck that says “Don’t Buy These Homes.” He’s angry about the situation, he told Wu. The project director told him that all projects like this “run into similar issues,” he said, and this one is just “taking a little longer.” But Davis didn’t buy it. He said homeowners’ complaints are ignored and that’s why they sought the spotlight. “This is guerrilla warfare,” he said.

In the TV-team’s report, which included a flyover view of the site, Wu characterized the project at this stage as “more than 20 homes” priced in the mid $400,000 range. According to the report, 25 families, including the Browns, have said they’re dissatisfied.

Complaints include repeated delays in move-in dates, broken promises and alleged indifference on the part of project managers and GFI. People have peppered town boards with calls to report new and recurring problems such as drainage issues and alleged tree-cutting in a designated buffer zone between some properties and conservation land bordering the site.

Jacob John, whose home is on lot 67, moved in last winter. His problems have been numerous, he said, and there’s a long list of itemized fixes or incomplete items on the contractor’s to-do list, he said. For example, the building inspector said railings must be added to the concrete blocks that are his front steps, and that’s been done, but the blocks themselves are not attached to the house. The home has also had water problems and the lawn he was promised is non-existent, he added.

Town administrator Kyle Keady said the reason town services such as trash pickup are not yet provided to Apple Orchards homeowners is that the access roads still belong to GFI and are not accepted town roads yet. When the roads are up to standards, it’s up to the developer to apply to the town to accept them, he said.

Next: The Other Side of the Story.

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