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Cheveralls: Littleton Road projects needs town meeting vote

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HARVARD — Deliberations are underway for a 12-unit condominium development at 15 Littleton Rd., but questions are being raised about the project’s water supply that could send it down the drain.

Central to the issue is whether the developer, Massachusetts Housing Opportunities Corp. (MHOC), can access the Town Center water district without a town meeting vote.

The Water Commission maintains that the project is within the district’s boundaries and needs no further approval, but concerned resident Keith Cheveralls is citing documents obtained at Town Hall that indicate otherwise.

Cheveralls gave three reasons why he disagrees with the commission:

* The town assessor’s map indicates the district ends by the parcel before 15 Littleton Rd.

* The proposed building site — unlike parcels closer to Town Center — was never assessed a betterment for water service.

* Providing service to 15 Littleton Rd. would constitute an expansion of the water district in usage and size, he said, and local bylaws clearly put such decisions under the purview of town meeting.

Granted that, Cheveralls said the project needs endorsement from town meeting to move forward.

“The viability of the entire project rests on access to public water,” he said. “The public needs to make this decision, not the water commissioners.”

The judgment on 15 Littleton Rd. was made by Water Commission Chairman David Swain, who defended that ruling by citing conditions on the ground.

The assessor’s maps indicate that 5 and 15 Littleton Rd. are divided by a stone wall, said Swain, while the commission’s records show a fire hydrant at the water line’s end. He said a tour of the site indicates 15 Littleton Rd. is in the district.

“That hydrant is a good 15 feet past that stone wall,” he said. “That puts the line, in my opinion, in front of their property.”

Having been a commissioner for over 30 years, Swain is familiar with the betterments. He said the betterments were assessed in the early 1970s to the surrounding properties for fire safety reasons. They were for insurance, he said, not service.

Asked about what the assessor’s map shows, Swain said old records weren’t always meticulously kept. In this case, he ruled in favor of what the stone wall and hydrant indicated.

“If the main passes in front of a person’s property, they are allowed to hook up,” he said.

Swain acknowledged that the commissioners disagreed on the issue when it was raised last year. Among those who agree with Cheveralls is Ron Ricci, who was a commissioner for five years prior to stepping aside in the election last spring.

While he deferred to Swain’s judgment on the property line, Ricci said MHOC would be extending the water line across the frontage of the parcel — which would constitute an extension of the line. Given that and the ambiguity of documents related to the case, Ricci said it really should be referred to town meeting.

“This is an extension of the town water system, both by the town records and the fact that they’re going to run the line further down Littleton Road to meet their needs,” said Ricci. “I think it’s reasonable to settle this by referring it to town meeting.”

The development, which will add three units of affordable housing, is a local initiative project (LIP), which means it was endorsed by the Board of Selectmen.

The board hasn’t been involved with the water issue though, said town administrator Timothy Bragan, and has instead deferred to the commissioners and the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which conducts reviews of Chapter 40B projects.

ZBA Chairman Christopher Tracey couldn’t be reached, but the ZBA has concluded its hearing on the project and is deliberating toward a decision.

Sources indicate that access to the water district wasn’t a hotly debated topic at the ZBA hearings. The ZBA had only one water-specific item in its files, said Cheveralls, and that was a letter from Swain with technical specifications of how piping in that area would be upgraded for the project. That was accompanied by a hand-drawn map that shows the district extending to 15 Littleton Rd.

MHOC Vice President Michael Ivas confirmed that access to the district hasn’t been an issue with the ZBA, nor was he familiar with the issues raised by Cheveralls.

“This is the first we’ve heard of it,” he said.

ZBA deliberations are scheduled to resume Aug. 9.