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Developers say they’re on task as Orchard Estates shapes up

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Final part in a three-part series

SHIRLEY — Construction has been underway at Orchard Estates for about two years, and the first residents moved in last winter. Now, 26 houses have been completed, with 10 more starts slated for August, said developer Steve Goodman, of GFI.

The Boston-based firm, which has a successful track record for building and rehabilitating commercial properties in the area, made its residential debut with this project.

Since last fall, areas near the on-site trailer office have paved roads. Homes now have lush lawns and flowers. But there’s still considerable work in progress elsewhere.

On a sloping lot across from one big dig and downwind from another sits the home of a man named Arul. He’s one of the dissatisfied residents Eric Davis, of McCoun Way, said he was speaking for when he brandished a protest sign on WCVB Channel 5.

Goodman and project manager Leif Ronaldson later said Davis’ complaints are punch-list items they’ll address in due time. Davis hasn’t returned calls seeking comment.

Seven months after he moved in, Arul said there’s more work left to be done on his house than has been completed. The $434,000 price included $4,000 for upgrades, such as a finished basement and a Jacuzzi, he said, but the latter doesn’t work. He has no front lawn, and his kids can’t play in their backyard this summer.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “I tell people they don’t have to go to the Grand Canyon, it’s here.”

The trouble spot is visible from the road. Deep, water-carved ruts with mud-clotted banks scar the hillside in back of the house and trail down into the yard. Driving by the site, Frank Hartnett Jr., whose real estate firm is marketing the properties, said excavation for a new house above Arul’s caused the river-like runoff, and a rainy spring made matters worse. Hay bales and tarps along the perimeter of the work site stem the flow, which should stop when the digging does, he said, then landscaping can repair the damage.

Pinpointing the area on a map, Goodman said site-specific issues include reconfigured topography to compensate for a former subcontractor’s faulty measurements.

Asked about Arul’s assertion that trees were cut in a wetlands buffer zone behind his property, Goodman said that’s true, but the work was within the scope of GFI’s permit. The new house couldn’t be built without removing those trees, he said, but the work’s all been above the board, and the Conservation Commission keeps tabs on compliance.

Arul’s grievances also include front steps that aren’t attached to the house. The problem is particularly bad for him because he has a disease called “stills.” The illness makes his joints stiff and painful, and it’s hard to climb the steep stairs from the garage to the house, he said.

The front stairs are attached, said Ronaldson, and a three-foot gap Arul also referred to is the concrete walk, which isn’t complete but will be soon.

Driving the loop road that runs through the project and out to Lancaster Road by the old town airport, the area with moonscapes and heavy lifting segues to suburban streetscapes and eye-pleasing scenery with upscale homes and landscaping.

Hartnett credits the lush green grass to underground sprinklers and homeowners’ maintenance. While all properties here have these systems, not all homeowners use them yet, he said. Once construction dust settles and more people tend their lawns, yards should spruce up all over, he said.

A local company, Turf Logic, may offer landscaping packages homeowners can buy to get started.

“The first six months is key to establishing a green lawn,” said Hartnett.

A man sitting on the front steps of a new house waved. Pulling into the driveway, Hartnett said the man is a teacher who’s pleased with the house he recently moved into.

“I’m glad to have neighbors,” the man said when Hartnett thanked him for assisting a new buyer next door. Asked about his own house, the man said, “Great! No problems.”

This might have been one of the “happy homeowners” a Channel 5 reporter reportedly asked about when she came with a camera crew.

But Ronaldson said the developer wasn’t offered that option. The TV team showed up at noon on a weekday with no notice and didn’t ask to interview Goodman, he said. Given time, he could have rounded up satisfied customers, he said.

Goodman and Hartnett said they anticipate fewer loose ends with new builds. Homes now are delivered with shorter punch lists than the first owners moved in with, they said. That’s not much comfort to current homeowners with outstanding items on their lists, but Goodman said there are few, if any, “health and safety issues,” and his firm’s committed to its obligations, with three full-time project directors on site everyday and employees exclusively tasked with punch lists.

Citing painful experience, Goodman said quality control is better now, and timetables for completion are more realistic. He also said quality has always been above average for the buck, citing high-end homes with standard features that would typically be upgrades and lower-than-market prices for four-bedroom homes.

Although original issues and fallout from past mistakes have haunted this project, Goodman, who has big time and money invested, said he’s focused on setting things right to successfully complete it.

“We’re not loosing ground,” he said. “We’re getting there.”