AYER — A proposed 34-unit subdivision on Pleasant Street raised concerns about traffic, wildlife and the general feel of the neighborhood from the dozens of residents who packed Town Hall at a public hearing last Thursday.
The hearing was for neighborhoods on Nashua Street and Pleasant Street, proposed by Calvin Moore and his son, CJ., respectively.
The proposals come just weeks after a Mass Audubon report listed Ayer as the town with the highest development rate in Massachusetts. They also come at a time when the Planning Board lacks its administrative assistant, Susan Sullivan, because of budget elimination voted at Spring Town Meeting.
The chairman resigned last week citing a lack of budget and administrative help.
CJ. Moore’s project involves an extension of Pleasant Street and the actual construction of Jackson Street, explained Nick Powling, an engineer for GPR, Inc. The 34-lot subdivision would sit on 44 acres of land.
The project would seek a few waivers from the town’s current zoning laws, including reducing the width of Pleasant Street to 24 feet and Jackson Street to 22 feet. Town bylaws require a 36-foot width.
Christa Maxant of Jackson Street asked if the land had been offered to the town for the right-of-first-refusal, as allowed by state law.
Powling said the way to go forward with that requirement of state law would be to offer the land to the town at a fair-market value. Developers can’t get that value until the plan continues into the definitive process, he said.
Miranda Lin, who lives at the intersection of Howard and Pleasant streets, voiced concerns about wildlife displacement, water drainage and traffic.
“It looks like you’re building right up very close to the Rail Trail,” she said.
She also argued the plan would turn her “tiny, little, nice neighborhood” into a through-way because it would add much more traffic.
“I already have people running my stop sign left, right and center,” she said. “I’ve been working out in the front yard and I’ve seen at least three a day, people running the stop sign like it wasn’t there.”
Calvin Moore argued that his son’s development wouldn’t be going anywhere near the Rail Trail.
“If you’re having three people run a stop sign every day, without a doubt there’s a good possibility a lot of people live right in that neighborhood,” he said.
Moore also emphasized that the project could be a lot more expansive than they are proposing.
“We are building to what the zoning bylaws state what we can do with our property,” he said.
Ruth Maxant Schultz on Taft Street argued that Jackson Street has not been used for over 60 years and is mostly vegetation. The work on the street would cut right through her land, she said.
“I think that street all by itself is bad planning,” she said. “I additionally say that the project is bad planning.”
She argued that the houses in the neighborood would be under high-tension wires, which could pose health risks.
“If he decides to do that he runs the risk of trying to sell the house under the high-tension wires,” board member Rick Roper responded. “If they have a piece of land and they conform to all our bylaws, we really can’t stop them.”
Responding to one resident’s comment that he was coming across as hostile, Moore waved a packet of papers and said it’s “based on this crap,” referring to an email chain in town.
The group is affecting his personal family and contains misquotes, he said.
A Yahoo email group comprised of residents has contained an extensive discussion on the two proposed subdivisions.
The board ultimately approved the preliminary plan for the Pleasant Street project, and Powling told the crowd that affected residents would be notified again when the project goes through the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board once more.
The Nashua Street subdivision would involve extending the street to build eight lots on about 5.6 acres of Moore’s property.
Calvin Moore told the board that technically the definitive plan had already been approved. The plan, he said, was submitted on May 20.
Under state law, a subdivision plan in the definitive stage gains automatic approval if a local planning board does not act on it within 90 days. The deadline became a cause of concern in July, when the public hearings were originally scheduled but later canceled due to a lack of quorum.
Although former Planning Board Chair Morris Babcock had reassured people that the deadline would not have passed by this Aug. 7 hearing, Moore argued that the board did not have the two weeks needed to post for another public hearing before the deadline on Aug. 18.
“The way I understand it from our legal team is that we really don’t have to be here tonight because this plan is approved by default on a 90-day period — it’s basically legally approved,” he said. “I’m not playing that game and I’m more than happy, willing to work with the Planning Board on suggestions for improvements.”
Board member Jeremy Callahan, who cannot attend the meetings because of a harassment prevention order placed against him by Susan Sullivan who is no longer employed by the town, has argued that the preliminary plan approved in 2012 contained modifications. But in a phone call on Friday morning, Callahan said town counsel disagreed and argued the plan was approved without modification.
The board approved the definitive, final plan for the Nashua Street subdivision with the request that developers address comments from the Department of Public Works.