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SHIRLEY – The Zoning Board of Appeals held a trio of public hearings Monday night that used up nearly every virtual minute of its 3-hour allotted Zoom time. The board adjourned just before the clock ran out, with all three hearings continued to its April 5 meeting.

First on the agenda was the  40B project on Benjamin Road, which took up most of the time.

The term 40B refers to a state statue that gives developers relief from some local zoning laws, density in particular. To get the designation, the developer must set aside 25 percent of the housing units in the project as “affordable,” often amid others priced at market rate.

The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the program, gave this project its approval after conducting a feasibility study last year.

Besides the key “affordable” component, DHCD criteria also included project funding and the location’s benefits, such as access to amenities and public transportation.

The site – a multi-acre parcel stretching back to Center Road – is about a mile from the train station and the village business district. Chairman Chip Guercio read through a list of items up for consideration – over 50 in all – before opening the floor to public comment.

The list included traffic, parking – for bikes as well as vehicles, including delivery trucks; wheelchair and emergency vehicle access, pedestrian safety; water, sewer and public works issues and drainage. Also on the list, issues related to the existing dwelling; trash storage for each unit, with pickup by a private hauler; sidewalks, signage; trees, with removals to be reviewed and visual impacts on abutters.

Noting that some items had already been resolved, those that had not would be flagged for further discussion. There would be “more dialogue as these hearings continue,” Guercio said.

At issue is a proposed 48-unit townhouse/condo complex that’s been in the planning stages for over a year. The developer, Middlesex Holdings, has two variance applications and a comprehensive permit application before the ZBA. The requests will come before the Conservation Commission next week.

All members of the ZBA, including an alternate member, were present, along with attorneys for the ZBA and the developer and engineers from TEC, which conducted a peer review of the project.

Everybody had a chance to weigh in, including residents who had submitted letters to the ZBA.

Betsy Colburn Mirkovic talked about the importance of vernal pools that may be on the property, and the tiny amphibians that live in them during the brief period every spring in which the pools exist.

But most audience input came from abutters who questioned or objected to some aspect of the project.

One of them was Cynthia Gillham, who challenged its economic feasibility, among other things, and gave a Powerpoint presentation based on problems she said could arise. Pets, for example. She also noted that without garages, the new residents would have no place to store bicycles and kayaks.

Abutters Susan Gillham and her husband, George Minott had also submitted a letter, itemizing their concerns, with conditions they’d advise attaching to the comprehensive permit, if the ZBA grants it.

The list included a thorough engineering analysis of proposed water and sewer hookups, Fire Dept. assessment, wetlands setback requirements for each unit that is near wetlands or vernal pools; paved parking for delivery trucks with a secure lock box for packages; an economic viability review and a detailed snow removal plan.

In addition, pets should be kept inside (dogs could be walked, on a leash) and those restrictions should be stipulated in the owners’ HOA agreement, along with a ban on rentals within the complex. Under this proposed provision, all units must be owner occupied and condo owners could not rent them out.

Guercio said he hoped everyone’s concerns could be satisfactorily addressed when all is said and done.

The comprehensive permit hearing was continued to the board’s next meeting on April 5. The developer is also seeking variances, addressed in a separate public hearing, which was also continued.

The third hearing had no connection to the first two, except that the property is on the same road.

The multi-acre parcel at 98 Benjamin Road is overgrown, with debris and derelict structures, including an old trailer. The owners want to subdivide the property to allow two separate homes to be built on it, one of them on a back lot carved out of the total acreage, with access via an existing driveway.

Nine abutters were notified. One is Jennifer McGuinness, who owns a home on several acres next door. Her home has privacy now, but could have a pop-up neighbor in its back yard if the variance is granted.

McGuinness read a letter she’d sent in, strongly objecting to the proposal.

In her view, it defies carefully crafted zoning laws that protect the town’s “rural” look, which includes well-spaced homes on large lots. Having owned the property before zoning was established in town, the owners could have built two houses on it back then, she said, but if allowed to do it now, it would set a precedent.

Another detractor is that only one sewer connection is allowed for that parcel. If a second home was built, it would need a septic system, Guercio pointed out. And there’s an oil tank buried on the property that must be dug up and properly disposed of, he said.

On the owner’s side, John Farnsworth, of Farnsworth Engineering Associates, spoke for the plan, which didn’t gain any traction with this board, or with the Planning Board, which previously voted against it.

The owners are in their 80’s and are asking for the variance to split the property, with an eye, he thinks, to selling it. However, he believes they could build a two-family dwelling there, “by right,” he said.

Guercio suggested that may be the way to go, given the drawbacks. Farnsworth asked for a continuance of the hearing so he could confer with his clients. The ZBA agreed. It will be taken up next time.

 

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