Douglas E. Lees, of Land Engineering & Environmental Services, Inc., the firm hired by the developer, displays a preliminary sketch of a planned 52-unit condo project mapped out as shown for this 10-acre parcel on Benjamin Road.
Douglas E. Lees, of Land Engineering & Environmental Services, Inc., the firm hired by the developer, displays a preliminary sketch of a planned 52-unit condo project mapped out as shown for this 10-acre parcel on Benjamin Road.

SHIRLEY – A proposal to build a 52-unit townhouse condominium development on Benjamin Road that has been under review by two town boards for months came up for review again at the Conservation Commission meeting July 12.

With three of six members members present and participants attending in person and via Zoom, the commission reopened a multi-part public hearing, continuing to discuss a Notice of Intent filed by the developer, Middlesex Landholdings, LLC.

This time, discussion focused on refining and possibly amending plans to install a water line extending across the property – located at 42 Benjamin Road — to Center Road via the rear of the approximately 10-acre site. Since the work involves an area within the 100-foot buffer zone, impact on wetlands is of concern. Specifically, an intermittent stream.

Overall project plans include razing an existing driveway, garage and barn on the approximately 10-acre site. The developer’s lengthy to-do list also includes constructing a new driveway, a road, buildings and other structures and performing other work on the property, including grading, drainage and installation of utilities.

The project is also undergoing peer review by the Zoning Board of Appeals, which has been conducting hearings on the company’s requests for a comprehensive permit and variances.

The proposed development is a so-called “40B” project under the provisions of Chapter 40B, a state law that allows developers proposing to build residential housing to bypass some local zoning regulations – in this case, density restrictions – if 25 percent of the new units are priced as “affordable,” per state-set income guidelines for the area. The project is still subject to the town’s permit process, however, including an initial review by the Planning Board.

At the last hearing, the developer agreed to set up a site walk so that the commissioners – and, in particular, Conservation Agent Mike Fleming – could see the envisioned water line route and monitor the progress of “test pits” being dug on the property.

The developer’s engineer, Doug Lees, sketched out the progress of the test digs, including where they found ledge and how far down. The proposed pipeline, which will supply water to the residences and to a fire hydrant on the property, skirts the stream to hook up to the water main on Center Road.

Chairman Jennifer McGuinness asked about mitigation measures to avoid damaging wetlands, such as bordering the stream bed with protective material and laying down mats for equipment to roll over. She also asked if the scope of the sweep could be smaller. “That’s a pretty wide swath… for a wetland,” she said. Currently 20-25 feet, she wants it reduced, she said.

Lees laid out the erosion control strategy, which includes taking down as few trees as possible with root systems within the buffer zone.

An abutter, Susan Gillham, asked how many trees would be cut. She questioned, “respectfully,” whether Lees was qualified to determine ecological fallout from taking down mature trees and replacing them with shrubs and grass, as planned. It could cause “irreparable” damage to the wetlands, she said.

Lees said trees’ extended root systems could eventually invade the pipeline, while shrub and grass roots would not be a problem.

The water line will be five feet down, Lees said, and all disturbed wetlands restored, “as described” in the plans.

Other technical matters discussed included protecting a vernal pool on the property and how to handle outcrops of ledge along the pipeline path.

“Have you considered (building) less houses?” asked Commissioner Marie Elwyn, suggesting that maybe would address the water pressure issue and the line could hook up on Benjamin Road instead of Center Road.

As one of the engineers pointed out, stretching the line from Benjamin Road to Center Road wasn’t part of the original plans, which would have left the rear of the property undisturbed. That was the town’s call, Lees said, mostly because the Fire Dept. wanted better water pressure at the site.

But the outcome will be a plus for the water system, the engineers said, with benefits for the entire area, including Center Road as well as the Benjamin Road condo development.

The hearing was continued for two weeks, with the next session scheduled on July 27, at which time the amended plans will be discussed.