This letter responds to the Oct. 16 article: “Town looks to expand affordable housing.”
The Pepperell Planning Board has submitted a 40R preliminary letter of eligibility to the Department of Housing and Community Development which will trigger development of 800+ rental units in town, 20% of which is to provide affordable housing if approved at Fall Town Meeting on Nov. 14.
Our need for affordable housing — understanding the circumstances of our house burdened residents and seniors and their housing preferences should drive our thinking, not the state’s housing targets and its mandated densities under 40R.
There are key differences between the 1969 Comprehensive Permit Law known as 40B and the newer, more aggressive related law, 40R. 40R requires a fast-tracking of building projects through the local site review process, and raises huge financial barriers to abutter appeals. The state offers one-time zoning incentive and density bonus payments to the town for adopting 40R zoning bylaws; but the state can retract these payments for non-performance. 40B offers zoning for affordable housing without a mandate for higher density, and therefore may be a better option for Pepperell. 40B is a state regulation already in effect; 40R must be adopted at town meeting by majority vote.
Comparing 40B and 40R is irrelevant, however, if we haven’t sufficient water resources to meet future demand. The quality and quantity of Pepperell’s renowned water is a serious, immediate concern. Our Nashua Road well was taken off-line in 2021 because of high PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) which the EPA has designated as hazardous.
With only two remaining wells, our town engineer wrote that under a conservative build-out scenario of 611 units “…the temporary loss of either remaining production well … would require immediate and potentially severe restrictions on town-wide water usage to avoid catastrophic impacts to the customers, including fire protection (letter to DHCD, July 2022).” We interpret him to mean that building 600+ affordable housing units will tax the town’s water infrastructure past its limit.
PFAS contamination also plagues the Jersey Street wells. While below MassDEP’s current upper limit, these limits don’t mean our water is safe. This past week, PFAS contamination at 865 ppt (parts per trillion) was detected 1600’ from the Jersey Street wells.
Jersey Street and Nashua Road wells’ contamination must be remediated. The Town Engineer estimates that cost around $30 million. With a new public safety complex ($40 million), and PFAS remediation, Pepperell taxpayers may see substantial tax increases to pay for $70+ million in infrastructure and remediation costs.
Despite efforts by vigilant residents and committees, town administration has refused to give residents the time and information to understand the situation. An informed community makes the best decisions. We invite everyone to growsmartpepperell.com. And please attend town meeting on Nov. 14 to vote no on 40R!
— Caroline Ahdab, Renee D’Argento, Sherrill RosoffGrowSmartPepperell Residents