The Chelmsford Zoning Board of Appeals have agreed to a detailed review of a potential affordable housing complex on Mill Road after voting for a set of conditions put forth by developers Princeton Properties.
Normally under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts state law, the board would have little recourse in terms of oversight regarding the proposed development, as would any like Chelmsford that has under ten percent of its housing stock not considered to be affordable.
However, due to an affordable housing complex approved recently on Littleton Road, the town now has a “safe harbor” period where it can outright deny the proposal at its discretion.
Princeton Properties spokesman Jeff Brown told the board that his company had five conditions the board would have to meet, or else the company would withdraw its application and return in June once the safe harbor has expired, letting them build with almost no local oversight.
“Princeton has developed 40B developments and had them approved in several communities in the area similar to this, and we’ve come to the conclusion that the best projects are the ones done collaboratively rather than those forced on a board,” he said.
Brown pointed out Princeton Commons on Technology Drive behind the Sears on Drum Hill Road as an example of a comparable project due to its similar amount of units, although Jeff Apostolakes, a Planning Board member and neighbor living near the proposed Mill Road development, strongly disagreed with this statement.
Particularly, Apostolakes noted issues the board with air quality at the site that may impact the development currently being examined by the Board of Health.
“You know, we know, they know that Princeton Commons is nothing like Mill Road,” said Apostolakes. “So let’s not play games. This is a serious matter and there are serious issues with this site.”
Neighbors like Apostolakes in the crowd urged the board to deny the proposal outright immediately and find legal exceptions to the 40B law ranging from attempting to reclassify abandoned and mobile homes as affordable to get to ten percent, undo hardship in the area thanks to a heavy nearby commercial and industrial presence, and various other items.
Planning Board member Colleen Stansfield challenged the neighbors, telling the board that she got out of her pajamas and drove down to town hall after watching the hearing to respond that the answers they sought could not be obtained unless the review process was begun.
However, neighborhood resident Bill Griffin took umbrage to Stansfield’s remarks, also citing that acting chairman Paul Haverty told the audience that no additional comments would be allowed outside of those standing in line to speak at a certain point well before Stansfield arrived.
“We made the effort to be here at 7 p.m., for someone to come in at 9:15 is impolite at best,” said Griffin. “We’ve been living this for years, we understand this process and we know that boards can make mistakes.”
Of the five conditions requested by Princeton, he advised the board that it should not even consider entering into a memorandum of agreement on any matter unless there was pending litigation and there was no immediate action taken on an offer by Princeton of financial mitigation funding to address impacts to the neighborhood by the development.
The board voted 5-0 to approve the conditions that any studies done could be reused to save money if Princeton denied to withdraw its application and that Princeton could withdraw at any time, with Haverty said was their right in any case.
However, there was a split 3-2 vote on the condition that the project have somewhere between at least 108 and 132 units, which Princeton said was necessary to make the project economically viable, with Bud Chagnon and Charlie Wotjas voting in opposition.
Len Richards recused himself from the hearing.
The hearing was continued to Feb. 20