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Decision on Mill Road 40B Postponed

A sitewalk is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14

The crowd on Thursday.
The crowd on Thursday.

The fate of a new affordable housing development that could add hundreds of cars to the area near the Billerica Road exit to Route 3 remains up in the air following a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Thursday night.

Facing a packed room of neighbors and questions that left the board wondering if it should continue the process or deny approval of the plan for the time being, the board postponed a decision on the possible 120 unit affordable housing development in lieu of additional information on the site.

Proposed by Princeton Properties of Lowell, the proposed development would be on Mill Road directly across from the off-ramp and on-ramp to the Billerica Road exit to Route 3 Southbound.

For towns that have less than ten percent of their housing stock committed to affordable housing, options of Zoning Boards to deny approval of a variance for incoming affordable housing projects are limited under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Law.

However, towns do receive what are known as “regulatory safe harbors” if they can provide an affordable housing plan that says how they will get to ten percent or they’ve recently added new affordable housing.

Following recently a recently approved project coming soon to Littleton Road, this is the case for Chelmsford, and Princeton Properties spokesperson Steven Schwartz told the board his client is willing to compromise with the board on a project of similar density, but said if the plan was denied now, Princeton Properties would likely return after the safe harbor period ends in June of 2014.

“We come here acknowledging that we have no leverage in this situation. We came here and filed this application on the expectation from that it would be welcomed from the town from what we saw on the affordable housing plan and other discussions with the town,” he said. “We’ve come here in good faith.”

Throughout the evening, neighbors urged the board to deny the plan outright and also try to use other methods to challenge the plan if it returns in June.

Most notably they highlighted what they saw as potential safety and environmental concerns that could trump 40B from earlier project presented to the town, also noting other concerns that they believed would harm the town and the neighborhood but were likely outside of the Zoning Board’s purview.

“The state is forcing these projects on towns where they don’t belong, and to do them under duress is completely wrong,” said Town Meeting representative Brian Latina to the board.

Throughout the evening, Community Development Director Evan Belansky reminded members of the board that the decision before them was whether to continue with the process now under the safe harbor or not, but the consensus among the board was that determination couldn’t be made without more information, particularly a site walk.

“It really is a difficult site to imagine for residential housing, but I understand the need for residential housing,” said board member Brian Reedy. “I’d certainly rather work with a smaller density project, but as it is right now, I am not sure if we should move forward or not.”

A site walk was scheduled earlier, with neighboring residents also invited to participate, but that was cancelled out of courtesy to Princeton Properties due to the lack of clarity over where the project would proceed.

After the confusion, Schwartz said his clients would be happy to help with a site walk even if the plan does not go forward. The board scheduled the walk for Saturday Dec. 14 at 11:30 a.m.

According to a presentation at the beginning of the meeting, Chelmsford has 7.7 percent of its housing allocated to affordable housing, short of the ten percent goal by 316 units. 

Donna Reed December 06, 2013 at 05:59 PM
The BOS were VERY actively involved when they were trying to keep a methadone clinic out of Lowell.....I hope the residents that will be directly affected by this "project" ( pun intended) will see the same kind of actions and behavior. I would think that 120 new 40B units will have a drastic effect on traffic in town, as well as our schools.......and Lord knows..the traffic here is becoming a NIGHTMARE ! ! I must wonder.....would 120 more units of affordable housing in-town offer any benefits or advantages to the town and ALL of it's residents ?
Roland Van Liew December 06, 2013 at 07:02 PM
"We’ve come here in good faith?" With a proposal for 20% affordable units? This is not "consistent with local needs," as mandated by the 40B statute. Regardless of the 10% rule that the ZBA has used as an excuse to approve bad projects like Hillside Gardens, anything less than 100% affordable is just not good enough given the very limited land available in Chelmsford. In other words, although "Donna Reed" makes a good point about 120 units, they are NOT proposing 120 "40B units." They are proposing about 25 40B units. The rest are not affordable in any sense; not even the quasi-affordable 40B sense. This project needs to be scuttled completely.
Anna Bucciarelli December 06, 2013 at 08:00 PM
Bad location ... have said it and repeated it over and over. Narrow, winding road almost impossible to travel upon during winter, a day program for DD adults right across from the Hitites, ... I just do want to see this scuttled ... perhaps my reasons are simplistic, but I firmly believe we are asking for trouble ... where are all the new kids gonna go to school? Will we then need to build another school, or take back the Westlands? This is just insane.
Debbie Dery December 07, 2013 at 07:15 AM
It wasn't that long ago that I stood outside in the rain and freezing cold gathering signatures to repeal 40B. We didn't get enough votes to change the law so that there would be more affordable units in these large developments. Until we reach our 10% we do not have a choice whether we want these large 40B developments. The question is where do we want them and how much control do we have over the height and the number of units that are built. The traffic in our town is horrific and the area that I live in is carrying traffic from vehicles that do not want to stay on route 3 or 495 and use Stedman Street. Hillside Gardens is on Chamberlain Road which is also a curvy two lane road. The project was reduced in size but the fight was lost as to whether or not the neighbors had a choice to where it would be built. Mill Road may not be an ideal location but where do you want this housing to be built? Our student population has declined and I don't believe that there will be that many students in this proposed housing. The affordable number will first be given to veterans, handicapped and then the lottery for the rest.
ChelmsfordMom December 07, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Honestly think a project of this size is too big for our town. 110 units -- that's a big influx of new residents in one location. Affordable Housing another way to say low income housing. For the elderly, veterans and handicapped I would take them with open arms. But it's some of the other residents I will worry about. I am very familiar with 'affordable housing' and let's just say unsavory characters usually end up taking residence there. Perhaps we'll be lucky, but there's bound to be some residents who cause trouble. You can quote me on that.
Anna Bucciarelli December 08, 2013 at 04:51 PM
Debbie, I am not opposed to it being built, I just think the chosen location is a bad one for many reasons, some already stated here and in previous posts. I don't think Mill Road is safe as it is now and cannot imagine what will happen with more cars on this winding, narrow, ill-kept road when the weather turns bad, as it's supposed to tomorrow with inch-thick ice (so I heard on NECN this morning). I avoid it as much as I can but there are times when I have no choice ... I dread it as much as I dread the possibility of plague.
Donna Reed December 10, 2013 at 08:18 AM
Roland, I stand corrected.....thank you for pointing that out. I did think the whole complex was to be low-income. Not sure anyone else has noticed, but we have a hotel in town that is FULL of low-income residents. Do those residents not count in our 10%? And if not, why not? They live here, they travel our streets, and they use our schools. As Anna pointed out, Mill Road is hard to travel in bad weather.....but there's another issue...what about the traffic in the summer on Mill Road when everyone is using the Swim & Tennis Club? I think this town needs to address the traffic congestion here BEFORE they allow another 200+ units of ANY kind to be built. We need to have more streets with "No Through Traffic" signs to keep all the cars out of neighborhoods as they race around trying to avoid all the traffic lights...some of us are prisoners in our neighborhoods during rush hour traffic....and I'm pretty sure that with adding another 200+ units, you can bet that means at LEAST another 400 + cars driving our streets.....a nightmare in the making, for certain.

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