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Looking ahead to court, selectmen lay out continued Mugar opposition

The Board of Selectmen on Monday, Oct. 17, voted unanimously to support a draft letter to the town Zoning Board of Appeals outlining selectmen's continued opposition to Thorndike Place.

Board of Selectmen logo, Jan. 23, 2013

Oaktree Development of Cambridge seeks a comprehensive permit to build a 219-unit 40B project on 17.17 acres along Route 2 in East Arlington.

A final version of letter is expected to be approved at the selectmen's Nov. 14 meeting. That's a day before the second scheduled zoning hearing about the matter.

Town Counsel Doug Heim said he believes that Oaktree's request for a continuance is a formality and that before Nov. 15, the developer will appeal the zoning board's Sept. 27 vote to the state Housing Appeals Committee

If that happens, then it would be months before second zoning hearing is held, he said.

"We expect this [case] to end up in court," Heim said.

He said the draft letter from selectmen is intended to help the zoning board have a sustainable case in court. It was written with substantial help from Jon Witten, the town's special counsel on 40B matters. That section of state law refers to a 1969 statute aimed at expanding affordable housing but used increasingly in the last decade by developers seeking to skirt local laws.

In effect, the draft letter reflects the board's position on the issue, but it is not intended to tell the zoning board what to do -- something Selectman Kevin Greeley wanted to avoid.

Two Arlingtonians spoke on the matter. John Yurewicz, a 50-year resident, claimed he had learned that the number if units in the proposed project is 231, not 219, as the developer has said. He did not provide evidence.

"This is an Arlington issue," Pam Miller said, "not just an East Arlington issues."

Full text of draft letter from selectmen to the Zoning Board of Appeals

Approved Monday, Oct. 17, 2016
RE: Application for a comprehensive permit for "Thorndike Place"

Dear Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals:

On behalf of the Arlington Board of Selectmen, please accept the following initial comments in regard to the above noted comprehensive permit application. These initial comments are submitted to the Board pursuant to G.L. c.40B, s.20. We reserve our rights to submit additional comments in this matter as warranted.

As the Board is aware, on August 18, 2015, the Board of Selectmen wrote a detailed comment letter to MassHousing urging MassHousing not to issue project eligibility approval for this application. We have attached our letter to MassHousing.

Although MassHousing opted to grant project eligibility to the applicant, despite the Board of Selectmen’s substantial concerns and objections, we hope the Board of Appeals will scrutinize the application strenuously based upon the same concerns we previously articulated. Our prior comments remain accurate today and speak directly to the Board of Appeals’ jurisdiction pursuant to both statute and regulations. In our view, The comprehensive permit application submitted by Arlington Land Realty, LLC is a much like its submissions for project eligibility to MassHousing – grossly incomplete.

As we stated to MassHousing last year, attempting to place 219 dwelling units on less than 6 acres of upland—a density of greater than 37 units per acre—is inconsistent with our understanding of decades of plans and planning in Arlington and troubling given the well chronicled constraints of the locus.

One of the most notable constraints of the locus (one on which we have heard considerable public comment) is the extensive on-site wetland resources the site presents, and its important function for flood control. We previously strenuously urged the applicant to provide more detailed plans and information on its means of addressing this specific constraint and appurtenant concerns. We were told those details would be forthcoming. Yet instead, the applicant now seeks waivers of Arlington’s Wetland Bylaw and Regulations in their entirety. In light of these facts, we urge the Board of Appeals to deny the applicant’s overbroad and unsubstantiated request to waive the requirements of Arlington Wetlands Bylaw and Regulations, along with other blanket waivers the applicant desires without reasonable bases.

To assist the Board evaluate the technical aspects of the comprehensive permit application, including an analysis of the application’s impacts on wetland resources noted above, but also including traffic impacts and consistency with the Town’s long standing land use, open space and affordable housing plans, we also urge the Board to avail itself of its broad rights and authority pursuant to G.L. c.44, s.53G.

As the Board knows and your Comprehensive Permit Regulations permit, the Board is free to require the applicant to pay for the Board’s hiring of experts in a variety of technical areas. The Board’s authority pursuant to s.53G is extremely broad; limited only to a prohibition of using s.53G funds for legal counsel; all other consulting services are available to assist the Board.

Mindful that we are not a Planning Board or the Planning Director, the Board of Selectmen nonetheless remains concerned that what little we have seen from the applicants does nothing to assuage common sense doubts that a project of this magnitude on such a problematic site is feasible or appropriate for Arlington.

The Board remains committed to assisting the Board of Appeals enforce the rules and regulations of the Town and ensure the protection of Arlington residents’ health and safety.

We look forward to being of assistance.

Sept. 28, 2016: First zoning hearing for Mugar project draws 100, raucous opposition

This news summary was published Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

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