Status (April 17, 2007.)|
On April 13, 2007, an appeal against the Planning Board's decision was filed in Superior Court.
AB Woodlands is not named in this appeal, as it has no standing in the courts ; but we found several Hutchins Court residents ready and willing to sue.
On July 20, Jackie Hardy, Ward 4 Councilor, organized a neighborhood meeting where Mike Carrigan could once again experience that the neighborhood is united against the project for a large number of reasons : traffic, sewer, environmental damage, and the financial burden on the city (mostly education.) In addition, citizens were upset at the way city government stimulates and facilitates projects like these without public input.The Planning Board must issue a response to the application in 90 days. For this project, the deadline was September 29, and it has been extended to January 29 by agreement from both sides.
AB Woodlands called a neighborhood meeting on August 3, to inform people about of what was going on. Jackie Hardy attended and also Steve Magoon, Mayor Bell's assistant, who did not contribute much, nor was able to provide much to rest people's various concerns.The developer asked the Planning Board for a continuance, that is, the matter did not come before the board at the August 14 meeting, but at the August 28 meeting.
There was a long discusion about the planned Bennett Street improvements, which the City and everyone except the residents tries to separate from the development issue. The meeting closed early.
The same day, August 3, there was a Board of Health meeting, where Noel Mann spoke for AB Woodlands. The Board found that the developer had not provided enough input, and the meeting was continued until September 7.
Links to Conservation Commission meetings minutes on City website:
December 1, 2004
December 15, 2004
January 5, 2005
The January 19 meeting was cancelled because of a snowstorm.
February 2, 2005 This was the meeting denying the application.
The remaining meetings were for fixing the legal ramifications of the denial.
February 16, 2005
February 18, 2005
The meeting was well attended by about fifty people. About ninety
invitations had been sent out which will have reached around 150 people. A
number of people attended who had missed the invitation, but heard about
Mike Carrigan presented his current ideas. He emphasized that this was a concept plan subject to change. He plans to file with the Planning Board by year end. The idea is to have a cluster development, according to city guidelines, of three clusters of 10 single-family homes each.
He promised 70% of the property would be in conservation (conservation restriction, or actual ownership, held by Essex County Greenbelt Association.) He also promised to stay entirely out of the 100' buffer zone around the wetlands.
He mentioned the following problems:
Access: He hopes to provide access both from Revere St (through Hutchins Court) and from Bennett St (through Tufts Lane), with a road running from one end to the other.
Water pressure: He says he measured the water pressure and it was sufficient.
Sewer: He says he is confident he can get his 30 units hooked up to the STEP system.
In the questions-and-answers he tried to defend these issues against protests from residents, and acknowledged (but did not attempt to solve) problems with traffic and with wildlife preservation. The Q&A session went on for a long time, and he did not really succeed in calming widespread doubts.
After he left there was more discussion of the same issues, and the meeting ended with the election of officers (see slate on main page.)
Comments on issues raised: (These comments are biased, but then so was his presentation.)
- 30 units is close to the maximum possible. The parcel is 30+ acres, and with a cluster development he is allowed 10% more units than the zoning would normally allow.
- About 50% of the site is protected by wetland ordinances, and by the cluster guidelines he has to set aside at least 30% of the remainder as conservation land or "open space" - meaning, not built on, but used for parks or sports fields. So an offer of 70% in conservation is inevitable rather than generous.
The remaining 10 acres would just allow the required minimum 10,000 sq ft per unit.
Access: Both accesses have difficulties. Both Hutchins Court and Tufts Lane are private roads. There is a right of way for any use, but in how far residents can stop road improvements is unclear. Hutchins Court has very narrow sections, and at some spots there is less than 20 ft width between abutting properties, and several residents have vowed to fight any encroachment on their properties (and have told the developer so.) Also, parts are within the 100' buffer zone for wetlands, which he has promised not to touch. So he will have to renege on his promise (or explain that it didn't apply to Hutchins Court), as well as obtain permission from the Conservation Commission. Specifically, there is a stretch where there is a wetland on both sides and a culvert in between, all of which requires protection.
Tufts Lane is new and wide enough. The problem here is at the end of Tufts Lane, where there is a steep dropoff with a protected wetland at the bottom. He will have to engineer the road around it, and obtain variances for exceeding slope and curvature norms.
Water pressure: Protests came from Revere St residents, who claimed that the pressure varied, and right now it is terrible.
Sewer: The sewer situation is complex and ever-changing, but at the moment there are serious capacity problems and he may or may not be able to get his sewer hookups.
Traffic: Thirty units means sixty cars, and Revere Street and especially Bennett Street (even if upgraded) and Dennison Street cannot handle this.
The meeting was well attended by about thirty people, despite the cold
weather and the late notification of some people.
We were pleased to greet Jackie Hardy, the councillor-elect for Ward 4, and Richard Gaines, reporter for the Gloucester Daily Times.
Jim Groves presented an overview of the concept plan which the developer presented to the City in late October. He also explained new problems which we have discovered with the sewer - essentially, the STEP system in North Gloucester is not only used to capacity, it also has design problems which may require expensive improvements or even replacement.
Noel Mann discussed the environmental issues. Essex County Greenbelt , which owns Langsford Pond, has provided the developer with a counterproposal that would effectively cut his project in half, do without the Tufts Lane access, and save the environmentally important southern half of the parcel. His reaction was that he saw no merit in their proposal. Greenbelt is still pursuing the matter, but the net result (from our point of view) is that the developer cannot go around saying that his plan is approved by, or even influenced by, Greenbelt.
Gregg Smith, of Saving Cape Ann, gave a brief talk about community activity.
We circulated a petition, which was signed by virtually everyone present. It will be further distributed throughout Ward 4. You can find it at a convenience store near you, or you can download it here and print it. In due course it will be presented to the City Council.
June 30, 2006 - a conditional permit.
After the developer and his attorney had put enough pressure on the city government, David Knowles, City Engineer, who had previously stated that there would be no extensions to the STEP nor any private sewer extensions, issued a conditional permit to the developer to hook up thirty homes. One of the conditions was that the developer provide an engineering study to prove that the STEP system has enough capacity, if necessary by means of off-hour pumping and an enormous holding tank. This study is currently (September 1) not yet available.
Another problem (for the developer and his sewer) is that we (AB Woodlands, helped by a professional engineer) are claiming that for various reasons, according to state regulations, this proposed sewer needs a permit from the state Dept of Environmental Protection. See the article by Richard Gaines about the Planning Board meeting on August 28.
Legal issues about sewer hookups.
Massachusetts state law makes a distinction between a sewer connection and a sewer extension.
A connection simply means hooking up one or more lots to an existing sewer system. State law requires the city to provide a connection to anyone with the proper permit.
An extension is anything beyond that, and the city can refuse that, because of lack of capacity, or simply lack of money. But the city has to have a valid reason, or the developer will sue.
One of the recommendations of the famous Sewer Task Force report is to stop any private sewer extensions (but not connections), of which there are a great many.
In this case, which is obviously an extension, the developer has said he will pay for the construction and maintenance of the sewer himself, thus solving the "not enough money" issue, and because he does the construction himself it should count as a connection rather than an extension. The Engineering Department has accepted this. Obviously, this question has not yet been settled.
Seveal people people are suing the City for being denied a private sewer extension (to an existing dwelling). If the developer had been rejected, he would surely have sued. It is certain that the threat of legal action was the cause of the mayor's about-face. But more legal action is still likely ; apparently the mayor prefers to be sued by the citizens rather than by a developer.
There is a similar situation with water pressure. The City has acknowledged that the water pressure on Revere and Bennett Street is insufficient, and has plans on how to fix it, but this needs time and money. In the meantime, it would be irresponsible to build thirty houses at a remote location with insufficient water pressure for fire control.
Both the sewer problem and the water pressure problem can be fixed by money, but they are overshadowed, in North Gloucester, by the closing of the Bay View fire station, which also needs money to be reopened, and which has a higher priority for the residents.