As many of you already know, Town Meeting voted down the Citizens’ Petition to protect the 66-acre parcel at Oak Hill in North Chelmsford, and voted to approve the Selectmen’s warrant article to fund a redundant “feasibility study.” The obvious purpose of the study is to try and justify the placement of high density 40R housing projects, contrary to the conclusions in the Mass Housing study that was performed just last year that such development would be very problematic.
The Oak Hill site has a significant number of impediments to development, from intermittent/ perennial streams, vernal pools, the cost to repair landfill caps as a result of building an access road, issues arising from residential development adjacent to a sportsman's club where people shoot guns, the need for land takings from private property owners, including a church and a condo association re: access issues, significant wetlands crossing/ bridge issues, unknown costs to construct a water main loop, unknown costs arising from the need for increased sewer/ pump capacity and other utilities, it just goes on and on.
Natural Heritage and others need to get in there and do a proper study for endangered species. The perennial streams must not be downgraded to intermittent. What is in the landfill? The Mass Housing study synopsis certainly seems to have been drafted with a view towards exploring every crevice of opportunity for a dense build out of the site. Even then, the author mentions many, many impediments to building on this site. As one expert puts it, “Why anyone would want to build housing on or near a capped landfill is beyond me - those things are a veritable Pandora's box and should not be disturbed.”
The full study is not being made available to the general public. Residents have been told that requests for the study need to be approved by Evan Belansky on a case by case basis.
Why the rush to implement development that public discourse indicates is deeply unpopular and degrades the community?
Because, under Chapter 40R of state law, the state will provide payments to the community for destroying open space. And using this law to force towns to do what developers want to do on land (like Oak Hill) that is not zoned for development is a specialty of Paul Haverty. Haverty has been appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals and Affordable Housing Committee by Paul Cohen, an obvious violation of the town’s ethics bylaw which prohibits appointing people with such conflicts of interest. And Haverty has wound up on the Master Plan Implementation Committee as well.
Town officials are not talking about preservation at all. All this talk about veterans’ housing, “mixed use,” or protection is balderdash. The affordable housing committee, the BOS, the Town Manager, the Community Development Director, and the Community Preservation Committee have already set the detailed plan for high-density development.
Here is a summary of how 40R rewards bad decision-making: http://www.mass.gov/envir/smart_growth_toolkit/pages/mod-40R.html
Note especially that the numbers indicate that for the 150+ units they are proposing, Paul Cohen can expect a half-million dollars in operating budget revenue from the state the first year or two alone. It makes sense if you don’t care about the future of the community.
So the more they build, the more money they get from the state. That might sound logical to town meeting reps who don't care about open space.
Haverty has been steering the Affordable Housing Committee in this direction for quite a while. Cohen has refused to appoint open-space advocates to the Affordable Housing Committee so there's no brake on the advocacy for development-at-all-costs.
I am getting harder and harder to surprise, but I can't help being astonished that the selectmen – not to mention the Community "Preservation" Committee and the Chelmsford Open Space "Stewards"– think that this type of historic, beautiful and utilitarian land should be built upon.
Phil Stanway (who directs the Chelmsford Open Space Stewards) actively opposed the citizens' petition to protect this land! Stanway’s own comments have raised several troubling questions about why he does what he does.
The Community “Preservation” Committee, chaired by developer crony Jim Lane, is providing the funds for a feasibility study to jam housing on a piece of land that residents overwhelmingly want preserved. Is there an honest bone in this man’s body?
As one Better Not Bigger supporter wrote: “Community Preservation Funds to bankroll a study politically justifying anything but community preservation of the land subject to the study?”
As another supporter puts it: “Developers and associated kinds think of themselves as "practical." What is truly "practical" in the long run, however, is the open space and beauty that attracts others to use the land for recreation and pleasure. Such space proves "practical" in drawing people to town for its amenities, for the quality (as opposed to the quantity) of life and the natural beauty found here. They also pay taxes and support the town in other ways. No additional "study" is needed. Do not create another 9 North Road debacle.”
The “feasibility study” is being funded through the Community Preservation Committee, chaired by Jim Lane. The 40R projects could be partly funded by the Community Preservation Committee and then incur financial incentives into the operating budget by the state. In other words, it’s a transfer of monies from CPC into the operating budget, circumventing the limitations of Proposition 2.5. The more units, the more money Paul Cohen gets to play with in his operating budget, at the expense of taxpayers (and of course, open space and the environment).
Read this: http://www.yasarchitecture.com/news_article11.html Search for Paul Haverty's name and you'll find that he tag-teamed Gardner in 2006 with Mark Bobrowski – the Eliopoulos' lawyer for the Epsilon, LLC project. One represented the developer, the other represented the town, with both telling the ZBA that the 600+ unit 40R project would be great for the town. I wonder how much they made on that deal.
Their problem is, the study done by the Mass Housing people – that's a HOUSING ADVOCACY AGENCY – determined that there are all kinds of problems and impediments to putting housing there.
Residents report that Matt Hanson says it's a "feasability study, not for housing and because the first report was incomplete.” This is classic doublespeak. Feasibility for what? HOUSING! It’s quite possible Matt doesn't even understand how foolish what he's saying really is. But Jim Lane and Paul Haverty understand perfectly well what they’re doing.
The maps in the Affordable Housing Plan indicate 195 units are already planned for Oak Hill. The Mass Housing feasibility study put an unexpected crimp into those plans. The BOS, the CHA, and the Affordable Housing Committee have successfully worked to force us to pay for a study to hopefully make the planned 40R high density development happen.
Oak Hill isn’t the only massive 40B project envisioned by our town officials for the benefit of cronies who are private developers. Take a look at the Affordable Housing Plan and you’ll see that multiple high-density 40B projects are being planned by the Community Development Office. The full weight of the Town Manager is behind Evan Belansky’s efforts to develop close to a hundred units EACH YEAR, including his appointees like pro-40B/40R lawyer Paul Haverty and of course CHA director David Hedison.
The townspeople are the big losers. The big winners are Paul Cohen (who gets millions from the state to use in the operating budget to mask his inability to manage the town under the guidelines of Proposition 2.5); Paul Haverty; and of course David Hedison, who can provide additional units to his clients without having to work out solutions that involve complex plans to redevelop underutilized space or implement regional planning.
As a resident points out: “It's land locked. To get to it will affect someone negatively. We have plenty of other land and projects to focus on. What's behind this rush in such bad economic times to develop it. What aren't we being told. It's been there over 100 years, why the rush to change it now. I think an adjoining parcel must be coming up for sale. I think there’s more to come we are not being told of. Like the three single family homes that block the entrance at Oak Hill Road, which I am told have agreed to sell to a developer.”
Apathetic residents – likely NOT the people on this mailing list – passed up an opportunity to replace the fools and knaves that call themselves selectmen and avoid this debacle. Now we have our work cut out for us, as the self-interested exploiters who dominate our town boards have set up the town as an advocate of massive 40B and 40R development. See below.
Statements proposing development of Oak Hill from the current 2011 Affordable Housing Plan draft:
For the complete draft, see http://www.betterchelmsford.com/AffordableHousingPlan-2011.pdf Be sure and have a barf bag handy.
Roland Van Liew