Town: River can’t handle impact of 20 Elm St. 40B

Feb 7, 2019 by

Published February 7, 2019

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — Two months later, the waiting begins, each side hopeful the state will decide in its favor.

After being granted a two-week extension of time by MassHousing for the public and the town to submit comments on the Ch. 40B application at 20 Elm St., the public comment period is now officially closed. MassHousing will now try to ascertain whether the site the developer seeks to develop qualifies for a Project Eligibility Letter (PEL). If so, the local Zoning Board pubiic hearing process would begin. The town was notified in early December by MassHousing that an application was filed to develop 19 acres out of the 24.2 acre former Thomson Country Club into a 200-rental unit complex divided between five buildings.

Hundreds of letters of opposition have been written by abutters and concerned citizens to town officials, state officials and bureaucrats.  The town has also responded with two letters outlining a myriad of concerns, the first on Jan. 15 and the second Feb. 1.

The developer has issued rebuttals to address certain concerns raised by the town, in particular assurances to MassHousing that state and federal protocols will be followed with regard to all requird environmental regulations, including the necessary onsite wastewater treatment facility. This is required in a town with no municipal sewer available. The developer’s engineer also gave assurances that stormwater management protocols at the state and federal levels will be followed.

The site is owned by Nick Yebba, d.b.a NY Ventures. Included in his application are bird’s eye view renderings of the site with superimposed building footprints showing approximate locations to the rear of Teresa’s Steakhouse and Grille 19, both of which are owned and run by the applicant, along with the two pools of the former country club that are part of Resorts North. The buildings are located in the general area of the former driving range at the site behind those buildings. The pools appear to be retained but the four existing tennis courts are shown with a building on top of them.

In response to one of the concerns raised in the town’s first letter, dated Jan. 15, about the close proximity of the five-story buildings to the single-family homes on Lynn Street, the developer’s engineer, Chris Sparages, PE, submitted a change in the location of the two buildings closest to Lynn Street. It appears that building one, which was originally about 44 feet to the nearest property line has been pulled back about 31 feet so that it is 75 feet from the property line. Building two, which had been 46.9 feet off the Lynn Street property line, has been pulled back about 29.1 feet, so that it would also have a minimum setback of 75 feet.

Also, the parking lot associated with building one appears to have been moved back as well, giving it a 53-foot separation from the property line versus the original 17 feet.

“While increasing the distance of two of the buildings from the property line is an improvement in terms of the neighborhood impact, it does not change the belief that the proposed site is not appropriate for this project,” Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto told the Transcript on Tuesday. He noted that these changes had been submitted to MassHousing by the developer on January 16, the day after the town submitted its first letter of objection, but MassHousing had not shared it with the town prior to the Feb. 1 deadline.

The developer’s agent provided the changes to the town earlier this week, stating she had assumed MassHousing would have passed them along to the town, he said. These documents have been added via links to the home page of the town’s website under “20 Elm St 40B” for the public to view, along with all the other documents related to the project, the T.A. said.

Feb. 1 response

In the Feb. 1 letter, signed by Gilleberto, the town’s message stresses the environmental fragility of the site to handle a project of this scale.

“The Town of North Reading has taken a comprehensive approach to planning for affordable housing within the context of existing conditions in the town. The areas that the town has identified for affordable housing represent the optimum balancing of housing needs with land use, demographic, infrastructure and environmental considerations,” Gilleberto stated in the followup letter to Greg Watson, the manager of Comprehensive Permit Programs at MassHousing.

“One of these environmental considerations is water quality in the Ipswich River. It has long been recognized that the Ipswich is highly stressed. DEP’s Integrated Waters list, prepared under the Federal Clean Water Act, lists the Ipswich River as impaired with respect to mercury and dissolved oxygen, and therefore in need of Total Maximum Daily Loads for those parameters,” he stated.

“It is the town’s opinion that it is less than ideal land use planning to encourage intense housing development on the banks of this impaired river. This is particularly pertinent in North Reading, where there are no municipal sewers, and new housing projects must rely on private treatment systems with subsurface discharge; in this case, on or very near the river bank.”

“The areas in North Reading that have been identified for new affordable housing development reflect the town’s desires to protect the Ipswich River.

“Additionally, the town wishes to point out an issue that is not fully addressed in NY Ventures’ submittal to MassHousing.

“DEP has a policy that requires developers seeking a groundwater discharge permit to offset 100% of new contaminant loads to impaired waters by providing infrastructure to reduce existing contaminant sources in the same watershed. Inability to do so would prevent the developer from obtaining this critical permit, and meeting that DEP requirement could add significantly to the developer’s cost and delay the project,” the letter states.

“Further, to protect public drinking water supplies downstream, the developer would be required to provide a very high level of wastewater treatment at considerable cost.”

“It is for these reasons, along with the reasons stated in the town’s letter of January 15, 2019, that we believe that the proposed site is not appropriate for this project,” Gilleberto concluded.

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