ZBA Bay Watch 40B Hearings Begin … Again

After 10 years of litigation, Bay Watch Realty’s proposed affordable housing project appears to be inching closer to town approval. But still many details need ironing out before it is a done deal.

On January 26, Bay Watch met with ZBA to kick off a whole new set of hearings for its latest modification of its proposed 40B project. This time there is a renewed spirit to work with the town, said Bay Watch attorney Ted Regnante at the Thursday night hearing.

Ten years ago, the developer proposed a 192-unit 40B project in Marion, and received an approval conditioned that it did not exceed 96 units. The developer appealed that decision, and since then many court battles have occurred between the town and developer over various manifestations of the project – with the courts favoring Bay Watch Realty.

However, the developer’s proposal last fall to scale the project down to 96 units and its willingness to set aside 12 acres for conservation – funded thanks to Community Preservation Funds approved at the Special town meeting – has created a mood of cooperation.

The hearing offered a preliminary overview of the latest proposal, which puts the number of proposed units back to 96. “The number is consistent with the initial approval and desire of the board,” explained Atty. Regnante. The project would be located east of Route 105 off Front Street and include two garden-style buildings each with 30 affordable rental units (60 total), and 36 non-affordable three-bedroom homes.

The developer put out preliminary numbers on what these units would cost to rent or purchase. The rentals would cost $773 for a one-bedroom; $919 for a two-bedroom; and $1,051 for a three-bedroom. The homes – 1,300, 1,650 or 1,852 square feet in size – include a cellar and a garage (optional with 1,650 sq. ft house) and would cost about $350,000.

He also said that the proposal would set aside 60 percent of the units for Marion residents, 10 percent from Rochester and Mattapoisett residents, and the rest as undesignated.

The Board of Selectmen in past weeks have expressed concern that the non-affordable and affordable units are not mixed together – and pushed for the developer to set 25 percent of the free standing units as affordable.  Mr. Regnante acknowledged that concern, and said he is willing to negotiate on that matter and perhaps price some of the single-family homes at 70 to 80 percent of the median income (about $314,000 per home).

On that note, Town Counsel Jon Whitten urged the board to ensure that the project can separate affordable and non-affordable units and still meet the state’s 40B standards.

“We need you make sure Massachusetts Housing will accept this. My position is anything is possible,” he said. Bay Watch representatives promised to meet with state housing officials to ensure that if the project gets approved, the units can be counted towards the town’s affordable housing stock.

In the meantime, a number of issues were raised once the board was briefed on the project.

Concerns about a proposed wooden bridge – built to reduce wetlands impact – were expressed by Building Commissioner Scott Shippey. Passage on the 75-foot bridge is required to access the project.

“God forbid you have an accident in the roadway and a fire [at the complex] and you can’t get in there,” Mr. Shippey said. Bay Watch representatives agreed to meet with the Fire Chief and Mr. Shippey on the matter.

As it currently stands the road into the project is private, thus the issue of how and where children would get on buses to school were raised. The prospect of dozens of children waiting for a bus along Route 105 was worrisome for certain board members and resident Stan Bradford, who brought up the matter.

“We need to make sure it is safe for kids,” said Chairman Robert Wedge, who suggested that a shelter might be needed for the children.

The issue of traffic in general spurred some discussion, with the developer reporting that the project would result in about 636 trips per day in and out of the project. Bay Watch said that a new traffic light would not be required.

The next hearing on Bay Watch is scheduled for February 23 at 7:30 pm. By then, the developer is expected to meet with state officials to ensure 40B standards are met, and also will present a lighting plan.

By Laura Fedak Pedulli

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