Members of the Marion Planning Board agreed that they would like the large property currently for sale at 78 Wareham Road (Route 6) developed according to their vision of a “cluster” development rather than the subdivision-style plan presented to them on August 15 during a pre-submission conference with Steve Gioiosa of SITEC Engineering and the prospective buyer of the property, Ron Medeiros.
The 60 acres that abut the Weweantic River has several existing structures, including a main single-family dwelling and several outbuildings, which Medeiros would plan to occupy.
There is 2,500 feet of frontage along Route 6, which Gioiosa commented is not common for a tract of land such as this, and proposed dividing the land into lots for a conventional housing development while conserving significant areas of open space, including the space along Wareham Road.
Gioiosa referred to the town’s Waterfront Compound Bylaw and said this proposed plan would “be ideal for this type of property.”
Gioiosa said he interpreted the bylaw as allowing for this type of development near the waterfront with its requirements for open space protection and preserving some buffers for the public way, all ideal features for the property, Gioiosa said.
“We didn’t want to go too far without input from the board,” said Gioiosa. “We want to be sensitive to what the board would be looking for.”
The buyer refrained from completing any topographic survey of the property and contacted the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program to seek preliminary information about the site relative to NHESP jurisdiction.
Planning Board member Steve Gonsalves commented that Gioiosa had “a lot of houses in there,” when looking at the plan.
Will Saltonstall questioned the original intent of the Waterfront Compound Bylaw and its relation to this particular project, saying his initial thoughts are that it was intended for an entirely different type of use.
“I really see that bylaw not being intended for new development but more of a way to deal with previously existing [development],” said Saltonstall. “While I can see how your thoughts here could justify [it] … the Waterfront Compound Bylaw was not meant to create a new subdivision.”
Saltonstall said his gut reaction was that a traditional subdivision was not “the best use” of the land, suggesting there was a “higher and better use.”
The same idea crossed Planning Board member Jennifer Francis’ mind, she said.
“I really do think that this … bylaw was created … to try to keep these larger estates in this town, keeping them in that sort of feel and spirit … of open space,” said Francis. “It’s designed more to allow families to subdivide land or to allow other family members to perhaps build on it.”
Francis, who has been active in the town’s new Master Plan process, said one very clear message from the community was a desire for alternative types of development, not this traditional subdivision housing development.
“There are other needs that are much more pressing in this town,” said Francis, “that might align you better from what we’re hearing from the community.” She asked the buyer and the engineer to be flexible to meet the community’s vision of Marion.
However, as Gioiosa pointed out, there is currently no zoning bylaw that would allow for this type of alternative development or “cluster” housing, but zoning does currently allow for traditional subdivision development.
“Alternative use zoning,” said Gioiosa, “obviously we would look at that if there was a mechanism that would accomplish that…. I’m not sure the special permit [would allow to] deviate much from what the current bylaw says.”
Planning Board member Stephen Kokkins said there was a need for more “empty-nester” housing, describing a cluster-type development where neighbors could bike and walk, with a “small store.”
“The waterfront compound approach might be unappealing to some,” said Kokkins.
Chairman Robert Lane concurred with the board, saying what Gioiosa had presented was a bona fide subdivision. No question about that, replied Gioiosa.
“To me, it ends up being a subdivision and to me it ends up being totally outside what the spirit of the Waterfront Compound Bylaw [intends],” said Lane. “Way, way, way away” from the intent of the bylaw, Lane said.
The listing broker for the seller, Terry Boyle, said the seller is looking for the best terms and maximum financial benefit from the transaction, pointing out that the property has been on the market for over three years with little interest.
“A development like this is the highest use,” said Boyle. With an alternative conceptual use, Boyle said, there has been no interest from buyers. “We’re down at the bottom here and there’s a difference between the plan that you’re looking at and a subjective plan in the future.”
Lane replied by saying that the interest of the owner and the interest of the community don’t always align and bylaws exist to protect both parties.
“You cannot market it in a vacuum without considering these other factors,” said Lane. “More importantly, looking at the plan in relation to the Waterfront Compound Bylaw and Special Permit [process], I have grave doubts as to whether or not this plan meets those requirements.”
Furthermore, said Lane, the board would not be so eager to entertain a plan that sought to “maximize” the development of the land by maximizing the number of houses that could be fit on the land.
Medeiros was present that evening and told the board he would be willing to work with the Planning Board to come up with a plan more palatable to the board, but he cautioned the board to “be careful what you wish for.”
“I’ve seen Form-A lots…” said Medeiros, alluding to the frontage of Route 6. “It’s not the best interest of the town…. My goal is to keep the density down as much as possible, save the high impact area … the waterfront property, and get some value out of it…”
“I think the board will be as open as it can be,” Lane stated.
The board suggested Gioiosa browse the latest drafts and developments of the Master Plan to acquaint himself with what the board envisions for the town and, ultimately, the 78 Wareham Road property.
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for August 29 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
By Jean Perry