Briggs’ New Case Raises Old Issue

            Given an opportunity to address the newer members of Marion’s Planning Board during the September 7 Zoom meeting, developer Sherman Briggs attempted to get the message across that the town’s current bylaws are discouraging developers from putting forth the projects most needed by a community concerned with dwindling scenarios in which seniors can avoid being economically leveraged out of their hometown.

            “You have my word that it never will happen,” he said while describing a hypothetical scenario for land at Spring and Mills Streets where he, in concert with Hamblin Homes, Inc., is proposing a residential development of 28 townhouse-style units.

            Theoretically, Briggs said, he could propose 42 units, including 38 at the market rate and four in the category of affordable housing. Doing so, he said, would eliminate the requirement to write the town a $150,000 donation check toward affordable housing as a mitigation measure. In explaining that by state law Marion can only tax a subsidized project $28,000 a year, which translates to less than $1,000 per unit, affordable housing would turn the best profit.

            “It’s a moneymaker, but it’s not what I believe and want to do,” said Briggs, noting that the town already has achieved the 10-percent state requirement for affordable housing. Member Norm Hills confirmed that Marion is at approximately 11.5 percent.

            Briggs said his proposed development of 28 townhouse-style units would bring 10 times the tax revenue, and he is frustrated by a bylaw that limits residential units to six per acre because it constricts the seven per-acre design he prefers.

            Prior to Briggs’ comments, his representative, Steve Poole of Lakeview Engineering, gave an overview of the project’s 10-year history, noting that it originally was conceived to include office space as well as residential. Ultimately, he said, it was decided the land would be used for Residence E multi-family housing. It has town sewer available and has been approved by Town Meeting.

            Planning Board member Eileen Marum, chairing the meeting in Will Saltonstall’s absence, sought to bring the conversation back from its history to the core points of the case.

            “That (zoning) bylaw is what created the history,” said Briggs.

            Planning Board member Alanna Nelson, elected in June along with Jonathan Henry, told Briggs, “I enjoyed hearing the history, so thank you for sharing the history.”

            Marum added her thanks.

            The many-times-continued case was a new filing, purposely reinvented by Briggs to accommodate the Planning Board’s recently rebuilt roster.

            Planning Board member Chris Collings was also unable to attend, but the board will circumvent that problem with application of the Mullin Rule, a state-authorized provision allowing members of adjudicatory boards to miss one meeting and still participate in a decision.

            Before the board voted to continue the public hearing to its next meeting on September 20, Poole further explained that they have reconfigured the roadway and are working with engineering firm Beals and Thomas and the Planning Board on administrative and technical issues while asking for some waivers.

            “I think we’re getting very close to solving the administrative and technical issues on the site,” said Poole, who said the project is under its second review from Beals and Thomas. “Hopefully at the next [Planning Board] meeting we can address the issues that need to be addressed by the board directly.”

            Poole said he will have answers back to Beals and Thomas sometime this week.

            Nelson asked about energy consumption plans, the stretch code, electric, net-zero, and solar.

            “It all comes down to affordability, too, and what the people would want when they go to buy these things. We will meet the stretch code. We talked about the new technology in soundproofing,” said Briggs, who noted that one of the upsides of the half-dozen years it has taken to reach this point in the process is the advancement in soundproofing technology.

            He implored board members to clean up some of the Residence E bylaws. “The bylaws don’t enhance any quality growth that isn’t subsidized,” he said. “Density makes it work.”

            Hills reported that the codification process has resulted in over 200 resolutions to 280 comments while, at the same time, identifying additional problems to solve. He estimates some 50 or 60 items yet to be resolved and said the committee is working on bylaw changes to make a significant number of those go away.

            Comments from the Planning Board were requested by the Zoning Board of Appeals in two cases, one of which drew a strong admonition from Hills where it concerns safety.

            Kenneth and Darla Parsons, 27 Dexter Road, are seeking a Special Permit for the construction of a single-family house and garage to replace their current house and garage. Hills told them that they are located in “LIMWA,” the advisory limit of moderate wave action. While the town cannot require a revision, Hills strongly suggested the Parsons discuss the matter with their engineer.

            “If a storm surge comes through, it’s probably going to go right through that basement and straight up. … You’re probably not high enough for the next 20 or 30 years,” said Hills to the applicants. “Now’s the time while you’re doing this.”

            During open comment, Nelson encouraged the public to attend the September 9 Hazard Mitigation Plan meeting, and Hills did likewise regarding the September 8 Select Board meeting.

            The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for Monday, September 20, at 7:00 pm.

Marion Planning Board

By Mick Colageo

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