Developer Ken Steen gave the Marion Board of Selectmen a presentation of his plan for a second 40B residential development in town, which the board voted to “endorse” on July 18 in order to allow Steen to receive approval from the state to bring the proposal forward to the Marion Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
Although the selectmen were asked to “endorse” a project eligibility letter for the proposed Heron Cove Estates, the endorsement is simply a signature, Town Counsel Jon Whitten clarified, and not necessarily a recommendation of the project. As Whitten put it, the endorsement is simply the “ticket” Steen needs to file an application with the ZBA.
Steen’s approach to the 40B is through the Local Initiative Project (LIP) Comprehensive Permit process, an alternative avenue Whitten referred to as a more “friendly” 40B, as opposed to the traditional 40B method of applying directly with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for that same “ticket” to the Marion ZBA.
“That process would still allow the Board of Selectmen to weigh in,” said Whitten, and the selectmen would still be able to make comments during an allotted public comment period, “But the [DHCD] is not known for saying ‘no’,” said Whitten, adding that the DHCD “rarely listens to municipalities.”
“Steen is giving the Town an opportunity to tailor this project (through the LIP process),” Whitten said. Between the traditional 40B process and the LIP process, Whitten said the Town should prefer the LIP.
The board listened to the presentation put on by Steen and his associates, including civil engineer Phil Cordeiro from Allen & Major Associates; architect James Gilmore; Vice President of Steen Realty and Development Corporation and Project Manager Ian Steen; and Judy Barrett, a 40B consultant providing planning and community development to Steen Realty Development Corporation.
The project, slated for 78 Wareham Road (Route 6), 13 acres adjacent to the Weweantic River, will feature 34 buildings, including a community center, and offer 96 units – 84 two-bedroom and 12 three-bedroom units. Twenty-four units will be designated as affordable housing, totaling 25 percent of the units. Six one-story units are reserved as handicap accessible units.
Steen’s plan showed the boulevard-style driveway leading directly to a community center building with clubhouse complete with workout room and swimming pool, with the entire “community campus-style” site surrounded by trees and woods that obstruct the view of the development from Route 6.
Other amenities include a dog park, as pets will be allowed to occupy the units, a playground, and a main sales and rental office. The housing buildings will line the perimeter of the site with plenty of green space as buffers to area residences, and each unit will be fitted with a deck or patio. Garages are also located at various points; an offering Steen said would be an additional option for occupants.
The selectmen were pleased by Steen’s plan to provide as many units as possible that feature a first-floor master bedroom, something that Selectman John Waterman said many aging Marion residents are looking for and would be a selling point for Steen.
Steen called the design a “pedestrian-based project” with sidewalks throughout and safe vehicular passage and would keep within the character of Marion.
Although the design is still evolving, “I think we’re 85 percent of the way there,” Steen said.
“We just don’t want them to look like ‘McMansions’,” commented Selectman Norm Hills.
Steen said the “wish list” timeline for the project is for all permits to be granted by April 2020, with construction to begin in May 2020, and he hopes to start marketing the units by August that year and complete construction of all units by August 2021. He expects initial occupancy to begin in January 2021.
The 24 affordable housing units will put Marion’s affordable housing inventory at 12.5 percent, above the state’s 10-percent minimum relative to the 2010 census.
Steen will own and operate Heron Cove Estates. “Everything will be handled by us,” Steen said. “The town won’t absorb any headaches.” The road will remain private, he added.
Steen said he would fund a $50,000 study to determine any impacts of tapping into the town’s water and sewer as the project is expected to consume roughly 22,000 gallons of water per day.
“We know the town has a huge challenge with sewer and water, and we certainly recognize that … but obviously we’d like to [connect] this project into the town’s sewer and waster system.”
The project is also expecting to generate about $150,000 in permitting fees for the town, and $340,000 in water/sewer hookups.
The board had no further comments or questions for Steen, and voted in favor of endorsing the conceptual plan, with the condition that 96 would be the maximum number of units allowed, and no more or fewer than 16 acres could be developed. Furthermore, the endorsement would be null and void should the DCHD or the ZBA deny the project, and endorsement will expire on January 30, 2020.
“You don’t know what will happen to this project,” Whitten told the selectmen. Steen could change his mind about moving forward, he said, or the project could be denied. Furthermore, the board, as well as other town boards, will be able to weigh in on the project as it moves through the proverbial pipeline.
“This is not the last time you will see or influence the outcome (of this project),” Whitten said. “You will have the same ability to influence the [ZBA] as other boards.”
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for August 6 at 7:00 pm at the Marion police station.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry