After months of preparation and a number of informal technical review meetings with the Rochester Planning Board, Steen Realty & Development’s hearing for a special permit to build a 208-unit affordable housing development at 22 Cranberry Highway was officially opened.
Engineer Phil Cordeiro ran through the basic details of the proposal: four, four-story multi-family buildings, stormwater management plans, entrances proposed for Routes 28 and 58, and the utilities and easement that would dictate where the actual project construction could be sited at the 10.4-acre property.
The initial application included provisions for commercial development on the site, and while the developer does still intend on operating as a mixed-use project, construction pertaining to commercial development has been omitted.
“We agreed to remove commercial, given its general nature and the relative unknowns in regards to the tenancy,” said Turner. “This is a mixed-use based project,” he said again for clarity.
Future plans to provide for commercial development will reappear before the Planning Board under a separate site plan review application.
As for the residential project, Cordeiro continued, “All of the conditions, setbacks, [and] dimensional requirements… are met on this plan,” as per the new Smart Growth Overlay District Bylaw.
Emergency access has been ironed out, and conditions will allow fire apparatus to access all the four floors of the 55-foot high buildings both inside and outside without any additional designated fire lanes.
“This project meets everything that you’d expect in terms of operational demand,” said Cordeiro.
Cordeiro asked for four waivers, including one related to the distance of the subsurface drainage systems from a neighboring leaching field, and one to reduce the groundwater separation requirement from three feet, the town’s standard, down to two feet, the state’s standard.
Johnson informed Cordeiro that the board does not grant any waivers for drainage until the peer review consultant gets a chance to weigh in on the proposed system. Johnson also asked to see the specs for any signage.
Andrew Delli Carpini, CEO of the abutting Seasons convenience store, then joined the conversation and expressed his concern about developer Ken Steen’s project essentially eliminating one of Carpini’s two access points to the store and gas station.
Steen’s project calls for the relocation of the road that Seasons customers use to enter from Route 58, and eventually one of Steen’s commercial buildings would be sited between Seasons and the new road that would provide access to Seasons.
“We feel that that causes us a tremendous concern in terms of the access and traffic flow to our site, as well as safety concerns with some of the trucks… that access our facility,” Carpini’s attorney said on his behalf.
Carpini told the board that after five years since proposing the convenience store and since it opened three years ago, had he known that Steen’s residential development would take away one of his egress points he “would have walked away” from his project.
“The challenge here is we want to be able to keep safety, but we also want to keep access to our facility,” said Carpini. He asked the board is they would grant him a one-way entrance to make up for the loss.
“I love the project, I support the town… but not at the cost of an access point,” Carpini said. “I only have two [access points]; three years into the project I’m told I have to eliminate one.”
Chairman Arnie Johnson understood where Carpini was coming from and said he would agree to find a way to incorporate a second access point Seasons.
“I think you need a second access point and, the question is where,” said Johnson. “I think you should have two access points.”
Johnson referred to Seasons having just one access point for such a volume of traffic “probably a recipe for disaster”.
Steen said he would be willing to carve out a compromise that both parties would find agreeable.
“We’re in support of the project,” said Carpini, just not at the cost of his business.
The public hearing was continued until February 12.
Also during the meeting, Austin Turner on behalf of Pedro Rodriguez for Solar MA Project Management, LLC, re-entered the public hearing arena to give some updates to the plan that resulted from comments received by the board’s peer review engineer.
The proposal is for a large-scale solar array field at 0 Walnut Plain Road.
Turner made it clear that the developer is amenable to all of the suggestions, but some of them likely would not apply for one reason or another.
For example, Turner agreed to updates to the proposed bonds, but the request to widen Old Middleboro Road cannot apply to certain areas like where a utility pole currently sits and where a line of wetlands lies immediately adjacent to the roadside. Turner suggested abiding by the 16-foot width in all places where possible, but hoped for leniency in those two specific areas for a variation of a 14.5 to 15-foot width.
“We’ll widen it to the extent that we can,” Turner said, which Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson found acceptable. Johnson said those changes should be classified as a “field change” and marked when they come up along the way as a condition of approval.
Turner found the request to survey the existing stone walls agreeable, but he commented that he was willing to pick out the stones of the walls after clearing takes place as an interim step during construction.
Johnson asked Turner to tape off the area so no workers with machines would overstep the stone wall areas, another condition of approval.
The grading calculations of the center line of Old Middleboro Road was another request, which Austin said may not be required since the center line grade is not slated to be altered, but he had no problem marking the grade in the plan as requested.
Turner said he was hoping the board would close the public hearing that night and vote on a final decision the next meeting, but Johnson reminded him: “We don’t vote at the next meeting.
“We get a draft decision and then we review that,” said Johnson, “so it will be the last meeting in February, probably.”
In other matters, the board granted an Approval Not Required to Michael Bare, 265 Braley Hill Road.
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for Wednesday, February 12, at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry