The focus of the Rochester Planning Board meeting on April 23 was the public hearing for the Annual Town Meeting article to adopt a Smart Growth Overlay District Bylaw to allow for a 40R residential development.
Developer Ken Steen and Attorney Paul Haverty gave an overview of what adoption of the article would allow – 208 luxury apartments that will provide the town with 52 additional affordable housing units, bringing the town above the state mandated 10-percent minimum while essentially circumventing any future 40B developments.
Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson wanted to make the differences between a 40R and a 40B clear, explaining briefly that a 40R development like the one Steen proposes would allow input from the Planning Board under a Site Plan Review, and the state would reimburse the town financially, both via one-time payments and on-going payments to offset the impact on education resulting from an influx of children.
The 40R will bring, right off the bat, roughly $1 million in incentives to Rochester, but Steen estimates Rochester will get $350,000 as a zoning incentive, $624,000 in density bonus payments, and $130,000 in permitting fees. As for the “40S” educational payments, Town Counsel Blair Bailey said the 40R in Lakeville is bringing an additional $8,000 annually for education costs.
With a 40B, Johnson said, “The Planning Board has no say. We don’t really get to work with the developer and there’s no incentive money for education or for the willingness to work with the [developer].” There would be no financial incentives, either.
And should another project seek to enter Rochester as a 40B after Steen’s 40R, “The town would have the ability to decline that and … the state would uphold that,” said Johnson.
Town Meeting voters would only be approving the “Cranberry Highway Smart Growth Overlay District” zoning bylaw amendment, not any specific project proposal, Johnson emphasized.
“We’re very confident that if we are fortunate to get approval through Town Meeting … that the regulations would be approved by the DHCD (Department of Housing and Community Development) … which would be the next step in the process,” said Steen. The next step would require Planning Board approval.
According to Steen’s plan, the land located off Routes 28 and 58 would be divided into a zone for multi-family residential and one for commercial development. Within the four four-story buildings would be a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. Rochester residents would be given priority during the first lottery to rent 75 percent of the units.
Abutter to the proposal, Eloise Hebert, pointed to Steen’s comment that there would be no traffic impact on the neighborhood, to which she said, “Really? Two hundred and something houses? There’s a lot of traffic out there.”
“It’s a relative term,” said Steen.
“Either way, I’m impacted – major,” Hebert said. “Wanna buy a house?” she said to Steen, which elicited a slight chuckle from him.
Bailey reminded Hebert that the land is currently zoned commercial, so any “big box” superstore could simply move in there if the 40R does not.
“So, at least, it’s the lesser of two evils,” Hebert concluded.
“Unfortunately, that tends to be the common refrain,” said Bailey.
Dolores Freitas asked about the price of the affordable units, which Steen said would be based on the 80 percent of the median income. A ballpark figure, he said, would be $1,100 for a one-bedroom, $1,350 for a two-bedroom, and maybe $1,550 for a three-bedroom.
Before adjourning, Johnson reminded everyone, “At Town Meeting, we’re not voting on the project, we’re voting on an overlay district.” He also reminded residents that Steen could easily have gone with a 40B development at that site instead of the 40R he is asking the town to allow through the overlay district.
“It’s important that when we go to Town Meeting that we’re not talking this specific project, because there will be plenty of hearings on the particular project,” said Johnson.
The Planning Board is unanimously recommending adoption of this bylaw to Town Meeting.
An educational overlay district bylaw public forum is scheduled for May 8, and will feature the results of the financial impact study, which Johnson said would help voters make an informed decision at Town Meeting on May 20. The May 8 forum will be at 7:00 pm in the Fellowship Hall of the First Congregational Church of Rochester. Johnson urged all residents still seeking further information ahead of Town Meeting to attend the forum.
In other business, Brian Wallace from JC Engineering gave the board an update on REpurpose Properties, LLC’s plan for a 22-duplex age-restricted residential subdivision, saying the project will be ready for a formal submission within a week.
It has been about a year since the project was shelved in order to focus on drainage issues from abutting Plumb Corner on Rounseville Road, and the process now is roughly 95 percent complete.
The layout of the plan has not changed much, Wallace reported, but a few significant changes include the relocation of the main entrance away from Plumb Corner to the opposite side.
“I like that new entrance,” said Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson.
The layout and style of the actual units has changed, also, including relocating the driveways more to the side of the units.
“We plan on submitting a full plan set … and supporting documents later this week to sort of get that started again,” stated Wallace.
The board did advise Wallace that he should reconsider allowing for a 16-foot travel lane as opposed to a 14-footer as marked on the plan, given the preference of the fire chief.
The public hearing was continued until May 14.
The public hearing for Sofia Darras, care of Patricia McArdle, 565 and 0 Rounseville Road, for drainage and stormwater management upgrades was continued until May 14 at the request of the applicant.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for May 14 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Senior Center.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry