It was hot outside on July 20 as the meeting of the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals came to order, and it didn’t take long for it to get hot in the conference room as well.
Coming before the board was John Dement, construction manager for Verizon, and Dan Ollila of Jones Architecture, Salem, MA seeking a special permit for equipment upgrades to property located at 32 Mechanic Street.
Ollila described the scope of modification planned by the utility company. He said that two old and noisy air conditioning units would be replaced with a newer unit that would also run more quietly. “We’ve done a sound study,” he explained, noting that the new unit would produce 38 decibels whereas the current unit produces 48. The new AC unit is planned for the top of the building with acoustical shielding, Ollila said. But neighbors were skeptical, to say the least, as long-simmering issues with their commercial neighbor were aired.
Alan Schubert, 31 North Street, asked why the new unit couldn’t go inside the building rather than being installed on its exterior. Dement explained that the new unit requires fresh air exchange. Schubert wondered why a different type of unit couldn’t be considered.
Pat Donoghue, 30 Mechanic Street, launched into a historical retrospective of problems that neighbors have had in the past when trying to gain cooperation from the utility when issues were brought to their attention. “We’ve had major problems with Verizon … I’ve had to vacate my master bedroom and move to the first floor … Verizon has acted in bad faith.” Continuing on, Donoghue said that the use of the building had changed since it was constructed in the 1950s, but that they had “flown under the radar” not seeking local board approvals. She said they were the thirteenth largest corporation in the U.S. with “tons of money” but had not spent “one dime” for the people in the neighborhood. She ended her comments by saying, “…these guys are snakes!”
Chairman Susan Akin told the neighbors that the board was only hearing the application before them that was specifically for the AC unit upgrade and not what had taken place since the 1950s.
Director of Inspectional Services Andy Bobola asked if Dement or Ollila had the sound study data with them. Ollila replied they had not brought it into the meeting because they didn’t think they would need it.
Robbin Peach, 29 Hammond Street, said that for twenty-five years Verizon had been unresponsive to neighborhood issues and asked what the grievance process was. “I’m concerned about what we don’t know,” she said. Peach said that numerous calls to Verizon to try and get relief from a bright light shining into her bedroom had failed to produce results and that landscaping of the bushes and lawn area owned by Verizon was poor at best.
Once again, the matter of whether or not the new AC unit could be placed indoors versus the proposed rooftop location was broached. Dement and Ollila said that Verizon engineers had deemed this type of unit necessary for the amount of heat produced by computerized switch gear.
Board member Paul Millott said, “We seem to be at an impasse.” He said one option for the applicant would be to withdraw the application without prejudice, go back to the drawing board, and return with options.
That suggestion received pushback from Dement who said, “We are on our property, have done a sound study, what part of the zoning bylaws are we not meeting?” He said he couldn’t speak to maintenance issues at the site but would “speak to people” in that department.
Several board members concurred that given the number of neighbors complaining about Verizon’s lack of consideration, their less-than-acceptable care of the landscaping, number of utility trucks, bright lights and other “obnoxious” nuisances, the current application needed to be re-engineered with options for possible indoor AC units to mitigate additional negative impact on the abutters.
Dement was asked if he wished to withdraw the application and return in August. Acquiescing to the suggestion that if the board voted at this hearing the special permit would be denied, Dement asked that it be tabled.
Two other hearings produced issuance of special permits: one for the conversion of a commercial structure into a one-bedroom residence located at 91 Fairhaven Road by David Gerber, Fairhaven, and the other to Jonathan Rosperich, 4 Oliver’s Lane, for the construction of a deck that would encroach on a paper road.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals will be held on August 17 at 6:00 pm in the town hall conference room if hearings are scheduled.
By Marilou Newell