It was a full agenda at the Marion Planning Board’s meeting on December 4. The evening was dominated by a lengthy discussion regarding the redevelopment plan for 111 Wareham Street.
The continued public hearing for the Site Plan review of the proposal for 111 Wareham Street centered on the peer review letter submitted by Tibbetts Engineering, the Planning Board’s consulting engineer firm for the project.
Representing the applicants was David Davignon of N. Douglas Schneider & Associates, who meticulously addressed each of the substantive points raised by Tibbetts. The discussion by the board revolved around two key points: traffic and Marvel Street. Davignon presented a letter in support of his waiver request regarding a traffic study.
The letter from retiring Marion Police Chief Lincoln Miller and the new police chief Lieutenant John Garcia stated that there were no safety concerns regarding the entrance to the project.
Planning Board Chairperson Eileen Marum enumerated her serious concerns, citing a SRPEDD traffic study that described the Point Road and Route 6 intersection as dangerous. Davignon took issue with the relevance of the study, stating that the intersection was 500 feet from his client’s parcel.
“Tibbetts states that this proposal is a low generator of traffic – it’s not retail,” said Davignon. He also reminded the board that the Marion Police Department provided him with a report of the Hill Street intersection, which is considerably closer to the project, which showed three accidents in the past six years – one of which was weather related.
Marum stated she felt a traffic study was warranted for this project, which prompted Davignon to ask for a consensus of the board. While board member Chris Collings, who lives near the project, agreed that there are concerns about speed and traffic on Route 6 in that area, he was skeptical that the issue was part of the Planning Board’s responsibility.
“It is not in our wheelhouse,” said Collings. “The people we rely on (the police chiefs) are not worried.” Collings suggested to Marum that the board provide the police with the SRPEDD report.
Other board members agreed with Stephen Kokkins’ suggestion that signage be placed on Route 6 warning motorists of trucks entering and exiting the site. The board granted the traffic study waiver, with board member Andrew Daniel confirming the signage requirement will be a condition in the final permit, pending approval of signage on a state highway by MassDOT. Marum was the one vote in opposition to the waiver.
Members of the Planning Board had met with Davignon and Fire Chief Brian Jackvony to discuss the improvement of Marvel Street, which runs the length of the southwest property line and was to provide a secondary emergency egress for the site.
As was indicated at the previous Planning Board meeting, the street is cleared to just over 9 feet wide, and the proponents were suggesting that they clear and regrade the road as part of their permit.
The fire chief stated that he could not approve the project unless Marvel Street was improved to 20 feet wide and to the town’s specifications to support fire apparatus. Davignon acceded that his client was willing to improve the street to 18 feet wide, but that any greater width would require easements from abutting property owners.
Daniel, who had attended the meeting with the fire chief, noted that he and Building Commissioner Scott Shippey had discovered that Marvel Street is privately owned. As questions were raised as to the legal rights to the street, Collings observed, “Sounds like we are out of our wheelhouse. There is a difference between owners improving a right of way and the Planning Board mandating it.”
Davignon cut the discussion short by stating that he would simply remove the second entrance to the site, and put the matter to rest. Despite having a private well on the site, town policy requires that the property tie in to the municipal water supply. The well may still be used for irrigation.
Concerns about the significant discrepancy between the setbacks at the site and what was required by Marion bylaws triggered a request at the previous meeting for Davignon to compare the setback waivers that had been granted by the board to the three most recent approved projects. While Tibbetts in its review of the project had no concerns about the setbacks on the site, Davignon requested that he review his document nonetheless.
In describing the previous three waiver requests granted by the board, which were similar in nature to the waiver request he was making, Davignon illustrated his concern about what he sees as unreasonable setbacks for commercial development. He urged the board to review their setback requirements for commercial sites.
Board member Will Saltonstall felt that Davignon had made a compelling argument for a setback waiver and for review of setback requirements, asking rhetorically, “[What’s] the level of density on this site? [Does] the level of development impact the neighbors?”
The applicant is required to also go before the Board of Health for the setback waiver.
It was determined that the detail in the landscape plan was adequate so that a waiver could be granted for the requirement of a stamped plan by a landscape architect.
In other business, Marion Public Health Nurse Kathy Downey, Planning Board member Jennifer Francis, and Town Planner Gil Hilario gave updates to the Complete Streets program.
Downey began the presentation by specifying the impact the program would have on public health. She noted that small modifications to the town’s layout could provide considerable benefits to the town’s most vulnerable populations, who she described as the youth, the elderly, and those without access to transportation. Minor changes could provide opportunities for exercise, stress reduction, and access to food and medicine.
For the youth of the community, she said, “The layout of the town is an impediment… Short cul-de-sacs that end at busy roads are obstacles to exercise due to safety concerns.”
Downey urged the town to connect cul-de-sacs to bike and pedestrian paths.
For the elderly, who often struggle to maintain their independence, research has shown that the addition of street lights and reflective lines on roads make it easier for this population to continue to drive themselves. Downey observed that the Council on Aging provides transportation for the elderly, and that perhaps there was a way to expand that service to those of any age lacking their own transportation.
Some on the board expressed concern about the slow progress of the bike path coming to Marion, to which Downey replied, “[It] might not be right around the corner – that is the gold standard, but maybe there is something we can do less than the gold standard in the meantime to connect the cul-de-sacs?”
Daniel raised the issue of the ADA standards, expressing frustration with a lack of awareness of disabled members of the community, saying, “The cost outweighs the moral responsibility,” and he urged the other board members to keep the ADA requirements in mind as the planning process moves forward.
Francis weighed in on the Complete Streets program through her update on the Transportation and Circulation Task Force, informing the board that the committee is finalizing the Complete Streets Policy document that is required by the State as part of the application process.
The board will review the document at its next meeting.
The committee will be compiling a list of 15 priority items for possible funding through the program and is looking for public input. Hilario said that he receives a lot of feedback from town residents seeking more transportation options. In support of the Complete Streets program, he said, “Design truly influences human interaction and behavior.”
The board will convene a Master Plan Implementation Committee to direct the next phase of the plan. In addition to members of town boards, they will be looking for the involvement of town residents.
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for December 18 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Planning Board
By Sarah French Storer