HANSON — Location, location, location — it’s the phrase one often hears as the key consideration in real estate purchases. Residents of Spring Street in Hanson argue that location is the main problem with a 40-unit 40B housing development proposed by developer William Cushing, who is also chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Lawn signs protesting that Spring Street is “Not the right spot!” for a 40B development point to water and traffic concerns, among others, rather than the nature of a 40B development as reasons for the opposition. Residents have almost uniformly placed the signs along the roadway citing the busy street and its close proximity to the capped landfill as key concerns.
Another group of residents, however, calling themselves the Spring Association, however, points to Hanson’s “dire need” for affordable housing in expressing their support for the project.
“I certainly was not prepared for the public outcry,” Selectman Wes Blauss said at the Tuesday, Feb. 2 Selectmen’s meeting, noting he is unaware of the history of the proposal. “That surprised me. … I’m not against the concept, but I’m not really sure if Spring Street is the best place for all these units.”
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said Monday, Feb. 7, that residents’ concerns have not fallen on deaf ears.
“We have absolutely heard the concerns that have been expressed by all the abutters, neighbors and others, and we take those concerns extremely seriously,” she said. “We will do whatever we’re able to do — within the law — to make sure that, if that project moves forward, it moves forward in a way that is complimentary to that neighborhood, does not infringe upon abutters’ rights, and is consistent with the regulations. That’s really all we can do.”
Selectmen voted to authorize Town Administrator John Stanbrook to draft a letter to the Mass. Housing Finance Authority to outline the flaws seen in the project proposal, which Town Counsel Jay Talerman said is not out of the ordinary for such projects. Stanbrook’s letter, based on an outline he read during the meeting, was sent on Thursday, Feb. 4 describing the project and raising concerns about housing diversity; its proximity to Commuter Rail and impact on traffic; walkability and open space; proximity to a capped landfill and the former munitions area; water, septic and public safety issues; wetland and environmental impacts and compliance with town bylaws and payment of all owed fees and taxes.
“A lot of these things are going to be checked off during that [ZBA] phase,” Cushing told Selectmen Feb. 2. “Every unit is going to be consistently spread out and not close to the landfill.”
He also said he has water access through Glenwood Place and is planning to pay to get it to the site.
“It’s not a complete plan, but I would call it a really good concept,” Cushing said. “At this time, to talk about storm water and other issues, is preliminary.”
Many of the issues citied in Stanbrook’s letter were raised by Spring Street residents opposed to the development.
Residents Chad Tobias and Chris Costello walked the back yard of abutter Jane Downie’s 500 Spring St. backyard with this reporter on Saturday, Feb. 6 to discuss the issue. Downie did not join the meeting out of concern for COVID precautions.
“This is not a feasible location for that type of development,” Costello said. He and Tobias said they wanted to see the impact of two other 40B developments in the works at Phillips Street and Liberty Street impact the town before others are approved.
The capped landfill overlooks her backyard.
Like residents, FitzGerald-Kemmett said no one on the Board of Selectmen is against affordable housing.
“I think people need to understand the difference between affordable housing and low-income,” she said. “I’m not saying we’re against low-income, either, but there’s a huge difference.”
Residents are more concerned with how the 40-unit plan suddenly came before the Board of Selectmen after it had been approved for eight units with no 40B component.
“When this project first came up in 2017, neighbors had concerns, Tobias said. “This was all trees before. Now, you can see the landfill — you couldn’t before.”
He also said the Factory Pond supersite cleanup effort is also nearby, making groundwater pollution a concern, but high water table and runoff from the landfill, where fill has raised the landscape by about five feet is a bigger concern for many neighbors, according to Tobias and Costello.
Anyone in the neighborhood with a basement knows the problem.
“My pump may run two months straight,” Tobias said. “If I turn it off, I get water buildup in my basement. …When he was going to do this development in 2017, that was one of our concerns.”
“Water seepage into our basement isn’t as bad, but our neighbor are pumping 24/7,” Costello said. “Their pump is going nonstop.”
Tobias said he had to buy a second pump to keep up with wetter times.
He said Downie has had to replace doors and other parts of her home because a drainage culvert directs water onto her property.
Reached by phone on Monday, Downie said, aside from flooding in her backyard, two of her doors had been damaged when fill was being dumped on the site to raise the ground level.
“Every time they dropped truckloads of dirt, they dumped it, and my house shook,” she said. Six months ago she had to have her doors realigned and pipes below her mobile home had been shaken out of place and she has to have more work done to repair that problem.
The project initially called for 20-house development, but has since doubled to 40 houses, 10 set aside as affordable units under the state’s 40B provision. In 2017, it had first been reduced to 12 houses and then eight on the 12-acre parcel, for which it was approved.
Tobias said his house sits on three-quarters of an acre, which limits him to a two- to three-bedroom house under the town’s septic regulations.
“How does the math for 40 houses on 12 acres for septic systems add up?” he said.
Traffic congestion is also a concern, especially at the Spring Street/Route 50 intersection. The impact of additional students in Hanson schools is another concern the neighbors have, Tobias said.
“We’re not against 40B,” he said. “I’m concerned about the groundwater.” Most of the Spring Street residents are on Rockland’s municipal water for that reason — something that has been denied to the development.
“They told him they would feed one house,” Tobias said, noting that the development does not have the required 20-foot easement on Glennwood Place.
Water demand was also a concern.
Tobias looked up average Hanson water use on Archive Boston’s website — the average Hanson resident uses 50 gallons per day. With eight houses with 3.5 people, would require about 42,000 gallons of water which must go somewhere, and 210,000 gallons for 40 houses per month in addition to existing groundwater.
The residents also point to a conflict of interest. Cushing is chairman of the ZBA, an appointed rather than elected position.
“How can you develop in the same town you are on the board for?” Tobias said.
“A lot of the point of cluster housing is also to be near public transport,” he said. The MBTA station is five miles away. “Even if you are talking about proximity to public transportation, this is not a good location.”
Residents are also advocating “an immediate review of the Zoning Board of Appeals,” of which Cushing is chairman. They see the appointed board as one populated with developers who “all seem to have similar projects in the works that seem to only be benefitting themselves, not the town of Hanson.”
Cushing has not yet responded to a request for further comment.
“All appointed board members are special employees of the town of Hanson (special employees), they are allowed to submit an application in front of their board as long as they don’t participate,” a member of the Spring Association has said, declining to give their name.