HANSON — Conflict of interest concerns were among the issues surrounding a proposed 40B development, which the Board of Selectmen discussed on Tuesday, June 29 during a review of the MassHousing determination of project eligibility for the Cushing Trails development off of Spring Street.
“The elephant in the room is that the chair of the Zoning Board is also the developer of this and there have been constituents that have raised concern about other members of the board being closely tied to this,” Selectman Joe Weeks said. “To not address that is a little naïve, so I think we have to find a way to have a joint meeting.”
Michael O’Shaughnessy, representing ZBA Chairman William Cushing who is also the project developer, said Cushing is going to recuse himself from the decision to the point where “I don’t expect he’s going to be at any of the hearings.”
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said that, since the ZBA is an appointed board — with an appointment slated for the same agenda — she expects them to “exercise their duties with as much impartiality as possible.” She also said she expected Cushing to recuse, but that other members of the ZBA, who have professional relationships with Cushing will still be participating in the meeting.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer also suggested that ZBA members call the Mass. Ethics line to get an opinion on the issue and that the town clerk be consulted to determine that the proper ethics paperwork had been filed.
“It’s not unusual for a developer to be a member of a local board, either,” said O’Shaughnessy. “It happens in every town.”
He said the MassHousing letter is the first step to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals. The state agency has asked the developer to address Selectmen’s concerns submitted during the commentary phase.
One was the board’s request that some units be designated as handicapped-accessible.
“The developer is going to work with whoever has a specific need for an ADA unit … to make sure the unit functions for him or her, and we’ll meet their needs,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Generally, just getting into the unit is the issue.”
Grades and ramps are usually the bigger issues, with interior adjustments such as larger doors and hallways also being accommodated.
FitzGerald-Kemmett asked at what point the work would be done and whether the ADA accommodation would be advertised.
“We’re happy to work with your Housing Authority if that’s the best way to make this known,” O’Shaughnessy said. “We’re willing to work with people to accommodate their needs, but we’re not advertising specifically as ADA.”
Selectmen also requested that the developer be more responsive to the local housing needs as identified in its approved 2019 Housing Production Plan, and designate a larger number of three-bedroom units as affordable.
“It kind of ran the gamut as to what your needs are,” O’Shaughnessy said of the town’s plan. “We were focused on providing two-bedroom units and the thought was … some people want to downsize and that’s why we’re pushing the two-bedroom units.”
State and local housing agencies have an agreement that 10 percent of units built must be three-bedroom units and that more were included in the proposal than originally planned because of the Selectmen’s request.
Traffic volume and safety concerns were among the most notable objections to the proposal from Spring Street residents and town officials. O’Shaughnessy said a traffic impact study was filed with the ZBA on Monday, June 28, which he said seems to indicate there will be no impact.
“But it’s a public document,” he said.
Recreational elements the Selectmen requested has been discussed.
“I don’t want to say no and I don’t want to say yes,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I’d like to address that with the ZBA as the permit process goes forward.”
“It seems that quite a few of these things are going to be deferred to the ZBA,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I understand it’s under their jurisdiction, but yet I’m feeling as though we’re not going to have that opportunity to speak to ZBA, so I’m wondering if we could contemplate how we could open up that line of communication with ZBA to make sure our needs and the things we’ve heard from our constituents are being contemplated by the ZBA.”
Dyer suggested a joint meeting with the ZBA. FitzGerald-Kemmett also suggested an independent review might be advisable, especially of the traffic study.
O’Shaughnessy said the ZBA’s comment period, including an opportunity for the Selectmen to express concerns, would provide such opportunities. He said the ZBA hires its own consultant to review traffic impacts.
The developer has consulted with the Water Commissioners, as they were asked to do on the potential to make some improvements to the water line on Spring Street and is waiting to hear back. Drainage concerns regarding drainage impact on abutting properties have met town regulations, O’Shaughnessy said, but stressed he was not involved in that phase of the planning.
A sidewalk on one side of the street plan has also been eliminated to control drainage problems.
Weeks, who chaired the Planning Board when the Cushing proposal was introduced for eight houses, said it was not approved at that point because of water access issues and asked if they had documentation of the Water Commission saying that is no longer an issue. He said storm water management was also an issue with eight units and asked how it could be less of one with 40 units.
O’Shaughnessy said that discussion centered on replacing the line on Spring Street and not tying into the abutting street, but leaving it dead-ended for installing hydrants.
At the applicant’s expense a water line would be installed from Spring Street to the project, where there is currently no line.
O’Shaughnessy said reduction of impervious pavement and handling of all storm water on site should resolve the issue via above ground retention basin, the infiltration system will be below ground.
“Are there plans to have a collegial conversation with the abutters to try to speak to them about what their concerns may be before you go full-bore into it,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
“We’re happy to talk, and we’ll see if we can resolve the problem,” O’Shaughnessy said. “If we don’t know about it, we can’t do it.”
Selectman Jim Hickey said, while his knowledge of the drainage issue is limited, the idea of removing one of two planned sidewalks to improve drainage posed the question of why.
“Water runoff would be more of a concern if there was sidewalks on both sides,” he asked. “I’m glad I asked you this question now and not in the hallway [as O’Shaughnessy had suggested residents could do if they didn’t wish to speak in a meeting], because that makes absolutely no sense to me.”