By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Upon the heels of the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen's appointing members Maurice DePalo and Henry Fitzgerald to a sub-committee that will draft so-called “friendly 40B” proposals, the board heard Aug. 26 proposals to build two additional 40B projects.
Representatives from Capital Group Properties, based in Southborough, had met with the board June 24 to discuss a proposal for a 160-unit affordable housing complex that would be located at the intersection of Walnut Street and Route 9. At that time, William Depietri, the company's president, presented to the board several conceptual drawings of a development that would be built under Chapter 40B of the state's housing laws.
Chapter 40B is a state statute, which enables local zoning boards of appeals (ZBA) to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. Under 40B, a builder can have waived most or all local zoning and building density laws if the builder uses the development to work toward the state's goal of 10 percent affordable housing. The town's ZBA is the arbiter on whether a building permit will be issued, but rejected 40B builders can then appeal to the state Housing Court, which often finds in favor of the builder.
At the Aug. 26 meeting, Attorney Roderick St. Pierre explained that his family had owned several parcels of land since 1941 and had been in the process of trying to sell them to commercial interests since 1999, with little success. There are two lots, both along Stoney Hill Road. One, covering about nine acres, is at 526 Hartford Turnpike, and the other at 440 Hartford Turnpike, covers 10- ? acres. The proposal would place 128 residential units in three buildings at the former and another 192 units, also in three buildings, at the latter. The properties would be comprised of approximately 45 percent one-bedroom, 45 percent two-bedroom, and 10 percent three-bedroom units.
St. Pierre approached the board as the potential builder of a “friendly 40B,” in which the owner would build under the comprehensive permit rules, as noted above, and in accordance with the Local Initiative Program, a state program that encourages the creation of affordable housing by providing technical assistance to communities and developers who are working together to create affordable rental opportunities for low- and moderate-income households. The four-story buildings would be at odds with the surrounding one-story homes and would entail a density not allowed under current town zoning. The density of the development brought from Selectman Moira Miller a question as to how the town schools would accommodate the estimated 92 to 142 extra school children, to which the developer replied that he did not believe that estimate. After an exchange, Selectman James Kane said that the builder was free to supply his own estimate figures but that the town has done a considerable amount of work on its own estimate, which would be the one to be used.
It was reiterated by the chair that this was a conceptual meeting only and that further meetings and public hearings would be involved along the way as this project proceeds.
Kristen Las, the town's Principal Planner/Economic Development Coordinator, was asked if the building of just the smaller of these two phases would give the town a breathing space of two years against the strictures of 40B, which create continued pressure upon a town to keep building more 40Bs against the requirements of having 10 percent of all units “affordable.” She replied that it would take at least 139 new units for the two year moratorium, not the 128 proposed for one of the two developments.
In a second meeting that night, the Board heard from Samuel Adams, proponent of what is being called “Spagtacular, LLC,” conceptually known as The Grove at Shrewsbury, a large development along Route 20, Maple, and Oak Streets. The approximately 9-? acres would be the site of a self-contained neighborhood of shops, commercial buildings, 140 residential units in a separate three-story building, and a movie theater, to be built in five phases. The builder is seeking a special Town Meeting to change the land's zoning and building overlay for this proposal. The different building phases are required as the builder does not yet own all the land for the proposed project.
Kane explained to the proponent and the audience that this was a conceptual meeting only, after which formal hearings would be required if the proposal goes forward. Adams noted that if this project is not approved by the town then the builder would proceed with a proposal to construct a 40B. Las concluded that it was too early to consider further impact from the proposed development.
The board then voted unanimously to schedule a special Town Meeting for Tuesday, September 30, 2014, to address the zoning changes requested by the builder, but would not, at this time, render a judgment on the project. The costs of the meeting will be paid by the builder, and the meeting may also include other articles not related to this project.