By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – During its March 8 meeting the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen discussed at length the ongoing controversy surrounding the proposed 40B building development at The Pointe Hills Farms.
Under Massachusetts Chapter 40B, local Zoning Boards of Appeals (ZBAs) may approve so-called “affordable housing developments” under flexible rules if at least 20-25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. Also known as the Comprehensive Permit Law, Chapter 40B was enacted in 1969, according to housing construction advocates, to help address the shortage of affordable housing statewide by reducing barriers created by local approval processes, local zoning, and other restrictions. To those opposed to the law, 40B serves to allow developers to build large, unsustainable housing developments by avoiding most zoning laws in locations for which they are ill-suited. In such a situation, a proposed 40B development may be labeled by opponents as “unfriendly.”
The project is planned at 440 and 526 Hartford Turnpike. Attorney Roderick St. Pierre represents owner Hartford Realty Trust.
Plans prepared by Smart Growth Design of Shrewsbury for Hartford Realty Trust in 2015 have been reviewed many times and in several public meetings both within Shrewsbury and before state officials in Boston. The story to date is summarized on Shrewsbury’s government webpage https://shrewsburyma.gov/690/The-Pointe-at-Hills-Farm-40B-Comprehensi. It shows since 2015 submission of 10 application packages, five public presentations, and 13 letters to the Board of Selectmen, most in opposition.
Having deemed the project too large, too disruptive, and just plain wrong for area residents and traffic, opponents have asked the state to reject the 40B proposed for already overly-busy Route 20. They requested a reduction in the number of apartments from 300 in buildings as tall as five stories to 140 and to make other ameliorating changes to have less impact on local traffic.
Resident concerns include traffic safety, the large increase in numbers of school-age children, destruction of existing property values, and damage to quality of life.
At the March 8 meeting, Selectman James Kane reiterated that the last presentation by the proponent was viewed as demonstrating that the project is the wrong one for the wrong place. Furthermore, he continued, there is no commitment to needed traffic management change. Town officials should insist, Kane said, only on a Route 20 access for both ends of the proposed development with the only access to town be through a gated public safety entrance.
Selectman Maurice DePalo then agreed with. Kane’s analysis, saying that Mass Highway’s solution is “unacceptable to us” as the town’s selectmen. He was particularly aggrieved that the issue of new traffic lights at the development might not even occur.
“Project density is still high – it’s a bad place for this project,” he concluded.
Chair Moira Miller concluded the discussion by noting that the board is in the process of picking less unfriendly 40B options and suggested that they urge the developer to withdraw its application and resubmit one more friendly to the town and neighborhood. This motion was approved 5-0.