The Planning Board on Monday considered two preliminary subdivision proposals that brought concerns from both the board and the public as a “bait and switch” to preserve the zoning for a potential solar array development.
Matt Cote represented the applicant, Equestrian Realty. The two subdivision plans are right next to each other — abutting the eastern edge of the the Springwood development off Chestnut Street — and are related.
The first, referred to as 190 Ash St., is a 37-acre plot of primarily forested area between Ash Street, Chestnut Street and Kimball Road. It is being proposed for a five-lot subdivision. The proposed roadway would be a through street that would go from Ash Street to Kimball Road and would be 1,200 feet long and is in an agricultural zoning district. There would be a 40-foot right of way.
The second proposal calls for a two-lot subdivision in the woods off Smith Road, which would be extended.
“The reason they are separated is that there is an NSTAR [Eversource] electrical parcel in between them,” Cote said of the two requests. The owner has permission to cross the electrical parcel with the roadway.
Cote explained that the land was going to be for an upcoming solar development. Chair Gary Trendel questioned why the board would be considering residential subdivisions for both applications.
“The end goal is solar,” Cote said, but that it would be “down the road a little bit.” The request was made to freeze the zoning prior to Town Meeting.
Principal planner John Gelcich explained that if a subdivision application occurs before Town Meeting, the application is not affected by any zoning changes at Town Meeting. Thus, it would not be affected by the new solar bylaw Town Meeting voters approved last month.
“Does that mean that the conversation describing this is actually moot?” questioned board member Sundar Sivaraman.
Gelcich explained that the applications have been filed, and they need to be reviewed.
The attorney for the project, Tom Reidy, clarified that the zoning is frozen at the time of the filing. Within seven months of filing the preliminary subdivision plan, a definitive subdivision plan must be filed. Once that is approved, the zoning is approved within eight years.
“This is a tool that developers use to freeze zoning so that we would know the bylaw we were working with,” Cote said. “But we have to move through this process so that we can perfect the process, so to speak.”
Said Trendel: “What this feels like to me is a little bit of gamesmanship. To be honest, it scares me a little bit that you are willing to go through an entire subdivision plan to avoid the solar bylaws that are very, very important to us as a board and to us as a town.”
He requested that the applicant come back with a solar proposal at a later time.
Reidy said that the applicant wanted to see the impact of the solar bylaw before filing the solar proposal.
The proposed road would not be included, either.
Board member Jane Moran asked if the same strategy would be used for the second proposal, and was told that it would.
At the time of filing, Gelcich explained, the applicant did not have permission to cross the electrical lot, so its future was uncertain.
Board member Mary Larson-Marlowe said that it is proper to review the process as if it would be going forward to be judicious in regard to catch basin requirements and other environmental requirements.
Resident Bob Levinson said that as an abutter, he believed that what he called the “gash in our community” is inconsistent with the goals of the town charter and vision statement. These include preservation of open space and preserving the natural state and health of the community.
Trendel said he could understand what was being said, but could not assess that without more detail. The lot proposal would be in line with the charter because it is consistent with Springwood.
Other abutters had concerns as well, noting that the parcels are currently up for sale, and the cul de sac at the end of Kimball Road would be altered. They were not previously consulted by the developer before the plans were submitted.
Reidy said that the concerns about wildlife and buffer zones could be discussed with abutters as the project progresses. But there is a balance to be achieved, because the owner has a right to do what he wants with his property.
Phil Paradis, representing town engineering consultant BETA, said that the proposed road may need to be upgraded to a major street if it were to go through. There is also “a significant amount of wetlands” involved, and the road should be redesigned to mitigate the impact.
The hearings were continued until the meeting on June 21. The final decision would need to be made within eight days. A site walk would need to be scheduled.
Levinson added that the issue for him was transparency about the process.
“When it starts off like this, you’re on your guard,” he said.
Larson-Marlowe elected vice chair
The Planning Board elected a new vice chair, with Larson-Marlowe edging out Rob Benson in a 4-3 vote.
Members expressed support for the efforts of both Benson, who has held the position for the past year, as well as Larson-Marlowe, who received praise for her work as chair of the Zoning Advisory Committee.
Meanwhile, Muriel Kramer, who last month was elected to the Select Board, resigned from the Planning Board, opening a seat.
The Select Board and Planning Board will need to jointly appoint a new member for an interim position. The permanent position will be placed on the 2022 ballot. …
In other Planning Board news, the board voted unanimously to disband the Growth Study Committee, as its work is complete.