The Open Space Preservation Commission at its meeting Thursday discussed two subdivisions under development by the Nation family involving the donation of open space. Debate arose over the OSPC’s submitting letters endorsing the land swaps to the Planning Board and whether the language in one letter was consistent with a vote at the OSPC’s January meeting.
Land surrounding Whisper Way previously was supposed to be conveyed to the town as part of an open space and landscape preservation development (OSLPD) special permit. But Planning Board meeting documents show that four lots had building permits issued for the construction of the homes in that subdivision prior to the conveyance of the open space or the placing of a conservation restriction on the land, contrary to the requirements of the OSLPD bylaw. Also, two of the three units constructed were issued certificates of occupancy and were sold before the land donation was discussed with the OSPC.
At the November OSPC meeting, the development team noted that there had been an adjustment to the plans to incorporate the acquisition of abutting land. Parcel A1 was swapped with a parcel closer to the Valleywood Road neighborhood that would allow for a trail connection to Cameron Woods. The development team and the OSPC agreed to the land swap as being beneficial for the town.
At the Planning Board’s meeting on Jan. 22, developer Craig Nation noted that “it is an even land swap.” At that meeting, the Planning Board approved the transaction with the conditions that the open space concept plan and the definitive stamped plans showing the open space be updated.
Nation appeared at the OSPC meeting, where the acceptance letter was discussed.
Land Use administrative assistant Shannon Isaacs noted that Principal Planner John Gelcich had requested a formal letter regarding the transaction to present at Annual Town Meeting in May. This letter would confirm that the OSPC and the development team were in agreement on the terms of the exchange of parcels.
“I kind of assumed Whisper [Way] was already put to bed because it already went to the Planning Board,” said Nation. He noted that the new plan was turned into Gelcich earlier in the day.
Isaacs was awaiting the OSPC’s approval of the November meeting minutes to draft the letter. The minutes were approved at the conclusion of the meeting. Isaacs agreed to compose the endorsement letter.
Emerald Drive letter to Planning Board prompts discussion
The commission turned its attention to another Nation development, Emerald Drive, formerly known as Connelly Farms. The development, currently under construction, is located on Hayden Rowe Street, just north of the intersection with College Street.
The OSPC in January voted unanimously to accept the open space as previously approved by the Planning Board and recommended an easement proposal suggested by the developer in lieu of the developer being required to build a trail on that land.
Harrow recently walked the existing trail there with Nation, and they agreed on an existing Beaver Brook crossing. They also discussed that portions of the trail prone to flooding need to be altered.
“I suggested that a wider easement would provide more flexibility in relocating the trail,” said Harrow, “should that prove necessary in the future.”
While he said the current trail is “more than adequate” because of its connectivity to other trails, he conceded that it is not accessible.
Member Steve Levandosky told the commission that it should not be “getting into the nitty-gritty details” of the trail at this time. His priority was to ensure that the trail had “a good corridor.”
Isaacs presented a letter originally dated Jan. 17 sent to Planning Board chair Gary Trendel that she composed with input from Harrow and the Nations. The letter, re-dated Jan. 19, noted that the developer is willing to convey the open space and an easement across lots 4, 5 and 6 “with the understanding that they will not be constructing a trail.”
The letter read by Isaacs also stated that the developer “will not be required to build a 10-foot sidewalk from Hayden Rowe to a 10-foot gravel trail.” Instead, the developer proposed a 5-foot sidewalk to Hayden Rowe without the gravel sidewalks. The letter also indicated that the two billboards on the property remain there, and that the income from them benefit OSPC needs.
At this point, member Jane Moran objected.
“That letter is very different than the one we voted on before,” she said, noting that the “eradication of sidewalks and other specifics” were not voted on at the previous meeting on Jan. 4.
Added Moran: “That’s a lot of information to digest.”
Nation also objected to the letter. He noted that Gelcich told him that the issues of the open space donation and easements “needed to be separated out” from the language about the proposed trail and sidewalk dimensions.
Moran noted that the trail was supposed to be built in order to get sewer infrastructure. She believed this previously had been negotiated between the Nations and Town Manager Norman Khumalo.
Nation did not recall if anything was ever codified.
“So this is another situation which we know nothing about,” Harrow said. At previous meetings, he lamented that the OSPC was not included in the open space land donation process from the start with several development proposals.
Said Harrow: “Stuff gets dropped into Open Space’s lap with no discussion ahead of time.”
Isaacs clarified that the building of the trail was not included in the Planning Board’s decision, and she spoke with Gelcich about it. Moran countered that it is on the plans.
After a prolonged discussion, the letter was modified during the meeting to reflect Nation’s concerns. Nation noted that a trail could still be built on the land, but not by the Nations.