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Planning Board approves Morse Lane family subdivision, sets up site walk for The Trails

by | Dec 20, 2022 | Business, Featured: News, News

The Planning Board at its Monday night meeting voted 6-3 to remove a 1992 condition that restricted the number of allowable lots on the Capobianco family subdivision to four on Morse Lane, paving the way for a fifth lot to be configured on the property.

At the start of the hearing, chair Gary Trendel acknowledged that “this was a tricky one for us.” There were concerns raised at previous meetings about setting a precedent by removing a condition approved by a previous Planning Board. This was weighed against the desire of the applicant to allow a family to form one more lot to accommodate a family member on a family subdivision.

While the property does not meet current town subdivision standards, applicants Raymond and Anna Capobianco have worked to clear land around the road to bring its width closer to conformity at 22 feet, according to their attorney, Timothy Nealon.

Principal Planner John Gelcich researched the issue and presented revised language for the findings and conditions to help board members better understand the unusual issues this request has raised.

“The problem that we faced is that the decision in 1992 didn’t have a lot of detail in it,” Gelcich explained. “And trying to find findings that justified their actions was difficult. The Planning Board essentially granted blanket waivers for this project.”

He noted that the subdivision currently is subject to the regulations imposed by the Planning Board in 1992. This means that the current board cannot require extra conditions to meet today’s standards.

Gelcich said the board could either approve or deny an amendment to strike the condition, which was what was originally proposed by the applicant. Another option he presented was to amend the condition in the 1992 approval to change the number of allowed lots from four to five. A denial would have to indicate why it didn’t conform to state or town subdivision control regulations in place in 1992.

Trendel added that there was nothing in the documentation to show why the number of lots was capped at four at that time.

As the discussion progressed, Gelcich noted that if the Capobianco family made road improvement modifications on the private road, a new subdivision plan would have to be approved by the Planning Board because the conditions would no longer conform to the 1992 standard. It also would have to meet current standards.

Nealon noted that the improvements made to try to widen the road were “of the applicants’ own volition.” He agreed with Gelcich’s assessment that the 1992 documents didn’t provide information on the reasoning behind the lot number restriction. Gelcich clarified that the applicant could bring the road up to the standards under which it was approved in 1992. Going beyond those parameters would be considered “an amendment to the road that hasn’t been approved.”

Member Ronny Priefer made a motion to accept the proposed findings with an amendment to allow the five lots without striking the condition. Member Jane Moran seconded this motion.

At that point, member Rob Benson said he would like to deny the motion. He raised concerns about ignoring a board precedent and noted that family subdivisions no longer are approved in town. While Gelcich acknowledged these points, he said the Planning Board needs to follow strict guidelines, such as if the change would make Morse Lane unsafe.

Because there was a motion made, a vote had to be taken on it. The discussion continued on a situation Trendel described as being “clear as mud.” The board approved Priefer’s motion by a 6-3 vote.

Conditions were unanimously approved to prevent the approval of future lots without a new subdivision plan application process. The intent was to document the decision in a way that was not done by the board three decades ago, Trendel said.

The Trails hearing continued

Another complicated case that came before the board again at this hearing was the open space mixed-use development (OSMUD) site plan for The Trails. Peter Bemis, the project’s engineering consultant, appeared before the board regarding the 55-and-over housing development located off Legacy Farms North Road. He previously had been told repeatedly by both the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission that he needed to provide more information to address their concerns.

Last year, fines were issued against The Trails because sediment ran into the Hopkinton Reservoir, impacting both Hopkinton and Ashland. There had been severe rain during the summer of 2021, Bemis noted, that the stormwater management system could not handle.

Bemis explained that now that the development is in its third phase, some site modifications needed to be made. However, later in the meeting, the town’s engineering consultant said that most of these changes already had been made.

Bemis presented an overview of the proposal, noting that the sidewalks are the primary aspect that needed to be changed. On the private road system, the sidewalks are on one side of the street. Bemis asked to amend the plans to remove a grass strip and take the sidewalk up to the street edge.

Bemis also described challenges controlling sediment during construction. As a “best management practice” to control stormwater runoff, he explained, the culvert was pulled back and a sump pit was created.

“Having done that, we saw an opportunity to then take that sump and make a permanent connection,” he continued. He said this allowed the water to flow northward to the constructed wetland system. The third-phase basin was the one that overflowed after massive rain, discharging toward the Hopkinton and Ashland reservoirs. The basins now are planned to be larger.

Another important modification Bemis requested was changing the configuration of the parking lot to prevent the cutting of trees.

He noted that a peer review had not yet been completed by Phil Paradis, the town’s engineering consultant from BETA Engineering.

Trendel stressed the need for a site walk because of the number of changes proposed. Because of the holidays, one could not be scheduled until Jan. 7.

“This project has been challenging — and I think that Mr. Bemis would agree that this is true — both for ConCom and the Planning Board,” Gelcich said before he presented the staff report. He noted that the proposed changes affect stormwater, and BETA needs to review them to determine how they will impact the site.

Paradis confirmed that it is “a difficult site.” What he also noted was that eight out of the 10 items that were requested already have been done without prior approval.

“Typically when a developer discovers a need for a project change, a sketch is provided and information is given before it’s constructed,” said Paradis.

He also noted the drainage problems, pointing out that “it was clear cut from day one.” He said some of these problems “are not typical of a construction project of this size and scale.”

“It’s way more complicated to review something that’s already built and yet not in conformance with the details provided,” Paradis said, adding that BETA has identified other nonconforming aspects during its site walks.

Bemis noted that the changes were made to improve stormwater management.

“It wasn’t just for trying to ignore an approved plan,” he said.

The hearing was continued until the next meeting on Jan. 9.

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