ZBA Discusses Two Proposed Developments With Affordable Housing Units

The Zoning Board of Appeals had over half a dozen items on Wednesday night’s agenda, and two of those items touched upon the matter of affordable housing in Westford.

In the first hearing of the evening, the ZBA revisited a proposed affordable housing development planned for Groton Road, just south of Flushing Pond.

Matthew Waterman points at the Groton Road development.

Matthew Waterman points at the Groton Road development.

When the development was last on the docket, the ZBA requested that more space be placed between each of the five proposed buildings, and that the easternmost home be angled inward toward the other homes.

Following those instructions, the development team returned with slight adjustments that provided at least 20 feet between each building and the requested angling while keeping setbacks away from wetland areas near the pond.

Abutter Mary Yao, who owns the property directly east of the development, spoke in opposition to the proposal.

Yao voiced concerns regarding blasting, which she said could impact her home’s wells and foundation and also believed trees along the border of her property and the development would be destroyed.

She told the board that destruction would come due to the proximity of the easternmost house and her property line 14 feet away, at one point using a tape measure to show the distance to the board.

“There are many other great parcels for this,” she said. “I want to know that I’m not collateral damage.”

ZBA Chairman Robert Hermann (right) and ZBA Member Scott MacKay

ZBA Chairman Robert Hermann (right) and ZBA Member Scott MacKay

While Yao admitted that progress had been made in comparison to early proposals by the developers, she still sought an independent arborist to confirm that any construction done would not harm the trees buffering her property to the new homes.

Attorney Melissa Robbins, representing the developer, told the board that her client would have no issue with planting trees along the property line if current trees were damaged and that his client would follow proper procedures under town bylaws if blasting was needed on the property.

Two more affordable homes were discussed later in the meeting in a development proposed on Graniteville Road.

Unlike the Groton Road development, developer Jeffrey Brem was before the board to talk about bedroom and height variances, not a 40B comprehensive permit often associated with affordable housing developments.

The two affordable homes were part of a larger 18 home development situated on 17 acres of land.

Jeffrey Brem and the Graniteville development,

Jeffrey Brem and the Graniteville development,

Under Westford’s zoning bylaws, normally Brem would be allowed to build 13 homes within the discussed property on Graniteville Road. However, thanks to a flexible development density bonus also within the zoning bylaws, Brem was able to add another five homes by dedicating ten acres of the property to open space and dedicating two of the homes to occupants over the age of 55.

In addition to the two 55+ homes, Brem aims to build two homes deed-restricted as “affordable” and provide them to Greater Lowell Habitat for Humanity.

Brem currently is proposing 62 bedrooms within the 18 total buildings, with ten of the homes currently with three bedrooms, including the five “bonus” homes. His variance was required as currently there is a two-bedroom maximum under the zoning bylaws for the “bonus” homes.

He told the board that it would actually be more profitable not to pursue the bonus homes and preserve less open space. However, he wanted to help Habitat and the extra bedrooms were needed to make the project financially viable, with the two properties being gifted to the group free of charge.

Members of the ZBA hoped that Brem could compromise and limit the 55+ units to just two bedrooms, although he indicated that he may resubmit his plan and reduce the number of 55+ units from two to one.

Neighbors voiced concerns with confusion over how just how many bedrooms the development has and how that might impact them, as it has fluctuated over the past several months. Regardless of the ultimate number of bedrooms, they were also concerned with the sheer number in its current configuration, fearing new significant traffic congestion as well as new families impacting local school populations.

Overall, the message from neighbors to the board was at the very least to take a closer look at the development. ZBA Member James Kazeniac echoed this sentiment, noting recent affordable housing units within Graniteville at the former location of Parent’s, Graniteville Woods and near the Stony Brook School.

Kazeniac rattled off these and other recent developments, citing what he believed to be approximately 100 new affordable units within a mile of this proposed Graniteville Road development and in turn voicing concerns about congestion.

“We can’t say it, but enough Graniteville,” he said.

Both discussions were continued until July 20.