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Proposed Saugus development may have unexpected life after technicality

An aerial view of the proposed Mill District Development in Saugus. (Steven)

SAUGUS — Developers of an old mill believe they have a way to move their housing project forward.

Steve Boccelli and his father, Joseph, want to create a $5 million mixed-use development beside 222 Central Storage, but their proposal was denied by the Planning Board on Feb. 7. They claim the panel missed a two-week deadline to file its written findings with the town clerk, and, by default, they can move forward with the project through “constructive approval.”

But there’s disagreement over that.

“The Planning Board voted to deny the project that evening,” said Town Counsel John Vasapolli. “There’s nothing in the bylaw that says it has to be filed in the clerk’s office. They have to act at the hearing. So, there is no constructive approval.”

Attorney Jay Wickersham filed a letter with the town on March 6 making the case for constructive approval. The town filed its findings on the same day and fired off a reply.

The Boccellis planned a three-story apartment building on the right of the old mill-turned-storage facility with 26 one-bedroom, townhouse-style apartments, eight two-bedroom apartments and underground parking. Three of the units would have been set aside as affordable housing.

They also planned to tear down an office building at 228 Central St. to make room for 2,000 square feet of commercial space. The ground floor was proposed to be a cafe with additional commercial space underneath.

The Planning Board voted 4-0 to deny the proposal after more than two hours of discussion.

Attorney Jesse Schomer, who was hired as special counsel for the town, advised the board to deny the site plan approval “on the basis that the board is unable to make a finding that the proposed development is in conformance with the zoning bylaw” based on the application and “the failure of the applicant to apply for and obtain required special permits and other relief.

The March 6 letter from Wickersham says the Planning Board was required to issue its written findings and decision within two weeks of the close of the hearing, and file the same with the Saugus Town Clerk.

“The Planning Board did not make such filing,” wrote Wickersham. “In that the Planning Board failed to act on said site plan approval application within the time required, said application has, as a matter of law, been constructively approved.”

Wickersham did not return calls seeking comment.

In a response letter on March 11, attorney Ted Regnante, who was hired as special counsel on the matter, wrote that the notice of constructive approval was rejected and that Wickersham’s basis for the claim “represents an incorrect interpretation of the requirements of the Saugus zoning bylaw.”

“The vote to deny site plan review constituted the ‘final action’ of the Board within the meaning of (the bylaw),” said Regnante. “Since such final action was taken on the same day the public hearing on this matter was closed, such final action was indeed timely in accordance with (the bylaw.)”

A copy of the written findings, with a stamp that indicated the documents were filed with Town Clerk Ellen Schena on March 6, was included in the response.

Regnante said the matter will be heard in Land Court.

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