Local Government and Politics, News

Builder fights the town of Saugus about housing

SAUGUS — Despite a housing moratorium that was just put in place, the town is considering proposals for a subdivision at Golf Country.

“We believe with this preliminary plan we may be entitled to a building permit down the road when we complete this process,” said Attorney Paul Feldman, representing Engineering Alliance, Inc.

Developers received site plan approval from the Planning Board in September for a 245-unit apartment complex on the 10.7-acre site on Route 1 North made up of three parcels, including the former Golf Country property. It would include apartments in three four-story buildings, an outdoor pool, common area, and a fitness facility.

About 40 percent of the units would be one-bedroom and about 60 percent would be two-bedroom. At least 10 percent of the apartments would be affordable, as required by zoning.

But now the Planning Board is considering a Preliminary Subdivision Plan filed by Engineering Alliance, Inc., that changes the driveway off of Route 1 to a subdivision road and adds a cul-de-sac.  

“We’re not asking to modify the development,” said engineer Rick Salvo. “We’re not at that point yet. The project that was already contemplated here is the same project we intend to follow through with. There’s no plans here to do a different type of project.”

Town Meeting unanimously put a stop to multi-family development for the next two years, despite trepidation from the Planning Board, at a meeting last month.

A section was added to the town’s bylaws that temporarily prohibits new building permits from being issued for the construction of multi-family dwellings with three or more units.

Planning Board member Philip Silvani pointed out that developers haven’t received building permits for the project, which means they are subject to the moratorium.

Feldman argued that moratorium shouldn’t be a factor in approving a preliminary subdivision plan. The question of whether the law is applicable to the property will be for someone else to decide, he said.

“That’s not something that will be determined by the Planning Board,” said Feldman. “It’s going to be determined by the Building Department and, ultimately, if we don’t agree with the Building Department, it’s going to be determined by a judge.”

The way the law works in the state, property owners can protect their land from being down zoned, he said.

“They can protect their land from changes in zoning that lessen uses or the development of their property,” said Feldman. “That’s what the law allows us to do.”

Attorney Jesse Schomer, who was hired as special counsel for the town, said his position is that the moratorium is applicable to the project.

At a June 6 meeting, Salvani made a motion to deny the application, but it failed with a 2 to 3 vote. Instead, members agreed to conduct a site visit of the property and reconvene June 20.

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