Business, Local Government and Politics, News

40B fight drags on in Peabody

PEABODY — A developer at 128 Newbury St. intends to continue engaging with the abutters despite the Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) decision to assert a “safe harbor” stipulation and deny a Chapter 40B comprehensive permit.

“We are willing to try to walk through other aspects of an approval process and to continue to meet with neighbors so that, when we feel our application would be reconsidered, we would be in a position to have completed much of that review,” said local attorney John Kielty, who represents the developer Trammell Crow Company, and its subsidiary Maple Multi-Family Land SE, L.P.  

The developer plans to bring its traffic, sewer, and water and drainage plans for a review to the city’s Department of Public Services. 

Maple Multi-Family Land was applying for a Chapter 40B comprehensive permit to build an apartment complex on a blighted 7.7-acre parcel between Winona Street and Route 1 that had been cleared of vegetation and stood empty for 15 years. 

The developer proposed to build three four-story buildings clustered near the back of the lot with 220 studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. Amenities would include recreation space, public workstations with Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool and grill stations, fitness center, clubhouse lounges and meeting spaces, gaming areas, and wet bars. The project is estimated to cost $65 million.

Kielty represented the developer at the ZBA meeting on Nov. 1. He said that they have been working with the Engineering Department of the city, have filed an inquiry with the Conservation Commission to determine whether they have any jurisdiction over the parcel, and have submitted a Request for Determination of Applicability, which determines whether the Wetlands Protection Act applies to a proposed site.

Kielty also said that they have been engaged with abutters for months, in particular with neighbors from Cardigan Road, whom they notified about the filings and the ZBA meeting. Kielty expected that during the meeting the developer and ZBA would schedule further peer-review sessions. The developers said they were willing to accommodate the ZBA schedule, recognizing the upcoming holiday season.

However, the discussion of the project did not take a long time. Daniel Sencabaugh, the ZBA’s secretary, said that Peabody has already met a requirement of 10-percent affordable housing units, including subsidized-housing inventory, according to a letter dated April 29, 2021 from the Department of Housing and Community Development to Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr., about the city’s housing production plan for March 2021-March 2022. 

Sencabaugh made a motion to assert “safe harbor,” a tool that allows ZBAs to deny a comprehensive permit if the statutory minimum for affordable housing has been met. The board voted unanimously to support the motion.

In case of safe harbor, according to the law, the Housing Appeals Committee cannot overturn the ZBA’s decision.  

Sencabaugh told The Item that he was not interested in providing any further commentary about the decision.

Because of the current single-family zoning for the premises, the developer needs to be utilizing Chapter 40B to be able to propose a project of a greater density, said Kielty. If they were to try to turn this project into 100-percent market-rate units, they would need to apply for a zone change. At this point, Trammell Crow has not pursued that, Kielty said. The company would not be interested in building single-family homes at 128 Newbury St. because it is not the focus of their business.

Over a period of months, Kielty said, the developer has demonstrated its willingness to accommodate abutters’ suggestions by reducing the number of units in the project, moving buildings further away from property lines toward Route 1, increasing the density of the landscaping on bordering areas, and discussing road access.

“My client, Trammell Crow, has a national reputation of doing what they said they would do in a manner they suggested they would do it. They have worked hard to be aware of the concern of neighbors,” Kielty said. “We’ve found that the neighbors have been responsive to our desire to meet with them and have been forthcoming with questions, inquiries, and suggestions about access, fire access, et cetera.”

He said that they’ve seen the impact of unfettered runoff from the property and they have a plan for drainage that will need to be reviewed by the Department of Public Services and whomever the neighbors would choose for a peer review.

Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw, who organized meetings between the developer and the community in the past, said that many abutters and surrounding neighbors would like to see the site developed after it’s been in shambles for close to two decades. Although some abutters on Cardigan Road are not 100 percent in favor, they understand that this developer has really tried to work with them, Saslaw said.

One of the main achievements of the negotiations with the developer was the modifications to the access to Winona Street. There won’t be a Winona Street entrance or exit at all, Saslaw said.

“I think it is a good project,” said Saslaw. “The developer has been totally transparent both with the city and with the neighbors.”

More Stories From Peabody