Neighbors, Developer Tangle Over Barn Hill Road Subdivision

By: Tim Wood

Existing buildings at the former Hunter's Pine Acres cottage colony along Barn Hill Road.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – The developer of a proposed 14-lot subdivision off Barn Hill Road is willing to talk with neighbors about their concerns with the project, but said some things are not negotiable, such as a 40-foot buffer along the southern property line.

“That's a nonstarter,” William Marsh of Eastward Companies said during last week's planning board meeting.

The Hunter's Rise subdivision, proposed for the seven-acre former site of the Hunter's Pine Acres cottage colony at 288 Barn Hill Rd., has been the subject of numerous meeting between the board, the developer and residents of the Ocean Port Lane neighborhood immediately to the south. The neighbors, whose land is at a lower elevation than the Hunter's Rise property, are mainly concerned about stormwater runoff and erosion of the hillside abutting their lots as well as the proximity of homes that may be built in the future.

As part of the subdivision review, Eastward Companies has asked the planning board for a waiver from regulations limiting cul-de-sacs to 12 lots; 13 of the 14 lots would be on the dead-end subdivision road, while one would front on Barn Hill Road. The company offered to make a $50,000 donation to the town, but the board can't require a contribution in exchange for the waiver, said Director of Community Development Katie Donovan.

Without that 13th lot, Marsh said, the financial viability of the project would be questionable, and he'd have to renegotiate with the property owners. Currently he has a purchase and sales agreement contingent on planning board approval of all 14 lots.

Eastward Companies also offered a $204,000 donation to the town's affordable housing trust fund in lieu of making one of the units in the development affordable. Under the zoning bylaw, 10 percent of units in developments of 10 or more must be affordable, although the planning board can decide to accept a donation to the housing trust fund instead of a physical unit.

Last week, the board continued the subdivision hearing until Sept. 26, and will in the meantime gather at the site to inspect the land and determine, among other things, whether the neighbor's request for a 40-foot buffer is reasonable.

Eastward Companies offered to place a deed restriction on the parcels abutting Ocean Port Lane lots requiring a 15-foot natural buffer, even though the planning board can't mandate restrictions on individual lots, said attorney William Riley. While the company is willing to work with neighbors, they must also be willing to work with the developer, he said.

“We think the demands of the neighbors are so out of bounds, completely without foundation, we don't think dialog would be constructive,” he said. A 40-foot buffer, he added, would lower the value of the lots unfairly; he pointed out that several homes along Ocean Port Lane are built within feet of property lines.

Neighbors haven't opposed the subdivision in its entirety but have concerns, and it would be worthwhile for the developer to communicate with them, “and find out how reasonable and rational they might be,” planning board member Tom Geagan said.

Riley and Marsh said there has been communications with the neighbors, but they were still “blindsided” by “unrelenting attacks” on the project.

“They had the opportunity to buy this property, yet they want me to give them the exclusive use of this property in the way of a buffer to enhance their property at my expensive,” Marsh said. “We tried very hard to get along with these folks and could not.” It's not likely that homes on the new lots will be built close to the Ocean Port Lane properties, he added. “They no more want to see their houses than they want to see the new ones,” he said.

Marsh said a “very expensive” drainage system is also being proposed that will keep stormwater runoff within the subdivision properties, a requirement of the town. Rain gardens proposed for a few of the lots along the Ocean Port Lane side were eliminated after neighbors objected, and drainage structures will instead be built beneath the roadway, said engineer David Clark.

Drainage changes made to accommodate the neighbors' requests actually reduced the treatment levels, he said. The revised plans are designed to capture the first one inch of rain, based on the town's requirements for treatment of a 25-year storm, while the initial plan would have treated runoff from a 100-year storm, accommodating as much as 8.1 inches of rainfall.

“Now we're treating substantially less than that,” he said.

The project is required to file of notice of stormwater discharge with the Environmental Protection Agency's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, in accordance with the Massachusetts Stormwater Policy, because the land is immediately adjacent to land within the Federal Emergency Management Agency's 100-year flood zone and the watershed of Sulphur Springs.

It makes sense for the planning board to hold a “very thorough site visit” of the property, said member Kathryn Halpern, especially to look at the slope along the southern property line and determine if a buffer zone or retaining wall is necessary. “That needs to be carefully evaluated,” she said.

Restrictions on individual lots are not within the planning board's jurisdiction, Riley said, and if the neighbors don't have faith in Clark's designs, “they should hire their own engineer,” he said.

Neighbor Steve Curran said Ocean Port Lane residents “want to be good neighbors,” and consider the elimination of the rain gardens as an indication that the public review process is working. The 40-foot buffer is simply a request from neighbors; 15 feet “isn't a lot,” he said of the developer's counter proposal.

“We would be glad to meet with the developer” further, he said.

Donovan said the planning board must consider whether the $50,000 donation, the 15-foot buffer and the developer's willingness to help address stormwater runoff issues along Barn Hill Road constitutes enough of a public benefit to grant the waiver from the cul-de-sac restriction.