Plan Board OK's Barn Hill Subdivision With 20-Foot Buffer

By: Tim Wood

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

CHATHAM – After months of negotiations between developer Eastward Companies and neighbors along Ocean Port Lane, the planning board last week approved a 13-lot subdivision off Barn Hill Road. The seven-acre Hunter's Rise development is one of the largest new residential subdivisions in town in recent years.

The board approval came after Eastward Companies agreed to a 20-foot buffer strip along the subdivision's southern side. Ocean Port Lane residents were concerned that runoff from the new development would erode the steep bank between the two neighborhoods. The vegetated, no-cut zone will run along the entire 928-foot border.

Neighbors saw the decision as a “win-win” for the town, Ocean Port Lane owners and Eastward Companies, said Ocean Port Lane resident Stephen Curran.

“The neighbors feel the process with the planning board has been very democratic and open,” he said in an email.

Originally proposed as a 14-lot development, the project was scaled back by one lot, and another lot was given frontage on Barn Hill Road to conform with planning board regulations that limit cul-de-sacs to 12 lots. Eastward must also contribute $204,000 to the town's affordable housing trust fund in lieu of including an affordable unit in the project.

Neighbors initially asked for a 40-foot buffer. Eastward responded with a 15-foot buffer, but at last week's planning board meeting attorney William Riley agreed to the 20-foot zone where no development can take place. Developer William Marsh said the company consulted with a geophysical engineer about the possibility of the slope between the two neighborhoods collapsing.

“He said it was an impossibility in any known rain event,” Marsh said.

Riley added that because the land is with the Buck's Creek marsh watershed and, under federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations, all runoff must be contained within the property, so elaborate drainage systems have been designed to that end. Any release of stormwater outside of the seven acres could result in “very substantial fines” for the developer, he said.

“It's more important to us, believe it or not, to keep all the stormwater on the property,” Riley said.

Planning board members were concerned that the covenant that includes the buffer zone restriction will be honored as the lots are sold and re-sold in the future. A homeowners' association will be responsible for maintenance of the drainage systems, and deeds will require a financial contribution from each homeowner, Riley said. That obligation, as well as the buffer zone requirement, will be recorded with the registry of deeds.

Planning Board Chairman Peter Cocolis added that the buffer zone will be included on the plan endorsed by the board and must be shown on site plans for development of each of the lots.

Board member Robert Dubis said he didn't think the buffer zone was adequate. “God help the people if this thing doesn't work,” he said. The resolution was a compromise, however, and it was time to move on with the project, he said.

“I hope they all become good neighbors,” Dubis said.

It was “a long journey” to reach the approval – which was voted unanimously with a number of conditions – Cocolis said, but the board learned a lot in the process, including the limits of its authority, thanks to a memo from town counsel. He cautioned that while there is not a lot of open space left in town to develop, there are large estates and cottage colonies similar to this one, “and who knows how that's going to settle.”

Curran credited the planning board, community development staff and Eastward Companies with working together for a positive outcome.

“I think I share my neighbors' perspective by saying we are proud to be citizens of a town where 'neighborhood participation' and the democratic process are alive and well,” he said. “We look forward to welcoming the future owners of these 13 new homes into our neighborhood.”