UPDATED, Aug. 12: The selectmen had set July 22 for a hearing to discuss the next step in an application to develop the Mugar site, but representatives of the builder could not attend that night, so the board weighed its rescheduling options Monday, July 13.
In a process that made difficult because of summer vacations, town officials were aiming to hold the 7 p.m. hearing at Town Hall auditorium on Wednesday, Aug. 5, or Aug. 12.
Selectmen preferred the 12th -- and that's what the date is. That is two days after a deadline set for the town by MassHousing, which must decide on a 196-page application for eligibility for the 40B project on 17 acres along Route 2 submitted by Oaktree Development of Cambridge.
But Town Counsel Doug Heim confirmed Wednesday, July 15, that the hearing will be Aug. 12, and the selectmen have until Tuesday, Aug. 18, to respond to the eligibility application. The board is meet Monday.
Further, Heim said the Zoning Board of Appeals adopted revised Comprehensive Permit Application regulations on Tuesday, July 14. Ashley Maher, ZBA secretary, said the vote was unanimous.
"MassHousing wants to be helpful," Heim told selectmen Monday, while the state agency "doesn’t want to push out the process."
After settling last month on a July 22 date for the hearing, Heim said Oaktree officials told him that no representative from the company could be present that night.
Oaktree said Aug. 5 is good for the company, but two selectmen cannot be present Aug. 5. No matter -- the hearing is now set for Aug. 12.
According to the agenda, the purpose of the public meeting is to discuss and receive comments on the application for a Comprehensive Permit Site Approval letter from MassHousing by NBM Realty, LLC (also referenced as Arlington Land Realty, LLC) for property known as Thorndike Place or "the Mugar Property" in Arlington. Agenda:
7:00 - 7:30 p.m. Presentation and Comments by NBM Realty/Arlington Land Realty representatives: SEB LLC and Oaktree Development.
7:30 - 8:00 p.m. Board of Selectmen Questions and Comments
8:00 - 9:30 p.m. Public Comments
9:30 p.m. Final Comments by the Board of Selectmen
Board needs to lead, Greeley says
"I feel all members of the board should be present," said Selectmen Chairman Kevin Greeley. "It's important for the board to lead the discussion."
In a lengthy discussion about possible dates, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine suggested a fallback position -- keep the July 22 date and hold the hearing that night without Oaktree.
In the end, officials suggested the two August dates. Heim is to speak with Oaktree and MassHousing to work out the hearing schedule and application deadline.
Setting a hearing in the matter is one issue; the substance of what may be presented at the hearing is another.
Heim told the board that while selectmen should have full opportunities to ask questions of the developers at a hearing, they may not hear responses reflecting the detail selectmen may want.
Mahon seeks specifics
Oaktree still must complete reports in a number of areas, including civil engineering and wetlands, the developer has said. That comment reflected Selectman Diane Mahon's complaint about the June 23 site visit, attended by town and Oaktree officials as well as Reps. Sean Garballey, Dave Rogers and Sen. Ken Donnelly.
During a tour of the spongy grounds, starting at Thorndike Field and continuing past homeless campsites in the woods near East Arlington homes, Mahon asked a number of questions about plans for the 219-unit home project called Thorndike Place. The most common response to her queries was that the work has not been completed.
Heim told selectmen July 13: "We can expect them [Oaktree] to say what [studies or work] they will submit."
Gwendolen Noyes, a founder and senior vice president of marketing at Oaktree, has not responded to a request for comment from YourArlington, but she did respond to Cambridge Day. She said late Wednesday that Heim’s version is not quite correct. Company representatives have been willing to attend any meeting, she said, but because of circumstances beyond their control, "we advised that we wouldn’t have any additional information than what we had in May."
After losing longtime engineering contractors, Oaktree is in the process of bring in a new team, which has slowed the answers sought by Arlington, Noyes said. One of the engineers’ key tasks is resolving the flooding concerns of residents nearby in Cambridge, Arlington and Belmont.
The Mugar project will "not hurt, but improve the hydrology of the area," Noyes said.
For the Aug. 12 meeting, all stakeholders will be invited.
Aim of meeting
The meeting aims to collect information from town leaders and the public to be part of the record to address Oaktree's application to build under Chapter 40B of state law.
In a June 22 letter, Gregory P. Watson, manager of comprehensive permit programs for MassHousing, wrote that Arlington has until Aug. 10 to respond to the application. Heim is talking to Watson about extending that. The town had sought 60 days from a July 10 deadline. The board voted earlier in June to MassHousing seeking a 90-day extension to answer.
A variety of town officials and members of Arlington state delegation have expressed opposition to the development plan.
The developers gave notice May 19 that a 40B application would be filed, the same day Jon Witten and partner Barbara Huggins, Arlington's special counsels for 40B, appeared before the town's Zoning Board of Appeals. They spent 2 1/2 hours laying out what the ZBA needed to do. That was two days before 300 people turned out at Hardy School to hear the first public discussion of the plan by Oaktree Development of Cambridge.
The request by NBM Realty LLC to make the site eligible for a 40B application, with a 196-page proposal, is dated June 8.
The site-eligibility application is a necessary precursor to filing a 40B permit application with our local zoning board, Heim told YourArlington.
"MassHousing notified us on June 8, 2015, that they had received the Site Eligibility Application (sometimes called Project Eligibility Application) and would expect the selectmen's comment on or before July 8, 2015. For the reasons set forth in the Selectmen's letter, that is not sufficient time, especially given the 196 page, detailed application submitted by the developers." Heim wrote.
"Accordingly, they asked for 90 days (until Sept. 6, 2015) to submit the selectmen's response to the very broad issue of whether or not the proposed site should be generally eligible for a 40B housing project."
Huggins & Witten specialize on defending towns against 40B projects. As his discussion indicated, the rules for the state law work better for developers. Adopted in 1969 as a measure to increase affordable housing, the law has changed over the years, particularly since 2008, to use the hope of affordable housing to secure other benefits for builders.
Arlington officials and its political representatives all are on record opposing the project. Chief reasons have to do with flooding and traffic. Despite that, Thorndike Place could still be built near Dorothy Road.
June 9: Step toward 40B filed for Mugar site; town seeks more time to respond
May 26, 2015: Speakers at Hardy send a clear message about Mugar site: NO
Cambridge Day, April 26: 3-year Cambridge master-plan process to start with Alewife
Opinion: Arlington's Belskis on 40B
March 31, 2015: Coalition seeks to preserve Mugar site from development
March 8, 2015: Belmont Uplands permit issued; opponents vow to continue
This summary was published Wednesday, July 15, 2015, and updated Aug. 12.
YOUR VIEW: Opinions: Vote, AG, taxes, Hill's, news loss, poetry, Mugar, Alewife
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