Town counsel calls move 'unorthodox'; Oaktree denies changing application
Oaktree Development of North Cambridge, proposing 219 units of housing on 17 acres along Route 2, has responded to Arlington's comments to its proposal sent in August to MassHousing by sending eight documents after the deadline, igniting criticism from selectmen.
Town Counsel Doug Heim called Oaktree's response a "quasi-rebuttal" and "highly unorthodox." Selectmen Diane Mahon said she had never heard of such a move at this stage in the 40B process. She said this could lead to a new application.
Discussion Monday, Sept. 21, led the board to vote, 4-0, to have Heim and special counsel Jon Witten draft a further response to MassHousing.
Gwendolyn Noyes, an Oaktree company founder, commented Wednesday, Sept. 23, "I have no idea what the selectman was talking about -- a new application? We are very engaged in the one we've submitted."
Noyes said a letter of Sept. 4 from SEB, a 40B consultant for Oaktree, focused directly on the application filed last June and selectmen comments in August.
Noyes added that Oaktree also recently gave MassHousing documents "related to site control." There were seven, and they are described below. All eight documents were sent after the Aug. 18 deadline.
In an interview Thursday, Sept. 24, Heim said the number of documents sent after the comment deadline is what he found out of the ordinary. He said Witten, with long experience in 40B issues, noted he had not seen this before.
One concern selectmen raised is time. When the selectmen sent their comments by MassHousing's deadline, Aug. 18, the two sides faced a 30-day time frame for the state agency to consider whether Oaktree, representing the Mugar family, is eligible to proceed with a 40B project. If approved, Oaktree would apply to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit, allowing the project to avoid local zoning rules under the state's Chapter 40B, a 1969 law aimed to increase affordable housing.
Selectmen next meet Oct. 5, enough time, they believe, to provide a further response to Oaktree.
"We have time; we're not under the gun," Heim told the board.
Thomas J. Farmer, a spokesman for MassHousing wrote Sept. 24. "The review process is ongoing, and we would accept comments from the town" by Oct. 6. He indicated that MassHousing is flexible about deadlines.
Selectmen Joseph Curro Jr. made the motion to refer to matter to counsel.
Mahon said she would place the matter on the Oct. 5 agenda.
“My biggest complaint about this proposal is what it would do to flooding in Arlington and the surrounding towns,” Selectmen Dan Dunn said.
Engler guides Oaktree
Commenting further Sept. 23, Noyes wrote that Oaktree is "following the 40B script with Bob Engler as our guide." He is the 40B consultant for Oaktree.
"Among other things," she wrote, that Engler's "letter points out the very important fact (conveniently overlooked by the Town) that in 2009 the Town itself attempted to put together a development scheme for basically the same area we are now proposing to build housing -- albeit more units [by Oaktree].
"It was only lack of outside (State) funding that sidelined that idea. However, the approximately 6 acres of land we're proposing to build housing on now are just as buildable today as they were several years ago when the Town itself wanted to do so. Why does that factoid continuously get lost?
"We and Bob have forwarded to MassHousing all the additional info/clarifications the Town requested. We now await MassHousing's consideration, and will proceed with whatever environmental investigations and/or site plan studies are called for at such time as they are appropriate.
"We have repeatedly assured the Arlington community - and whoever has been willing to listen - that we are open to negotiations about the development scope, but that stonewalling ANY development for the site is not constructive.
"As there has been an active exchange of questions and comments between the Town and MassHousing, we await the next step in the process, as it’s prescribed, before we do more environmental investigations or negotiate changes in the plans."
Among the eight document is the 40B consultant's response -- by Engler but signed by Chryse Gibson, executive vice president of Oaktree. That response concludes:
" ... we appreciate the Town's comments to MassHousing as some aspects of our application were correctly identified as missing, or in error. (Some were confusing and we accept responsibility for that.)
"The purpose of this comment period is, in fact, designed to assist MassHousing (and other subsidizing agencies) in its evaluation. However, in the same way as 40B guidelines allow any deficiencies in an application before the ZBA to be corrected within 60 days, the application for site approval allows for additions, corrections and modifications to be made during the review process. If such actions fundamentally or substantially alter the application, MassHousing would direct the applicant to return to the community for additional review or to at least allow the community time for additional review of the substantive changes.
"We strongly assert that any modifications to our application, such as a new NEF bank letter of interest, in no way modifies our physical plan or program to any degree which warrants further review."
7 further documents
The other documents are:
-- A memo of understanding dated July 2010, between David T. Ting, as Trustee of Arlington Land Realty Trust, addressed in care of Mugar Enterprises and the Town of Arlington, to build 34 units;
-- An Aug. 24, 2015, letter of support for Thorndike Place, the name of the 219-unit project, from Citizens Bank to Peter Mugar;
-- A plan dated Aug. 28, 2015, showing existing conditions of the 17-acre site';
-- A schematic dated Oct. 6, 2004, showing site detail;
-- An undated narrative related to specific issues in question No. 2 from MassHousing;
-- A schematic dated Aug. 28, 2015, showing lot lines abutting the Mugar site; and
-- Eighteen pages of budget revisions of Thorndike Place dated August 2015.
Aug. 19, 2015: Selectmen's comments on Mugar project sent to MassHousing
Aug. 13, 2015: Details few as Mugar site developer looks ahead
July 15, 2015: Hearing on Mugar site appliocation tough to schedule
June 29, 2105: July 22 meeting set as developer moves toward 40B Mugar application
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 report was published Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.
YOUR VIEW: Opinions: Murals politics, Town Day, Medford St., AFD, ACMi, poetry, Mugar, Alewife
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