Proposed 40B Project Review Continues on Multiple fronts
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Selectmen continue their 40B workshops this Thursday, 1/14, at 6:30PM. The virtual meeting link can be found in the calendar listing on the Town’s web page. The workshop will include presentations by the consultants hired by the Town to conduct a review of the traffic study and the fiscal impact study that the developer submitted as part of his original application to the Town for the project.
These efforts are focused on helping the Selectmen determine how they can best respond to the developer’s request to negotiate mitigating measures to the project in exchange for allowing the project to then go before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) where the formal hearings take place to determine if a comprehensive permit should be issued. The developer could bypass the Selectmen and ask the state to allow the project to go before the ZBA. Given an opportunity to work on ways to help the project be less impactful on the community, it makes sense for the Selectmen to engage at this preliminary level to see what mitigating measures might be possible if the project ultimately goes forward. Agreeing to mitigation measures does not mean the project is approved.
Since the submittal of the proposed project this past September, the Selectmen have been familiarizing themselves with the details of the project to the extent that the developer has them, listening to public comments about the project, and developing a list of concerns and possible measures to address them. Whether or not the Selectmen will be able to come to agreement with the developer on mitigation measures remains to be seen. Regardless, it is the ZBA who has the responsibility to issue a comprehensive permit or not. Ultimately the state’s Housing Appeal Commission has the final say if the project will go forward (unless further appeals are made in the courts.)
The review of the traffic study found that the analysis that the developer’s traffic engineer conducted was reasonable and depicts the likely impacts of the project. While additional concerns were not raised regarding the impact on various intersections in town given that peak hour traffic increases only by 2%, our consultant noted that the access to the proposed new apartment complex does not meet typical standards required for such a large number of dwelling units and raises public safety concerns.
The new 157-unit complex proposes only the one access road that dead ends at the new apartment building, about a third of a mile in from Upper School Street. Typical subdivision standards, including Manchester’s, calls for cul-de-sacs to be no more than 500 feet long unless special circumstances dictate otherwise. Our regulations go on to state that a second access/egress route be provided when more than 10 dwelling units are involved. Maximum grades are set at 6% whereas the proposed project has grades over 7%. And the width of roads serving over 120 units are supposed to be 34 feet wide, plus a sidewalk, not the 22 to 24 feet widths the developer proposes. The peer review report recommends that as many of these issues as possible be addressed. As with other local regulations, 40B projects are not required to adhere to all our standards here.
Additional suggestions are raised in the report, including possibly eliminating the median strip on the access road for improved safety, better spacing of the parking in the underground garage to avoid conflicts with various structural elements, and establishing a shuttle service between the complex and our core village area.
The review of the fiscal impact study found that the developer’s lower end of the range for the net positive fiscal impact on the town was reasonable. Our peer reviewer felt that the number of students the project would add to the School District would be a bit higher but he felt that the cost per student used by the developer’s consultant was overstated as it included many fixed costs the District has regardless of the number of students enrolled. The bottom-line annual net positive fiscal impact to the town was within a few hundred dollars between the two different approaches. The estimated expenses can easily change depending on the actual number of new students the project brings to town, but our reviewer felt that a reasonable expectation is for the project to raise around $132,000 in net revenues annually. This figure drops to $103,000 if the project is reduced to 120 units per calculations done by our peer reviewer.
Environmental impacts are a third major area of concern. The project will need to obtain many permits including those related to wetland impacts, stormwater runoff, on-site wastewater disposal, and possibly protection of critical wildlife habitat. Our Conservation Commission is working with a wetland specialist in reviewing the proposed delineation of wetland resources on the property. Confirmation of wetlands and the presence of critical habitat may have to wait until the spring when additional studies can be conducted. At a minimum, the Selectmen will be insisting that the project complies with all applicable environmental standards and that no net impacts extend beyond the boundaries of the property.