Hearing begins on Blueberry Hill housing project

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / July 4, 2010

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A plan to build 20 town-house condominiums on rocky land in Melrose known as Blueberry Hill, adjacent to the Ripley School and Wyoming Cemetery, has raised concern among residents who question the size of the project and the impact it would have on their neighborhood.

Delta Fairfield Corp. of Melrose proposes to build five town houses on each of four lots off Forest Street, near the Malden line. The selling price for each three-bedroom unit has not been announced, but two would be set aside for income-eligible buyers. Under the city’s Affordable Housing Zoning Incentive Program, the buyers would have to earn 50 to 80 percent of the median income for Greater Boston. The median income is $90,200, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some residents fear the development would require too much blasting, generate water runoff, and bring too much traffic into their neighborhood.

“I don’t think the street can take many more cars,’’ said Debbie Hand, a 23-year resident of Forest Street who lives across from the site. “I think it’s going to be a constant coming and going. I think it’s just too much.’’

Delta Fairfield, run by Carol Gianquitto, has applied for site plan review from the Planning Board. The board opened its hearing on the project last week, and scheduled another session on July 26. Richard Connolly, the Planning Board chairman, did not return a call seeking comment.

Anne DeSouza-Ward, a board member who serves as its clerk, expects the development will get close scrutiny. “It’s a complicated project,’’ she said. “I think it’s very much a work in progress.’’

The Planning Board has asked Delta Fairfield to bring its architect to the next hearing. The 2 1/2-story town houses would include a garage, which some residents say actually makes them three stories tall.

“Our concern is how high up they’ll be and how much they’ll be seen from the street,’’ said Jackie Bird, who said she lives near the site.

Bird also is concerned about potential traffic. “With 20 units, you could have potentially 40 cars coming in and out of there,’’ she said.

Patrick McAvoy, a Melrose lawyer representing Delta Fairfield, said there likely could be some changes to the design. “I think it’s going to change a lot from where it is now,’’ he said in an interview. “It’s a difficult piece of land to work with, because of the slope. It’s a big hill.’’

But he said his client does not believe the proposal is too large for the property. “I would think its appropriate for the area,’’ he said. “It’s four-something acres of land. It’s not overly dense for that amount of land.’’

The 4.2-acre site was originally owned by the city, which sold it to the Gianquitto family several years ago, officials said. In 2006, the Planning Board approved a plan to subdivide the land into four lots, and build a road called Blueberry Hill Lane. The developer also applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit to build town houses.

But the application was denied, and the developer filed an appeal of the board’s decision in state Land Court. Delta Fairfield also appealed a decision by the city requiring that it first get zoning board approval before applying for site plan review from the Planning Board. A settlement was ultimately reached.

“Their contention is that they believe the Planning Board is going to work with them on design aspects,’’ said Denise Gaffey, Melrose’s city planner.

The appeal did not involve permission to subdivide the land and build a road. The developer excavated rock to carve the site into four 1-acre lots, and built the road accessible from Forest Street.

Some residents said the blasting and road construction has been hard to live with. “They had trucks lined up on Forest Street,’’ Hand said.

Michelle Barr, who lives at the base of Blueberry Hill Lane, said her 6-year-old son required 10 stitches in his shoulder last year after being struck by flying granite from the site. Her back porch door also was shattered by a flying rock.

“They took responsibility,’’ said Barr, noting she did not know her door was damaged until the developer told her. “It’s still very frustrating. There are always big machines in use. I’m afraid to let my kids outside.’’

She said she also is concerned about traffic and the impact on the area. “The visual impact of these buildings, and what they’ll be doing to the environment, concerns me . . . This is a lovely piece of land, with blueberry bushes and a beautiful view of the Boston skyline.’’

Ward 7 Councilor William Forbes said he hopes the developer will listen carefully to the residents’ concerns. “We want the right development up there,’’ said Forbes, whose ward includes the site. “And the only way to do that is to work with the neighbors.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at

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