The state’s top environmental official recently cleared a hurdle for a controversial housing proposal in north Woburn that is opposed by neighbors, even as the property owner seeks to overturn the zoning board’s rejection of the plan.
Richard K. Sullivan Jr., state secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said the Ledges at Woburn does not require an environmental impact report, finding that the environmental notification form submitted for the project offered the necessary information.
“The [Environmental Notification Form] has sufficiently defined the nature and general elements of the project, and has proposed measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental impacts,” Sullivan wrote in his finding. “I am satisfied that any outstanding issues pertaining to traffic, storm-water management, and blasting can be addressed through the state and local permitting processes.”
The project, which is being permitted under Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable-housing law, calls for construction of 168 apartment units — 42 of them affordable — atop a hilly 9-acre site at 1042 Main St. (Route 38). It also would feature a clubhouse, an in-ground pool, and 300 surface parking spaces.
Sullivan’s ruling followed a decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals last October to reject an application by Woburn 38 Development LLC, the site owner, to modify an existing comprehensive permit for the project. The key proposed change is to build four three-story buildings instead of a six-story building.
Woburn 38 has appealed the decision to the state Housing Appeals Committee and on Jan. 11 filed a motion seeking a summary decision, according to attorney Ted Regnante, who represents Woburn 38 and the Dolben Co., the firm that would develop the project. The city has until mid-February to file a response.
Ward 6 Alderman Michael Raymond, in whose ward the site is located, said Sullivan’s decision ignored issues raised by residents who oppose the project that formed the basis of the zoning board’s decision.
The neighbors have cited in particular the disruption and adverse health effects they say could result from blasting and stone crushing, and the debris removal from the site. About 357,000 cubic yards of material would be trucked away over a 12-month period, or 60 round trips per day, Raymond said.
In his decision, Sullivan “didn’t really look at the impact on the neighbors themselves when they remove 357,000 cubic yards of dirt. . . . Nowhere in the decision rendered is there any mention of any of the concerns at all,” Raymond said.
But Regnante said Sullivan determined that “all these issues have been adequately addressed and will be further addressed with the final state permitting agencies, but he did not see any need to do an environmental impact report. We are pleased with that. Once the Housing Appeals Committee issues its decision, we are ready to move forward.”
The effort to develop the site has a long, contentious history.
A previous owner, Cirsan Realty Trust, applied in 2000 for a comprehensive permit to develop a six-story, 168-unit building. The zoning board rejected the project in 2001, but Cirsan appealed to the Housing Appeals Committee.
In 2003, the state board, using its powers under Chapter 40B, overturned the decision. The law allows developers in cities and towns that do not meet a 10 percent affordable-housing threshold to bypass certain aspects of municipal zoning bylaws. Woburn’s affordable-housing stock is estimated at 7 percent.
The city unsuccessfully appealed, in Middlesex Superior Court and then in state Appeals Court, and in 2006 the permit was finalized. It was extended in 2009.
In 2011, Woburn 38 acquired the site and applied to extend the permit two more years. The zoning board denied the request, and Woburn 38 sought relief from the Housing Appeals Committee.
The state panel in late 2011 remanded the matter back to the zoning board, which extended the permit with a timetable agreed to by the parties. In February 2012, Woburn 38 filed its request to modify the permit.
Raymond said that neighbors are not against the additional housing, but oppose the project because of the amount of stone crushing, blasting, and truck activity involved, which is more extensive under the revised plan.
“We are against it because they are going to remove all that dirt,” said Raymond, who lives near the site. “They are going to put us through one year, probably longer, of the blasting of the rock, the grinding. . . . How much should we be subjected to?”
In addition to the noise, Raymond said residents worry about the health effects of the stone dust that would be generated.
But Regnante said that his clients and the city hired experts who concurred that the blasting and rock-processing plans are safe, and steps will be taken, including erecting sound and dust barriers.
“The only issue concerning the increased blasting was the duration of time involved in the process. And the duration of time is not locally regulated by the city,” he said.
Regnante said the project would help meet a need for affordable housing, and in particular rental apartments, in the Woburn area.
Ward 2 Alderman Richard F. Gately Jr., another outspoken opponent of the plan, said the developers could quiet the controversy by simply constructing the project for which they already hold a permit.
“Don’t make it worse for the neighbors than it was already going to be,” he said.
Regnante said his clients determined the plan for a single building — with a garage beneath it — was not economical, adding that even the Board of Appeals agreed that the modified plan is “much more attractive.”