, Newburyport, MA

July 26, 2013

Decision due on contentious housing plan

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — The Planning Board will hold a special meeting on Aug. 26 to determine the fate of the latest Bailey’s Pond residential development proposal.

The meeting was called following Monday’s Planning Board meeting once project representatives came before the board and answered questions raised last month by the board’s members and the project’s abutters. Board member David Frick said the representatives adequately responded to their concerns and he expects a vote will be taken at the meeting next month.

“This is probably the biggest project that’s come before the town in at least 10 years, so it takes a lot of work to step through it and see how it stands up to the criteria,” Frick said. “I think everyone did their homework and we were able to get answers to all the questions we had come up with.”

If the Planning Board approves the proposal, it would be a major step forward for the embattled Bailey’s Pond, which has been in limbo for more than a decade due to a long series of planning issues.

Since the beginning, the Bailey’s Pond plan has called for the construction of a multi-family residential development around a city-owned piece of land located between Interstate 495, Route 150 and the Merrimack River.

Fafard Real Estate Development, which has long had a purchase and sale agreement for the land, has been trying to develop the 23-acre property since 2003, but has been unable to do so after various issues repeatedly tripped up the project.

One of the main challenges developers have faced is the area’s topography. The land is shaped somewhat like a bowl and has steep hillsides sloping down into a large pond. Fafard has been trying to figure out how to develop more than 100 residential units on the uneven land while complying with city regulations, which has proven to be difficult.

The current proposal was first brought before the Planning Board for site plan review last month and included a number of changes from the previous one, including a revamped roadway pattern, fewer buildings and a redesigned engineering and drainage plan.

The proposal didn’t go over well with abutters, and board members had a number of questions about how the project would comply with certain statutes, particularly ones related to the project’s engineering.

“We had asked them in the previous meeting about their cut and fill calculations, how much of the dirt they dig up was going to be used on the project,” Frick said. “And everything they dig up on site will be used in the project.”

In addition, Frick said the developers intend to bring in 115,000 cubic yards of fill as well, assuming they are able to obtain a special permit to do so. Town Planner Nipun Jain said the special permit hearing would be separate from next month’s meeting and would likely come later in the year.

Frick said if the board were to approve the proposal, obtaining this special permit would likely be among many conditions passed with the approval. Another condition would probably be ensuring that the project meets the city’s open space requirements.

“You can approve something and put conditions on it,” Frick said. “It isn’t to be mean, but you have to meet the statute, and if the statute says there needs to be 50 percent open space, then that needs to happen.”

The special meeting of the Planning Board will be held on Monday, Aug. 26, at 7 p.m. at City Hall Auditorium.