, Newburyport, MA

August 27, 2013

Lack of data stalls Bailey's Pond hearing

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Discussions on the long-debated Bailey’s Pond project will drag out for at least another month after the project’s developers failed to respond to numerous requests for more information by the Planning Board, forcing the board to continue its site plan review and postpone its final vote.

Prior to the meeting, there was optimism that a vote might finally take place after more than a decade of wrangling between the Planning Board and the project representatives from Fafard Real Estate Development. The last meeting in July yielded a productive fact-finding session, and the hope was that Fafard would provide the board members with additional information to satisfy their remaining concerns.

When the meeting began, however, City Planner Nipun Jain listed off those concerns, and with few exceptions, he indicated that the project developers provided no new information to address them, leaving the board members with an incomplete picture of what the developers would actually do upon approval.

As a result, the Planning Board voted to continue the public hearing to its Sept. 23 meeting, which will be held in the City Hall auditorium at 7 p.m. In the meantime, Jain said he would be consulting with the city’s legal counsel to make sure the motion the board eventually votes on, along with its many conditions, all fall within the city’s laws and regulations.

The issues unaddressed by the project developers included questions about open space compliance, parking and traffic concerns, and details surrounding how the developers would re-grade large portions of the site, among many others. Jain also indicated that a number of tasks that would require special permits, including the introduction of more than 100,000 cubic yards of fill to the site, had not been filed either.

In regard to the special permits, project manager Donald Seaberg said that the developers wanted to wait after receiving Planning Board approval to apply, since if the project were rejected, there would be no need for the permits anyway.

Despite Seaberg’s reasons, board member Stephen Dunford urged him to at least submit a plan in writing so the board would have something to refer to. Chairman Howard Dalton expressed the same sentiment, adding that this wasn’t the first time the developers had heard these requests.

“These are serious concerns, some of which we’ve asked for time and time again, and we haven’t gotten any answers,” Dalton said.

Overall, the Bailey’s Pond plan calls for the construction of a multi-family residential development around a city-owned piece of land at 24 Pond View Ave. and on Summit Avenue, 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.

A long-running source of disagreement between the developers and the Planning Board has been the number of units being fit into the site. Originally the developers had hoped to fit more than 170 residential units into the space, and even though the number has been whittled down to 136, there is still a sense that the project is too dense and is engineered in a way that could prove dangerous.

Board member Karen Solstad, for instance, argued that the proposed plan includes several potentially hazardous walls and steep hills, which may not be necessary if the development included fewer buildings. She also expressed doubt over the developer’s claim that the buildings would not all be a cookie-cutter design, despite their insistence that they stick to the building design they always use.

“I have a hard time trusting the details,” Solstad said. “This is a huge project for the town, and the details we’ve been asking for over and over have not been forthcoming. So to trust that if we approve something the details will come together, I’m very leery of that.”

After the meeting, several Planning Board members expressed frustration with the developers for dragging their feet. Despite being weary over the drawn-out process, vice chairman Ara Sanentz made a comment about how Bailey’s Pond is a unique and beautiful piece of property that represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Amesbury.

“We only have one chance to get this right,” he said.