NEWBURY — A year and a half after staving off its first comprehensive permit development, the town is again facing a possible forced override of local zoning to make room for more affordable housing. 

A new Chapter 40B project eligibility and site approval application was filed for 55 Rear Pearson Drive, the same 15.5 acres on which the process to create a housing development with an affordable component was initiated by developer Haralambos Katsikis of Byfield Estates LLC in 2016.

That project was rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2018 after MassHousing rescinded Katsikis’ letter of eligibility when it learned he failed to notify the state he had been indicted on several felony counts of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older, several additional misdemeanor counts of accosting and annoying a person of the opposite sex, and assault and battery.

The charges were related to workers in his restaurant. Although the 10 charges were either dismissed or continued without a finding, the state application requires that any felony indictments be revealed and explained.

A new application was recently submitted to MassHousing for approval by Walter Eriksen, manager for Cricket Lane LLC.

Town Planner Martha Taylor said, “The town has been notified by MassHousing of the submission and we are in the process of reviewing the application and preparing a comment letter to be sent to MassHousing." 

A site walk was held Aug. 6, and the applicant is scheduled to appear before selectmen and the Planning Board on Sept. 10.

Cricket Lane LLC proposes buying the property and the project design and drawings from Byfield Estates LLC.

“They are looking to build 24 home-ownership units, six of which will be affordable – same proposal as before,” Taylor said Wednesday. 

If Eriksen receives an eligibility letter from the state, the next step is for Cricket Lane LCC to apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit.

Chapter 40B, enacted in 1969, aims to address a shortage of affordable housing across the state. The comprehensive permit law aims to reduce barriers created by local permit approval processes and zoning restrictions that would otherwise prohibit building affordable housing on certain properties.

Chapter 40B allows the developer to build more densely than would otherwise be permitted in any municipality where less than 10 percent of its housing stock is deemed affordable under state guidelines.

Affordable housing is defined as a unit that could be purchased or rented by a household making up to 80% of the median income of the area. The unit is kept as affordable in perpetuity.

At the time of the original application, only 3.5 percent of Newbury’s housing met state affordability requirements. In such cases, developers can obtain a comprehensive permit to build more units per acre as long as at least 25 percent of the units include long-term affordability restrictions.

Units ranging from 2,200 to 2,700 square feet would feature three to four bedrooms and two and a half baths, according to the original plan. Some styles would have a master bedroom on the first floor.

The proposed development shared a private road maintained by a condominium association and called for a shared septic system. In exchange for waivers of some key zoning requirements, developers agreed to put deed restrictions on six of the homes and sell them through a lottery system.

Residents pushed back against the plan when it was brought forward by Byfield Estates in 2017. Some residents contended that adding 24 densely sited homes on an 845-foot-long cul de sac would significantly affect their neighborhood. Locating it at the end of a 3,000-foot road of 70 other homes is bound to create traffic, delays and safety issues, they said.

Some worried about how the additional homes might affect current issues with low water pressure on Pearson Drive. Others cited concerns with water runoff and stress on the nearby Parker River.

The property’s direct proximity to the 2,000-acre wildlife reserve also caused concerns, particularly because hunters use the land and there is a shooting range nearby.

The residents also vowed to research possible restrictive covenants added to their properties at the time the development was built in the 1970s. The covenants might limit what could be done on the abutting land.

In a process that favors the developer, local concerns must be deemed extraordinary for a 40B application to be overturned.