NEWBURY — Developer Erik Sorenson says a rainier-than-typical summer has slowed progress on his plans to build a golf center on Scotland Road, but town leaders say poor communication is the real culprit.
At the continuation of a joint public hearing with the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board on Wednesday, Sorensen reported there were 14 days in the past couple months when it was too wet for his crew to work. One building is ready for interior plumbing and a second building is nearly completed. But abutters can anticipate a couple more weeks of hammering, he said. The seeding and work to put down sod is ready to get under way, and he went before the two boards hoping they would sign off on the recently installed driveway accessing the site as well as an OK to begin work in an area designed for chipping and short game golf.
About 35 people attended the hearing at the town offices on Kent Way.
With a goal of opening in the fall and staying open all winter, Sorenson proposed postponing the installation of six 50-foot light poles until next spring, with the understanding that even with a certificate of occupancy in hand, the approval for the lighting is not guaranteed. Officials said they preferred that he revise his plan to exclude the lighting for now, then come back with a new petition when he was ready to do the work.
Town officials also said Sorenson’s crew needs to improve how it is communicating about the project. Selectman Damon Jespersen read a letter from Conservation Agent Doug Packer dated August 7 in which he describes a time in late July when contractor John Miller attempted to resolve a problem that arose when he was working on the new driveway. His solution wound up causing a dump of sediment into wetlands on the property. Packer credited Miller with taking prompt action to contact him once the dumping had occurred, but Packer also noted he had a stop order ready to shut the project down if there were any more such incidents.
Jespersen wanted to know why the incident wasn’t included in the daily report that Miller is required to file with the town. It wasn’t the first time that Sorenson’s team had been reactive instead of proactive in letting the town know when plans were changing, Jespersen said.
“This is a disturbing pattern as far as I’m concerned,” said Jespersen, who was chairing the selectmen’s meeting. Chairman JR Colby is not participating in the hearings because his business is on Scotland Road. Selectman Mike Doyle was not present.
“I don’t want the DEP to come in to stop this project. We just can’t close our eyes and hope that it’s going to work out,” said Jespersen.
“We really want this to be a collaborative effort,” agreed Peter Paicos of the Planning Board, “If DEP gets involved, it’s not going to be in our control anymore.”
Sorenson noted that his contractor had worked with Packer to fix the problem. Miller has 30 years experience and “his quality of work is second to none,” Sorenson said. “I don’t think there’ll be any more issues.”
When Jespersen opened the discussion up for comments from his colleagues, Selectwoman Alicia Greco responded, “Honestly, it doesn’t matter what we think — the applicant has a history of not complying.” Greco had insisted at a previous meeting that Miller attend future public hearings, so she was frustrated he wasn’t there to answer questions on Wednesday night because of a scheduling conflict.
The boards briefly contemplated issuing sanctions or fines on the project. There is a $300 per day, per offense fine charged for violations of the plans. Every day is a separate offense, said Town Planner Martha Taylor.
Paicos pointed out that the developer has failed on two fronts — the driveway and the communications piece — and now is seeking further approval to work on the short game-chipping area of the center. Both boards agreed the daily correspondence from Miller was severely lacking in details and significant updates.
“We’re frustrated that these guidelines we agreed upon haven’t been met,” said Paicos.
“I would say there was one failure, not two,” responded Sorenson’s lawyer, Michael Rosen. He contended that if communication had been better, there would have been no issue with how the driveway situation was handled. He proposed having Sorenson handle the daily correspondence, or at least supplement what the contractor is sending out. Miller may feel like he doesn’t have time or inclination to provide the kind of detail at the end of the work day that the board is looking for — and Sorenson has the most over all knowledge about the project, Rosen said.
“We’re not changing John Miller. We’re just not,” he said.
The boards urged him to stick to the plans and let them know immediately if any changes are required.
“You have a road map. You need to stay on the road. It’s up to you,” said Greco.
The town issued a special permit to build the 27-acre business in 2017. Work was stopped for nearly a year after a subcontractor cut down a swath of trees outside the permitted area. Town leaders threatened to shut the project down when dust created a serious nuisance for neighbors and mud was being dragged on to Scotland Road from trucks entering and exiting the site.
The hearing was continued until Sept. 18 at 7:15 p.m.
To view the plans visit www.newburygolfcenter.com.