NEWBURY — Phase 1 of what could be the town's first 40B affordable housing development got underway this week.

On Tuesday, members of the Board of Selectmen and Planning Board met jointly with developer Walter Eriksen of Applewood Construction to review an eligibility and site approval application he has submitted for 55R Pearson Drive under the state’s affordable housing law. 

The first step in the 40B process is for applicants to obtain a letter of eligibility from MassHousing — the subsidizing agency for the project,  determining that the plan is financially feasible; that the developer controls the intended site; and that profits would be limited to no more than 20 percent above all costs for the project.

Town officials have until Sept. 23 to submit a letter to MassHousing with comments on the proposed development. With input from the public, Newbury officials will weigh in on a range of issues, including traffic, lighting, wetlands and stormwater management.

If Eriksen receives his eligibility letter, he would then submit a comprehensive permit application to the Zoning Board of Appeals to consider waiving some zoning requirements for the development he is calling Cricket Lane LCC.

A similar proposal for the same lot for a development called Byfield Estates was rejected after the developer, Haralambos Katsikis, failed to notify the state he had been indicted on several felony counts.

The comprehensive permit law, known as 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 — meaning it could be purchased or rented by a household making up to 80% of the median income for the area.

Approximately 3.5 percent of Newbury’s housing meets 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 have long-term affordability restrictions placed on them.

Six of the 24 single-family homes Eriksen is planning to develop on seven of the 15 acres available at Pearson Drive would be sold as affordable. Dispersed in the cluster development, the homes would look the same as the market-price units from the exterior.

Inside, the two-story, 2,500-square-foot homes would feature three bedrooms, one and one-half baths, vinyl and carpeted flooring, and laminated countertops. They could be built to accommodate Americans with Disability Act requirements and elder needs, including a bedroom on the first floor if desired. Erikson estimates the affordable units would sell for about $220,000.

The 18 remaining market-priced homes would be three or four bedrooms and from 2,500 to 2,700 square feet. With hardwood and ceramic tile flooring and granite countertops, the estimated sale price would be $600,000.

Each home in the development would have “exclusive use” areas outside and full basements inside. Homeowners would pay a monthly fee to a homeowners association for regular condominium-style maintenance of the property, which could include shared recreational area for a soccer field or playground.

A common septic system would be inspected annually and pumped regularly. Engineer Ben Osgood reported no impact on water pressure in the area from the development, but said the plan is to dig a well for irrigation purposes.

The road would remain as a private way, with the closest unit situated about 80 feet from the nearest home on Pearson Drive. The property is surrounded on the north and west sides by the Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area and includes four distinct areas of wetlands. It would be accessed by a 24-foot-wide, 830-foot-long cul-de-sac stemming from 55 Pearson Drive. Sidewalks on one side and trees planted along the street are part of the plan.

Eriksen called it “a nice, concise cluster development” that would be “very energy efficient.”

The affordable units could potentially provide some housing for local residents and workers — such as teachers or public safety workers. These units would be assigned through a lottery, but the town could opt for a community preference that would require up to 70% — or five of the six units ‚  go to specific groups such as residents, employees or veterans.

“We think this is a property of which the town will be proud,” Eriksen said.

But the 10 or so abutters and other residents who attended the session were not convinced. They believe the development would have a “huge impact on our community,” as one abutter put it.

He said the estimated 250 vehicular trips daily on their street during construction was not “negligible” as someone from the Applewood team had suggested, and he wondered about the wisdom of building on “a cul-de-sac within a cul-de-sac.”

“It’s something the town is struggling with,” Selectman Damon Jespersen said.

Claire Dix questioned the 15-foot distance between the homes and Kristen Grubbs said that under conventional zoning rules, this land would only accommodate nine to 10 single-family homes around a 500-foot cul-de-sac.

They challenged the developer’s contention that the new development would be within walking distance to schools, public transportation and retail areas in town, and questioned potential environmental impacts on the rural area.

But Eriksen argued that this type of development isn’t just for thickly settled urban sites.

“We need affordable housing in neighborhoods as well,” he said.

If approved, Eriksen anticipates the project taking about two years to complete. He cited Sugar Maple Lane in Westford and Maple Ridge development in Tyngsboro as examples of Applewood Construction’s recent work.

Anyone with feedback or concerns about the project should send them to Town Planner Martha Taylor at no later than Monday so she can include them in the letter being sent to MassHousing.

Selectmen JR Colby and Alicia Greco were not present for the meeting Tuesday.

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