Newbury Planning Board OKs development off Coleman Road

RICHARD K. LODGE / Staff Photo. The historic carved "Witchstone" appears to be an early image of a nobleman.

NEWBURY — Anticipating the future while preserving the past — including a historic early 18th century carved memorial — was on the minds of Planning Board members as a special permit public hearing drew to a close for an Open Space Residential Development off Coleman Road.

The Planning Board, Town Planner Martha Taylor and members of the public discussed with the owner and applicant, Tom Zahoruiko, of Zendko, LLC, possibilities for including an affordable housing component in his project. They also considered options for protecting the historic “Witchstone” — also known as the “Fatherstone” — on the property at 15 Coleman Road.

By the end of the meeting, the Open Space Residential Development special permit was approved and a concurrent hearing for a definitive subdivision application for the same project was continued to June 16 at 7:15 p.m.

In February, Zendko, LLC, had submitted concurrent applications to the board seeking approval for a subdivision of five single family homes and two additional homes on bonus lots on a 440-foot cul-de-sac. A former mink farm known as Witchstone Farm, the land is surrounded by homes and forests owned by The Governor’s Academy.

As part of the agreement, Zahoruiko is donating 82% of the property’s upland acreage to the town for open space. A small parking area and public access will be provided at the back of the property. The intent of the open space bylaw is to give developers incentives to seek more creative ways to develop land that encourages less housing sprawl, preserves open space, forests and agricultural land and enhances the town’s character. Developers are also encouraged to include affordable housing in their plans.

Zahoruiko received approval for two additional lots beyond what he would receive under a regular subdivision plan because of the amount of land he is donating. He hopes a buyer with a passion for antique renovations will restore the clapboard farmhouse (circa 1787) and 40 by 30 foot barn on the property – otherwise his team will undertake the project. These two structures will be deed restricted to remain in place, with all exterior architectural features retained.

During the public hearing, several board and community members tried without success to convince Zahoruiko to make affordable units out of the house and barn. Noting the developer “appeared to be someone who thinks outside the box,” Chair Peter Paicos raised the idea at meeting in April. Zahoruiko responded that the donated open space provides a real community benefit. Although he has built many affordable homes in the past, it wouldn’t be financially viable in this case, he repeatedly stressed. “I’m trying to do what is reasonable and still be fair to myself and my family.”

At another meeting, resident Meg Alfoni suggested Zahoruiko partner with Habitat for Humanity to refurbish the structures.

Only 3.5% of Newbury’s housing stock qualifies as affordable, based on the 2010 Census. Newbury’s subsidized housing inventory currently identifies 94 rental units —at Newbury Village on Rolfe’s Lane and Quaker Hill and Oak Ridge on Main Street in Byfield. The state’s Comprehensive Permit Act, known as Chapter 40B, encourages communities to have at least 10% of their housing stock deemed affordable.

Planners also discussed whether to move the historic “Witchstone” – a carving commissioned in 1723 by John Dummer as a memorial to his father Richard Dummer Jr. – to another spot on the property. Zahoruiko offered to protect the stone during construction and then relocate it at the direction of the board, possibly into the open space area.

“It might be a really nice way of making sure it’s protected and making sure it remains here,” he said.

“I think Tom’s suggestion is excellent. I think it ought to be moved,” said Planning Board member Larry Murphy. Colleague George Morse agreed but members Woody Knight, Leslie Matthews, and Mary Stohn saw it differently.

“The Witchstone is of historical interest, even to people driving by who aren’t from around here, and it gives bragging rights to people who live there. To move it would take away from the historical value of it,” Matthews said.

“To move it from where it is now — people would miss it,” added Knight. “It ended up there and maybe we should leave it there.”

Although the plans indicate the stone is on the property line, according to Taylor, it remains unclear whether it sits in the town’s right-of-way or is on the property. Paicos suggested seeking an opinion from town counsel to clarify who actually has oversight over the Witchstone and checking in with the Historical Commission before deciding to do with the stone monument.

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