Published in the July 30, 2015 edition
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — After 10 long months of public hearings, dozens of letters to the editor, lawsuits and even protests in Wakefield’s Square, the Zoning Board of Appeals last night approved three Special Permits that will allow Shelter Development to construct a 130-unit Brightview Senior Living facility on Crescent Street. The project plans call for 69 assisted living units and 61 independent living units.
It remains to be seen if the decision will be appealed in Superior Court. After the meeting, Attorney Alan Grenier, representing Andrea Sullivan of 12 Crescent St. who is in opposition of the project, said that he would have to discuss the possibility of an appeal with his client.
There is a 20-day appeal period that begins when the ZBA’s written decision is filed with the Town Clerk. It could take as long as a month for the official decision to be written. It will then be reviewed by ZBA Chairman David Hatfield before being filed with the Town Clerk.
The facility would be built on properties currently owned by the Fraen Corporation, including 338 Main St., and 11, 15, 17, 19 and 21 Crescent St., all of which are within the Assisted Living Overlay District created by a Town Meeting vote in 2012. Those buildings will be razed to make way for the project. A property at 25 Crescent St. is not in the overlay district and will be landscaped open space on one side of the building.
Opponents have cited many reasons why they believe the facility should not be built, including issues related to traffic, parking, sewerage and drainage. But mainly those opposed to the project have argued that a four-story, 130-unit facility was simply much too large for the site and the neighborhood.
Last night’s votes on all three Special Permits were unanimous with the exception of Jim McBain’s dissent on one aspect of one of the permits related to allowing one long-term parking space in the lower level garage. But even that vote passed 4-1.
Last night began with Shelter’s Attorney Brian McGrail responding to a June presentation by attorney Alan Grenier and Engineer Thad Berry on behalf of opponents of the project.
In refuting their arguments, McGrail pointed to what he maintained were inconsistencies and factual errors in the testimony offered by Grenier and Berry regarding traffic, sewage, drainage and other issues.
“Folks are trying to create confusion that doesn’t exist,” McGrail said. “The bylaw is very clear on its face.”
To counter the opponents’ arguments, McGrail cited expert testimony from the town’s Traffic Consultant John Kennedy as well as Town Engineer Michael Collins and Department of Public Works Director Rick Stinson.
McGrail then provided a summary and review of the specific relief that Shelter was seeking and the legal requirements that would have to be met for the Board to grant that relief.
After allowing public testimony from anyone wishing to speak, the Board closed the hearing to any further public comment.
The ZBA then reviewed a series of 18 conditions that would apply to all three special permits. Those conditions addressed areas including sewer, drainage, on-street parking, compliance with the Operations and Maintenance Plan, job site rules during construction and changes to the Crescent Street-Eaton Street intersection.
The board briefly debated whether a minimum age restriction should be included but ultimately left it in place after McGrail promised to appeal the restriction to the state with respect to the assisted living component.
ZBA member Chip Tarbell then made separate motions to grant each of the three requested Special Permits and reviewed the standards that must be met for each.
The first motion was to grant a Special Permit and site plan approval in accordance with applicable zoning bylaws to allow a 130-unit assisted living facility. The motion also held that the proposed parking for the project was adequate. That motion passed by a unanimous 5-0 vote.
The next motion was to grant a Special Permit for reductions and/or alterations to dimensional requirements for an assisted living facility, which are required under the Zoning Bylaw. The requested relief related to floor area ratio as well to as a setback on one side of the proposed building. That motion also carried 5-0.
The third motion was to grant a Special Permit to allow the two driveways to the entrance to the facility and to the lower level parking garage to be closer than the 100 feet required by the bylaw. The motion also allowed storm water runoff to briefly enter Crescent Street before being redirected back into the on-site drainage system.
Those two elements of the Special Permit passed unanimously. A third element of that final Special Permit, allowing one space in the lower-level parking garage to be designated as long-term parking passed 4-1 with Jim McBain opposed.
Addressing the public, board member Michael Pierce admitted that it would be a large building but said that the board took the process very seriously and tried to take all concerns into account.
Member Ami Wall said that she thought the Brightview facility would be “a vast improvement over what’s there now.”
Tarbell acknowledged that it had been a long process. “But I think a lot of good has come from this and I think what we did tonight will make Wakefield a better place,” he said. He also thanked both sides for a “heathy discussion” that he said had resulted in a better project.
After the meeting, McGrail agreed that it had been “a long road,” but said that his client was very happy with the result and appreciated the time and effort that had been spent.
Shelter’s Director of Development Michael Glynn called the just concluded process “one of the most in depth processes that we’ve been through of all the Brightviews.” He said that Shelter believed they had a good proposal to start with but acknowledged that input from the ZBA and the community had made it an even better project.
“Although it was longer than we would have liked,” Glynn said, “it was worth it.”
The history of Shelter/Brightview in Wakefield dates back to 2013 when they approached the town about building an assisted living facility on the site. The town offered to convey an adjacent town owned lot that would provide the needed square footage to expand the size of the facility if Shelter would also agree to build a parking garage with spaces for public use.
A Special Town Meeting on Feb. 6, 2014 approved the deal by the necessary two-thirds majority. However, a group of local citizens collected the more than 200 signatures needed to force a town-wide election on April 1, 2014. The land conveyance that was key to the garage proposal was defeated in that election.
On the night of the election, the anti-garage group submitted a petition signed by 11 voters to remove the land in question from the assisted living overlay district and effectively preclude the future building of any assisted living facility on the site.
But a second citizens’ petition signed by hundreds of voters in favor of the combined assisted living facility and parking garage sought to revisit the original proposal at the 2014 Annual Town Meeting.
The article to eliminate the Assisted Living Overlay District was defeated at Town Meeting, preserving options for a future proposal.
Those who favored the combined assisted living/garage proposal were also in the majority, with the final Town Meeting vote tallied at 459-377. But those who favored the garage came up 99 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to convey the town-owned land that was key to the garage proposal.
A new application was filed by Shelter on Sept. 9, 2014 for a 137-unit combined assisted living/independent living project. Hearings began on Oct. 8, 2014. Over the course of the ensuing 10 months of hearings, the project was reduced to the 130-unit proposal that was approved last night.