Published April 4, 2019


NORTH READING — MassHousing notified town officials late last week that site eligibility approval has been granted to NY Ventures for its proposed 200-unit apartment complex at 20 Elm St. under the state Chapter 40B law.

This is not a plan approval; it allows the applicant to apply to the ZBA for a comprehensive permit within 2 years.

The 19-acre site is located on property formerly owned and operated by the Thomson Country Club in the area near the tennis courts and former driving range. The rear of the site extends to the Ipswich River. In 2012 the property was sold to Nick Yebba who operates Teresa’s and Grill 19 where the function hall had been. According to the preliminary plans submitted to the state the two restaurants would remain as this land would be included in the approximately five aces to be subdivided from the land that is the subject of the 40B application.

On the town’s website the determination by MassHousing was summarized as stating that the site “appears to be generally eligible” and includes the identification of specific issues that “should be addressed in [the] application to the North Reading Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) for a Comprehensive Permit and fully explored in the public hearing process prior to submission of [the] application for final approval under the Program.”

The information also includes a link to the multi-page MassHousing letter.

“This is where the project starts”

At Monday night’s Select Board meeting the members weighed in.

Select Board member Kate Manupelli stated she wanted to “clear up any misconception” stemming from comments she had read on social media stating that their board had “approved the project.” She noted that the Select Board does not have the jurisdiction to approve or deny the project as that would be a decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Manupelli stated that in response to the many concerns raised by townspeople who had attended their board meeting in December to voice their concerns about the project during the public comment period, “there was a pretty decent effort made by the Town Administrator and other staff to incorporate all of the residents’ concerns.” She added that the next step would be for the applicant to make a submittal “to the Zoning Board for a determination.”

Chairman Michael Prisco agreed. “There is a misconception out there that (the 40B) has been approved. It is my understanding that the only thing that has been approved is that they’re allowed to submit an application. It has not been approved. This is where the project starts,” he said.

Select Board member Stephen O’Leary agreed. “This is just the first step…I would have been very surprised if the state said it was not suitable for housing because it is suitable for housing. Is it suitable for 200 units? I don’t think so. There is a long process to go through. There is a significant amount of public input, notification of abutters within 300 feet,” O’Leary added.

“This (approval) just provides the opportunity to file a comprehensive permit to the town and to submit for some finance approval with the state,” he explained.

“It has a long way to go. Past practice has been that there will be a subcommittee appointed by ZBA to sit down with the developer to see if we can come to an acceptable proposal. If we can’t come to an agreement and ZBA does not support it, then it will go to state,” said O’Leary, who added that as a result of the significant amount of public input generated during this public comment period from both the public, the administration and local officials he had never seen a letter from MassHousing that had pinpointed “so many areas of concern.”

MassHousing stated in the site eligibility letter that there had been 419 letters submitted from the public. Of those, 302 were versions of the same form letter signed by different households outlining their many environmental concerns. There were also 117 “unique” letters — out of which six favored the project and the remaining 111 objected to it.

Select Board member Andrew Schultz agreed that some comments on social media did warrant a clarification from the board. “This board did not vote for this project. It was not before this board,” he said, adding that “a lot of different departments filed letters of opposition outlining the issues that the town had with the project as currently offered.”

Schultz outlined the next likely steps under the statutory requirements that the public could expect to see.

“Once the request is filed the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) will have 30 days to open the hearing, 180 days to close that hearing, and 40 days to issue their decision, so you are looking a minimum of six months,” said Schultz.

Schultz added that he had spoken to the ZBA chair who said “the ZBA is in the process of forming rules and regulations for this project.” He added that the town will be applying for grants to conduct wetland and stormwater reviews that the developer would pay for or that would be paid for by a grant. “It was a good education for me. What Mr. O’Leary has stated is correct. It is up to the developer to make the next move,” Schultz said.