Published in the April 20, 2016 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD —A resolution to the standoff between the town and the owner of the defunct Perley Burrill gas station at 906 Salem St. may be on the horizon.
A local developer is interested in acquiring the property and creating either a four-lot subdivision or a three-lot subdivision, with the fourth lot reserved as a neighborhood park. The size of the lots, which vary from 15,000 square feet to 27,900 square feet, would limit the building footprints to ones that match existing homes in the area as opposed to “McMansions.”
At a public neighborhood meeting held last Thursday night at Town Hall run by Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford, the three-lot plan with the public park was favorably received by the 25 residents in attendance.
Crawford had the Town Administrator’s office send out meeting notices to all abutters within 300 feet of the property using the same abutters’ list that would be required if the redevelopment of the site is required to go through a public hearing process with the Planning Board.
Because it was not an official meeting of the Board of Selectmen, only Crawford attended the public meeting to prevent a violation of the Open Meeting Law, he said.
Investor and developer Michael Merullo is a Lynnfield resident with a vested interest in redeveloping the property. In addition to the benefit of getting the property back onto the tax rolls, he also holds the third mortgage on the property.
If the plan moves forward as Merullo envisions, the town would be paid its back taxes, which now total over $224,000; the second mortgagee would be reimbursed and Merullo would make back his investment. The ideal plan also includes a public park for the neighborhood on the second largest of the three lots, a 24,000 square foot parcel that would be created off Witham Street in addition to three house lots, Crawford said.
Crawford emphasized that any plan includes paying back the town first, which is required before anything else can take place. The plan would also include remediation of the site overseen by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regardless of whether the subdivision can be built “as of right” within the existing rules and regulations of the subdivision control law or if it requires any waivers or variances.
Merullo explained that this clean up process would be done in stages over a period of several months with the oversight of the DEP. Engineer Peter Ogren added that the type of contamination found would determine the method of the clean-up as rules for gasoline contamination are different from the rules for oil contamination.
It was also noted that when the five underground storage tanks were removed in January of 2015 only one area near one of the tanks had any soil contamination.
The first mortgage was discharged by Bank of America last November after months of negotiations arranged by Crawford and State Rep. Brad Jones.
Crawford also explained that even though the town is owed the back taxes for the land, the town cannot recoup the value of those taxes through a land swap for the park. The plan favored by the neighborhood, as well as Crawford and the developer, would require that the land for the park be purchased by the town. It has an assessed value of about $275,000, Crawford said.
Crawford said authorization to purchase the land could either be approved through an article on the October Town Meeting warrant by the voters or it could be purchased by the Conservation Commission and remain as undeveloped open space, which would not require Town Meeting approval. However, the downside to that scenario is the land could not be developed into an active playground.
Crawford said if a public park is included in the plan, the residents of the neighborhood would decide what they want that park to be. Initially, he had proposed that the park include a few parking spaces to keep people from parking on Witham Street, but none of the neighborhood residents present favored that idea. They preferred that it be a park where those who used it needed to walk or ride their bikes to prevent it from becoming a night time hang out area.
Several residents also recommended deferring the plans for a park to those who live on Witham Street since that street would provide the only point of access and most neighbors present were from Fairview Road, Fairview Avenue or Salem Street. Two Witham Street residents said they would discuss it with their neighbors.
Ogren explained that the first plan, the one with four lots, could be built by right because it could conform to the town’s rules and regulations. However, it would require a full size road with a 120-foot diameter cul-de-sac to create the frontage for three lots off Fairview. One lot can be developed by right off Salem Street with just driveway access, he said.
Under this scenario, there would be no room left for a park because that 24,000 square feet would be needed to create the fourth lot and there would be a lot of new infrastructure, he said.
A plan requiring a few waivers would fit better into the size of the neighborhood, Ogren explained, because they could create just two lots off a 222-foot long road with a 45-foot diameter cul-de-sac to create the frontage needed for a 16,200 square foot lot and a 27,900 square foot lot. This would require waivers from the diameter of the circle, width of pavement and elimination of sidewalks. It would also require an agreement by the town to allow fire trucks to back up the street rather than turn around on the small circle.
The by-right lot on Salem Street would be 15,000 square feet. The lot on Witham Street for the park would be about 24,000 square feet. There is a total of 2.3 acres of land available. All setbacks to the abutting properties would be maintained and the plan would include screening and buffering, either with natural plantings or fencing, whichever is preferred by the abutter.
Current land owner Joe Pedoto, who has owned it as the Little Joe Realty Trust since 2005, has a court order against him not to be operating oil trucks from the site, Crawford said. However, the neighborhood residents reported that they see trucks there daily. He asked residents to report the violations to the police and said he would also talk to Police Chief Dave Breen about the existence of this court order so that action may be taken the next time a violation is observed.
The property fell into disrepair and ongoing disputes between the status of the oil and gas tanks were documented between the owner and the town and the Fire Department going back to 2010 until their removal in January of 2015, based on a timeline provided to the Villager by Crawford. The town has taken Pedoto to court numerous times seeking to resolve a multitude of problems at the site.
Crawford said the three-lot plan requiring waivers “affords Merullo enough money to clean up the site, pay off the second mortgagee, pay back the taxes owed to the town and get his money back” while also giving the south side of Lynnfield green space that currently doesn’t exist.
The next step would be to informally bring the sketch plans before the Planning Board at a regular public meeting to see what the board members think of the idea before fully engineered plans are drawn. The residents were assured that they would be notified of this meeting as well.