By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — After a boisterous hearing which the chairman several times threatened to shut down, the Planning Board last night effectively upheld last week’s Town Meeting vote to indefinitely postpone Article 12, a measure to limit the height of any building in the Assisted Living Overlay District to 30 feet. The Town Meeting vote precluded proponents from bringing the height restriction measure back to Town Meeting for a period of two years – unless the Planning Board issued an affirmative recommendation.
A Brightview Senior Living Facility is proposed on property currently owned by the Fraen Corporation between Main Street and Crescent Street in the downtown area. At certain points, the proposed five-story building would reach a maximum height of 60 feet.
By a vote of 3-0, the Planning Board voted not to recommend favorable Town Meeting action on the zoning amendment to limit the height of Assisted Living facilities to 30 feet. Chairman Matthew Lowry recused himself as he is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, which abuts the site of the proposed 137-unit Brightview Assisted Living facility. Members William Spaulding, Christopher Fowlie and William Damore all voted against favorably recommending the measure. Paul Semenza, who chaired the hearing in Lowry’s stead, did not vote.
Representing Andrea Sullivan of 12 Crescent St., Topsfield attorney Alan Grenier told the Planning Board at the start of the hearing that his client was seeking an affirmative vote of the board, because without it “we cannot go back to Town Meeting for two years.”
When Grenier began discussing parking and other Brightview locations, Semenza stopped him and told him he had to stay on the posted topic of the public hearing, namely the height issue.
Grenier argued that the proposed project was too high. He claimed that the 30-foot height restriction was not intended to kill the project, but merely to limit it to three stories.
Andrea Sullivan of 12 Crescent St. called the height of the proposed Brightview facility on Crescent Street “ridiculous.” She said that when she and her husband decided to buy a home near the town center, they did not anticipate “opening our front door to a 60-foot monstrosity.”
Grenier passed around photos of a balloon study, which he said showed the height of the proposed Brightview facility in relation to nearby buildings including the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Board member William Spaulding wondered where the idea for a 30-foot height limit came from, pointing out that single family homes are allowed to be 35 feet high.
Bronwyn Della-Volpe of Byron Street insisted that, “No one is trying to stop this project,” claiming that those favoring a height limit were merely “trying to make it enhance the neighborhood and enhance the town.” She said that she would “support what we were promised, which was 90 units.”
Bob McLaughlin of Water Street asked whether the Planning Board had any idea of the height when it recommended favorable action on the Assisted living Overlay District to the 2012 Annual Town Meeting.
Lowry pointed out that there was no project proposed at the time – only creating the district.
Robert Mitchell of Spaulding Street asserted that what the board approved in 2012 was 150 units but Lowry corrected him, pointing out that the board recommended a zoning change only, as there was no project at the time.
Semenza told those in attendance that their concerns were better brought before the Zoning Board of Appeals, which has the only authority to place restrictions on the project.
Board member Christopher Fowlie pointed out that the proposed height restriction, even if recommended by the Planning Board, probably would not affect Brightview’s currently proposed project as long as they continue making the required filings that would lock in present zoning for eight years.
Michael Casoli of Valley Street and Philip Salios of Aborn Avenue spoke against the proposed height restriction.
The hearing became heated after attorney Brian McGrail, who represents Shelter Development in its effort to construct the Brightview Senior Living facility on Crescent Street, questioned who conducted the balloon study.
Patrick Bruno of Mackenzie Lane admitted that he initiated the study. When McGrail pointed out that Bruno conducted the study on private property owned by the Fraen Corporation, Bruno countered that he believed he had been on church property and had the church’s permission to be there. But church members at the hearing, including Lowry, insisted that Bruno did not have the church’s permission.
McGrail provided some history of the Assisted Living Bylaw and Overlay District, noting that both were overwhelmingly approved at the 2012 Annual Town Meeting. He disputed claims by proponents of the height restriction that they were not trying to kill the Brightview project outright.
He recalled that after an April 1, 2014 Special Election effectively halted a previous Brightview proposal, 11 registered voters filed an amendment to totally eliminate the Assisted Living Overlay District. Several of those same people also signed the petition for the height restriction, McGrail said, and were present at last night’s hearing.
“So you tell me what intent is behind it,” McGrail said. He maintained that it was unfair to try to change the bylaw at this point when the project has already had three hearings before the ZBA.
Matthew Jewett of Byron Street said that he had concerns about the height dating back to the first Brightview proposal. He wondered if more attention should have been paid to potential height issues when the Assisted Living Overlay District was originally created.
Grenier observed that there seemed to be nearly unanimous agreement that the zoning allowing the project was frozen.
“Just keep your eyes open,” Grenier advised.
After nearly two hours of testimony, Semenza closed the public hearing. Board members discussed the fact that while they were not comfortable with the proposed height of 60 feet, they also did not see a 30-foot restriction as reasonable. They then voted to recommend against favorable action on the height restriction amendment.