Still No Decision on Chiofaro’s Marsh Road Subdivision

Photo: Monday’s meeting on the Chiofaro subdivision.

It’s somewhat appropriate that the name of the road servicing a proposed subdivision off Marsh Road will be called Sleepy Hollow Lane as it’s taking the town about as long as Rip Van Winkle slept to render a decision on the development.

In a packed, overheated Board of Selectmen’s Room at Town Hall on Monday night, March 27, a majority of the Board of Survey – made up of the three Board of Selectmen members – declared that enough new information on the proposed five house development by Marsh Road resident and Boston developer Don Chiofaro had been presented that they would take an additional week to ruminate before making a final decision on homeowner on Monday, April 3

“There is a lot for us to review,” said Mark Paolillo, chair of the board, who agreed to the delay coming from his colleagues Jim Williams and Sami Baghdady, although he had announced his vote to deny a waiver to Chiofaro to increase by a third the length of an elevated public cul-de-sac running from Marsh Road to the back of Chiofaro’s property at 178 Marsh Rd. which abuts Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, the 88-acre Massachusetts Audubon Nature site.

While his fellow members needed more time, Paolillo told the audience and Chiofaro that his “no” vote against the 210-foot roadway extension is that it will set the wrong precedent on future requests.

“We have heard from hundreds of folks against this development,” said Paolillo, who noted that a scaled down project of three large houses “is in the best interest of Belmont.”

The meeting, with nearly 70 people in the room and the hallway, was a continuation of a public meeting earlier in the month in which Chiofaro sought to add a bit more than 200 feet to the 600-foot public cul-de-sac he is allowed to build on his property to construct five large “McMansions” homes. Under “by-right” regulations, Chiofaro could build three homes in his backyard which borders the Habitat on its north side.

For Chiofaro and his supporters, the public benefits of a larger development with the 810-foot road include tax revenue, an emergency-access road from Woodfall Road and several inground infrastructure improvements he is willing to make that would help alleviate spot flooding on Marsh Road during heavy rain storms. Chiofaro noted that he could not build due to expense the underground culverts or the “safety” road with a shorter roadway.

The Chiofaro team pointed to some “dead end” roads in Belmont which have been expanded by past Board of Surveys beyond the 600-foot restriction with Pinehurst and Snakehill at more than 1,200 feet.

To Habitat supporters, which made up two-thirds of the audience, an expanded housing development close to the protected lands and near to wetlands would be detrimental to not just the Audubon sanctuary but surrounding woodlands.

The night did have its testy moments such as when Habitat supporters laughed in derision when Chiofaro – a lifelong Belmont resident who is known for building some of Boston’s iconic office towers such as One International Place – said the upscale development was “a good idea” for the town as it would allow “other people to live there.”

Someone who does not have a reputation of shrinking to criticism, Chiofaro said for the three years he had been actively pursuing this development “there has been a whirlpool of naysayers” who said of his proposal: “not in my backyard.”

“Well, this is my backyard,” Chiofaro noted, saying this is not being created “out of spite” but with the realization that “you just need to do the math with tax revenue.”

“One last thing, prohibiting development is not a good thing” for any town to consider, he said.

When the meeting was open for public comment, it was Anne Paulsen, the former selectman and state representative, who gave historical backing to those who oppose the expanded roadway. She was on the board that signed the 1989 bylaw that rewrote town survey regulations that are now on the books. She noted then the town was under pressure from developers and required a particular length of “public ways” for safety reasons including keeping them in repair which is hard to maintain.

Paulsen countered Chiofaro’s team’s assertion that the town had given several extensions over time, noting most were before the 1989 rewrite and of those after, many were for very short amounts; 50 feet on one street, seven on another.

She reminded the board of “how important your decision is in future” proposals.

Chiofaro’s defenders told of his lifelong support for educational and sporting endeavours, and his commitment to quality with new construction in a town where half the 10,000 homes have been built before World War II. (Although there was a humorous moment when a Chiofaro supporter told the audience that there was a “fear” of “building McMansions on open land …” at which point a loud cheer broke out from Habitat defenders, “Thank you!” said one hailing the realization. The supporter did say that the developer would build a quality project.)

Habitat advocates questioned many aspects of the project, including the emergency road cutting through their private road, the amount of fill required to build the roadway and homes which will need to be elevated from 4 to 12 feet due to the depression of the property and nearby wetlands and whether there was any “public” benefit to the town from the larger project.

Placing a coda on the public statements, Belmont Conservation Commission Chair James Roth said may on both sides of the issue were only seeing the trees at the expense of the forest “by not looking at the entire project.”

“Who is going to maintain this town road?” he pondered, noting that culvert such as Chiofaro has promised with the larger development will at times only last four years without constant repair.

After two hours of discussion, it was if the meeting was called due to collective exhaustion. For Baghdady, who will be leaving the board two days after Monday’s meeting, there was the hope “that a compromise could be found” between the developers and the other side” by next week.

For Chiofaro, he would only say that he will be back next week.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

McMansions On Hold as Marsh Street Resident Rolls Up New Street Plan

Photo: The proposed entry to the Sleepy Hollow Road.

Sleepy Hollow Road, a controversial new cul-de-sac connecting Marsh Street to five proposed “McMansions” on the land of a well-known Boston developer, will make like Ichabod Crane and nod off before waking up sometime next year, according to Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development.

A hearing before the Board of Survey – made up of the three-member Board of Selectmen – to review the suggested road snaking through the rear of Donald Chafaro’s nearly seven-acre property at 178 Marsh, was withdrawn “without prejudice” by the applicant at the Monday night meeting, Oct. 24. 

But the removal of the application does not mean the residential subdivision that will encroach onto protected wetlands and the Massachusetts Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary is going away for good. Since no formal action was taken by the Board of Survey, Chafaro can bring the application “at another time in the future,” said Clancy.

According to Clancy, the withdrawal of plans to create six housing parcels along nearly 200-foot roadway was due to a misreading of the town’s regulations rather than a change of mind.

“There was a misunderstanding with the engineer who is leading the project. He was under the impression that any environmental review [of the road] would be the last step of the process [after a Board of Survey decision,]” Clancy told the Board. 

While there are communities around Belmont where the final step in the regulatory process is a review, “our Board of Survey rules and regulations makes it very clear that the environmental [assessment] must be done before the Board will consider an application,” said Clancy. 

It is now up to the state to determine which town agency will conduct the evaluation.

Mary Trudeau, the town’s conservation agent, has requested the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for a determination of the jurisdiction of the Wetlands Protection Act. If the DEP allows the town to review the environmental concerns, the probe will be conducted by the OCD’s engineering staff. Otherwise, the project will fall under a Conservation Commission review. 

Clancy said if the state selects the Conservation Commission route, “then the applicant must make a formal application” which could take “a couple or more months.” 

The news came as “a small moral victory” for opponents of the development, according to Roger Wrubel, director of Habitat Sanctuary for the past 16 years. Wrubel and others contend the development will result in further loss of open space as other landowners with large lots take advantage of spiraling housing prices.