65-unit 'lumberyard' condo proposal denied by TPZ
While construction for new housing might be the right fit for a former lumberyard near downtown, Town Plan and Zoning Commission members have ruled the 65-unit condominium proposal for the end of Thorpe Street is not it.
The TPZ voted unanimously Tuesday night to deny the application of 185 Thorpe Street, LLC, the would-be developer of the condo project called "Osprey Landing." The proposal, which needed a zone change from industrial to designed residential for the site, generated neighborhood opposition and took four nights of hearings before the TPZ issued its decision. The applicant also sought to amend zoning regulations related to access, coverage and bulk to obtain a permit to build the condo complex.
Among concerns cited by the commissioners in their denial was the density of the development, its impact on traffic near the busy intersection of Thorpe Street with the Post and Mill Plain roads, and the 6.3-acre property's location in a flood zone next to marsh land.
"We've all said something has to change here," Commissioner Matthew Wagner said. "I've walked the property, I've studied the plan. I do believe residential is the proper use for this property."
He pointed out, however, that some of the applicants' proposal, including restoration of marsh land, the removal of 6 acres of impervious surface on the property, and replacement of sewer lines, would be a benefit to the town.
Wagner suggested the developer revisit the application and work with town staff to design an alternate plan that might win approval. "The size of the buildings was too much to bear," he said. "I sincerely encourage the applicant to not abandon this ... There have been some great strides here."
For decades, the property at the end of a small street off the Post Road was home to a lumberyard. At some point in the 1960s, the lumberyard owner filled about 1 acre of the abutting town-owned salt marsh, and paved and fenced it in. Thorpe Street dead-ends at the developer's property.
"The applicant really has to work with the town to make sure that town property is remediated," Commissioner Douglas Soutar said. "That is a critical issue."
Property owners Terrance McClinch and Ernest Pierson had also offered to pay $200,000 to the town to help with remediation of the town land, but contended that since it was the prior owner who filled and paved the property, they are not responsible for the entire cost. The town never cited the previous owner for the encroachment into the marsh.
Commissioner Richard Jacobs said he spent time last summer in meetings with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, who he said encouraged town officials to consider changing zoning regulations in order to limit the density of developments in flood zones, such as Thorpe Street.
"The federal government is pretty good when they make flood maps," Jacobs said. "They are saying we should be lowering our density in flood zones.."
Jacobs said when a piece of property becomes rundown, it allows applicants to say their proposal is "better than it is now." Instead, he said, the town's blight ordinance should be used to force property owners to clean up problem properties.
TPZ Vice Chairman Seth Baratz said he got a sense after the first night of Osprey Landing hearings that, based on the questions being asked, the application would not be approved. He said while he usually is reluctant to approve plans to add residential units to town, he believes residential use is the best for the Thorpe Street site.
"When you walk there, it's amazing how big this is," Baratz said of the acreage. "I don't think the answer is nothing" for the property. But Baratz said traffic that would be generated on such a small street would be problematic. "It is a dense development," he said, and added that the developer has to provide assurances that the town's property would be remediated.
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