REPORT: PLANNING BOARD MEETING (8/27/19)

This large catalpa tree was the subject of a lengthy discussion at the Planning Board meeting of 8/27/19. The board voted to support the recommendation of the tree warden to remove the tree. Because there was public opposition to the removal, the final decision rests with the Town Manager. Photo: Art Keene.

Highlights:

  • The board approved a proposal to landscape the area around trailers previously used by Craig’s Doors at the First Baptist Church.
  • The board recommended the removal of a catalpa tree at 133-143 South East Street but because there was public opposition the decision was deferred to the Town Manager. 
  • The board approved a revised site plan for Center East Commons at 462 Main Street.  The developer noted that he will not rent to undergraduates and that they are not a protected category under housing law.   The Historical Commission placed a 12 month delay on the proposed demolition of a carriage house at the site. 
  • Archipelago Investments presented a plan to create more on-street parking at their development at 26 Spring Street.

Present: Christine Gray-Mullen (acting chair), Jack Jemsek, David Levenstein, Michael Birtwistle, Janet McGowan, Maria Chao.  Absent : Pari Riahi. Staff: Chris Brestrup, Planning Director, Pam Field–Sadler, Administrative Assistant

The meeting opened  at 6 PM with approval of the minutes of the previous two meetings.  There were no public comments offered.

First Baptist Church

The committee then discussed the condition of the land around three trailers (one permanent and two moveable) behind the First Baptist Church that are used by Craig’s Doors.  The area had previously been noted to be strewn with traffic cones and other debris. Gerald Gates represented the church and presented a plan to landscape the area around the trailers with grasses and flowers to beautify the site.  Planning Board members Maria Chao and Janet McGowan had made site visits and confirmed that the area was tidy and clean with the grasses planted. There was some confusion about who was representing the project, since Craig’s Doors board chair, Gerry Weiss, had previously come before the Planning Board and now Mr. Gates was there representing the church, but the project was approved unanimously.

Tree Removal at 133-143 South East Street

The fate of the large catalpa tree and several others at 133-143 South East Street was discussed at length.  Amir Mikhchi has proposed a three story, 62 apartment building with two retail spaces at the site. The construction process would endanger the health of the trees.  Tree warden, Alan Snow, presented a report on the condition of the trees and a recommendation. Photographs of the trees in question were shown. Snow stated that even though the catalpa is healthy in terms of leaf, bud and twig, there is a good amount of rot in the trunk and major limbs which would make it prone to breakage in the future, risking damage to people and property nearby.  Trimming of the long branches and grading of the land would probably kill the tree. The only solution to possibly saving it would be to build a large retaining wall around the tree and replace the cables that now support the branches. Snow recommended removal of the tree and payment of $3780 to the tree replacement fund. He also recommended removal and replacement payments for the 24 inch spruce, the 14 inch crabapple, and the arbor vitae hedge because of the risk to them from grading and construction.  These recommendations were supported by the report by consulting arborist, Charles McCarthy who was hired by Mikhchi.

The catalpa belongs to the town. Mikhchi stated that he is the one who installed the existing support cables and that he has cared for the tree in the past, but it is clear it would represent a danger to future residents of the site.   The existing houses are now vacant. Henry Lappen, chair of the Shade Tree Committee, stated that his committee recommended preserving the tree. Letters against the removal of the catalpa were submitted to the town by Mary Hoyer and Molly Turner.  There was a lively discussion among the board members, with Michael Birtwistle presenting the view that the “taking of the tree,” if the Planning Board recommended in agreement with the Tree Warden, went against the board’s role in protecting a valuable public asset and also went against another town body, the Shade Tree Committee.  Maria Chao presented the alternative view, that increased housing also represented a public asset, possibly of greater value to the town and was in keeping with the area’s designation as a village center. Janet McGowan noted that the question about the tree resulted directly from the proposed development, since the tree would not be in question otherwise, but she was ultimately swayed by her doubt that the catalpa would be long-lived in any event.  Several members cited their support for the expertise in Snow’s and McCarthy’s reports, although as noted, McCarthy represented the developer. No one questioned that the tree was valuable and no one questioned that its decay was extensive. After a discussion, the Planning Board voted 5-1 to agree with the Tree Warden’s recommendation to remove the trees, with Birtwhistle dissenting. Riahi was absent. Because there were letters opposing removal, the final decision will rest with the Town Manager.

The approximately $7000 generated by removal of these trees would go into a fund for planting of new trees in town, including at the above site.

The planning board voted to support the recommendation of the tree warden to remove this large spruce and two other trees at 133-143 South East Street. Because there was public opposition to the removal, the final decision rests with the Town Manager. Photo: Art Keene.

Center East Commons

Discussion resumed on Center East Commons, the 16 unit building on 462 Main Street, proposed by John Wrobeleski. (continued from 7/24. See here).  The building, which also contains office space will be co-located with the large house next door containing 7 offices which will continue to be leased. The proposal requires demolition of an existing carriage house at the site.  An architectural rendering of the three-story clapboard and shingle building was shown. The building is in character with the surrounding structures. There will be one, two and three bedroom units and 68 parking spaces for the two buildings including an electric car charging station.  The site plan was altered to preserve the maple trees there. A parking waiver was granted due to the complementary times the lot would be used as well as the proximity to downtown and the presence of a bus stop at the property. Wrobeleski will manage the property.

There was a discussion about whether undergraduates could be excluded as stated in the application for housing.  Wrobeleski stated that undergraduates are not a protected group under the anti-discrimination act. This policy has worked for the building he owns next door on High Street.

The Historical Commission placed a 12 month delay on the demolition of the existing carriage house, deeming it to be one of only a few remaining carriage houses in town.  This reversed an earlier decision by the Historical Commission in June 2018 to not impose a demolition delay (per Hilda Greenbaum).

Several site plan revisions were discussed.  Solar panels were encouraged by the board members but were not in the requirements.  The lighting plan was also presented and discussed. The revised plan was approved unanimously, with one absent.

Archipelago’s Development at 26 Spring Street

Representatives from Archipelago Investments presented revisions to the site plan for the 58 unit building at 26 Spring Street.  Additional on-street parking will be obtained by the removal of two light poles when Eversource buries existing cables along Spring Street.  Sidewalk grading and lighting plans were presented and approved unanimously. Archipelago will now proceed to obtain a building permit.

Discussion of the dog park site plan and Mikhchi’s proposed development on South East Street were postponed until the September 4 meeting.

Christine Brestrup stated that there is money for a facilitator for a follow up public meeting to discuss downtown development.  Plans are to schedule the meeting in October.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.