REPORT: SPECIAL PLANNING BOARD MEETING (10/30/19). DISPOSITION OF ROADS IN THE AMHERST HILLS SUBDIVISION

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Present: Board members Christine Gray-Mullen (Chair), Jack Jemsek, Maria Chao, Michael Birtwistle, David Levenstein, Janet McGowan. Staff: Christine Brestrup, (Planning Director), Pam Sadler Field (Administrative Assistant), Jason Skeels (Town Engineer).

This meeting was called to continue a discussion, begun at the Planning Board meeting of 10/16/19  of the complaints of the residents of the Amherst Hills subdivision, off Station Road, against the developer, Tofino Associates of New Jersey, with Ted Parker being the local representative of the developer.

During the October 16 Planning Board meeting, many residents came forward to protest the release of 13 lots for development in May of 2019 when the roads in the subdivision were deteriorating so much that the town was declining to plow them in the winter because of previous damage to town plows. The residents requested that the Planning Board rescind the release of the nine lots not yet sold in order to retain leverage over the developer to finish the roads. Typically, the final coat of asphalt is not placed until 90 percent of the lots are developed. This is done in order to avoid damage to the roads by construction vehicles, but this subdivision has had only the base coat of asphalt since 2004 and it has badly degraded. The residents contended that the Planning Board did not have the full information on the state of the roads at the time it released the lots.

Since the October meeting, Planning Board members made a site visit with the Town Engineer, Jason Skeels. They noted that most of the potholes had been recently filled. The retention ponds were overgrown and some easements were not maintained, but the roads were generally passable. Half of Hawthorne Drive and one-third of Linden need the base coat to be removed and new grading done. The rest of the streets only need the final asphalt coat. Skeels said that Parker had arranged to put down liquid asphalt around the manholes so the streets could be plowed. He also scheduled repair of the collapsing catch basins by spring of 2020. Skeels said that typically, the base coat of asphalt was covered before winter or left over one winter. He thought five years was the maximum it could last without degradation; and that once it started to degrade, the process goes much faster.

The main arguments of the residents were presented by Attorney Tom Reidy of Bacon, Wilson and Associates and Amherst Hills resident James Masteralexis. They feared that Tofino could quickly unload the remaining lots and then never finish the roads. The $288,000 held as a bond by Greenfield Bank is probably only half of what is needed to repair the roads. At a meeting of residents in September, Parker had already hinted that the Homeowners Association should be responsible for finishing the roads, although Tofino has taken care of maintenance until this time and the Homeowners Association does not formally exist.

Several of the approximately 30 Amherst Hills residents who were present spoke. Alexandra Mileu asked the Board not to take Parker at his word—that he would finish the roads—because the roads have not been maintained and the potholes were not filled until just before the site visit. She urged the town to exercise its oversight responsibility. Brian Keedon stated that homebuyers were never told that they were responsible for finishing the roads. Several residents voiced concerns that Parker would not do the work unless he was legally required to do so.

The Planning Board expressed some reservations about rescinding the lot release at this meeting. Its members had just received a lengthy document from Bacon, Wilson that afternoon. The Planning Board wanted a new estimate for the work that needs to be done and possibly a new Performance Bond Agreement. A suggestion to defer action until the November 20 Planning Board meeting was objected to by the residents. Then board member Michael Birtwistle moved that a temporary hold be placed on building permits for the unsold nine lots until more information is gathered, including the plans and estimated cost of completing the roads. This motion passed unanimously. The matter will be discussed again on November 20.

The meeting adjourned at 8:55 PM.

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