Planning Board Tells Developer And Council To Work Out Solution To Roads In The Meadows Subdivision

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The Meadows subdivision in Amherst. Photo: Google Maps

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Planning Board, October 19, 2022

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here

Present
Doug Marshall (Chair), Bruce Coldham, Janet McGowan, Karin Winter, Thom Long, Andrew MacDougall, and Johanna Neumann

Staff: Chris Brestrup (Planning Director), Nate Malloy (Senior Planner), Jason Skeels (Town Engineer), and Pam Field-Sadler (Assistant)

12 members of the public were watching on Zoom. Marshall read their names.

Saga Of Meadows Roads Continue
After the residents of Hop Brook and Kestrel Lane came before the Planning Board twice in the past six months (see also here) to request help in having their roads accepted as public ways, they appealed to the Town Council to accept the roads. The council referred the matter to the Finance Committee which, on October 4, then asked for a recommendation from the Planning Board.

The Meadows subdivision contains 28 houses completed in 2004. Between 2004 and 2007, the developer Tofino Associates completed most of the work on the roads, but little has been done since then, and the roads have deteriorated. The residents have been working with the town since 2014 to try to get Tofino to finish the roads, so they can become public ways as originally intended in the subdivision plan. The town was to have collected a surety on each lot to cover the road work, but only collected $20,000 (now $23,000 with interest). With all the lots sold and developed, the town has no leverage to make the developer finish the roads.

President of the homeowners’ association Doug Donnell said the residents are in a “Catch 22” situation. They can’t fix the roads because they don’t own them. They have been unsuccessful in getting Tofino to fix them, and the town is unwilling to take over the roads because they are in such bad condition. Resident Connie Kruger pointed out that the town dropped the ball by not collecting the surety from Tofino to cover the work.

Town Engineer Jason Skeels estimates that it will cost about $200,000 to bring the roads up to a condition that the roads can be accepted by the town, although that does not include crack sealing, which is also needed. A shorter punch list with three main items was also developed, but that would leave the town handling the bulk of repairs.

Planning Board members Bruce Coldham and Thom Long made a site visit along with Donnell and Kruger, Skeels, and Planning Director Chris Brestrup. Coldham noted that the area is low-lying and presents problems for maintaining drainage to keep the roads passable. The group noted that many of the catch basins and manholes need repair.

Brestrup authored a memo outlining the situation and offering four possible options for the Planning Board torecommend to the Town Council.

  1. That the town accept the road after Tofino completes the short punch list which is estimated to cost $20,000. This option is most likely to resolve the issue in the shortest amount of time, but would result in the town becoming responsible for bringing the roads up to standard.
  2. That the town not accept the roads until the complete punch list has been completed. This option is likely to prolong the situation and may result in legal action by one or more of the parties.
  3. That the Town Council negotiate an agreement between the town and Tofino to share the costs of completing the punch list prior to the town accepting the roads. Brestrup notes that Tofino has not shown an interest in negotiating such an agreement.
  4. The Planning Board offers no recommendation to the Town Council on whether to accept the roadways.

Brestrup, frustrated at the apparent impasse between the residents and Tofino, recommended option 1. She said that the residents purchased their homes thinking they would be on public streets, and have been paying property taxes for 18 years. However, Skeels said his budget for road repair is already running a deficit of $17 million to $20 million, and he was hesitant to take on 20-year-old roads needing extensive work. He worried that this would set a bad precedent and would result in more deferred maintenance for existing roads. He added that the town has been plowing Hop Brook and Kestrel Lanes, but they are getting close to being too deteriorated to allow snow plow access.

Andrew MacDougall said he thought accepting the roads in less than standard condition sets a dangerous precedent. He felt the developer should do the work. Coldham noted that the residents are doing some of the needed work by clearing brush and trimming trees overshadowing the road.

Ted Parker, of Tofino Associates, said he offered to do the short list of essential tasks without using the $23,000 held in escrow, which would allow that money to be applied to the other repairs needed.

Janet McGowan wondered if there could be mediation between the parties involved, with the town, developer, and homeowners sharing the costs, but Brestrup noted that several meetings between the residents and Tofino had not resulted in a solution. Long noted that this work should have been done years ago, but wasn’t, and now costs are increasing. From the site visit, it was clear that the roads were constructed correctly, but the wet site accelerated their deterioration. 

Coldham moved that the Planning Board recommend Brestrup’s third option, for the Town Council to negotiate an agreement between the town and Tofino to share the costs of completing the punch list. The motion passed 5-1-1, with MacDougall voting no and Neumann abstaining. The board recommends that the council negotiate a plan to bring the roads up to standard with Tofino before they are accepted as public ways.

Special Permit For 51 Spaulding Street Modified
The Planning Board unanimously approved the revised parking plan for 51 Spaulding Street. The new plan, presented by Chris Chamberland of Berkshire Design, has four spaces in the driveway and two on a small parking area off the street at the northwest corner of the lot. The new design preserves the backyard of the property and does not encroach on the wetlands to the east. It will hopefully resolve the problem of the building’s residents parking on the street and interfering with traffic and access of other residents to their homes.

The board also accepted the existing interior layout of the building. The original 2007 special permit was issued for a two-family dwelling, but the plans were modified without notification of the town. The house now contains a main owner-occupied unit, an efficiency apartment, and rooms for three boarders. One of the bedrooms has a separate entrance and contains a small refrigerator, a sink, and a microwave, but Building Commissioner Rob Morra said that that room did not constitute a third apartment.

Conditions for the approval included that the owners Bruce Allen and Carol Albano return before the Planning Board with their plans for plantings along the border between the driveway and the lot to the south. Any change in ownership would require the new owner to come before the Planning Board to review the permit and parking plan. Allen and Albano are required to keep a log of any complaints filed and their response to them. The town no longer keeps these records.

Hearing For Archipelago Dorm On Olympia Drive Postponed
Because Archipelago Investments had not heard back from the Conservation Commission, which did not have a quorum at its last meeting, the Planning Board hearing was continued until November 2. McGowan asked that Archipelago also submit the parking plan requested at the August 3 meeting

The meeting was adjourned at 10:25. The Planning Board will next meet on November 2. The town has received the flood maps from FEMA and will be discussing them at the next meeting.

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1 thought on “Planning Board Tells Developer And Council To Work Out Solution To Roads In The Meadows Subdivision

  1. A current Planning Board member noted “…the area is low-lying and presents problems for maintaining drainage to keep the roads passable.”

    This is a salient observation: in fact, the whole neighborhood is a wet meadow, interspersed with streams and ponds, at the margins of the Fort River/Hop Brook floodplain.

    It’s rather curious that the subdivision was ever built. How did the Amherst Planning Department/Board ever come to approve this project back in the 1990s?

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