Developer could appeal or simply resubmit after Jan. 1
The Planning Board Wednesday night voted 4-1 against the 410-unit “Division Road Neighborhood” proposal first put forward by developer Ned Capozzi in August 2020. The master plan denial represents a victory for homeowners who opposed the project and hired a lawyer and outside experts to buttress their concerns. The nay votes were Chairman Ben Lupowitz and members Greg deGroot, Tara Wood, and Andrew Shartenberg; voting in favor of the project was Matt Renninger.
But this may just be one chapter of a longer story. Capozzi had no comment after the meeting Wednesday; he has 20 days to appeal the ruling. Traditionally, for communities that have not yet reached 10 percent affordable housing units, such an appeal has had a very strong chance of success. New legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed into law in June makes the future of this project less predictable. For one, the state Housing Appeal Board (aka SHAB) is to be reconfigured in 2024 and, because of that, is not taking on new appeals, which would extend the process for the developer.
Another new law abolishes the master plan step completely – in other words, making this very application just ruled on moot starting in 2024. Until this law was passed, a developer needed three approvals: first, master plan; second, preliminary plan; third, final plan. With the new law in place, Capozzi could resubmit his application, making no changes whatsoever, for preliminary plan approval on or after Jan. 1, 2024.
The Planning Board cited three reasons for their denial, including two points raised in testimony from experts (in land use and traffic) hired by the opposing homeowners:
- Failure to conform with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, including that the developer did not go through the procedural steps to change the 82-acre property from F-2 (requiring 2 acres per house) to MUPD (mixed use planned developments). The Planning Board decided the developer’s decision to not include any commercial elements (a coffee shop, dry cleaners, deli, etc.) meant the proposal was not in line with the Comprehensive Plan. Essentially, the denial said, this would not be creating a village-like development but rather was just more suburban sprawl.
- The town is significantly on its way to meeting the state-mandated 10 percent affordable units, with an additional 114 deed-restricted affordable units under construction now (they cannot be counted in the town’s percentage until they are completed), so the 102 or 103 units represented in the Division Road Neighborhood proposal, coupled with the 300+ market rate units, would not appreciably move the needle for EG.
- Concerns for the environment and the health and safety of current and future residents were not adequately addressed by the developer. In particular, the board said the developer did not adequately address the future traffic impacts to the surrounding roadway system. In coming to that conclusion, the board said even though the project’s traffic expert and the town’s traffic expert both agreed additional traffic from the new development would not represent a public safety concern, a comprehensive traffic study of this western section of town had not been done in nearly 20 years and a lot has changed in that time period. The board found more credible the testimony of a third traffic engineer, one hired by some of the nearby residents, who said traffic should be evaluated for “existing, future no-build and future build conditions.” The board said the “extensive lay testimony by residents” and board members’ own knowledge of the area supported that third point of view.
After the meeting, Denise Shapiro, a resident of the Westfield Farms development across the street from the proposed plan, said she and others were “estatic” with the decision but that their happiness was muted. “We know he’ll probably appeal.”
“I think the Planning Board heard what we were trying to say,” said Sallyanne Lund, another Westfield Farms resident.
Shapiro said the opposition to the project was not to affordable housing but rather to the size of the project. “We’re not against affordable housing,” she said. “We just need to spread it out.”
Read all of our coverage on this project HERE.