Above: Architect Don Powers discusses the plan for 32 Exchange Street.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The Planning Board considered preliminary plan approval for a 12-unit development at 32 Exchange St. last week, continuing the public hearing until Feb. 5.
The proposal calls for demolition of the historic but extremely dilapidated house on the property and construction of a smaller version of the house along with new mill-like buildings at the back of the property containing the majority of the one-bedroom residences.
The development got master plan approval (the first step in a three step process: master, preliminary, and final) in February 2019 (read that story here). Because 4 of the 12 units will be deed-restricted “affordable,” by state law, the developer is able to use the fast-track comprehensive permit process, which gives the Planning Board total oversight, including for any zoning issues. (Any project over 25 percent affordable is eligible to pursue a comprehensive permit.)
A major point of contention Wednesday night for three of the residents who spoke in opposition to the project was a decision rendered by the Historic District Commission in 2018 allowing the property owner, Grenier Properties LLC, to demolish the house. Since that decision had been made, it was not something the Planning Board was allowed to consider. The project’s number of units was also not up for discussion.
Instead, the Planning Board was hearing about lead mitigation for the soil, snow removal plans, location of trash receptacles, and landscaping and parking plans. (Click here for the developer’s presentation.)
The developer discovered the soil had lead during an environmental study of the property. The lead could be from paint on the building or from residue from leaded gasoline, or both. The back of the property had housed old cars for many years. The remediation plan, which has to be filed with the state Department of Environmental Management, called for removal of the top 2 feet of soil, to be replaced with clean fill.
Aimee and Michael Heru, who live next door, both spoke during public comment, questioning the environmental findings and asking questions ranging from how the owner would handle asbestos tiles on the house to what the owner planned to do to keep lead off truck tires as trucks leave the property.
For the asbestos tiles, architect Don Powers said the regulations outline disposal by wetting them, removing them and bagging them up. For lead-tainted dirt that could escape on truck wheels, developer Tim Grenier said there would be crushed stone and water at the entrance to the property to clean the tires as trucks drove out.
The development will have 18 parking spaces, the requisite number required for 12 units. Aimee Heru argued the project would still be a parking burden the neighborhood, which is already beset by parking problems during the summer months because of its proximity to the waterfront.
James Gorham, who lives a block from the project, spoke at length about what he characterized as the HDC’s flawed process in granting permission for the house to be demolished, although he was reminded the Planning Board could do nothing to reverse that decision.
Preliminary plan approval will be back before the Planning Board at its Feb. 5 meeting.