SOUTHBOROUGH — A Worcester County Superior Court judge last month ruled in favor of scorers who opposed efforts to build a sprawling residential development near Route 9 in Southborough.
The judge specifically reversed the Southborough Zoning Appeal Board’s (ZBA) decision to approve Park Central’s 40B project on a site near the intersection of Route 9 and I-495.
The judge also revoked the blanket permit issued to the developers, who wanted to build 180 apartments and 139 townhouses, the latter to be sold at market price.
In his ruling dated March 16, Judge William Ritter wrote that the townhouses’ inclusion in the permit was “legally untenable and unsupported by the record.”
The developer pitches, then revises the project
Park Central already owns 101.25 acres of land near the intersection of Route 9 and I-495.
In 2014, the developers filed for a global Chapter 40B permit. Under this law, zoning appeal boards can approve projects as affordable housing developments if at least 20-25% of the units are restricted as affordable.
The law applies to communities that are below a 10% affordable housing benchmark. Southborough’s affordable housing inventory was at 8.83% when the plans were filed.
Park Central initially wanted to build 180 units, with 45 units, or 25%, being affordable. But his application was later amended to include 139 market-rate townhouses, which would be 57 acres.
The 40B units would occupy nine acres.
Additionally, there would be 22 acres dedicated to open space.
Park Central Drive would be extended into the site, and there would be another entrance from the new John Boland Road on Flagg Road, according to plans.
The ZBA originally granted a townhouse use waiver that was conditional on the future granting of the full permit, which was approved in August 2016 by a 3-0 vote of board members Leo Bartolini Jr. ., David Eagle and Paul Drepanos.
The judge makes his decision
A total of 21 goalscorers subsequently appealed the ZBA’s decision in September 2016.
In a joint pre-trial memorandum filed in February 2020, the Scorers argued that evidence presented at trial would show that the proposed project lacked adequate access, created unsafe traffic conditions and endangered the safety of local residents who live in the surrounding streets, as well as potential residents. of the project.
Butters argued that the ZBA ignored its procedures and requirements under city code, arguing that Park Central’s bid was allowed to pass with a 3-0 vote when two of the council members should have be disqualified for various reasons.
The trial for this appeal lasted 12 days, ending on May 1, 2021.
Ritter then concluded in his ruling last month that the ZBA’s decision was not based on “legally defensible ground”, saying the project did not meet the criteria for full Chapter 40B permits due to the inclusion townhouse units.
The units have no element of affordability, which is a requirement, Ritter said. He said the court had not seen enough information to prove that affordable units needed townhouses to be financially viable.
Adding the 139 townhouses “dramatically changes the scale of the project,” Ritter said, noting that the 45 affordable units did not represent 25% of all units.
He said including the units “under the guise of affordable housing” was not in line with the intent and requirements of the law.
“The legislator would probably not tolerate the manipulation of c. 40B so that a major development can bypass the local authority under the guise of affordable housing,” Ritter said.
He also concluded that the ZBA’s decision to grant a permit, which exempted the project from Southborough’s stormwater by-law, was beyond the authority of the council.
In making this decision, Ritter concluded that the ZBA considered input from the city’s planning board and conservation commission in its process, noting more than a dozen letters of advice contained in the ZBA Minutes.
“It’s clear there’s a lot of hostility between the board on one side and the planning board, conservation commission, selectors’ board and scorers on the other…” noted Ritter.
Eagle’s house, meanwhile, had been put up for sale. And he signed the closing paperwork for the sale of his home the same day the council granted the permit in accordance with Ritter’s decision.
Opponents of the Park Central project and ZBA clearance had noted these facts, alleging that the ZBA’s vote was rushed to account for Eagle’s impending departure from Southborough.
Ritter wrote, however, that these arguments were unconvincing.
“I find the board has concluded its deliberations, voted on and executed the decision to secure some finality to the project before Eagle leaves town,” he wrote.
He noted that the application had been pending for more than two and a half years.
As for the other allegations of improper conduct, Ritter said he found no credible evidence of impropriety.
The case is part of a larger legal battle
This case is one of many that have rocked the government and the people of the town of Southborough for several years, as noted MySouthborough.
The Park Central project has been in court several times as developer William Depietri lobbied to move his project forward.
Cases have occasionally seen elements of the city government at odds with each other, with the Planning Board filing an appeal in September 2016 against Park Central and the ZBA.
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