WILMINGTON, MA — At its meeting last month, the Wilmington Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a comprehensive permit for the proposed 108-unit apartment complex on Jefferson Road, near from the North Wilmington train station and across from Elia’s Country Store.
“I have no problem with this project. Nothing is perfect, but seeing that we have to get to our affordable housing threshold, this will take us to that point,” said Chair Dan Veerman, who also noted that he was pleased the developer is trying to obtain a $2.5 million grant from the state to repair a culvert and extend sewer down Midldesex Avenue. “The applicant is also contributing a quarter of a million to a North Wilmington substation. There doesn’t appear to be anything I find objectionable. It’s going to do a lot of good for the town on more than one front. I stand in firm support of it.”
“This project is good for the town for its housing stock,” agreed board member Tony Barletta. “No project is perfect. At least with a project of this nature, the town has had a substantial stay in it and been a partner in it. I feel confident [Town Planning & Conservation Director] Valerie Gingrich and [Town Engineer] Paul Alunni have done their due diligence.”
Veerman and Barletta both commented on how they were surprised that, aside from one letter, no one in the neighborhood has shared comments or concerns about the project during the “public comments” portion of their meetings.
“I find it shocking that – and maybe because it’s because of the strength of the project and maybe it’s because of the forum – but it’s shocking that we have a 40B that has gone through five hearings and no one has cared to call in, but that’s what it is,” said Veerman. “I’ve been astounded. We can’t have a special permit request without someone chiming in. To have 5 meetings on THIS and have not one person call in in opposition or support?”
Veerman confirmed with Town Attorney Jonathan Silverstein and Planning Director Valerie Gingrich that the town had no outstanding issues before the vote.
“My understanding is this draft decision covers all of the issues that been identified by the town’s peer reviews,” responded Silverstein.
“We combed through this. We added things to it. We feel good about the conditions in here and the wording,” agreed Gingrich, who noted the only outstanding tweaks dealt with form and not substance.
“We don’t believe any material item is outstanding,” chimed in Andrew Chaban, CEO of Princeton Properties Management. “We work with a lot of communities. I can tell you that the level of professional of your staff has been terrific. They’ve been tough but fair. We have a document that we can all live with.”
Town Manager Jeff Hull also spoke out in support of the project prior to the vote.
“Back in September 2019, Andrew contacted me to talk about the prospect of a project here. The Town had been contacted a year prior by another developer who looking to place apartment units on the same space. He was looking at 350 units. Clearly [Andrew’s] project was going to be much smaller and more appropriate,” began Hull, who noted the agreed upon 108 units actually came down an original request of 120 units.
“There’s been awful lot of talk over the past few years around the need for affordable housing. With the 2020 census, we will fall below the 10% threshold and be opening ourselves up for other developers to come in and have their own designs and be much less willing to accommodate town requests. At a point in time, we have to do more than talk,” continued Hull. “This particular project is an opportunity to take action that will not only address the affordability aspect and keep us at 10%, but also provide the diversity of housing that we need and create the seed for further activity in that area, including retail.”
“This area – for anyone who looks at it objectively – is a tired space. This is an opportunity to upgrade visually and functionally the space and achieve additional affordable units, diversity of housing, and create that niche space we’ve talked about — a neighborhood mixed use area,” added Hull. “A majority of the Board of Selectmen endorsed the project. I endorsed it. I hope we can move forward.”
Board of Appeals member Tom Siracusa added his support to the project, but did not appreciate what he felt was “undue influence” by Hull and the Selectmen.
“We should be voting on the applicant’s merit. This has been a remarkable job that the applicant has done. They given us everything we’ve asked for,” said Siracusa. “I’m going to vote for this, but not because of all the outside influence and how wonderful it’s going to be for the town. The Town Manager and Board of Selectmen shouldn’t be influencing the board on this type of thing.”
“Unlike other 40B’s, this is a [friendly] one that the town is joining whereas before 40Bs were kinda being rammed down our throat,” responded Chairman Veerman. “I don’t think it’s necessarily untoward to mention that town has joined the applicant. But we can do whatever we want and your point is well-taken.”
“The Sciarappa Farm Property [on Andover Street] is the last large property in town. That’s a softball willing to be hit for anyone looking to do a large scale development,” Hull later added. “I’d rather be able to work with folks you’re able to work with on a project like this rather than leaving ourselves wide open for a hostile 40B somewhere else.”
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