By Jess Wisloski
Residents in the South Ridge neighborhood, a complex off of Route 2 that’s gradually evolved since the mid-1990s have begun organizing around a proposed new housing development — they call it ‘Northridge’ — that the project’s developer recently approached some residents about.
The issue at stake: a cut-through to Metcalf Drive, just yards from many of their lawns, that would turn what’s now a sleepy, quiet street into what they fear will be a constantly moving thoroughfare.
“The proposed accesses (to the new neighborhood) right now are only through South Ridge,” said Sue Lord, one in a group of neighbors in that have been approached by BlackRock Construction, the developer looking to build on a 50-acre a piece of land just north of her neighborhood.
“Our family-friendly, play in the street neighborhood — my kid learned to ride a bike in this street — they won’t be able to do that anymore. It makes it a highway. It’s a cut-through for all these people,” she said.
News of the plans leaked, Lord and other neighbors said, after a student used a map of the proposed development in a school presentation. None of the site map is on file at Town Hall, however, because officially, nothing has happened yet. Still, Tammy Jadus, whose yard ends where the new roadway would start, at 795 Metcalf Drive, said the planned new housing units would bring at a minimum, at least 100 new vehicles to their existing 150-home neighborhood.
“All of their traffic has to go through our neighborhood,” said Jadus. “We’d like them to have their own access to Mountain View Road,” she added, pointing out that geographically that is closer to the new site than Route 2, where the entrance to South Ridge is.
BlackRock’s Vice President of Development Ben Avery confirmed that his company was looking to build in the area behind South Ridge, but said that conversations with the stakeholders — abutting neighbors of the future connector to the new neighborhood — had led them to revise their proposal.
“We’re actually making some material changes to the project due to their input. But it’s a little too fluid right now to discuss. I want to make those changes and go back to those residents and say, ‘Hey what do you think?” he said. He called some of their suggestions “very fair” and said those they adopted would be part of the initial submission to the town. Avery would not elaborate on what the changes were in advance, but he said creating a new road — which would require obtaining access to or right of way on land not in their current contract — was not in the cards. He would not say how many housing units were in the plans, saying it was “a pliable number right now” but noted that it would be below the allowed density for the zoning district. Jadus guessed, using a count on the obtained plans, that there are 56 units planned.
Avery confirmed his company has entered into a property contract with the current owner, Bill Savage, for the roughly 50 acres, with a completed purchase contingent on being able to obtain permits needed to proceed with the development, and said the project had been in the works for the past year.
Ken Belliveau, the town’s planning director, said it’s not the first time the land had been investigated for a development, but that until plans are on file, he only has basic conversations with developers when they’re looking into building.
“You have a conversation with somebody, nothing happens. Months go by…and because the property is being marketed, you never know who the ultimate buyer might be,” he said.
Belliveau confirmed that discussions had increased with BlackRock Construction in recent months. “It sounds like they’re pretty serious about moving forward with this, but they have not yet submitted an application,” he said. He said the town always advises developers, and told Avery, too, that a good approach would be to start by talking to the nearby stakeholders. “If you can just roll out a site plan in front of people at a dining room table or a conference room table, it can be an easier way for people to digest the information. He apparently has done that,” said Belliveau, because calls have been pouring in to the Planning office. “The rumor mill is running rampant and people’s anxiety is sky-high. There appears to be a lot of information out there. People hear something and it gets transformed into something else.”
One concern of some residents, which Belliveau did not dismiss, was related to that right of way, or easement, that falls between Tammy Jadus’s house and her neighbors the Diamonds, on Metcalf Drive.
Jadus said that, even though it’s unclear who owns that 60-foot piece of land, she believes BlackRock has a right to just build a road there in what’s now a stream, and Belliveau confirmed her suspicions.
It was likely granted “an irrevocable offer to dedicate….The town has had it in its regulations for a long time [that] we strive for connectivity between neighborhoods,” said Belliveau. “And when a development comes in…we look for there to be an opportunity for a road connection. Once that offer is made, it’s irrevocable. You can’t take it back. It doesn’t compel the town to take it [as a right of way], but it says if the town wants to take it, it can. It’s plotted on the subdivision plot,” he said.
The land could be owned by the town or the South Ridge homeowners’ association, but it is ultimately able to be converted into a roadway if needed. And it’s that easement BlackRock is counting on, Avery said.
Pointing to a tax lot map, Jadus showed where the right of way could become a road, if BlackRock succeeds during the development review process. The one thing she’s hoping will throw a wrench in the works, is that the easement contains a tributary that feeds into Allen Brook, one which was then on the impaired watershed list in 2008. Jadus is hoping that factor alone might prevent BlackRock’s plans of building a street next to her house — which itself is nearly on a corner at Metcalf and Hartle Circle.
Avery said he’s not too worried about the impaired waterway issue. “We’re comfortable that we would be able to build,” he said. “Every new development in that area discharges to Allen Brook,” he added, and developers must pay hefty fees to the state in order to proceed.
Belliveau said that any watershed protected area, including streams, tributaries and watershed buffers, would need to be accounted for in any new development plan. While the BlackRock development paperwork has not yet appeared on his desk, he said the first steps of a pre-application would require developers to do a “constraint analysis,” which accounts for wetlands, traffic issues, entrances, exits and more.
Jadus and Lord said that, among other things, they’re also just upset to be losing the bucolic views from their homes. Jadus said any buildup behind her home would’ve been a shock. She asked Avery, when he came to her home, why they were doing it there.
“He said, ‘Tammy, look behind you, if there’s a field behind you it’s going to be developed,’” she recalled. “I said I thought it wouldn’t be anything [when we moved here]. ‘If there’s a field behind you that will be built,’ [he said] And that’s why this is happening.”
Avery said he couldn’t confirm his exact phrasing, but that he was talking to the Jadus’s for two hours. “Probably what I said was more along the lines of ‘When you purchase a home that’s adjacent to a 60-foot town right of way… it is a reasonable assumption that some day there will be development there. And I think that’s a true statement.”