Testy Ground – Engler, ZBA Disagree on Several Fronts


Tempers flared during Wednesday’s meeting of the Manchester-by-the-Sea Zoning Board of Appeals as the board, town officials and developer Geoffrey Engler disagreed over what information is needed for this proposed 136-unit apartment complex. 

Engler is seeking a comprehensive permit from the ZBA for his proposed Chapter 40B project, to be known as The Sanctuary at Manchester-by-the-Sea.  The project would be located off School Street opposite the entrance of Atwater Avenue. 

The meeting began with officials from Beals and Thomas presenting preliminary reports on the project in the areas of Environmental and Engineering.  It was mostly a list of additional information that was needed to complete the peer reviews. 

“It seems we are being asked to make a decision based on incomplete information,” said ZBA member Jim Diedrich.  “And in some cases, we don’t even know exactly what questions to ask because the information has been so incomplete.” 

ZBA member John Binieris questioned the lack of a geo-technical report.  “I just think that something like that is so important in analyzing the existing conditions, determining what you can and cannot build and where you can build it,” he said. 

“I think it is imperative that the town have complete information about the environmental impact of this project before the ZBA goes forward with issuing permits,” said Town Moderator Alan Wilson, who said he was speaking as a citizen, not as a town official. 

Matt Cote, a professional engineer for Beals and Thomas, said that it was typical for a project of this size for the applicant to not provide all the tests requested due to their costs, until they are more assured that the project would move forward and receive the comprehensive permit. 

“It’s giving us enough information that we are comfortable,” said Cote.  “But also understanding these are not construction documents.” 

Engler said that it was the natural progression of a project that the peer reviewers would request more information and that his company would attempt to provide those answers.  He said that the board needs to understand that there is a difference between incomplete information and schematic information. 

“Under 40B, we are required to submit all schematic plans,” said Engler.  “These are not construction drawings … Yes, we don’t have all the answers to all the questions, nor will we during the permitting process but we are very comfortable with the board conditioning all those construction details as a prerequisite to getting the building permit.” 

ZBA Chairman Sarah Mellish responded that the ZBA has a right to request any information it needed to do their job. 

“We need more underlying data,” said Mellish. 

Engler said that his company would supply most of the information requested by Beals and Thomas in their preliminary reports.  However, he said a full geo-technical report would not be included. 

 “Respectfully, the board can ask for whatever it wants,” said Engler.  “But that doesn’t mean that within the context of the 40B regulations that we have to provide it. I mean, that’s just the law.” 

Later in the meeting George Pucci of Town Counsel’s office said the MBTS Conservation Commission had requested a wildlife habitat study of the area.  Pucci said Engler had refused to do it, even after the town offered to fund the study and provide a consultant.  Pucci said the study needs to start now because it involves vernal pools and breeding season. 

Engler said they did not have a project before the Conservation Commission, so it had no reason to request the study.  But he said they were in the process of doing a wildlife and vernal pool study. 

Pucci added that it may be impossible for the board to complete its work on the Engler project by the deadline of May 24.  The ZBA normally must approve or reject the comprehensive permit within six months of it first coming before the board. 

Engler said it would take about two weeks to provide the additional information that Beals and Thomas requested in their preliminary reports.  Cote said that Beals and Thomas would then need two weeks to assemble the additional information into their final peer reviews.  Mellish noted that that meant the board would not be able to discuss those reports until April 13. 

Mellish requested that Engler agree to an extension of the ZBA’s public hearing to Sept. 8. 

“I’m not prepared at this time to agree to that extension,” said Engler, who later agreed to a 30-day extension to June 23. 

The ZBA continued the hearing until Tuesday, April 5, at 7 p.m., when it will discuss the preliminary report on the project’s architecture.  The board chose April 5 over their normal Wednesday meeting time of April 6 because Pucci was not available April 6. 

zoning board of appeals, geoffrey engler, alan wilson, mbts conservation commission, moderator alan wilson, george pucci, sarah mellish, 40b, slv, john binieris, jim diedrich