ZBA Discusses Architectural Issues With 40B Developer


Discussion at Wednesday night’s Manchester-By-The-Sea's Zoning Board of Appeals meeting centered on the architecture for the proposed 136-unit apartment complex off School Street, to be known as The Sanctuary at Manchester-by-the-Sea. 

Developer Geoffrey Engler is seeking a comprehensive permit through the state’s Chapter 40B laws, which allows him to bypass all town boards and commissions, except for the ZBA. In return, the applicant will provide 25 percent of the units, or 34 units, as affordable housing. 

Cliff Boehmer, an architect for Davis Square Architects, who was hired to conduct the Architectural Peer Review for the town, said he was satisfied with most of the areas of concern brought up at the first review of the architectural plans back in May. 

“In all fairness, I have to say that the developer has been very responsive to the set of issues I put in front of the developer,” said Boehmer. “I believe there are still some missing elements that the board would like to know.” 

Boehmer said some things that Engler has agreed to that were not represented in the latest drawings of the proposed complex. Boehmer said that elements should either be represented in the next set of drawings or be included as conditions that the ZBA place as a requirement for the issuance of the comprehensive permit.  

Among the things that Boehmer suggested were missing from the latest drawings, were drawings from School Street of the project in winter, or when the trees were without leaves. The new drawings only showed trees in full leaf. 

Boehmer also said that details of the ADA- compliant walkway from the building down to School Street still needed to be worked out, although Engler has agreed to include that walkway in the project. 

Boehmer also mentioned that more details were needed about the pump house, the bus shelter, the aesthetics of the retaining walls, and open space at the top of the hill, particularly for young children to play. 

ZBA Chair Sarah Mellish asked if a condition requiring a playground on the property would be appropriate. Boehmer said it would. 

Boehmer also suggested that walkways be created to connect to existing trails on the surrounding environmentally protected land. 

Engler said they were open to creating connecting pathways to existing trails, but because the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust, which maintains some of the surrounding land, was opposed to the building project, it made it difficult to organize. 

Mellish also raised the question about the color of the buildings, which in the drawings is white. 

Engler said that town officials had suggested the white color early in the process. 

“Obviously we want the building to look as beautiful as possible, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all white,” said Engler, who suggested that some variation of earth tones would be appropriate for the building. “We are certainly not going to do a teal building or neon yellow.” 

Daniel Riggs of Embarc, the architect for the building, said they were happy to explore different colors for the building. Riggs said earth tones would help the building blend in with the background. 

Leslie Fanger, a landscaping architect at Bohler Engineering, said the latest landscaping plans from School Street up to the building created a more layered effect, softening the impact of the retaining walls and the open meadow above the retaining walls.  

Becky Jaques, a member of the Select Board, questioned if the work would open up the area to the spread of invasive species. She, along with Patrice Murphy of MECT, urged the use of more native plants in the landscaping. 

The ZBA did approve one waiver for the project, allowing a 4-foot by 5-foot sign at the entryway at School Street with either downlighting or backlighting. Town bylaws restrict signs to 3-foot by 3-foot. 

The board also discussed a waiver on the building height, but Engler said they needed to talk to the town’s building inspector and understand the town’s rules concerning “existing grade” before determining if they needed a waiver from the town’s 35-foot limit on building height. 

The ZBA will next meet on July 13 at 7 p.m. to discuss environmental issues, including the Wildlife and Vernal Pond Study, the connection to town water and sewer systems and consider some environmental waivers and conditions.