On Wednesday, the Manchester Zoning Board of Appeals held the third in a series of public hearings on Strategic Land Ventures’ (SLV) comprehensive permit application for “The Sanctuary,” its proposed 136-unit 40B development on Upper School Street. On the docket was a peer review of the developer’s submitted traffic study, with consultant Gregory Lucas of Environmental Partners. Over the next several months, the board will hear similar peer reviews from outside consultants in engineering and environmental impact.
But interest in Wednesday’s meeting was focused on two important December 2021 letters from the Massachusetts Department of Housing (“MassHousing”); one to the ZBA denying the town’s assertion of “safe harbor” and the other to Geoffrey Engler, president of SLV suspending him from future 40B projects due to his “misrepresentation” of his financial partnership in a 2019 40B project in Wellesley after he was told by MassHousing not to continue the relationship. The letter required Engler to formally certify there are no other misrepresentations in 44 other 40B projects, including The Sanctuary, connected to Engler.
The MassHousing letter to Engler was dated December 10, but it didn’t reach town officials or the ZBA until December 20. On Wednesday, ZBA Chair Sarah Mellish asked Engler what the suspension meant for SLV’s application or the project’s financing. She also requested that Engler provide a separate, Manchester-specific certification to the board, as well as copies of his correspondence with MassHousing in response to the letter. Engler agreed to both requests, and said he was taking responsibility for misrepresenting his involvement with the partner in the Wellesley 40B project.
Engler said he “shouldn’t have allowed the relationship to continue.” He said the decision would not impact The Sanctuary project, nor will it impact financing.
The second MassHousing letter, dated December 8, formally rejected the ZBA’s October assertion with the state agency of “safe harbor,” which, if approved, would have exempted Manchester from any 40B development for one year. That assertion was rejected, and the board took time to weigh out an appeal of MassHousing’s decision.
On Wednesday, Mellish said the board would not appeal. Manchester’s safe harbor assertion was made on the basis that it had “made progress” on the town’s official subsidized housing inventory (SHI) based on the May 2021 purchase of a 29-unit apartment building Powder House Lane, secured with seed money from a private group, the Citizens For Manchester Affordable Housing (CIMAH) and passed by way of donation money to the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust to a Danvers-based non-profit developer, North Shore Community Development Corp.
But in order to be registered on the SHI, the units must be deed-restricted as affordable housing and they must have gone through a state-mandated affirmative fair housing marketing process ensuring approved income-qualified tenants and an inclusive representation (27 percent) from minority groups such as race, sexual orientation, or religion. Further, Mellish said, the registration of the units would have had to be complete before SLV’s comprehensive permit application to the ZBA on September 27.
“That request for certification was not made by the town to the state, so we had no basis for an appeal,” said Mellish. Further, she said, the ZBA didn’t want to “irritate (MassHousing) with a frivolous lawsuit (appeal).”
The ZBA’s next public hearing on the 40B project will be 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 26.
Moving on to last Monday’s Manchester Planning Board, when representatives from Cell Signaling Technology, the Beverly-based life sciences company, told the board it has completed a purchase and sale agreement for 40 acres of land in the Limited Commercial District (LCD). Its plan is to pursue building a corporate campus there.
Attorney Mark Glovsky, who represents the company, said Cell Signaling hopes the board will amend the district’s zoning to add “life sciences” as an approved use. The Planning Board is already undergoing a comprehensive “recodification” process, typically done by municipalities every 10 or so years to streamline and update the town’s zoning bylaws. That recodification will be complete by Annual Town Meeting in the spring, when it will be brought to voters. Glovsky said by adding life sciences as an approved use in the LCD, Cell Signaling can proceed like any other applicant and submit its permitting plans and application for consideration to the appropriate town boards.
On Monday night, Town Administrator Greg Federspiel included the Cell Signaling request to the Board of Selectmen in his update, saying the company would be presenting its preliminary plans to the BOS in the coming weeks.
Also, starting next week, all town business impacting the Limited Commercial District (including zoning, development, the proposed 40B project, Manchester’s transfer station and construction of the new municipal compost facility by Black Earth Compost) will be covered by reporter Jeffrey Pope.
On to volunteer town board and committee seats that are open for this year in Manchester and Essex. May elections may seem a long way off, but they’ll be here before we know it. In Manchester, a whopping 13 seats on all manner of volunteer positions, and nomination papers are available at the MBTS Town Clerk Dianne K. Bucco’s office for 13 positions. The positions include three (3) seats on the Board of Selectmen; two (2) seats on the Planning Board; two (2) seats on the ME Regional School Committee; three (3) seats for Constable; one (1) seat on the Housing Authority; one (1) Library Trustee seat; and, finally, the Town Moderator’s one-year term slot is, of course, again “open.” Manchester’s local election will take place on Tuesday, May 17.
In Essex, there are 10 seats opening up, including one (1) Board of Selectmen seat; one (1) seat on the Planning Board; one (1) Board Of Health seat; one (1) seat on the ME School Committee; one
(1) Housing Authority seat; one (1) Assessor; one (1) Moderator; one (1) Board of Library Trustees seat; and two (2) Constable seats. Deadline to obtain nomination papers, available at Essex Town Clerk Pamela Thorne’s office, is Thursday, March 17. Essex will hold its election Tuesday, May 9.
For any contested seat with more than one candidate running for election, The Cricket will again host a candidate forum prior to election day for readers to get to know the candidates that will appear in print and, by video, online.