120-unit housing plan under fire

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / September 4, 2011

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Sudbury officials this week are slated to start reviewing plans for a 120-unit apartment project off Landham Road that already has opponents lined up against it.

Westborough-based Moss Development Inc. filed a comprehensive permit application with the town last month for the project, called the Residences at Johnson Farm, which the company wants to build on a 36-acre parcel under the state’s affordable-housing regulations.

The Zoning Board of Appeals has scheduled a public hearing for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, when local officials expect a crowd of opponents to turn out. The Board of Selectmen and dozens of residents are already on record opposing it.

“The town clearly has concerns about the size, scope and potential environmental impact related to the water table and drainage,’’ said the Board of Selectmen’s chairman, Larry O’Brien.

Given the size of the project, officials are concerned about the aesthetic impact and demand for town services, O’Brien said.

The project is proposed for 35.6 acres at 189 Landham Road. The property currently consists of an empty farm house, two out-buildings, open fields, wooded areas, and wetlands.

The developer says the project would provide much-needed affordable and market-rate rental housing for the community, while preserving a significant area of open space and recreational opportunities with minimal impact to the town’s drinking water supplies and other infrastructure. It also would contribute an estimated $266,000 in annual tax revenues to the town, in addition to the initial building and construction fees.

“There’s a demand for rental housing in Sudbury, and there’s currently not much for existing market-rate rentals,’’ said Robert Moss, president of Moss Development. He also said the property is suitable for his plans, with level terrain and proximity to major highways.

His application was filed under Chapter 40B, which allows developers that include affordable housing in a project to circumvent certain local zoning regulations, if the community’s affordable-housing inventory is less than 10 percent of its overall stock.

Sudbury’s affordable housing figure is 4.7 percent, leaving the town with little say over projects that meet the state’s regulations. Typically, 25 percent of a development’s units must be considered affordable, based on a state formula; as apartments, all of the Residences at Johnson Farm’s units would count toward the town’s inventory.

Moss Development’s proposal calls for luxury apartments with such amenities as 9-foot ceilings, granite countertops, designer décor, gourmet kitchens, and washer and dryers.

Sudbury resident Stanley Kaplan said the project is too large for the site, with one-third of the property considered environmentally sensitive.

“What I’m objecting to is the scale of the project and impact on the south Sudbury neighborhood, which is disastrous,’’ Kaplan said. “It’s disproportionate to the resource area environmentally, to traffic, to public safety, and to the public schools. It’s just too large and introduces more problems than it solves.’’

Kaplan said 175 residents have signed a petition opposing the project.

Moss said he’s aware of the opposition, but it’s not unexpected, given his line of work.

“I’ve been a developer for 30 years and rarely have I proposed a project that’s been well received initially,’’ Moss said. “We look forward to working with the town and coming up with a project that’s palatable to the town and works for the developer.’’

When Moss first sought approval for Chapter 40B status last year, the Board of Selectmen sent the state a letter opposing the project, and noting that Sudbury has made significant progress on affordable housing.

In the past 11 years, the board said, the town had approved eight 40B developments with 231 housing units. The projects were located in areas appropriate for development, without causing harm to the environment, and the town supported each application, officials said.

In this case, however, selectmen said, they have “grave concerns’’ about the potential impacts of the Johnson Farm project and cannot support the proposal.

“It is out of character and scale for the surroundings, and has the potential for significant health and safety impacts that may not be capable of mitigation,’’ the letter stated.

Kaplan said he too has supported past affordable-housing projects, and hopes the Johnson Farm plan can be scaled back so it’s more acceptable.

“My hope is the Sudbury zoning board can bring some reality to this project and save it, but tailor it back,’’ Kaplan said.

In addition to the Johnson Farm project, the town is reviewing Landham Crossing, a proposed 32-unit attached-condominium complex at 192 Boston Post Road, said Jody Kablack, the town’s director of planning and community development.

The Zoning Board of Appeals also recently signed off on Coolidge at Sudbury, one of the previous eight 40B projects, which will consist of 64 units of age-restricted, rental housing in one building at 189 Boston Post Road.

Kablack said the Landham Crossing project is generally supported by town officials.

With the approval of the Coolidge development, the town’s affordable-housing stock will rise to 5.8 percent. If the Johnson Farm proposal is approved for 120 units, the inventory would rise to 7.87 percent. And if Landham Crossing is approved for eight affordable units, the inventory would be 8 percent.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at

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