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HINGHAM

Plan for 180 apartments draws fire

By Jessica Bartlett
Globe Correspondent / October 6, 2011

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The developer hasn’t yet filed any concrete plans with the town of Hingham for a 180-unit apartment complex near the Derby Street Shoppes, but neighors are already rallying against it.

The Farm Hills Civic Society, composed of Gardner Street neighbors, argues that heavy traffic and the stress on the school and water systems make a development of this size and nature unwise.

“The traffic from this development located between the Derby shops and the intersection of Derby, Whiting, and Gardner streets would create tremendous problems in an already heavily congested area,’’ said Judy Kelley, a member of the society.

The developer, AvalonBay Communities Inc. , is still in the early stages of the process to build the apartments on 18.5 acres at Recreation Park Drive. But the state has already appproved site plans for the project, which would be built under the state’s 40B affordable housing law.

In communities where fewer than 10 percent of the housing units meet the state’s criteria as “affordable,’’ 40B gives developers wide latitude to avoid local zoning statutes if at least 20 to 25 percent of their units are affordable.

In recent years, Hingham officials have contended that the town has met the 10 percent threshold, while the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development disputes the classification of some properties and says Hingham is at 5.8 percent.

Kelley noted that “the town of Hingham has stated it has satisfied the 40B requirement with the Avalon Shipyard Apartments, Linden Ponds, and many other projects throughout town.’’ But her group is more focused on how the proposed development would affect the area, which has seen its fair share of problems.

According to town officials, the intersection of Gardner, Derby, and Whiting streets currently has the highest crash rate in town.

Additionally, the Route 3-Derby Street interchange (Exit 15) also ranks as one of the most unwieldy intersections in Hingham. Traffic volume in the area is high, and has grown by 12 percent since 1997.

“If Avalon’s plans include a light to control traffic and if it is feasible to do so, then local drivers would contend with four lights in a very short distance,’’ Kelley said.

AvalonBay officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Town officials are waiting to formulate an opinion on this project, as neither the Zoning Board of Appeals nor the Planning Board had any comment on the proposed development at this time.

However, in a letter to MassHousing, which requests town input on potential 40B developments before issuing a site approval, selectmen had numerous concerns they wish to have addressed prior to the public hearings.

In addition to traffic concerns, the poor condition of Recreation Park Drive, a private way, will most likely need to be dealt with, they said in the letter.

Additionally, they wrote, “the residential neighborhood to the east of the site will experience noise and visual impacts from the project, as the site is currently completely undeveloped and provides a significant open space buffer between the neighborhood and industrial uses at the end of Recreation Park Drive.’’

The selectmen also acknowledged in the letter that despite the purchase of property on Beal Street for renovation into affordable housing, the six Fort Hills veterans’ homes created for a similar purpose, and 60 units of affordable housing at the Lincoln School Apartments, “this, however, does not even approach meeting the demand.’’

Currently, Avalon is conducting traffic studies in the area in order to present mitigation steps to selectmen in the filing of the development.

Town officials estimate that project plans will most likely be filed by the end of the month. Once the developer files the project scope, traffic study, and engineering plans to the town, officials will have 30 days to hold a public hearing. The project must receive an approval or rejection within 180 days of the filing, said Sue Eddy, the town’s zoning administrator.

In the meantime, neighborhood opposition only seems to be growing. “In the past two weeks, I’ve had three phone calls about it,’’ Eddy said. “I’ve heard there is opposition.’’

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.

The developer hasn’t yet filed any concrete plans with the town of Hingham for a 180-unit apartment complex near the Derby Street Shoppes , but neighors are already rallying against it.

The Farms Hills Civic Society, composed of Gardner Street neighbors, argues that heavy traffic and the stress on the school and water systems make a development of this size and nature unwise.

“The traffic from this development located between the Derby Shops and the intersection of Derby, Whiting and Gardner Streets would create tremendous problems in an already heavily congested area,’’ said Judy Kelley, a member of the society.

The developer, AvalonBay Communities Inc., is still in the early stages of the process to build the apartments on 18.5 acres at Recreation Park Drive. But the state has already appproved site plans for the project, which would be built under the state’s 40B affordable housing law.

In communities where fewer than 10 percent of the housing units meet the state’s criteria as ’’affordable,’’ 40B gives developers wide latitude to avoid local zoning statutes if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units are affordable.

In recent years, Hingham officials hav e contended that the town has met the 10 percent threshhold, while the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development disputes the classification of some properties and says Hingham is at 5.8 percent.

Kelley noted that “the Town of Hingham has stated it has satisfied the 40B requirement with the Avalon Shipyard Apartments, Linden Ponds and many other projects throughout town.’’ But her group is more focused how the proposed development would affect the area, which has seen its fair share of problems .

According to town officials, the Gardner Street/Derby Street/Whiting Street intersection currently has the highest crash rate in town.

Additionally, the Route 3/Derby Street interchange (Exit 15) also ranks as one of the most unwieldy intersections in Hingham. Traffic volumes in the area are high, and have grown by 12 percent since 1997.

“If Avalon’s plans include a light to control traffic and if it is feasible to do so, then local drivers would contend with four lights in a very short distance,’’ Kelley said.

AvalonBay officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Town officials are waiting to formulate an opinion on this project, as neither the Zoning Board of Appeals nor the Planning Board had any comment on the proposed development at this time.

However, in a letter to MassHousing, which requests town input on potential 40B developments before issuing a site approval, selectmen had numerous concerns that needs to be addressed prior to the public hearings.

In addition to traffic concerns, the poor condition of Recreation Park Drive, which is a private way, will most likely need to be addressed.

Additionally, “the residential neighborhood to the east of the site will experience noise and visual impacts from the project, as the site is currently completely undeveloped and provides a significant open space buffer between the neighborhood and industrial uses at the end of Recreation Park Drive,’’ the letter stated.

The town also acknowledged in the letter that despite the purchase of property on Beal Street for renovation into affordable housing, the six Fort Hills veterans homes created for similar purpose, and 60 units of affordable housing at the Lincoln School Apartments, “this, however, does not even approach meeting the demand.’’

Currently, Avalon is conducting traffic studies in the area in order to present mitigation steps to selectmen in the filing of the development.

Town officials estimate that the project will most likely be filed by the end of the month. Once the developer files the project scope, traffic study, and engineering plans to the town, officials will have 30 days to hold a public hearing. The project must receive an approval or rejection within 180 days of the filing, Zoning Administrator Sue Eddy said.

In the meantime, neighborhood opposition only seems to be growing.

“In the past two weeks, I’ve had three phone calls about it,’’ Eddy said. “I’ve heard there is opposition.’’

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.


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