GROTON -- Abutters were disappointed last week when a hearing scheduled by the Zoning Board of Appeals was canceled after its public posting was fumbled by Town Hall.
Oak Ridge Manor developer Mattbob was supposed to have appeared before the board at its meeting of Oct. 24 over a matter of renewing its comprehensive permit that allows it to build a sub-division on property off Boston Road.
Board members, however, were forced to continue the hearing until a later meeting when last week's installment was incorrectly posted as having been canceled on an unofficial town website.
Due to possible confusion among those interested in attending the public hearing, the board had no choice but to cancel the meeting and have it rescheduled.
The comprehensive permit, awarded to projects that file under the state's 40B affordable housing law that eases some restrictions on developers in exchange for reserving at least 10 percent of planned living units as affordable, was first awarded Mattbob in 2005 and renewed for two years by the ZBA in 2010.
When the board last voted to renew the permit, the developer had sought removal of its over aged 55 restriction but without success. As a result, the issue was taken to court whose decision eventually came down on the side of the ZBA.
"Since that time, my clients have sought to move forward with the development of the project," stated Mattbob attorney Douglas Deschenes in a letter dated Sept. 25. "However, given the current state of the economy and the difficulty in obtaining financing for age-restricted projects, clearly they will be unable to finish the project this year. Therefore, an extension is necessary."
Deschenes ended his letter claiming that under state law there was no need to bother holding a public hearing on the extension since a request for a simple extension did not constitute a "substantial change" in the project.
Board members questioned that logic and were supported by a few residents who attended the public hearing last week.
In their own letter to the board, abutters to the Oak Ridge development urged the ZBA to deny Mattbob's request for an extension.
"...lack of progress (in) meeting commitments combined with the fact that the project has been on the market for the last five years seems to indicate that the applicant has no desire to build affordable housing, but to flip the project," stated the letter, dated Oct. 20 and signed by a score of concerned residents.
Residents supported their argument by listing a number of items conditioned by the permit that the developer has not pursued including submission of landscaping and architectural plans, defining sources of drinking water on site, proving safe site distances at the entrance to the sub-division, and the obtaining of a comprehensive permit from the town of Littleton.
"The applicant has repeatedly ignored the requests and requirements of the ZBA," claimed residents. "We are not aware of any detailed reports that have been submitted. What was submitted were two untimely one paragraph letters stating that the project was in litigation. These were only submitted after the ZBA reminded them of this condition. This project has been out of litigation for five months."
With legal questions about the need for a public hearing raised by board members, it was decided to continue the public hearing to Nov. 1 when the meeting could be reposted.
With a deadline for renewal only a week afterwards, ZBA members feared that there might not be enough time to seek legal opinion from the town's counsel but decided that the permit could be renewed on a weekly basis until their questions could be answered.
The Oak Ridge Manor subdivision has been planned for a 30-acre site along the Groton/Littleton town line and comprising 36 housing units.