SHIRLEY -- The Apple Orchard Estates subdivision off Lancaster Road has been a troubled project from the start, switching owners at least once in a long history that's now going on 13 years, including a protracted permitting process and a lot of preliminary work before ground-breaking.

To begin with, toxins in the soil from the former apple orchard had to be removed from the soil. Then, there were unanticipated side effects as the project moved forward, including contractor issues and excavation on a hillside causing flooding in a neighborhood below. The owner dealt with issues as they came up, but the economic slump was another matter.

An envisioned upscale development that was to have included 110 houses stalled midstream and selling homes already built became a challenge.

Now, with just 39 of the lots developed, owner Steve Goodman has submitted a request to the Planning Board for "minor modification" of the original special permit and associated soil-remediation plans. The permit, with extensions, is in effect until 2015.

The Planning Board reviewed the request at its meeting Aug. 7.

Background

When the permit was issued in 2005, the soil management plan laid out procedures in sequence to remove contaminated soil from specific house lots and open space areas. One lot, "Parcel K," was set aside as a dumping ground for the soil and was to be sealed when the work was done.

Basically, what Goodman is asking now, is to skip the development phases that require soil remediation and move on to those that do not, positing that leaving the land as open space is a safe alternative.


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Earlier this month, Planning Board member Susan Snyder took a site walk with Matthew Robbins, of TRC Solutions, the licensed site professional who's been working with the board almost from the start of the project, James Borrebach, of OHI Engineering, and a representative of the developer to scope out the areas in question.

Robbins observed that the "soil containment unit," or Parcel K, and" Phase 7" areas were covered with vegetation and appeared stable, with no evident erosion or exposed contaminated soil. He also noted there were no signs of trespassing and no occupied residences nearby.

He contacted the health board and Conservation Commission to find out if there were any outstanding issues. Conservation agent Takasha Tada said he was new on the job and didn't know of any, adding that Mass DEP had oversight authority for the project via its "superseding order of conditions."

Based on his observations and inquiries, Robbins recommended that the Planning Board approve the request, subject to a six-item list of caveats.

With the exception of item six, which they agreed to take another look at, the board approved the request. Item six called for a revised risk assessment, which OHI's Borrebach said would be very expensive and wasn't necessary, since nearly all of the "hot spots" on the original site map had been taken care of.