Another hurdle cleared toward Montague Center School development
Recorder file photo The Montague Zoning Board of Appeals approved Mark Zaccheo’s plans for creating parking for his planned apartment complex at the former Montague Center School.
MONTAGUE — The proposed redevelopment of the former Montague Center School cleared another procedural hurdle toward completion this week but remains in the permitting phase.
The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved Mark Zaccheo’s conceptual plan for the project, the environmental impact and site plan review required in the zoning bylaws for developments exceeding certain thresholds.
The next step is a Planning Board hearing rescheduled from this week to July 16. That hearing will consider an application for a special permit allowing Zaccheo to render impervious more than 20 percent of a lot area within a water supply district.
Zaccheo’s plan for the property remains relatively unchanged, although he said the single apartment smaller than 500 square feet is now past that threshold, recently voted into the bylaws at the annual town meeting as a softening of the minimum size for a dwelling unit. Parking spaces have also been removed from the front of the building, a move Zaccheo said was in response to opposition from residents to parking visible from the street. Parking now totals 40 spaces, down from about 50, he said.
The parking change drew a mixed response from the three residents who turned out for the hearing. Attendance was significantly lower than in the past for discussions of the property. Board clerk Karen Casey-Chretien said 16 notices were mailed and eight returned, with seven opposed and one undecided. Six abutters have sued in Housing Court, appealing the ZBA’s granting of two special permits and a variance for the project.
John Laprade of Old Sunderland Road said he was undecided on the parking change, worrying the reduction in parking space on the property would push cars onto the street.
School Street resident Rebecca Hollingsworth took a different view.
“I am somewhat mollified by the reduction in parking spaces and I’m glad you’ve done it and I hope you don’t change your mind,” she said.
Much of the hearing focused on related issues within the town or water district’s purview, rather than that of the developer.
Residents at the hearing identified a fresh concern, water pressure and the water district’s capacity to support the new demand from an apartment building.
John Laprade of Old Sunderland Road said a water department employee had said he had concerns about the impact on water pressure in the village. ZBA member John Reynolds said pressure is already very low for many in the village, apparently a recent or growing phenomenon.
Inspector of Buildings David Jensen said he had inquired about the water capacity and did not have a firm answer, but the real concern is the capacity to handle a major fire, in which case water could be drawn from interconnected neighboring water districts.
Board chairman Ernest Brown asked Zaccheo to look into the pressure situation for his building and said residents should raise the apparent existing pressure issue with the Montague Center Water District.
Hollingsworth said the upgraded water pipe newly installed by the town to service the property also appears to be leaking.
Jensen raised the question of the School Street, Main Street, Court Square intersection, one earlier raised by residents concerned the apartments will add traffic and worsen an already dangerous intersection.
The board asked Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio to raise this with the Board of Selectmen.
“My first thought is, if this is a bad intersection it should be fixed regardless,” Brown said.
Pond access also came up. The property is home to a small pond residents say is used every winter for ice skating. Early in the process Zaccheo had said he would be willing to allow continued access, but said Wednesday that his insurance coverage would not allow him to accept the potential liability. Zaccheo said he doesn’t want the pond and that the town might be able to keep it, but it was pointed out that the removal of the pond from the plot would skew the ratio of permeable-to-impermeable surface, a zoning concern that would require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Keeping the pond would also require a town meeting vote, Abbondanzio said.
The ZBA approval carries the conditions that parking on the north side of the building be front-in only, to keep headlights pointed away from neighbors; the board may require some variety of sound buffer if the outdoor electric heat pumps prove louder than expected; and lighting must be consistent with the plan presented.
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