Sunderland ZBA OKs permit for senior housing project slated for North Main Street

  • The Zoning Board of Appeals awarded a special permit for construction of a senior housing project at 120 North Main St. in Sunderland. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2019 7:35:08 PM

SUNDERLAND — The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Wednesday opted to approve a comprehensive permit for the senior housing project slated for North Main Street.

Board members voted unanimously to grant the permit to applicant Rural Development Inc., a subsidiary nonprofit of the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The decision prompted applause from some people in the audience at Town Hall, but Margaret Byrne, a noted opponent of the proposed project, said she is considering an appeal.

ZBA Chairman Steve Krol said he plans to file the permit decision with the town clerk next week, starting a 20-day appeal period.

The project calls for the development of a new building to the rear and left of the existing house at 120 North Main St. The building will contain 30 apartments – 27 of which will be one-bedroom; three of which will be two-bedroom. The white house that sits on the 2.8 acres of Sunderland-owned land will be renovated.

“This is one step in the process,” Byrne said. “And I kind of always knew the Zoning Board of Appeals was going to approve this permit, because … people have worked hard on this. And I believe in affordable housing, too, but I don’t believe in building an affordable housing development on a wetland.”

She previously said runoff and snow melt containing salts and other contaminants would likely be pushed to the edge of the property to melt, potentially allowing them to affect the habitat of the bordering vegetative wetlands.

According to a draft of the comprehensive permit, read aloud Wednesday by Sunderland special counsel Jason Talerman, the ZBA finds that the preliminary plans for sewer infrastructure are “generally adequate” but also finds that “further and final review is required by the Sunderland Board of Selectmen,” the individuals that also serve as the town’s sewer commissioners.

The draft  permit      also states the ZBA believes the applicant has satisfactorily demonstrated the project “can be constructed without adversely affecting the interests to be protected the Local Wetland Bylaw.”

But Byrne raised her hand to object to this statement, saying she is “not sufficiently satisfied” with answers she has received from the applicant or the ZBA members. A few more times she requested permission to ask questions, but Krol turned her down, stating the public hearing ended Feb. 28.

Catherine V. Skiba, service center manager of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office, said the applicant submitted a Notice of Intent to the Sunderland Conservation Commission, which issued an Order of Conditions for the project. Skiba said an appeal of the OOC was submitted to MassDEP, which is reviewing the project.

“During the appeal process, MassDEP has requested and received additional information from the applicant and staff are reviewing the submittals,” she said in an email. “During any appeal proceeding, MassDEP discusses and shares information regarding the project with both the applicant and the appellant. MassDEP is reviewing the information and has not issued a determination.”

The permit is needed for RDI to apply to the state for low-income housing tax credits, so the housing and redevelopment authority can solicit investors for the project. A comprehensive permit is one that encompasses all approvals from relevant town boards and departments and is intended by the state to be something of a one-stop process to expedite projects that can serve as a boost to the amount of affordable housing in a community. Before the unanimous vote, Krol voiced his support for the project, which he said “seems to have a lot going for it.”

“There is a big need for senior housing, senior affordable housing in this town. I mean, there’s not a perfect place to put any project,” he said, adding that the applicant has been very cooperative during the process. He also said there is no question the development will have some effect on direct abutter, but that his board has done its best to mitigate these effects as much as possible.

Byrne, who said she is employed as a restoration biologist, has said she is concerned about the impacts the project would have on wetlands and on her property.

“We will see why you’re not supposed to build on wetlands (if the project goes through),” she said after Wednesday’s meeting.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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