The Case for Cedar Ridge Estates
By J. Michael Norton
Should we spend more town funds?
Your Selectmen are going to make a decision and that decision is going to happen soon.
As of April 1, 2010, Holliston has one of the lowest percentages (approximately 4.1%) of affordable housing in Massachusetts. This is despite MA G.L. 40B (the “Comprehensive Permit Law”), which was enacted over forty years ago to resolve this chronic problem by setting a goal for at least 10% housing in every community to be classified as affordable. As you may be aware, Green View Realty, LLC (GVR) proposed a two hundred (200) unit affordable housing development on a parcel of land located off Marshall and Prentice Streets in Holliston called Cedar Ridge Estates This development has been approved by MassHousing, the Housing Appeals Committee (“Committee”) and most recently, the Land Court. have approved, ,
When completed, the project will accomplish three main goals: 1) creation of sorely needed affordable housing in Holliston; 2) complete remediation of historic environmental contamination at the property; and 3) repayment of costs, in excess of one million dollars, [j1] sustained by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for past remedial activities and to assess environmental conditions caused not by GVR, but by a former owner of the property. Despite the hyperbole and misunderstanding of conditions surrounding the property and this project, the property should and can be remediated fully and occupied safely while accomplishing these goals.
In 2004, the Town of Holliston sought, at the suggestion of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), to solicit bids for a builder to purchase and develop the property. As part of the bid, any builder would need to offer an amount sufficient to settle a super lien placed on the land by the DEP for DEP’s past cleanup actions at the property. The Town of Holliston also would receive $250,000 to reimburse it for the cost of removing tires that the former owner, Charlie Bird, accumulated at the property. It is important to note that neither GVR nor the Trustees of the property had anything to do with the environmental issues at the property.
Following the issuance of the request for bids, the Town voted not to rezone the property for construction of age-restricted homes. With the withdrawal of the request for bids, the Trustees of the property sought to find a suitable development plan that would meet the three goals above. They elected to construct homes under the Comprehensive Permit Law in which twenty-five percent (25%) of the residences would be classified as affordable housing. GVR and the Trustees hoped that this would allow for clean up the historic environmental issues at the property while providing affordable homes to teachers, firefighters, civil servants and single mothers in the Town of Holliston. Under this new plan, the property would become a way for these hard-working men and women to live in the town where they work, and in many cases, grew up. Further, this plan would allow for clean up of the solid waste and other contamination at the property pursuant to DEP regulations, and provide funds to pay back the state for the costs it incurred to initially respond to the conditions at the property.
Following a protracted public hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), the ZBA rejected the GVR project and denied the application for a Comprehensive Permit. GVR appealed the Town’s decision to the Housing Appeals Committee (the Committee). The Committee, after a lengthy hearing and review of all of the evidence in the matter, found that the Town’s objections to the proposed project did not outweigh the need for affordable housing and that the project as proposed would comply with all state and federal laws to clean up and develop the property safely. The Committee issued the Comprehensive Permit to GVR. In response, the Town appealed the Committee’s decision to the Land Court, where the Court upheld the decision.
I repeatedly ask myself the question, “How do the leaders of the Town initiate a process to develop the property, but then suddenly contend that the land was contaminated and could not support residential housing?” Though I do not understand their logic, it is clear that Town officials want to continue to fight this project. Rather than receive $250,000.00 pursuant to the request for bids, the Town has already spent well over $150,000.00 and quite possibly near $200,000.00 in an attempt to halt a project that both the Committee and the Land Court deemed appropriate. Both the Committee and the Land Court saw that GVR’s project will benefit Holliston. GVR will clean up the property with the guidance and oversight of the DEP, making the Town a safer place for all residents. In fact, the project is classified as a Public Involvement Site, and therefore, all proposed work will be presented to the Town and public for input and comment. In the end, Holliston will have a clean property and substantially more affordable housing. Not to mention our local economy could surely benefit from $70,000,000.00 of commerce where revenue will contribute to local businesses in the Town. New construction leads to jobs, income, tax revenue, fees and an improved local economy.
As residents, we often have little say on how the day-to-day activities of our government run. We have little to say as to whether any project should be permitted and built. I do not know how Holliston would vote on Cedar Ridge Estates given the opportunity. However, I invite you to learn more about this project and its benefits at our website www.greenviewrealty.com. After learning the facts and cutting through the exaggeration and misinformation surrounding the project and the property, I ask that you judge the value of Cedar Ridge Estates for yourself. If what you learn inclines you to support this project, as I anticipate that it will, I urge you to contact the Board of Selectmen and ask that they stop fighting the project. Your Selectmen are going to make a decision and that decision is going to happen soon. Call them, email them, tell them you are paying attention and you want a say on an issue that could positively change the community in which we live.
J. Michael Norton
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