South Sudbury is currently being developed at an unprecedented rate. There are three approved developments: Landham Crossing (32 units); The Coolidge at Sudbury (64 units); and Sudbury Village (73 units) in a 1-square-mile area that will add 169 units of new housing.
Another 56-unit rental townhouse proposal at Johnson Farm has been approved by the ZBA and is pending before the Conservation Commission, which will bring the total of new housing units to 225, within a 1-square-mile area of the intersection of Route 20 and Landham Road.
At this juncture, a number of town residents want to express our concern about the prescribed decision-making process that has led to these unprecedented development decisions made within the past two years by the town boards charged with the responsibility of representing the town’s and residents’ best interests. In two specific cases, it appears that a few key town employees have controlled the outcome of a deliberative process which is remarkably devoid of checks and balances. The question arises: Whose interests are these Town officials representing?
Two cases in point:
Case 1: Landham Crossing — This 32-unit development currently under construction is situated at the busy intersection of Route 20 and Landham Road. The town had the right-of-first-refusal to purchase this parcel from the owner when it came up for sale in 2010 because it was a Chapter 61B parcel (Chapter 61B was established to give tax breaks to those landowners who maintain their property as open space for the purposes of timber production, agriculture or recreation). But the Selectmen voted 2-1 not to buy the land. It made no sense to many of us, including Selectman Bob Haarde, who voted to purchase and protect the land. For years, Sudbury taxpayers subsidized the property taxes to preserve the land and to secure our right to purchase it. Yet when it came up for sale, Selectmen Larry O’Brien and John Drobinski passed on buying it. Not only did they pass on buying it, but Town Manager Maureen Valente, on behalf of the Selectmen, (letter to Mass. Housing Finance Agency dated May 7, 2010), recommended that the “density of this development should stay as reasonably high as the physical nature of the property can sustain.” This development strategy appears to be contrary to the character of Sudbury. This is the one high density development Sudbury actually had the power to prevent, but in a 2-1 vote, the Selectmen allowed it to be developed as a high density 40B project, but adding only eight units of affordable housing and impacting our affordable housing inventory by a meager 1.3 percent.
In our opinion, this was an extremely poor business decision: designate a parcel important enough to qualify for 61B status, forego the tax revenue for 25 years, then pass on the purchase only to allow the construction of a dense housing complex at an already congested and dangerous traffic intersection which does little to reach our 40B goal. The real point is that the people of Sudbury should have been given the option by the Selectmen to decide this question. The parcel of land should have been brought before Town Meeting. We, the residents of Sudbury, should have been trusted to make the decision if this parcel of land should be preserved, utilizing our wealth of Community Preservation Act funds (derived from a 3 percent surcharge on our property taxes). But instead, the Selectmen voted 2-1 to forsake 25 years of property tax subsidies so this land could be developed and they did so in an early morning meeting with no members of the public or press in attendance.
Case 2: The Residences at Johnson Farm — A complex of 56 townhouse rental units, which has been approved by the ZBA and is currently under final review by the Conservation Commission because of the degradation of wetlands required to build. What most concerns us again is a decision-making process which appears to have been subject to undue influence from the Town Planner. Our Town Planner told one resident, Mr. Frank Letteri, who went to her office to review updated plans submitted by the developer, that this project was a “done deal” and there was “nothing anyone could do about it.” This statement was made before the final ZBA proposal review/public input meeting was held (June 18) and before the ZBA’s decision-making meeting and vote (June 21) had been taken.
Then, at the June 18 ZBA meeting in which the developer’s revised project plan was being presented for the first time to the ZBA and the public, our Town Planner’s list of concerns included things such as the height of the guard rails going into the property, where the school bus stops would be, construction truck routes, etc. While these are important details from a planner’s perspective, they also seemed like very final details that are addressed after a project has been approved. Many were left with the impression that the project was indeed a “done deal” from the Planning Office perspective, even though the public had not yet had the chance to comment and the ZBA decision was several days away.
And, now, we wait for a final decision from our Conservation Commission whom, at the onset, had appeared to be staunchly opposed to this project but, after several private “working sessions” with the developer, seems to have taken a change of direction. Three prominent attorneys (Jonathan Witten, Susan Crane and Stephen Richmond) have submitted detailed, well-documented memos to the Commission clearly outlining the legal basis to deny “limited project status” for the Johnson Farm proposal. Imagine a football field piled 25 feet high with dirt. This is the amount of dirt the developer wants permission to add in order to build upon the wetlands abutting protected Sudbury Valley Trustees land. This kind and scale of development would be unprecedented in Sudbury. And it need not happen. We urge the Conservation Commission to exercise your legal means to stop this project, described by four out five ZBA members as “the wrong project in the wrong place.”
You have the authority and responsibility to stand up for the environment and make this most crucial decision for our town. Please have the courage to protect the best interests of Sudbury and its precious natural environment by denying “limited project status” for the Johnson Farm proposal.
Leslie Frodema & Jack Wiener
Frank & Regina Letteri
Amy & Hakan Adolfsson
Marcie & Brian Cain
Cindy & Daryl Gies
And many other concerned Sudbury residents