A majority of the Zoning Board of Appeals has approved a modified version of a controversial housing project at 189 Landham Road. After hours of debate at Thursday night, the Board agreed to move ahead with the approval process for the proposed Johnson Farm project, but with the stipulation that the development include 56 units, not 58.
"I completely acknowledge that this plan is not perfect," said Board Chair Elizabeth Quirk, who opened the meeting by explaining that she was reluctantly giving her support to the plan for 58 units, which she modified to 56 by the end of the meeting. "Of course, zero units would be the ideal, but that is not an option that is available."
State law requires communities to set aside a percentage of housing that is deemed "affordable," and communities are not permitted to reject developments that include affordable housing without specific reasons that relate to health and safety.
"I think the 120-unit plan would be a disaster for the town that I am just not willing to risk," said Quirk, referring to the developer's original plans, which involved a three-story, 120-unit development in the same location.
That plan could be resurrected and pushed through if the ZBA rejected the 58-unit plan and the developer appealed through the state, according to Board members who spent a significant portion of the meeting debating whether Sudbury could successfully fend off the 120-unit development on appeal.
"I am not comfortable with the 58 units," said Board member Jonathan F.X. O'Brien, who said he was particularly concerned about wetlands issues.
"They would be nice homes, but they're in the wrong spot, and there's just too many of them," said member Benjamin Stevenson, arguing that the number of units should be watered down to 45, which he said would lessen the environmental impact and ease concerns expressed by neighbors. He said many neighbors would be willing to accept 45 units, despite the perception that they are dead-set against any development of any size.
"I feel like the difference between 45 and 58 is not as great as it sounds," said Quirk.
"I don't like this any more than the neighbors do," said member Jeffrey Klofft. "But still, we should remember that there are substantial differences between the 120-unit plan and the 58-unit plan."
He argued that the higher costs for tenants of a 58-unit development might be more likely to attract people from within Sudbury, perhaps empty-nesters who don't need as large of a home as they used to.
The Johnson Farm development is referred to as a "40B" project, after the state law passed in 1969 which allows developers more flexibility in bypassing local zoning regulations, if they set aside 25 percent of the units for low- and moderate-income residents at rates they can afford. In November 2010, Massachusetts voters rejected a ballot question that sought to repeal the law. Supporters of 40B often refer to it as the "anti-snob" law and say communities ought to seek more opportunities for affordable housing, not less.
"I know I don't like it, I know they don't like it," Klofft said, gesturing to the crowd of about 20 neighbors who gathered to watch the proceedings. "And I know we (the Board) don't like it, but the question is how much risk are we willing to take," he asked, in regards to the possible legal consequences of denying the project. Klofft and Stevenson repeatedly interrupted each other as the meeting became heated at times.
By the end of the meeting, a majority consisting of three of the five members voted to support 56 units and request modifications to the design plans, such as more room that would allow a fire truck to turn around at the property.
Members settled on the number of 56, after it was pointed out that they could complicate matters by not picking a number that is divisible by 4, since the developer is aiming at a 25-percent affordable housing rate. Both the 58-unit plan and the newly modified 56-unit plan will allow for a total of 14 affordable housing units.