Proposed subdivision causes fresh headache for Planning Board

Nov 15, 2017

Rochester's Planning Board is finding itself at odds with the developers of a proposed subdivision development off of Rounseville Road.

Planning Board Chair Arnie Johnson said at the board's November 14 meeting that a private meeting with the engineering company heading the project got off to a rocky start. He added that the company had neglected to take any of the Planning Board members' advice under consideration following an informal review session on October 24.

JC Engineering, based in Wareham, previously approached the Planning Board with a plan consisting of 24 lots on the Rounseville Road property abutting Plumb Corner.

JC Engineering's unchanged plans map out lots of 30,000 feet each, the size requirement for a limited commercial zoning development. However, according to the interpretation of Town Counsel Blair Bailey, residential developments in a limited commercial district remain subject to agricultural/residential zoning requirements, which means a minimum lot size of two acres.

JC Engineering project manager Michael Pimentel disputed the interpretation, stating that the town's regulations made it clear that construction could be done in a lot of at least 30,000 square feet in a commercial or limited-commercial district.

Planning Board Chair Arnie Johnson pointed out that the mapped-out lots made it seem as if JC Engineering was angling to produce a purely residential development. The point of zoning the property as limited commercial, he stated, was meant to encourage mixed-use developments in town.

Johnson encouraged the engineering company to return with a plan that simply mapped out an access road and three front lots that had previously been approved by the board.

However, he said, when it came time for a private meeting with the engineering firm, JC Engineering representatives put forward the very plan that he had asked them to change.

"I think they've found a loophole we forgot to close," Ben Bailey said at the November 14 meeting, in which representatives from JC Engineering were not present. "We should get wording into the next Town Meeting agenda to make sure this can't happen again."

"Time is on our side a bit, here," Johnson told Bailey, noting a zoning bylaw restriction that allows a maximum of eight dwellings to be built on a lot in a limited commercial district. "They could fight us in court, but they'd have an eight-to-ten year battle ahead of them, and they don't really have time for that."

The property in question has not been officially sold yet, and remains under agreement.

Johnson said that other entities had expressed interest in the site to JC Engineering, including Rochester's Affordable Housing Trust. "They have options," he remarked. "We mentioned preserving the front two lots and the field where the daycare playground is, to help preserve more of a rural character. In the end we had a meaningful conversation...I think."