Essex Road 40B developer wants to get moving on approval conditions

John Bruni (left) shows the lay of the land at a March 29 2017 site visit (file photo)

IPSWICH — The Essex Pastures 40B developers have said they are ready to enter the final phase of their application to build 191 units on Essex Road.

At last week’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) meeting, attorney John Smolak asked that draft conditions of approval be ready at next month’s meeting.

The project is using the state’s 40B affordable housing law to bypass local zoning. It can do so if at least 25% of the units are set aside as affordable.

The project is led by Ipswich resident John Bruni, who wants to build the 191 townhouses and apartments on around 13.2 acres in and around the Bruni Marketplace. Normal town zoning would allow only 83 units.

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The developer is required to submit a waiver list of town zoning he wants to bypass. The document is around 30 pages long, and the most contentious requests stem from the project’s proposed density. Residents’ concerns include traffic, water, sewers, pollution, and wetlands.

On wetlands, residents asked that the town’s regulations, which are stricter than the state’s, be followed. However, project engineer Joe Peznola noted that developers wanted to use state rules. “This is fairly standard for 40Bs,” he said.

He said the builders would “by and large” respect the 50-foot no-disturb zone. Five rear decks and a pipe would be built in the 65-foot setback, Peznola aid.

The town’s 40B attorney Barbara Carboni advised the ZBA to ask for more details on the wetlands waivers. She also recommended that the town conservation commission or agent be called upon for guidance.

Meanwhile, resident Jim McCarthy agreed. In a letter to the ZBA, he said the commission is “the town body best suited to evaluate adverse impacts upon the public water supply, groundwater supply, and local wetlands protection.”

ZBA chair Bob Gambale said he has consulted conservation agent Brendan Lynch and hoped to attend a site visit planned by the commission.

Public comments

“This applicant has not gone before the conservation commission. It should have been done in tandem,” said abutter Keri MacRae. She said that was the approach taken by the Town Farm Road project.

She also called for the wetlands to be re-surveyed, since it was last done over six years ago and the boundary could have moved.

MacRae said that if the local wetlands regulations are waived, she would like to hear the ZBA’s justification.

Gambale said the board will discuss all waivers in public sessions to examine reasons for the requests.

Resident Chris Florio asked that all town boards and officials be asked for their feedback on the project.

ZBA vice chair Ben Fierro said later that has already been done. The application has been with the board since June 2018, he said, but he noted that residents have begun to become more involved in the last few months.

Resident Kristina Brendel asked about site plan and 3D drawings requested by the board. They have not been provided yet, she said, adding, “It’s beginning to sound suspicious.”

Although Brendel thought the request was made two months ago, Gambale said it was made last month. “They are working on it. It’s not a difficult thing to produce,” he said.

Resident Vicki Hughes spoke of the importance of the wetlands and the buffer areas in keeping pollutants from contaminating local shellfishing areas.

There wasn’t much public discussion at last week’s meeting, as there were many other items on the agenda.

However, the board will hold a special meeting on March 18, when the Essex Road 40B will be the only application to be dealt with.