Pollution issues at center of proposed affordable housing development

Sep 11, 2019

A proposal to turn an old junkyard on Route 6 into a 288-unit affordable housing complex is still moving along, as town and project officials hammer out details on how to deal with a property with a history of pollution problems.

On September 10, officials from First Dartmouth LLC appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeals to update the board on progress that has been made towards securing a comprehensive permit. 

The company — which also owns the nearby Dartmouth Woods apartment complex — is seeking to build a 32-building apartment complex on several parcels of land on State and Reed Roads, including the old Joe’s Used Cycles property. It is proposed under the state's Chapter 40B affordable housing law, which allows project developers to bypass certain town zoning requirements if the town’s housing stock deemed “affordable” is below ten percent.

Two public hearings have taken place so far. On August 8, 2018, the project team presented a broad overview of the proposal. On October 23, the meeting focused on traffic issues.

More than a dozen hearings were scheduled after that, but all were delayed, owing to the troubled history of the land the complex could be built upon. 

In the 1970s, hundreds of drums containing toxic pollutants were discovered to have been stored and dumped on the property by a company called H&M Drum. There have also been documented instances of releases of toxic chemicals on the property.

According to a 2018 letter written by Director of Public Health Chris Michaud, the property's past uses include auto body repair, a car junkyard, car dealership, fuel storage, asphalt, brick, and concrete dumping and processing, a dumping ground, sand and gravel quarrying, marine storage and salvage, junk storage, and storage and disposal of various hazardous materials. In the letter, Michaud had expressed deep concerns with the proposal. 

Cleanup of the property has been undertaken since the 1980s. Officials representing the town want to make sure thorough testing and monitoring is conducted on the site to ensure it is safe for future residents and the community at large.

Karis North, special counsel representing the town, and a team of engineers and consultants are negotiating with the project developers on a set of conditions to follow during the pre-construction, construction, and post-construction phases of the project. 

Most of the conditions are focused on further studying the property, conducting testing for pollutants, and managing the cleanup of material still left on the site like a stockpile of light bulbs and asphalt. 

“There is 35 years of activity on the property subsequent to the H&M site… I would like to see additional soil testing to demonstrate it’s sufficient for residential use,” said Lynne Sweet, a consultant from LDS Consulting Group working on behalf of the town. 

According to North, the two parties agree with more than a half dozen conditions — including conditions imposed by GeoInsight, a licensed site professional responsible for overseeing the H&M Drum cleanup. 

More than ten additional conditions are still in negotiations, although after the meeting North said she felt the two parties were making progress narrowing down the remaining items. 

Since the last public hearing in 2018, a lot of work has went into studying and examining the property. 

Steven Gioiosa from SITEC Engineering said that over the past year, 66 samples from test pits have been analyzed, and all of the monitoring wells on the site have been tested. 

The next public hearing on the proposal will be held on September 24. The anticipated topics to be covered during that meeting include environmental issues, as well as sewer issues. 

Under normal circumstances, a public hearing for a 40B project lasts 180 days before being closed. However, First Dartmouth LLC was granted extensions through October 31, and it is likely that the process will be extended even further. Once the public hearing is closed, the Zoning Board of Appeals has 40 days to issue its decision.