Select Board opposes student housing zoning, learns of possible water contamination

Apr 25, 2017

While abutters have opposed a student housing development since 2013, Vision Properties recently brought forth a citizen petition that calls for student housing zoning.

However, at the April 24 Select Board meeting, board members opposed the proposed zoning changes, saying that it does not suit the public interest.

"None of the citizens [that signed this petition] live within 10,000 feet of where this project is proposed," said Selectman Shawn McDonald.

The proposed student housing location is for the Pine Hill Sand and Gravel site at 498 Old Westport Road. David Sullivan, representing the developers, argued that the town would lose out on $500,000 in yearly tax revenue if the plans did not pass.

The current owners pay $2.5 million in taxes, which they cannot afford, said Sullivan. "The town's going to end up owning 40,000 cubic yards of concrete," he said.

The development is a $50 million project. It creates jobs and tax revenue, Sullivan continued. He also said that off-campus housing would provide a safe, regulated student housing community — complete with a salt water pool, sufficient parking, and key fabs for security — while fulfilling a need for older students not wishing to live on campus.

As a final statement, Sullivan said that leaching chemicals from the site will eventually hit a nearby water supply, which could be an additional charge for the town. Officials voiced concern that the possible contamination had not been reported to either the town's Department of Public Works or the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"Water is a resource that we cannot mess around with. I find it incomprehensible that any entity has this knowledge and doesn't have to report it," said McDonald.

Sullivan said that while his clients have been monitoring the chemical spread toward the water supply, they were under no obligation legally to report it unless it was an imminent threat.

"I will not support this in any matter," said McDonald, suggesting that the developers withdraw their petition.

While the zoning change needs to pass Town Meeting in June, the Select Board voted to not recommend the changes. They will pursue more information on the potential contamination, board members said.