The owner of the Canter Brook Equestrian Center says that despite reports to the contrary, he has no plans to build six homes on his 13.3-acre lot.
“As of now, it’s going to stay a farm,” said Jerry Dawson, owner of the center at 354 Highland St., who not long ago unsuccessfully proposed a 43-unit senior housing development, which created a stir with neighbors and left him frustrated with town officials.
Dawson said that since meeting earlier this month with the Zoning Board of Appeals, he has changed his mind about his request to restore the commercial riding center, which stables up to 75 horses, as a private facility. He did not elaborate on why, or on what he ultimately hopes to do with the property.
On the application for a hearing, under a line requesting the petitioner to state in detail the plans for the property, Dawson included the words “subdivide and build homes.” He also included a map dividing the property into six lots.
He said that a board discussion about future options for the property did include the possibility of building single-family homes as an “approval not required” subdivision, but that the main point of his asking the board to lift a “no further subdivision” provision placed on the property in 1986 (when it was under different ownership) was to abandon the commercial use condition.
According to the state’s 1996 Subdivision Control Law, if the Planning Board determines that a plan does not require public approval under that law, it should give an immediate endorsement without a hearing.
“It’s not like I was asking them for house lots or anything like that,” said Dawson. “I was just throwing it out there.”
Deb Paskowski, administrative assistant for the zoning board, confirmed that Dawson had spoken with her and told her he planned to amend his petition.
Board chairman Bill Bowler said the board had continued the hearing until its Sept. 11 meeting.
Dawson created a stir when he proposed to build a 43-unit senior development on the property under the town’s senior housing bylaw, adopted in 2008. His project was before the Planning Board for 18 months before he withdrew it.
Dawson said the Board of Selectmen had encouraged him to build exactly the type of project that he originally brought forward, believing that a 55-and-over development would benefit the town’s tax base while allowing longtime residents an option to remain in town if they sell larger homes.
“The town came to us and asked us to do it,” Dawson said. “They wanted it, and then I spent the money on all these plans to do it, and they were like, ‘Well, we don’t want to upset the neighbors, so why don’t we reduce the density.’ So we tried 39 [units], and the neighbors were still upset, so we tried 35.”
Eventually, even 29 units were too many, said Dawson. He thought that members of the Planning Board did not always seem sure of the intent of the bylaws written to encourage development such as his.
“It seemed like we were going nowhere,” Dawson said. “The town put this in place, and they didn’t know what they meant by half of what they put in there.”
After two years and $200,000, Dawson said, he dropped it.
Ed Howard, the current Planning Board chairman and a member at the time Dawson had his project before the board, said that the board was well versed on Hamilton’s zoning laws.
He said that he supported the idea of senior housing in town, but the development density and the parcel’s location in a ground-water overlay protection district were significant stumbling blocks that may never have been overcome. He said he raised the issues early in the process.
“Ground-water protection is a serious subject,” Howard said.
Approval “might have been close in his mind, and the neighbors may have been more amenable to a small development than a big development, but he was still running up against the law where it concerns protection of the ground-water supply.”
Howard said that the town’s ground-water overlay protection district allows one home per 80,000 square feet (slightly less than two acres).
He would not comment on the possibility of Dawson receiving an approval-not-required designation for a six-single-home development on 13.3 acres, “because there hasn’t been a form submitted to the Planning Board.”
He also said that according to a decision from Hamilton’s town counsel, Dawson had to have the commercial-use condition removed by the zoning board before requesting the designation from the Planning Board.
Bowler, a member of the Board of Selectmen at the time Dawson brought the project forward, agreed that town officials had encouraged him to do so.
“We looked at that type of project to help the town’s economic development, and lower the tax rate,” he confirmed, recalling that it was the first project proposed under the town’s senior housing bylaw.