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Milton, Canton

Despite dispute, housing plan on

Despite opposition from two towns and a legislative attempt to block the development, a 276-apartment complex is poised to rise on Brush Hill Road in Milton.

Residents and local officials haven’t given up the fight against the Milton Mews project, which would be on land in Milton and Canton, though all the buildings would be in Milton.

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Opponents say the development is too large for the neighborhood and would harm the environment. But because Milton Mews is being proposed under the state’s 40B affordable-housing law, the odds appear to be in the developer’s favor.

Still, Milton Mews needs to pass through several steps in the approval process, and state Senator Brian A. Joyce is holding out hope that the proposal can be defeated.

“I just don’t think it’s a suitable location for such a massive development,” the Milton Democrat said last week. “It would irreparably harm what’s been determined by environmental officials as an area of critical environmental concern.

“The public safety concerns for residents of nearby Fuller Village and the adjacent nursing home, to me, point to the inescapable conclusion this project should not be built on this site,” he said.

He added that the site is near wetlands containing endangered species.

Robb Hewitt, managing director of the developer Mill Creek Residential Trust, said Friday that the company was reviewing the public comment letters sent to the state, and continued to believe Brush Hill Road is a good site for the project.

In May, the state Senate passed a budget amendment written by Joyce that would have required Milton Mews to obtain approval from the conservation commissions of both Canton and Milton. However, that amendment was not included in the final version of the bill before the Legislature adjourned last Monday.

That failure will make it tough to block a 40B proposal like Milton Mews. In communities where fewer than 10 percent of the housing units meet the state’s definition of being affordable, 40B gives developers more flexibility in meeting local zoning ordinances if the development consists of rental units or a certain percentage of the units is sold at below-market prices.

Milton Mews would consist of 110 one-bedroom apartments, 138 two-bedroom units, and 28 three-bedroom units.

Joyce acknowledged that the majority of attempts to build 40B projects are successful. That assessment was supported by attorney Jason R. Talerman, who was retained by the Fuller Village senior housing complex to offer advice.

Talerman said he has taken on many 40B projects around the state, and his win-loss ratio has been poor. “Among the towns that fight projects, 95 percent of the time the towns lose, and close to 90 percent of them lose in court,’’ he said at a selectmen’s meeting in March.

But Talerman also noted last Friday that opposition can still produce results.

He cited a 2006 case in Mansfield, where, he said, Fairfield Properties constructed a sewer line for the town to compensate for increased strain on the town’s sewer system. In an Easton case, Talerman said, a developer decided to avoid a lengthy legal battle and sell the land to a developer more willing to work with the town.

According to Joyce, the successful challenges to 40B developments have involved environmental or public safety concerns, both of which are in play with Milton Mews.

Opponents say that the high density of buildings at Milton Mews would interfere with emergency vehicles’ access to Fuller Village, where Joyce serves as a volunteer board member. The senior housing complex is home to 400 residents and ambulance access to the area is critical, Joyce said.

Environmental, safety, and traffic considerations were addressed in a 14-page letter that the town of Milton submitted to Gregory P. Watson, an official at MassHousing, one of the state agencies that reviews 40B projects.

“The project site is a part of a rich ecosystem that serves as a connection between the Blue Hills Reservation and Fowl Meadow,” the June 10 letter read.

Police and fire departments would also be strained by the 276 units of the project, and the development does not provide bicycle, pedestrian, or access to public transportation, the letter read.

The letter also brought up issues with the site’s topography, its proximity to archeological dig sites, and the planned demolition of the historic Bishop William Lawrence House as reasons for the project’s ineligibility.

Canton filed a similar letter, just over a page long, last month. It explored many of the same issues on behalf of the town, particularly those affecting residents on Hemenway Drive, which is close to the project.

Currently, the The proposal is being reviewed by MassHousing. Talerman had advised residents to make their thoughts known during the public comment phase, and MassHousing spokesman Thomas J. Farmer said submissions by residents were “extensive” and “voluminous.”

The agency expects to decide within 30 days whether the project is eligible for 40B status. Farmer said that all factors, including environmental and safety issues, will be considered. If MassHousing rejects the project, the developer can change the design and return to the agency, Talerman said.

If the project is deemed eligible, it then goes to the Milton zoning board. If the local board rejects the application, the case would go before a state board and could eventually end up in the courts.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at eisen.globe@
gmail.com
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