The 348-unit housing development proposed in Canton at the contaminated former Plymouth Rubber site will not be moving forward — at least not with the selectmen’s support.
Canton selectmen all came out against the plan at a meeting Tuesday, scheduled to decide whether the project would move forward under the state’s Chapter 40R, or smart growth, zoning law. The 40R designation would have made the town eligible for state payments of nearly $1 million, but selectmen said they believed the money was outweighed by the negatives such a development would bring to the downtown.
“It is clear in my mind that there is not a financial upside to this as it is being presented,” Selectman Robert Burr said Tuesday. “What I’m left with is, ‘Why would I support this project?’ ”
The main reason selectmen had been considering the project was that it was a way to get the contaminated site cleaned up, according to Burr.
Bernard Plante, the developer of the site, said in April that the cleanup would cost $7 million, which would include removing decrepit structures that contain asbestos, soil remediation, and $700,000 of work on a diversion channel constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
But balanced against that are traffic concerns in the downtown and creating a large development of housing that may not be needed, Burr said.
As proposed, the development would include three components – 204 rental apartment units in six buildings, 64 townhouse units for sale in 15 buildings, and 80 age-restricted units in two buildings.
For several of the selectmen, the sticking point was the rental units.
“I did stand in favor of the project when it was all owner-occupied,” selectmen chairman Gerald Salvatori said. “I can’t bring myself to give any support to this development with the rental component.”
Salvatori said the expense to the town for the rental units would be $800,000 or $900,000 for town and school services while the direct tax revenue would only be about $300,000.
He added that with the Avalon Bay development on Randolph Street adding another 200 units or so, he expected the market to be maxed out and for the influx of new residents to put a strain on local schools. The approximate $1 million from a 40R designation would not be enough to make up the difference.
Selectman John Connolly put his objection succinctly: “I’m not going to sell Canton’s soul for a million dollars,” he said.
Following selectmen’s discussion, a stunned Plante said only “OK” before packing up his papers to go.
“The decision of the Board of Selectmen came as a real shock to us after spending a year working on approvals with design and permitting of various committees,” Plante said Wednesday morning. “We’re going to step back and take a look at where we are on this project.”
Plante added that the developers would not continue to seek 40R designation.
Prior to selectmen speaking about the development, representatives from the School Committee, Finance Committee, and Planning Board voiced a range of opinions on the proposal, from concern to outright opposition.
The rentals would probably bring in more school-aged children than other types of development, as that has been the historical trend, said School Committee chairwoman Cindy Thomas.
School Committee member John Bonnanzio made a spreadsheet of rental complexes in Canton ranging in the number of school-aged children they contain from six at the 29-unit Canton Estates to 78 at the 156-unit Arboretum on Route 138. At a cost per pupil of $13,414, Bonnanzio projected that each apartment complex cost the town money.
For the Plymouth Rubber site, Bonnanzio estimated that there would be between 48 and 65 school-aged children.
Plante said the spreadsheet was only at a rough stage and needed to be further analyzed, but added that the developers would not undertake that in light of the selectmen’s lack of support.
Finance Committee chairman Mark Porter said his panel would be in lockstep with the School Committee on the project.
For Planning Board member Jeremy Comeau, the size of the development was too big to support.
“We’re growing too fast, and in areas, it’s just becoming almost to the point of being dangerous,” Comeau said.
Selectman Victor Del Vecchio cautioned developers that the rejection of the project did not mean that they were in favor of a commercial or industrial project, which is what the property is zoned for.
Selectwoman Avril Elkort agreed the development was too much for the town, but she said she regrets that the site would not be cleaned up in the foreseeable future.
“It would be cleaned up, but we’ve put up with it for many years,” Elkort said. “So we’ll put up with it for a few more years.”
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at eisen.globe@