WOBURN - DPW Superintendent Jay Duran recently classified unauthorized modifications to the Village at Shannon Farm's sewage and drainage systems as unacceptable and likely to cause a "substantial hardship" for city officials and West Side residents.
During their most recent gathering in City Hall, the City Council learned local developer Scott Seaver is asking local officials to override Building Commissioner Thomas Quinn's ruling that the relocation of utilities for the 112-unit townhouse project constitutes a substantial change for the Shannon Farm redevelopment at 299 Lexington St.
Representing the petitioner, local attorney Joseph Tarby is refuting Quinn's opinion and asking the City Council to deem the special permit modifications as minor. Per the council's June of 2017 decision that approved the West Side housing project, the Special Permits Committee is to be tasked with making such determinations.
"The relocation of the utilities does not result in any substantial change or modification to the surface of the property, nor does it change any of the conditions contained in the decision," Tarby argued in a memo to the council earlier this month. "On behalf of my client, I respectfully request approval by the City Council Special Permits Committee of both the sewer connection relocation plan and the drain relocation plan."
The council last week voted unanimously to refer the matter to the Special Permits Committee as requested. Though that action was taken without debate or comment, correspondence from Duran indicates Seaver's request is far more controversial than indicated.
In a letter dated May 6, the DPW superintendent, claiming the utility connection changes have far-ranging consequences, objected to Tarby's claims that the sewer and drainage system are minor design tweaks.
Characterizing the systems' design is grossly different than what city officials and the development team mutually agreed upon back in 2017, Duran first protested the scrapping of plans to install a new sewer manhole.
According to DPW officials, that design element was sought by the city in order to provide an important maintenance bay for emergency calls.
"The sewer system is nearly at full capacity, and we evaluated this very thoroughly at the design and approval process. The design parameter was to add a new sewer manhole, which as originally configured, would add another maintenance point to our system," said Duran.
"The new configuration [instead] ties into an older structure and eliminates the new point of access in the event of a blockage and potential sanitary overflow. The latter event would cause substantial hardship to the City of Woburn and future issues with [environmental regulators at] MassDEP," the DPW head furthered.
The DPW manager also cites a number of system flaws that both create "crossing and separation issues" and likely violate state engineering standards. According to Duran, if the council agrees to allow the site plan modifications, the system is at-risk of development leaks, and city workers will likely experience difficulty in making timely emergency repairs of those breaches.
"[T]his minor design change has numerous serious detrimental impacts upon our system and potentially upon the residents of the City of Woburn. Based on the foregoing, I recommend the City Council deny this utility modification," Duran wrote.
In May of 2017, the City Council in a 6-to-3 vote narrowly sanctioned the original special permit for the Shannon Farm redevelopment, which was pitched by Seaver after he acquired the 46-acre agricultural site two years earlier for $8.1 million.
The project application relied upon a special section of Woburn's zoning code that was adopted in the late 1990's to facilitate a housing redevelopment at Winning Farm. Under the zoning provision, those who acquire expansive land holdings in single-family zoning districts can file for a special permit to erect townhouses, but must agree in exchange to cede roughly half of the property to the city for conservation uses.
In total, the city acquired 24.5 acres of land, along with attached parking rights to an 18-space lot and promised access to the Shaker Glen Conservation area , from Seaver under the development pact.
With the so-called Village at Shannon Farm proposal generating significant debate over potential impacts to city roadways and infrastructure, the council attached nearly 47 conditions to its favorable special permit decision in 2017.
In order to mitigate the West Side development's impacts , the local builder committed to making more than $602,000 worth of off-site improvements, including traffic enhancements to the Four Corners intersection.