WOBURN - With the development bogged down in yet another legal dispute, the city's Planning Board recently agreed to extend the proposed completion date for a 10-lot subdivision off of Highview Road in the city's West Side.
During a recent gathering in City Hall, the Planning Board unanimously voted in favor of giving Woburn-based Sanco Builders another two-years to finish a new single-family housing development that dates all the way back to 1974.
Citing construction delays and continued neighborhood interest in the so-called Highview Estates project, the planners attached three conditions to the extension, including:
• That the petitioner notify city officials at least 60-days in advance of any plans to resume construction activity;
• That Sanco Builders, in order to satisfy an abutter's trespassing concerns, hire a surveyor to delineate the boundaries of the subdivision;
• and that the developer continue to adhere to the provisions of a water runoff and soil erosion control plan.
According to Boston attorney Roshan Jain, representing Sanco Builders principal Michael Santullo, the latest delay stems from an ongoing squabble with electricity provider Eversource over the long-delayed subdivision, which is proposed for a swath of hilly and wooded terrain by Cambridge Road and Lexington Street by the Reeves Elementary School.
Jain, whose law office was retained in March to act as Sanco's new legal representatives, told the Planning Board that the court proceedings could take as long as 18 months to settle. However, he also expressed confidence that he could broker a much-quicker out-of-court settlement.
"We're having procedural discussions about how this litigation might be resolved amicably," said Jain, a partner at Boston firm Burns & Jain. "At this juncture, we see a month-long path to a resolution."
In Sept. of 2017, the last time the Planning Board extended the completion deadline, Sanco's previous legal representative outlined the genesis of the land dispute. The city officials were told the energy company, refusing to authorize work within an easement area containing electrical infrastructure, issued a cease-and-desist order to his client back in 2017.
Sanco Builders subsequently asked a Middlesex Superior Court judge to order Eversource to allow the easement work, and the legal proceedings have dragged out since as both sides prepare to depose witnesses and conduct other pre-trial discovery.
The utility company's concerns apparently center around planned blasting activity and questions about future access to the nearby electricity grid infrastructure.
"From what I can see, the dispute seems to be a misunderstanding between the parties over what the petitioner needs to do to satisfy [Eversource's] concern that the blasting will be done within the parameters of its requirements," said Jain.
Since the subdivision was first approved by city officials back in 1972, area abutters have expressed concern about the the consequences of altering the topography of the West Side parcel, which has historically diverted rainwater towards Gills Field at the Reeves Elementary School.
Back in 2015, when the planners considered a previous construction extension, city officials tried to address those neighborhood concerns by ordering the developer to furnish a state-mandated stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP).
City Engineer Jay Corey's office earlier this summer confirmed the area builder continues to comply with those SWPPP provisions.
The West Side subdivision was first approved by the city back in 1974, when the Planning Board first granted Burlington developer Anthony Santullo permission to construct the homes.
Litigation over the project then ensued sometime in the mid-1980s, when concern about the proposed slope of the cleared land was cited as a reason to rescind that previous decade-old approval.
Specifically, when the Highview Estates project was first okayed in the 1970s, the city's subdivision regulations allowed developments on hilly terrain, so long as the finished slope near drainage areas was no greater than 15 percent.
However, by the time city officials revisited the still unfinished project in 1986, local regulations had been amended to require a slope of no greater than 8 percent. Santullo scoffed at the city's suggestion that he had to comply with the revised rules, which resulted in a legal challenge.
A land court judge, ordering a compromise grade of 12 percent, ultimately remanded the proposal back to the city for approval. Yet more legal wrangling ensued in the wake of that decision, but in 2007 — with Woburn again losing that court challenge — the subdivision was again given the green light.
In 2009, the elder Santullo appeared back before the Planning Board to request a two year continuance for the construction deadline, and the change was allowed. With the national economy tanking right around that time due to continued fallout from a subprime mortgage and housing crisis, the state’s Permit Extension Act automatically extended the subdivision's construction period until Nov. of 2015.
The Planning Board held a series of more prolonged deliberations over the future of the subdivision in the fall 2015, when yet another time extension was granted.