Lynnfield votes no on golf course development

In an action that may doom the future of Lynnfield's privately-operated Sagamore Spring Golf Club, Town Meeting participants a few weeks ago rejected a proposal to erect a 154-unit senior housing complex on a portion of the recreational site off of Main Street.

During the citizen assembly on April 30, Lynnfield citizens convincingly defeated a zoning change needed to facilitate a Mashpee-based developer's plans to erect a gated, age 55-and-older townhouse development on the easterly side of the 171-acre parcel.

"I've been to about four different meetings, and too many false premises have been presented," said Patrice Lane resident Patricia Campbell, who pointedly asked why the Board of Selectmen had not publicly discussed whether to exercise Lynnfield's rights to purchase the golf course. "There's too many unanswered questions."

Falling 34 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to enact the zoning amendment, the measure garnered the support of fewer than 56 percent of the 307 citizens attending the Town Meeting.

In recent months, local attorney Theodore Regnante, representing the Luff and Strobel/Thompson family members who control the Sagamore Spring property, had warned the 18-hole golf course will be shuttered for a single-family subdivision, should the senior housing legislation not pass.

With those threats being echoed by the petitioners consulting team during a rushed Town Meeting presentation a few weeks ago, citizens' in-kind response couldn't have been clearer, as voters shot down the rezoning initiative twice on the same night.

"Bonvie Homes and the Luff family propose to develop the easterly side of the golf course. This project will preserve all 18 holes of the existing golf course. The 55-plus townhouses would be carefully nestled in around the fairways," explained Regnante, a Lynnfield resident whose law practice is based out of Wakefield.

The second denial that evening involved a push by a Town Meeting participant to reconsider the rezoning initiative. Though a handful of warrant article proponents tried to save the project, which would have entailed the construction of luxury townhouses on portions of the golf course closest to the Peabody and Middleton lines, the second vote fared worse than the first.

"I think this project is incredibly good for the Town of Lynnfield. I don't understand why it just got turned down," said one Lynnfield resident.

"This is a great project. [My home] backs right up to the golf course. I don't want to see 85 houses going in there [instead]," later said Main Street resident Donald Swim.

Despite those eleventh-hour pleas, Lynnfield residents, in a vote of 148-to-122, refused to entertain any additional debate on the matter.

According to those who led the campaign against the redevelopment concept, town leaders have failed to answer significant concerns about traffic near the busy intersection of Main and Lowell Streets, worries about water-supply and treatment impacts, and questions about development-related financial impacts to the community.

Though Regnante insisted the town has reached safe-harbor status, other townspeople claimed local officials had not sufficiently explained whether the senior-housing proposal would expose the community to future Chapter 40B or affordable housing projects.

Fairway’s Edge

Last winter, representatives from Cape Cod's Bonvie Homes approached the Board of Selectmen and other town officials about constructing a luxury age-restricted housing complex for retiring baby boomers along the edges of about half of the golf club's fairways.

Sized at between 2,400 and 3,000 square feet, each unit would have contained two bedrooms and a two-car garage. Bonvie Homes President Ron Bonvie, revealing a $700,000 to $9000,000 listing price for each townhouse, insisted the project would have been a first-class development with negligible impacts on municipal infrastructure.

Besides receiving $1.8 million in additional annual tax revenues, the developer had also pledged a lump sum $1.7 million contribution to the community as part of a mitigation covenant sanctioned by Board of Selectmen in the days prior to Town Meeting.

Off-site improvements to Main Street and Lowell Street, including the addition of traffic islands and three right-hand turning lanes, were also promised as part of that recently finalized agreement.

By contrast, according to consultants hired by Bonvie Homes and the Sagamore Spring ownership group, a by-right 82-unit subdivision, which would force the closure of the popular golf club, would still bring in between $500,000 to $800,000 in new tax revenue streams.

However, a single-family home development would also generate nearly twice as much traffic — with a total of 862 new vehicle trips expected — and force the school system to absorb into local classrooms somewhere between 71 and 112 new pupils (as opposed to none).

"The traffic generation, sewage, and all other impacts normally felt by the community are much less with an elderly housing proposal," insisted Hayes Engineering principal Peter Ogren, Bonvie Homes' civil engineer and land planning expert.

"The impacts of the single-family development will be significantly more over time," later warned Mark Fougere, who was hired to prepare a fiscal impact analysis comparing both development concepts.

A longterm defeat?

Promising the resulting development would keep the golf course operational for the forseeable future and cause far fewer impacts than a by-right single-family home subdivision, Regnante on behalf of his client introduced four petitions for passageTown Meeting this winter.

Technically, Lynnfield's voters last month took decisive action on just the first of those initiatives, which sought to rezone about 106-acres of land on the golf course as part of an elderly housing (EH) district.

The three other pieces of Town Meeting legislation, including a second zoning change to allow a commercial golf course to operate in a EH zone, were referred back to Lynnfield's Planning Board for further study.

Because the zoning initiative failed, the petitioners, or any new landowner for that matter, are prohibited for the next two years from asking Town Meeting for a EH rezoning change for the golf course grounds.

However, another type of zoning change, which includes a combination of golf course and other kinds of residential uses, could hypothetically be voted on before that two-year clock ends.

During a presentation to the Board of Selectmen in February, Sagamore Spring Golf Club manager Richard Luff advised town officials that other members of the underlying land trust are looking to walk away from the property with some "liquidity" in hand.

"We've been looking for a number of years as to how this should happen, and it is time," said Luff. "But it’s extremely important to us that it proceeds in the right manner. [The community has told us it wants] to keep the golf course intact, and we feel this [senior townhouse plan] is the right move."

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