IN DEVELOPMENT - This proposed 175 unit apartment complex in Wakefield is causing concern among Reading abutters who have complained the commuter thoroughfares already experience gridlock conditions during rush hour. The Reading town manager urged the Wakefield ZBA to double check the applicant’s traffic study before the project moves forward.  

A Middleton builder earlier this month shaved 15 units off of a proposed Chapter 40B apartment complex in Wakefield on the Reading side of Route 128.

In a compromise partially aimed at appeasing concerned Reading abutters, representatives from DB5 Development Group told Wakefield's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in early April that it will be downsizing its Tarrant Lane Apartments' proposal from 190 to 175 units.

The Middleton company, which is seeking a comprehensive permit from the ZBA under the state's affordable housing regulations, also reportedly agreed at the recent meeting to reduce the overall height of the three proposed five-story apartment buildings.

The ZBA is expected to continue its deliberations early next month.

The housing project would be built by demolishing about a dozen two-bedroom houses that were previously owned by the U.S. Coast Guard. The 3.75-acre site, purchased in 2017 for $3.6 million by DB5 Development principal Anthony Bonascorso, is situated on the dead end Tarrant Lane.

Though Wakefield's Town Council endorsed the project before it was formally submitted to the ZBA in Oct. of 2018, the development plans have caused quite the stir in neighboring Reading. Of particular concern is that the new apartments, which would be accessed by three site driveways, can only be reached via Hopkins and South Streets in Reading.

Though the general area is already the home to at least three other multi-unit townhouse and apartment buildings, Reading abutters have complained the commuter thoroughfares already experience gridlock conditions during rush hour.

Months ago, during a Reading Board of Selectmen's meeting, Town Manager Robert LeLacheur Jr. told a gathering of nearly 40 abutters that the community lacked the legal authority to force changes to the project.

"We don't have legal standing," said the town manager, who along with Reading Selectman Barry Berman, acknowledged the development's likely impact on area traffic.

In correspondence sent to Wakefield's ZBA in early January, LeLacheur again conceded that Reading couldn't legally demand changes to the proposal. However, he implored the neighboring officials to at least scrutinize the petitioner's traffic study to ensure its accuracy.

According to Reading officials, they were challenging the developer's suggestion that most apartment residents would hop directly onto Route 128 by taking a short drive towards Main Street/Route 28. Noting area residents already avoid that route by traveling much further westbound on South Street to West Street by Washington Street in Woburn — thereby avoiding the traffic-plagued I-93/95 cloverleaf — the Reading town manager urged the ZBA to double check the applicant's traffic study.

"I made it clear to the audience that the Town of Reading has 'no legal standing' on the project, but [did explain] that we enjoyed a very positive working relationship with your community," LeLaucheur wrote.

"Concerns included the narrow scope [of the petitioner's traffic] study that stopped on Main Street [despite the fact that] much area traffic continues westbound along South Street in order to avoid the 128/93 interchange," the town manager added.

Proposed as a Chapter 40B project, Bonascorso and his team technically have considerable leeway when it comes to meeting development demands from Wakefield's leaders — never mind concerns from an abutting community.

Also known as the state's anti-snob housing law, the Chapter 40B statute requires every city and town in the Commonwealth to dedicate 10 percent of its total available housing towards affordable buyers or tenants.

In communities that don’t meet the 10 percent housing threshold, developers are allowed to skirt virtually all local zoning and building bylaws by seeking the granting of waivers from the ZBA in their comprehensive permit requests. Wakefield, which at the time of the Tarrant Lane Apartments filing had slated only 7.2 percent of its housing stock as affordable, is about 518 units short of that threshold.

However, Bonascorso, represented by prominent 40B legal specialist Theodore Regnante, has nonetheless made it a point to answer Reading's concerns.

Earlier this month, after being asked by the ZBA in March to consider a reduced-build project, DB5 Development Group officials returned with plans to reduce the height of the buildings and to shave 15 units off the project.

The applicant's traffic consultant, Vanasse & Associates principal F. Giles Ham, also introduced plans to mitigate traffic impacts by removing one of the four planned site driveways and by installing new stop signs at key intersections, including:

• A four-way stop at Hopkins St./Tarrant Lane/and the apartment complex driveway;

• Stop signs by the intersection of Layton Ave., Hopkins St., and Brooks St.;

• and a stop sign by South and Main Streets.

The proponent also agreed to work with state highway officials to fast-track planned traffic signal improvements by South and Main Streets, another concession sought by Wakefield police officials.

According to Ham, he updated his initial 2018 traffic study in light of those changes and concluded that the development, though adding approximately 1,034 weekday trips to neighborhood road networks, will not cause major disruptions.

"The Tarrant Lane project will not result in significant increases in traffic volume or traffic delays. Project-related traffic can be adequately accommodated within existing street infrastructure," Giles noted in his presentation to the ZBA.

In 2017, Wakefield Town Manager Stephen Maio advised against the municipality's purchase of the Coast Guard parcel, which was formerly part of much larger 57-acre tract of land owned by the U.S. Military.

At the time, LeLacheur, who had been asked to consider the community's use of the site for veterans housing, argued the land was being marketed at a price tag that favored a much denser project.

According to the developer, the Town of Wakefield stands to receive new annual net tax revenues of $316,816 from the apartment complex. A development impact statement, projecting that 25 school-aged children will reside in the new apartments, also predicted the community will receive roughly $360,000 in one-time building permit fees from the 18-to-24 month construction project.

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