© The Stoneham Independent
STONEHAM, MA - Smitty's Way homeowners again begged the Board of Selectmen to intervene in a continuing billboard-related conflict with a New Hampshire developer, who has allegedly refused to finish work at the new subdivision in retaliation for a neighborhood lawsuit.
During a gathering on Tuesday night in Town Hall, Smitty's Way resident Ramy Elshaboury accused the subdivision builder, listed in town records as DECM LLC, of refusing to acknowledge a 2016 pledge to notify all prospective homebuyers about plans for a billboard on I-93.
The sign is located on a small parcel of land off of Forbes Road by the Woburn side of the highway, not far from the new subdivision.
According to the resident, who purchased his new single-family home for $669,800 in the six-lot subdivision off of North Street, he and his neighbors are now unable to reach the contractor, who has apparently refused to return to the neighborhood to finish promised work in the new homes.
"It's fair to say that between the five families [that have purchased new houses there], we have invested $3.5 million," vented the new Stoneham resident. "We're here to ask for help and see what the town can do for us. The developer has left the site and is refusing to finish work both inside the houses and on the street."
Ultimately, Town Administrator Thomas Younger agreed to discuss the dispute with the neighborhood, who could potentially have recourse by asking the town's Planning Board to withhold the release of a bond posted as surety for the subdivision.
Younger will also consult with Town Counsel Robert Galvin, who was similarly asked for advise when a similar complaint was launched last fall about the subdivision and an alleged failure by the developer to comply with disclosure terms regarding the billboard.
"We can have this reviews again with Town Counsel to see if there's any recourse with the town," said Younger. "Let's set something up at my office and we'll schedule a meeting with the Town Planner and building inspector regarding the issue."
The larger dispute revolves around a fall of 2015 zoning deal between the Board of Selectmen and Logan Communications, which as a result of the pact, erected a digital billboard by BJ's Wholesale along I-93.
As part of that mitigation agreement, the outdoor advertising firm agreed to pay the Town of Stoneham $6.2 million over 20-years.
When negotiating those terms back in 2015, the Board of Selectmen demanded assurances that the two-sided digital display would not be viewable from the yards of Stoneham residents, whose home resale values could be compromised.
Ultimately, the outdoor advertiser agreed no existing homes would be impacted, but they conceded the views of new homeowners at the Smitty's Way subdivision could be impacted.
However, to protect those future Stoneham residents' interests, Logan Communications' attorney was able to negotiate a side deal with the Smitty's Way developer, in which the builder purportedly pledged to notify all prospective homebuyers about the billboard construction plans.
Since that three-party pact was inked, the Board of Selectmen have repeatedly discovered those notifications aren't being made.
Most recently, Selectman Caroline Colarusso back in September told her peers about one new homebuyer, Smitty's Way's Seanna Cedrone, who stumbled across the billboard plans by accident while doing research on the Internet.
With Colarusso placing the matter on the agenda for discussion, Cedrone, who with her husband paid $649,000 for a new home at the Woburn-line subdivision, last fall told the Board of Selectmen she was worried the value of her home would plummet with the sign's erection.
It's unclear what town actions were taken as a result.
This week, Colarusso, upon learning about the plight of the neighborhood since, classified the entire situation as an "epic failure" by the town.
"I think we should put this on the agenda for our next meeting. I might be putting words in your mouth, but I think what you're trying to do is shine a light on this [issue], so no one else has to go through this," said Colarusso.
The billboard arrangement has repeatedly proved a problem for town officials, as just a month after the deal was inked, former Selectman Ann Marie O'Neill similarly accused the developer of failing to disclose the billboard construction plans to those visiting open houses in the neighborhood.
As a result of those talks, Logan Communications, which had no desire to get pulled into a private spat unrelated to its own actions, asked to modify the terms of the original agreement to clarify it's obligations, versus those of the Smitty's Way proprietor, who was then identified as DECM manager Mary Couillard.
Under the terms of that modified agreement, inked between the town and the outdoor advertiser ion Feb. of 2016, Logan Outdoor agreed to file notice with the Registry of Deeds regarding the billboard agreement - which should make the construction plans discoverable to potential homebuyers doing research.
Couillard also acknowledged her awareness of the billboard plans and on behalf of DECM, promised to "comply with all applicable regulations and requirements in regard to the construction and marketing disclosure for our subdivision."
According to Elshaboury, the developer in court filings has denied having any billboard notification obligations to the neighborhood.
"In the past six months, we've pursued every legal action we could against the developer. Unforutnatley, two separate judges have ruled that letter is essentially meaningless. It was vague and ambiguous," said Elshaboury, referencing the modified development agreement.
"Since then, he's left the area. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done. All of us had work to be done on our houses that he is refusing to [finish]," the frustrated new homeowner continued.