SUNDERLAND — Town-led discussion of the senior housing project proposed for North Main Street is taking a holiday vacation until the new year, though the topic has been addressed in length at municipal meetings over the course of months.
After two hours of discussion this week, the Conservation Commission voted to continue the public hearing to Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Rural Development Inc., a subsidiary nonprofit of the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority, has applied to build onto the white house on 2.8 acres of Sunderland-owned land at 120 North Main St., near the town center. Glen Ohlund, the director of community development at the housing and redevelopment authority, said the housing would be exclusively for people 62 and older.
But, abutters have raised concerns about the project’s environmental impacts and the effects development would have on their properties and surrounding wetlands. North Main Street resident Margaret Byrne, the most vocal opponent, has been to several meetings of the town’s Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals. At the Conservation Commission public hearing this week, Byrne expressed worry that snow melt would be moved into a designated buffer zone, though Mark Darnold, a principal of The Berkshire Design Group, which was hired by RDI, said it will be placed outside the buffer zone. Byrne said it will nevertheless melt into the zone, but Darnold said that aspect is not unique to this project. He also said 10 inches of snow is the equivalent to about 1 inch of water. Darnold is the site designer for the proposed project.
Michael Ahearn, who said he has lived at 127 North Main St. for 40 years, stood up to say he is concerned about effects the project will have on groundwater.
“I love Sunderland,” he told The Recorder after he left the meeting, “and there’s going to be other places to build this project. It’s time that the town looked for alternate sites.”
Ahearn told Conservation Commission members the developers are anxious to start building and that’s why they say they foresee nothing but positive effects on the area. Chairman Curt Griffin told Ahearn he must show data that backs up his claims of the negative effects 7 feet of wetlands fill will have on groundwater. Griffin said the commission’s only task is to determine if the development will adversely affect any natural resource area.
Laura Baker, real estate project manager for Valley Community Development, which is consulting for RDI, said she drove around Sunderland recently and saw “field after field after field of standing water,” but she did not see this on the proposed project site.
Ohlund said the plan is to extend off the house at 120 North Main St. The housing facility would consist of 30 one-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units (possibly exclusively for residents who have live-in patient care assistants or other aides), all with their own kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces.