The state has sided with a developer of an affordable housing project off River Street, over the objections of its neighbors and town officials.
Taylor Cove, a plan to build 32 affordable housing units off River Street between Hillcrest Road and Laconia Drive, got a green light last week from the state's Department of Environmental Protection after the Conservation Commission tried to stop the project more than two years ago.
In its decision, the DEP said "with the proper mitigation measures, the proposed project should be allowed" because it doesn't impact nearby wetland areas enough to warrant a rejection.
Of an estimated 184,000 square feet of riverfront area, the project intends to disturb around 6,900 square feet, or around 3.75 percent, of the area. Among a list of conditions, the DEP will require Wacome to provide an updated plan for replicating an area of around 600 square feet of bordering vegetated wetlands impacted by the project.
Conservation Director Bob Douglas, whose department focused heavily on the project's impact to nearby Shawsheen River, said that the decision is "very disappointing. They reached a different conclusion than the two scientists we were working with as to the limits of the river way."
Don Borenstein, developer Todd Wacome's attorney, said he and Wacome "are still reviewing the details of the decision," but that "we're glad to see the DEP generally agrees with the project team."
"Instead of requiring any changes to the project, they've agreed to the project as submitted, that it properly protects wetlands," said Borenstein.
A few smaller, final permits are necessary for construction of the units to begin, Borenstein said. The DEP decision "would certainly be clearing a significant hurdle."
About a decade ago, Wacome had planned to develop the land to create "Victoria Place," a neighborhood of five single-family homes. An order of conditions was approved by the Andover Conservation Commission to allow a roadway, utilities and stormwater management system. That project was never built.
Wacome later came up with the plan for Taylor Cove. The order of conditions for Victoria Place expired. Twice, in 2010 and 2012, the Conservation Commission denied Wacome's requests to extend the order of conditions approved for Victoria Place. But Wacome was able to "revive the order" using a new state rule, the Permit Extension Act. Having that order allows Wacome to build Taylor Cove.
The Taylor Cove plan has received opposition from abutters in area neighborhoods, the Conservation Commission and Conservation Director Bob Douglas.
It is expected that construction will take around three years, once permits are issued. Mick Mueck, a Charlotte Drive resident, said he can already hear the work going on from his home, and that those three years will be "quite annoying" once the construction "starts in earnest."
"The developer has been trying to build on this parcel of land for 20 years," said Mueck, adding that all Taylor Cove proposals have been rejected by the town. "With this recent outcome, it seems to me anyway that region politics prevail over our town's boards and wishes."
Residents opposed to the project, most of whom live on Charlotte Drive and Hillcrest Road, are still considering legal options, according to Mueck.
"The town of Andover, at least the Conservation Commission, has indicated that they're not going to pursue any legal action, even though they don't believe what the DEP has ruled on," said Mueck. Though the neighbors have pooled money for an attorney who is reviewing the DEP decision, "my guess is, at this point, we'd be throwing it towards a lost cause, unless the attorney finds something."
Though he didn't speak to the neighbors' opposition to the project, Borenstein said he doesn't "take any issues with folks exercising their right to comment on projects. I think that's part of the process, part of what Andover citizens are entitled to do."
"The project has been sitting for a long time, waiting for the DEP to act," said Borenstein. "It looks like they did a detailed, lengthy review of the decision. We're going to go back to review the other permits we have with the town and the state, and see what remains for us to get going."
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