GREAT BARRINGTON — Two Manville Street homeowners have filed an appeal in state Land Court to upend the town's "arbitrary, capricious" decision that granted a special permit for the construction of a new rental apartment complex on the dead end street.
Donald E. Willis, Jr. and Priscilla Willis, who own a home on Manville Street, but reside in Huntington Beach, Calif. say the Oct. 25 decision by the town Select Board to grant Framework Properties the right to build a 47-unit, three-building complex in a water quality protection zone will harm the neighborhood and "outweigh any beneficial impacts to the town or neighborhood."
Framework developers Ian Rasch and Sam Nickerson say their $15 million Manville Place project is sensitive to neighbors, environmentally sound, and fits into what is already a mixed residential and commercial area off Route 7. They also say they are bringing sorely-needed fresh rental housing to a market that is clamoring for it.
But residents of the tree-lined street surrounded by a hub of commerce have opposed the project on a number of grounds — mainly that it will bring new traffic hazards, and a change in atmosphere. Framework plans to demolish three existing homes that they are purchasing, and build on that 1.83 acres.
Residents have also claimed that the developers, who plan to start construction in the spring, found a loophole in the town's new zoning bylaws for constructing so many units. By adding 978 square feet of commercial space into the project, Framework was able to trigger the approval of vastly more apartments in an area zoned for eight-unit developments if solely residential. Adding commercial space also allowed Framework to bypass a special permit process that is broader than that for the special permit granted in this case, specifically for building in a water quality protection zone.
Two Planning Board members who had rewritten the zoning bylaws in this area with the intention, in part, to keep out big box stores, agree that an unintended loophole had been made.
There may be economic issues here too, the Willises say in their court filing.
"There is no assurance that rent for the 47 proposed 1, 2 and 3 bedroom rental units (and there is nothing in the Board's decision stating what the unit mix will be) will be set at any particular level relative to what area workforce can afford," the appeal states. "The Board's decision has no conditions limiting rents."
Rasch and Nickerson have previously pegged potential rents at $1,650 to $1,850.
The Willises also say that the 54 planned parking spaces might not be enough, and threatens the street with "overflow" parking, and that there is no other traffic outlet except Manville for apartment residents,visitors and employees.
And because the complex won't have enough space for snow storage, the Willises say, snow will have to be trucked away, making for more traffic.
Rasch and Nickerson declined to comment on the appeal.
Select Board Chairman Stephen Bannon said it is a given that special permits can be challenged.
"We'll see what happens in Land Court," he said, noting that he wasn't sure of a timeline, and that he would be meeting with Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin about the matter.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.