NEWS

Is it back to square one?

Court ruling opens debate over possible reopening of hearings for self-storage facility

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 4/1/21

By JOHN HOWELL After a nearly four-year battle that one resident likens to a ragtag team facing a professional football team on a tilted playing field, the city planner is saying, "it's back to square one." On Tuesday, Bruce Keiser said Superior Court

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NEWS

Is it back to square one?

Court ruling opens debate over possible reopening of hearings for self-storage facility

Posted

After a nearly four-year battle that one resident likens to a ragtag team facing a professional football team on a tilted playing field, the city planner is saying, “it’s back to square one.”

On Tuesday, Bruce Keiser said Superior Court Justice Jeffery Lanphear’s finding in an appeal of the Zoning Board of Review’s ruling on the efforts of PRW Holding LLC to build a 630-unit self-storage facility at Pond Plaza would require another hearing.

But Keiser doesn’t see the hearing limited to the Zoning Board. He said the whole process must now start anew, as the members of the Zoning Board have changed and they wouldn’t be able to pick up where their predecessors left off. This would not be limited to the Zoning Board, either. Keiser said it would include review of the master plan by the Planning Board.

Marisa Desautel, attorney for Save Sand Pond, the group of Massosoit Terrace residents who have fought the storage unit development, sees Judge Lanphear’s ruling and the city’s position that the developer must start all over again if they are pursue the 100,000-square-foot self-storage facility as a significant victory for the residents and efforts to preserve the pond.

Dave Bouchard, one of those leading the fight, considers it another play in what has been a prolonged battle between lawyers and legislators who have purposely “tilted” the field to their advantage.

“They go around the state and they play this game,” he said of developers and their attorneys, “and they come up against this ragtag team and they think they’re going to beat the hell out of you.”

Bouchard said he is delighted have the neighborhood has come together and have they have raised $30,000.

“We went through the torture chamber. We were a good looking group four years ago and now we’re out there limping around in our T-shirts while they have their uniforms and we got a first down,” he said.

It doesn’t look like this game is over.

Attorney John Mancini, who represents PRW Holding, said Judge Lanphear’s ruling to remand the Zoning Board’s reduction of parking for the facility to the board is clear. He notes that the judge says a hearing is not necessary.

Mancini found no basis for Keiser’s reasoning that the process now goes back to square one. He said new members of the Zoning Board could easily read transcripts of the hearings to familiarize themselves with the case.

What would happen should the city insist on another zoning board hearing or going back to square one?

“If they [the city] want to be adversary, we will deal in an adversary manner,” Mancini said. He said he would seek a declaratory judgment from the court.

The complaint brought by Save Sand Pond challenged the Zoning Board of Review’s approval of a special exception allowing the self-storage facility and a more than 50 percent reduction in the required parking.

Lanphear found the board “acted within its authority in granting the special use permit but exceed its authority in making its ruling on parking.” Ironically, PRW Holding LLC had not sought such relief on parking, but in an effort to reduce the size of the parking lot and improve storm water runoff and its potential impact on the pond, it was the board’s recommendation to reduce the parking.

The court action is one is a series of steps starting in 2019 when the Planning Board found the development inconsistent with the master plan. PRW Holding appealed the decision to the Zoning Board, which, after three hearings comprising 12 hours, granted the special exception and alteration to parking, seemingly clearing the way for the development.

Safe Sand Pond challenged the decision to Superior Court. With the decision pending, PRW Holding moved ahead this year for preliminary plan approval from the Planning Board. After two nights of hearings, the board found the development oversized for the neighborhood. It denied preliminary approval.

“Of course, making the building smaller would be preferred in terms of trying to lessen the environmental impact. But it's really up to the applicant, how they want to deal with that,” Desautel said Tuesday.

As he has asked rhetorically in the past, Mancini questioned whether residents overlooking the pond would rather see a 36-foot-high self-storage unit or a 40-foot-high apartment or office building.

In order to get the self-storage facility, “we’ll do whatever we have to do,” Mancini said.

In an unusual addendum to the decision, Justice Lanphear commented on the actions of George Shuster Jr., an alternate to the Zoning Board, who penned the decision unanimously approved by the board.

“It was refreshing to see a Zoning Board attempt to create a thoughtful and detailed proposal, founded on the evidence but independent of that outlined by the parties, in an attempt to preserve the goals of the neighborhood, the developers, and protect the integrity of the surrounding environment,” the judge wrote.

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