BRENTWOOD — A local developer is now proposing to construct 80 homes as part of a new over-55 community on Mill Road that some residents say could change the “character of the town.”
Developer Joseph Falzone had initially proposed constructing 71 units on the property at 41A Mill Road owned by Gordon Wilson. However, on Nov. 18 Falzone said the project is now proposed to include nine additional units using an additional 6½ acres of land currently owned by the Conrad Marcotte Trust.
Falzone went before the town’s Planning Board for a continued design review hearing on his proposed development.
The meeting was moved from its usual location at the town offices to the Brentwood Recreation Center to accommodate a number of residents in attendance. Seats were kept separate due to COVID-19 precautions, and nearly every seat was filled.
Planning Board Chair Bruce Stevens stressed to the audience Falzone’s presentation was a design review and no decisions would be made.
« This hearing, » he said, « is for the applicant to learn more about what the town is looking for. »
Engineer Scott Cole presented the new plan for the development.
Adding Marcotte’s land would allow Falzone to change the density of the project, with more units spread out over more space, he said. The new design would also result in 45 acres of open space, he said.
But residents were concerned about the open space already there, in particular, the impact on frontage along the Exeter River.
Stevens said that the board had received a number of letters from abutters.
« The overwhelming question, » he said, « is, will there be an environmental study? »
Luke Hurley of Gove Environmental has been contracted by Falzone to help with the environmental impact. He said to receive an alteration of terrain permit, they will also conduct a wildlife habitat assessment at the state level.
Planning Board member Paul Kleinman expressed doubt that going from 71 to 80 units would satisfy residents’ desire to protect the town’s « rural character. »
« We’re not talking about Three Ponds (an existing Falzone over-55 complex), near the County Complex and Route 101,” Kleinman said. “The Exeter River is the ‘heart’ of Brentwood… I’m not saying you can’t build it, and I understand this is a preliminary hearing. But a development of this magnitude has significant issues. »
Cole responded that Falzone was able to increase the density by adding the 6½ acres to the « parent parcel. »
Project would ‘change the character of the town’
John Huntress, a 20-year resident, said anyone who doubts the value of the land in question should walk the riverbank from the Fremont town line through Brentwood. Also a Realtor, he noted that the value of abutters’ property would diminish if Falzone went through with the plan.
« The question is, how does the town benefit from this? » Huntress theorized. « It’s not just, ‘People don’t like change.’ It’s deeper than that. Why would you want to change the character of the town? »
Board member Kristin Aldred Cheek urged the town to do what she called a « health impact study. »
« The human part of this – impact on lifestyle, traffic, potential accidents – it’s missing, » she said.
Cole said in addition to Gove Environmental, Falzone is contracting for surveys with traffic consultant Steve Pernaw and a hydrogeological study with Exeter Environmental.
Central to the issue is the definition of « rural character, » board members agreed.
« It is a very gray area, » member Mark Kennedy observed.
Kennedy told Falzone, « You need to come back to this board with a better plan, ‘This is how we will address the rural character issue.’ »
Abutters concerned about project’s impact
Many audience members expressed concern that the Planning Board wasn’t « protecting » them from unwanted development. Stevens and other members pointed out that Falzone was within his legal rights as far as town regulations went.
« We can’t go retroactive and impose new regulations, » Stevens said. « He has every right to do this. »
Stevens advocated for having the town’s land use attorney, Mitchell Associates, come to talk to the board about « What we can and can’t do.”
Other residents wondered why the land couldn’t be put under conservation easement, but that was not the board’s purview, Stevens said.
« In the past 10 years, we’ve met twice with the Wilsons regarding a conservation easement, » he said. « It never worked out. »
The board agreed to have Walter Mitchell of Mitchell Associates attend an upcoming meeting. They also agreed to continue Falzone’s hearing to Dec. 2, again at the Brentwood Recreation Center.