CITIZENS' INITIATIVE FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING
There's a better way to meet this community's needs.
News & Testimonials
Please check this space frequently to find news updates, resident testimonials, and open letters. We want to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manchester will hold a Special Town Meeting on November 15th at the new Manchester Memorial School. In advance of this meeting, CIMAH worked to draft two petitions addressed to the Board of Selectmen.
The petitions speak to both road safety and to pace of development. In short, the road safety article suggests a large housing project is safer for its residents and for the town as a whole if it has a second access road. The article proposing a cap on new dwelling units addresses the fact that the majority of Manchester residents have shown a preference for slower population growth rather than faster population growth. The proposed cap of 50 dwelling units is more than seven times the number actually built each year.
Read the language here:
Two Petitions for Special Town Meeting
Thank you for your continued interest in The Citizens Initiative for Manchester Affordable Housing.
Today we write with an update regarding the project proposed by Strategic Land Ventures ("SLV"). On April 19, SLV filed with MassHousing for a Project Eligibility Letter (“PEL”) for a 136-unit development at Shingle Place Hill. A PEL from MassHousing would enable SLV to continue on the 40B process later this year or in 2022.
On June 23, The Board of Selectmen ("BOS") finalized its letter to MassHousing; the comprehensive eighty-six page response to the PEL request can be found on the Town’s website. In its letter the BOS stated "The site and proposed project are simply incompatible. The project does not warrant a positive Project Eligibility Letter from MassHousing." CIMAH’s formal comments were included in the response to MassHousing along with comments from the Manchester Conservation Commission, the Manchester Planning Board, the Manchester Affordable Housing Trust, and the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust. CIMAH's comments also reference, as an exhibit, the 'Open Letter' to MassHousing signed by 719 residents (more than 25% of households in Manchester) and detailing the grave deficiencies with SLV's proposal.
If a PEL is granted by MassHousing, SLV would then proceed to the Town of Manchester Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA") where SLV would apply for a Comprehensive Permit. There does not appear to be a specific time by which MassHousing must rule on SLV’s request for a PEL. MassHousing is dealing with a backlog of PEL requests so it is likely we won’t hear any news on the issue for a couple of months at a minimum.
We would also like to bring to your attention the results of Article 12, introduced in the Annual Town Meeting Warrant by Manchester resident Victoria Esser. The Article, while non-binding, generated overwhelming support by the attending residents and was approved in a Town vote.
ARTICLE 12. To see if the Town will vote:
a) To express its opposition to the proposal by Strategic Land Ventures (“SLV”) to erect a large, multi-family complex on the parcel recorded as #43 0 18, which is adjacent to School Street and Route 128 and abuts land dedicated to conservation purposes which in aggregate approximates 1,600 acres in Manchester and Essex, and which is located within the major watershed supplying Manchester’s drinking water, given that proposal’s threats to the life, health and safety of residents throughout the Town and of wildlife on and near the parcel; and
b) to express support for the goal of producing more affordable housing units in Manchester as noted in the Manchester Housing Production Plan, and to commend and endorse the work of Manchester Affordable Housing Trust, the Manchester Housing Authority and their allied organizations in their efforts to do so including through expansion/renovation of housing units at Newport Park and The Plains, and through the pursuit of means other than the proposal by SLV to erect a large, multi-family complex on the parcel recorded as #43 0 18, i.e. that are more consistent with the scale of existing commercial properties in the Town, more pedestrian-friendly in their locations and design, and not a significant threat to the life, health and safety of Town residents or of wildlife.
As we've stated, if and when SLV receives a PEL, it will seek to open hearings at the ZBA, which bears the responsibility for the decision to approve or disapprove the project on behalf of the Town. The Citizens' Initiative will support the ZBA with detailed expert analysis of the many ways that SLV’s project threatens the safety and health of the town, its residents, and the clean water and open space that all of us value so highly.
We believe that ultimately, common sense and town-wide teamwork will defeat this ill-conceived project -- no matter how long that takes.
Response to SLV's MassHousing Application
NSCDC Purchases Powder House Lane
May 18, 2021
Dear Manchester residents,
CIMAH congratulates The North Shore Community Development Coalition (NSCDC) on the closing of 1-3 Powder House Lane (PHL) and welcomes NSCDC to our community.
This purchase preserves naturally occurring affordable housing in Manchester in an economically and environmentally sustainable way and is located right in the heart of Manchester. It also marks an important step towards our town increasing the percentage of affordable housing as part of Manchester’s overall housing stock mix.
With more than 40 years of experience, NSCDC is the right steward for this critical piece of Manchester’s housing mix. NSCDC is located in Salem and is a mission-based, widely respected non-profit developer of properties to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income residents. You can learn more about NSCDC and make a donation earmarked for its efforts in Manchester here.
The completion of this purchase underscores the widespread support for the Powder House Lane project within the Manchester community. We are grateful to all of Manchester’s citizens and to the Capital Campaign Committee for the Preservation of Manchester Affordable Housing, which invited all Manchester residents to help raise the equity needed for NSCDC to close on the property. In just two weeks, more than 250 families came together to raise the $1.5 million in equity needed for NSCDC to move forward.
SLV Files with MassHousing
On April 19 we reached out with the news that SLV filed with MassHousing for a 136-unit development at Shingle Place Hill. The application and the developer's plans are posted on the Town's website. Towns generally receive thirty days to respond to MassHousing applications. In this case Manchester officials requested and received an additional thirty days to provide comments and feedback to MassHousing.
During this sixty day period (ending June 18th) MassHousing accepts public comment. We look forward to sharing CIMAH's letter to MassHousing in the next few weeks and we hope that you (and your neighbors) will consider signing it. CIMAH is also working to help educate stakeholders on the risks and deficits of SLV's proposal.
At the same time, we are pleased to report that progress is being made on Powder House Lane. We appreciate the opportunity to preserve genuinely affordable housing right in the heart of our Town, and we continue to be grateful for the outpouring of support by this community. As we have more news about this project we will be certain to share it.
BOS Negotiation Updates
On April 6th, 2021 Strategic Land Ventures (“SLV”) decided to end its negotiations with the Board of Selectmen (“Board”) on its proposed multifamily project on Shingle Hill, submitted under the State’s Chapter 40B law. We are grateful for the Board’s thorough assessment of the project, and its determination to seek the best outcome for the town. We are also grateful that SLV’s proposal has galvanized such support for well-located housing that addresses well the needs of low- and moderate-income residents. North Shore CDC’s intended acquisition of Powder House Lane is one such example.
We cannot predict SLV’s next move. It may well seek a Project Eligibility Letter (“PEL”) from Mass Housing which would enable it to continue on the 40B process later this year or in 2022. If and when it receives a PEL, it will seek to open hearings at the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”), which bears the responsibility for the decision to approve or disapprove the project on behalf of the Town. The Citizens' Initiative will support the ZBA with detailed expert analysis of the many ways that SLV’s project threatens the safety and health of the town, its residents, and the clean water and open space that all of us value so highly. We believe that ultimately, common sense and town-wide teamwork will defeat this ill-conceived project -- no matter how long that takes.
CIMAH was founded with three central purposes: to conserve Shingle Hill forever, to catalyze better options for Manchester’s affordable housing, and to cultivate the engagement in our mission of everyone in Manchester. We are proud of what our town has achieved in such a short time, and will remain committed to these purposes for many years to come.
A recording of the Tuesday, April 6, 2021 40B Workshop can be found here https://youtu.be/IUSCbfAH5Gk
The Finance Committee reviewed the financial impact of the proposed 40B development in Manchester. The findings of their review is that the project will be a net negative to the Town by approximately $476,464 per year.
The March 25 Finance Committee Review Report can be found on the Town website. An excerpt of the report follows:
"The Finance Committee has reviewed the financial impact of the proposed SLV 40B development on Shingle Hill in Manchester. Our review includes the Financial Impact Report performed by Fougere Planning and Development submitted by SLV as part of their LIP Application, as well as the peer review of that report provided by RKG on behalf of the Town.
We appreciate the industry standard assumptions made by Fougere and RKG in developing their rationales for estimating the financial impact to the Town, however, the Finance Committee is concerned with the real possibility that their estimates are materially low when compared with the current levels of service provided to MBTS residents."
On March 17, 2021 CIMAH sent the following petition to the Board of Selectmen. The petition was signed by 556 residents.
CIMAH's petition asked the BOS to pause negotiations with SLV so that the board could review the significantly modified plan SLV submitted to develop Shingle Place Hill. CIMAH believes that the Selectmen cannot act in the best interests of the Town without prudent due diligence on the new plan.
Of particular note, the second plan includes a significantly modified access road. The new road design requires the same review that the Selectmen obtained on the original proposal. On the Board of Selectmen's call on Monday March 15, it was noted that SLV has withdrawn its plans to implement a sidewalk on its access road. This has no bearing on our petition: SLV redesigned the roadway in January - prior to the inclusion and subsequent exclusion of the sidewalk. It appears that the BOS continues to evaluate a modified, unstudied plan, without the careful study that went into the initial road design by Gary Hebert of Stantec Inc and by the Selectmen. We believe the residents of this town deserve better.
To the Selectmen of Manchester:
We, the undersigned citizens of Manchester, request that you pause your negotiations with Strategic Land Ventures (“SLV”) to analyze thoroughly the significantly modified plan that SLV recently submitted to develop the parcel recorded as #43 0 18. We believe that the Selectmen cannot act in the best interests of the Town without prudent due diligence on the new plan. Of particular note, the new plan includes a significantly modified access road – which the notes do not mention. The new road design requires the same review that the Selectmen obtained on the original proposal. Careful analysis of that change, and of the new sidewalk, is essential to determine whether the new design will necessitate more blasting uphill or more fill downhill. It is unclear what other changes may be included in this new plan. What is clear is that the Selectmen must not proceed until they understand the scope and repercussions of these modifications.
We ask the Selectmen to consider the specific impact of the modified road design on:
● Accessibility; and
When asked whether the law requires that the Selectmen consider public safety in your deciding
whether to issue a Letter of Endorsement for this project, our Town counsel stated, “Categorically, the answer is yes.” Safety, accessibility, and environment were critical points in your assessment of SLV’s initial plan; these factors must not and cannot be relegated to a later stage of this process with the Zoning Board of Appeals.
We urgently request that you, our Selectmen, perform the same due diligence on this new plan that you performed previously, and continue to exercise your responsibilities as leaders of our Town.
Open Letter Regarding Blasting
Eli G. Boling, Chair Board of Selectmen 10 Central Street Manchester, MA 01944
Re: Shingle Place Hill 40B proposal
Dear Chair Boling:
A professional engineer has estimated that 7.5 million cubic feet of granite and other material will have to be removed from Shingle Place Hill for construction of the proposed housing. This is almost as much as the cubic footage of Boston's Federal Reserve Bank Tower – enough material to cover the entire land mass of Manchester to the depth of one inch.
We wish to remind Town officials and residents of the inevitable side effects, physical and emotional, of large-scale blasting. Blasts cause air overpressure and ground vibration off-site as well as on-site. Air overpressure makes you want to dive under the kitchen table. Ground vibration travels at different rates through rock, soil, and water, and can affect buildings at a distance from the blast.
This is not the first time Manchester is being asked to experience large-scale blasting of its bedrock. Have we forgotten the 1980s, when the area east of Shingle Place Hill was subjected to extended dynamiting? Homeowners on Mill Street and Ledgewood Road reported structural damage, as well as heart-stopping anxiety. Selectmen’s meetings were tense, and community confidence shaken. Assurances that all regulations had been met was little solace.
Must we return to the 1980s? For those whose homes stand wholly or partially on
extensions of the Shingle Place Hill bedrock, the thought of repeated exposures to air overpressure and ground vibration are particularly disturbing. All of us should worry about the impact on our drinking water, and on all the outstanding wildlife habitat within adjacent Town-owned conservation areas.
Clearly, Manchester has an obligation under state law to provide additional affordable housing. But Shingle Place Hill is not the right site. We ask the Selectmen to do all that they can to obviate the need for the SLV project by finding an alternative.
Helen D. Bethell
Ralph C. Smith
617 residents signed a petition calling for The Board of Selectmen to pause negotiations with Strategic Land Ventures until The Town’s Finance Committee and Conservation Commission can evaluate the impact of the proposed development, and until The Board can completely assess both threats to our water quality and issues of life safety. The original petition was delivered to the Selectmen January 26th, and two addenda were emailed in the following week as more names were added. 617 people - that’s a lot of people! We are grateful for your participation: our town is stronger when its citizens are engaged. We are also grateful to the many volunteers serving on Town Boards of all kinds.
To the Selectmen of Manchester:
We the undersigned citizens of Manchester respectfully request that you pause any negotiations with Strategic Land Ventures (“SLV”) or its representatives regarding SLV’s proposal to develop the parcel recorded as #43 0 18, unless and until:
1) The Town’s Finance Committee has assessed the financial impact of the proposal on the Town;
2) The Town’s Conservation Commission has assessed the impact of the proposed development on stormwater runoff and wetlands, including a Wildlife Habitat Study;
3) SLV has provided essential information about its proposed on-site wastewater treatment plant and leaching fields;
4) An independent consultant to the Town has assessed the degree to which the proposed wastewater plant threatens the Town’s drinking water;
5) An independent consultant to the Town has assessed the safety of building and operating a multifamily complex of this size on this site, when SLV itself admits that the project is “less safe.”
We believe that the SLV proposal is sufficiently complex, and sufficiently significant to the future of the Town, that the only prudent course of action is for you, our elected representatives, to allow these studies to proceed. Without them, you risk exposing the Town, its residents, SLV and its contractors to violations of these laws and regulations. The Town can negotiate responsibly with SLV only once the Town has made a careful assessment of these factors.
An open letter to the Selectmen and The Cricket.
January 15, 2021
At the BOS meeting last night there were some startling revelations from the traffic study.
First, I can not believe the traffic study for this very important issue was done on December 29, 2020. It was completed during school and work vacation during a Covid lockdown. How could this possibly reflect “normal” use when normal use would have school traffic, work traffic, construction traffic, visitor traffic, etc. none of which would have been happening on that day.
The consultant also assumes that the considerable majority of tenants do not leave the property in the morning. No good reason was offered for this important assumption. The consultant noted that 79% of drivers are assumed to stay home during peak morning hours - with apparently only 21% needing to drive to work or drop their children off at school. That equates to roughly 188 parked cars and only 39 leaving the property in the morning. When questioned about these assumptions, the traffic consultant gushed about the benefits of carpooling. How interesting. Are all of these people going to the same jobs? Same schools? The traffic consultant also seemed to indicate that the residents could make use of a shuttle bus, which the developer has quite specifically indicated he will not pay for. Are the selectmen offering to have a town funded shuttle?
The traffic consultant seemed perplexed that the town might be interested in a study looking at increased congestion in town, away from the immediate building site. With 157 proposed units, and 188 new cars in town, we may indeed expect increased congestion in an already cramped downtown, especially during busy summer months. Might the town be interested in that additional congestion as we evaluate the number of units to permit? Last but not least - the proposed road into the development is steep, narrow, and curvy. There is no planned sidewalk. How are pedestrians meant to exit the property? Will pedestrian traffic be forbidden on that already questionably dangerous roadway?
The traffic study raised more questions than it answered.
January 13, 2021
Hon. Eli Bolling, Chair
Manchester-by-the-Sea Board of Selectmen
To the Board of Selectmen:
I am writing to the Board on behalf of The Trustees of Reservations, as a direct abutter to the proposed development site (Manchester Assessor’s Map 43, Parcel 16), and as the steward of the Trustees’ Agassiz Rock Reservation, proximate to the development site on the easterly side of Southern Avenue, to express our opposition to the project as proposed. Beyond our specific ownership interests, however, as members of the broader conservation community, we are very concerned with potential impacts to all the conservation holdings in the vicinity, including notably the abutting Wilderness Conservation Area, which comprises lands protected by the Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust, Essex County Greenbelt, and The Trustees, as well as the towns of Manchester and Essex. This is a conservation area of statewide significance, assembled painstakingly over decades, and truly a resource to be treasured, and, perhaps more to the point, zealously protected.
We have had an opportunity to review the materials submitted to date by Strategic Land Ventures, have walked the site on several occasions, and have attended the information sessions held by your board. In addition, we have had the opportunity to speak with a representative from Strategic Land Ventures, and with town planning staff. At this juncture, we have grave concerns about a variety of the impacts created by the proposed project, given the lack of specificity in the various materials provided to date. Specifically, given that the project area drains through Sawmill Brook, which bisects our parcel, we have very significant concerns about stormwater management, given the density of development and related infrastructure, and the slopes and soils conditions on-site. We would note further that the course of Sawmill Brook traverses our Agassiz Rock Reservation for some 3,500 linear feet east of Southern Avenue, making The Trustees perhaps the most directly impacted landowner from a stormwater perspective. Similarly, we are very concerned about the wastewater treatment plant proposed for the site, for which virtually no information has been provided. We would note further that any development of the site at the scale proposed by Strategic Land Ventures will necessitate extensive blasting, and the impacts that the blasting will have on the abutting conservation parcels, which have been identified by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program as a high priority for wildlife habitat, have not been assessed.
Beyond the specific concerns noted above, we find that impacts related to traffic and lighting have the potential to significantly impact the conservation values of the Wilderness Conservation Area and Agassiz Rock Reservation.
Stepping back from the specific project, we recommend that the town not turn its back on decades of sound planning practice as reflected in Manchester’s Zoning bylaw, which identified this area as appropriate for development at relatively low levels of density. The fact that Strategic Land Ventures has seen the need to propose a development which grossly exceeds the underlying density allowed should serve to affirm, rather than deny, the wisdom of the town’s approach to planning and zoning in the outlying districts of the community.
In closing, in a number of venues, the fact that the proposed site has no residential abutters has been identified as one of the positive attributes of the project. While this is inarguable, we feel that it misses an important consideration, which in fact makes the site particularly un-suitable for a development of this scale: the surrounding land owned by the Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust and by The Trustees is held in trust for all of us. It is everyone’s back yard. As such, it should be viewed as especially valuable, rather than targeted for a development which will likely have significant impacts on the conservation values of the area. Given the scale of the project, the importance of the conservation resources, and the scope of the potential impacts, we feel that we have an obligation to voice our opposition to the proposed project, and would request that the Board of Selectmen take action to address the impacts noted herein.
Yours most sincerely,
Acting President and CEO
Trustees of Reservations
Thank you very much for the work you are doing to review the 40B proposal for Shingle Hill.
I am deeply concerned that the Town is moving forward at a very rapid pace, and that we are looking to negotiate before we have the facts; specifically those from our environmental scientists and consultants.
In a wonderful article published in The Cricket last February, Jim Behnke quotes biodiversity consultant Jim Mc Dougall. McDougall says "The Manchester-Essex Woods is one of the most memorable places in Essex County. It is home to nesting wood warblers and several insect species found nowhere else in the country." Are we doing enough to protect this fragile wilderness area? Are we giving our consultants the time they need to consider endangered species?
Before we enter negotiations with the developer, let's make sure we have the time to design and complete studies required to make the big decision that we cannot take back.
Happy New Year to all,
As an owner of a share of my grandmother’s woodlot (Helena E. Hurley Trust, 1 and ¼ acres of registered land: Document #166497) which abuts the proposed Shingle Hill development area, I need to voice my thoughts.
As you know, the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust (MECT) has spent more than fifty years working to protect open space for our water quality, and the plants and animals living on the conservation area off upper School Street. Thanks to MECT’s efforts and vision, people have also greatly benefited from the beauty and peace this natural area provides. Other than a seasonal farm stand on upper School Street, this area remains unspoiled. Why destroy this natural area with an inappropriately located 40B Development – small or large project?
If the Town of Manchester must provide affordable housing to abide by Massachusetts laws, why doesn’t the Town build on (or allow a developer to build on) a level site within its community? How many units must the Town provide?
After driving into the Town’s DPW barn area off Pleasant Street, it made common sense to me that this could be an excellent location for several affordable residential units. The people living here would be part of the community instead of living at its far-removed perimeter, and school-age children could walk to the middle/high school; and the new residents could join the many current Manchester people who enjoy walking downtown. Perhaps the Town can find a more suitable site for the DPW (Is there another piece of town-owned land not amidst a residential area?).
The Plains off Old Essex Road, or Newport Park off Pine Street, might be areas that could be expanded to include affordable housing, and not just for senior residents. Perhaps more affordable housing doesn’t need to be one huge development, but rather a couple of sites with housing that fits into the community and doesn’t overwhelm what’s already there?
The proposed location on upper School Street on Shingle Hill will make a huge visual impact on every passerby. The land is steep and rocky. Blasting will be needed. The abutting landscape will be adversely impacted in many ways. The pristine Hurley woodlot, and other parcels abutting the proposed development land, as well as the MECT open space, will never be the same.
The developer is out to make money. The land cannot speak for itself, it needs people to do that. The Town should not feel forced to accept this large, inappropriate housing development just because Manchester by-the-Sea needs to provide more affordable housing units. Please continue to think this through and look carefully at all possible locations for new affordable housing. This 40B project proposed for Shingle Hill is not the answer.
Karin M. (Hurley) Gertsch
Good morning Selectmen
Thank you so much for your dedicated service to the Town. It’s always a pleasure working with you!
I need to register my deep concern about the Shingle Hill Project. While I recognize our shortfall in local affordable housing, I cannot help but wonder if we couldn’t use our existing sites (Newport Park, the Plains, Loading Place Road) and others closer to Town, such as the Pleasant Street DPW site, to better upgrade our existing stock. I would be very keen to help devise a more creative, integrated approach - and my husband, Pascal, has some concrete experience on this area.
My burning question to the Town is: How might we as a Town make full use of the experience and expertise embodied in our own Town boards, prior to initiating negotiations with SLV? Given the environmental complexity of the site, why not allow those boards’ prudent and complete analysis now of Stormwater Runoff, Wastewater Treatment and Wetland Protection? I know that the ConCom is deeply involved in this for example. Hoping that their reports and the work of your consultants will be enlightening. But would welcome your thoughts on this question.
Thank you, as always, for your help in understanding the Town’s thinking. It’s not lost on me what a complex question this is.
MECT Takes Position to Oppose Shingle Place Hill 40B Development
This bulletin is to update members and friends of MECT about the proposed development project for Shingle Place Hill and our response to the threat it represent.
What Is Our Position?
On December 3rd, the MECT board voted unanimously to oppose the Strategic Land Ventures, LLC 40B housing project.
Foremost, we are defending the conservation values of the "crown jewels" of Cedar Swamp, Cathedral Pines, and the Wilderness Conservation Area. This includes The Trustees of Reservations and the Town's own conservation land as well as MECT property.
We see direct and irreparable harm due to the project's destruction of habitat, degradation of wetland and river resources, introduction of noise and light pollution, and far-ranging visual impact, among other concerns.
What Has MECT Done to Date?
MECT has stated its concerns to Town officials on the significant risks the project poses to the environment, including downstream water resources and municipal drinking water.
On October 7, MECT documented the proposal’s shortcomings in a six-page letter sent to town officials and subsequently summarized these issues in our earlier bulletin.
We made detailed comments on the project’s proximity to an environmentally critical area, the impact of blasting on groundwater, the lack of plans for storm water run-off, the failure to include critical information on the hydrology of the site, and the destruction of habitat.
What Is MECT's Plan Moving Forward?
Our goal, under a ‘friendly 40B’, was to eliminate or significantly mitigate the aforementioned threats, however, in absence of any constructive response from the developer, we now find ourselves with no viable option other than outright opposition.
We have engaged experienced legal and technical consultants to deepen our understanding of critical issues and further inform MECT supporters, town citizens, and officials.
Our mission continues a legacy of work by Manchester citizens to conserve this land dating back to the 1870s. MECT has spent the past 57 years piecing together a 1,500-acre quilt of now-protected land and we will fight to ensure that trust is upheld.
Please visit www.MECT.org to learn more and support this valuable organization.
To the Selectmen and women of Manchester,
I am writing concerning the development of Shingle Hill. I treasure the natural resources that we have here in Manchester. These resources include the conservation land of Cedar Swamp adjacent to Shingle Hill. If you go in to the woods at the base of the hill you can find a large boulder with a plaque on it. It was put in place by residents of the town back in 1879 who were so proud to have “protected the land”. As it reads on the plaque: “To the Glory of God and for the benefit of man these woods are preserved forever”.
In 1963 three prominent and forward looking residents, Gid Loring, Frances Burnett and Al Creighton founded the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust to further protect this land.
This land serves as the source of our drinking water. This land helps keeps our air clean. This land provides habitat for our native flora and fauna and this land provides renewal and recreation for all citizens of our town.
This land will be permanently altered by adjacent construction . The natural habitat and the refuge for humans will be permanently destroyed by the construction of a large building which will dominate the landscape, introduce vehicular traffic, and also bring with it the possibility of salt, pesticides and other runoff in to our water.
I am concerned about housing in our community. I feel that we can find ways to integrate affordable housing in to our neighborhoods with out completely changing the nature of our town.
I request that you defer negotiations with SLV until the town addresses questions and concerns arising from the consultants’ reports. I request that you take time to consider solutions to the housing challenge that would be more in keeping with the nature of our beautiful, small, New England village and which would honor the efforts of so many to protect and preserve our conservation land for generations to come.
A Brief History of the Wilderness Conservation Area
Written by Helen Bethell, former Executive Director of the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust (MECT)
In these days of social distancing, many residents are enjoying strolls in local conservation areas that remain officially open. A favorite is the Wilderness Conservation Area off upper School Street, where parking is convenient and old roads are wide, allowing safe two-way passage. Though the boardwalk has been closed because it is too narrow, one can access the woods via the old road leading south from the parking area. This road, known as Old School Street, was part of the main highway to Essex from the early 1800s to the 1950s. It was abandoned when Route 128 was built, with a replacement created through the easterly side of Shingle Place Hill to better serve the new highway interchange.
As you walk along the old road (see map inset), look for an historic brass plaque affixed to a large boulder. The plaque attests to Manchester’s earliest commitment to preserving the town’s beautiful natural environment. The text reads: “To the Glory of God and for the Benefit of Man These Woods are Preserved Forever — 1879.”
The story behind the plaque is intriguing. In the late 19th century — days of Victorian sensibilities and horse-and-buggy travel — afternoon drives into the countryside were a popular diversion for summer residents. A favorite route was along School Street/Southern Avenue, the narrow, curving, heavily wooded road that linked the villages of Manchester and South Essex.
In the 19th century, little if any thought was given to building in the woods, but residents did use their woodlots for fuel supply. Perhaps some of the older trees along the road were being cut; perhaps there was just fear that they might be. ‘
Enter Alice North Towne, a 24-year-old summer resident of remarkable determination and foresight. In 1878 she decided that action was needed to protect the lovely drive. At her prompting, T. Jefferson Coolidge, of Boston and Manchester, and Henry Lee, of Boston and Beverly Farms, agreed to act as trustees in buying narrow parcels of land along the road to preserve the trees for shade and ornament.
Thus Manchester’s Woodland Park Trust and Essex’s Coolidge Trust were born. The first parcels included the area popularly known as Cathedral Pines. In 1924 the private trust completed its acquisitions, installed the plaque, and turned the two trusts over to the two towns. At a time when the permanent preservation of land in its natural state was a novel concept, such cooperation between private interests and towns was particularly innovative.
Sometime in the 1980s the plaque was pried loose and stolen. It was recovered in 1998, and restored and reinstalled. The late Albert M. Creighton, Jr., an inspired conservationist who worked tirelessly for many years to save local woodlands, provided the funding, and several Boy Scouts cleared a small area around the rock so visitors could find it more easily.
Cathedral Pines, a landmark on the easterly side of Old School Street, abuts the large parcel now proposed for a massive 40b housing project that would greatly exceed the environmental constraints found in Town Bylaws. If successful, the project’s negative impact on conservation values would obviously be profound.
A Short History
Affordable Housing, Yes. At Shingle Hill, No.
Published in The Cricket on December 11
To the Editor,
I support affordable housing. I want it in my neighborhood. I want it in my town. I want to integrate affordable housing within the community rather than isolate it from the community, across the highway on Shingle Hill, far from public transportation and the village. I support the environment. I do not want this proposed and mostly unaffordable housing development on Shingle Hill, which will enrich a developer who capitalizes on the law while spoiling undeveloped space. I think a development of this size, above our wetlands and water supply, is a terrible idea. Can the developer guarantee that there will not be any contamination from the Shingle Hill site into our wetlands and water supply? Let us stand with the Lorax and protect this undeveloped space. Let us learn from the Sneetches and invite affordable housing into the developed fabric of our village. The citizens of Manchester have had a wake up call. PLEASE allow the town another opportunity to satisfy our dire need for affordable housing in a way that better suits and enhances our community. Let us be known as the town who fully and proudly welcomes and embraces our economically diverse friends and neighbors.
Open Letter to BOS re; proposed 40B project
Published in The Cricket on November 13
First, thank you for your service. You have a lot on the docket right now.
I am writing in reference to the proposed 40B project because it seems, with Covid, that there is little chance of any sort of public forum or opportunity to convene. It seems, in fact, that this whole project is occurring behind the “screen” of Covid, and that we Manchester residents are going to come out of this contagion and find that there is a massive cookie cutter-style building looming over the town and 10% more residents. What a surprise!
I, and many of us, have so many concerns that I hardly know where to begin. Yes, I think everyone would agree that we need more affordable housing. But, there are already some sites within the town as opposed to a massive, segregated site on upper School Street, far away from public transportation, amenities, etc. I am aware that good work is being done already regarding affordable housing. Some possibilities are that Newport Park could be demolished and rebuilt with higher density, more efficiencies and up to code. We do, after all, own the land there. There is also The Plains, Loading Place Road and the old DPW site.
With the addition of 500 or so more people to the town, I am very concerned about water supply. I grew up on the No. Shore and have watched town after town embrace unfettered development, and most of these towns are now suffering from water shortages…not just during summer months, but year round. I am also worried about run-off and contamination of our water supply, not to mention the impact of this massive project on contiguous conservation land.
In the aerial plan of the proposed project, the leaching field was not indicated on the plan nor the sewage treatment plant….it only showed the building surrounded by woods…very misleading.
I also listened to the Fire Chief express concern that he would need five (!) more firemen to cope with such a massive structure. Who is going to pay for that? And the schooling of many more children? I have heard that each child will be supported by an extra $3K annually from the Commonwealth. Clearly, the majority of the educational expense will be borne by the taxpayers.
I am concerned about traffic as congestion is already an issue on School Street (not to mention downtown area) in the mornings and evenings. I am concerned about more stop lights required for this influx of vehicles…esp. since this project requires vehicular transport as it is so far away from public transportation.
I am concerned that this project will cost taxpayers, and will not benefit the town, other than fulfilling requirement for affordable housing units.
I am concerned that such a massive and unattractive structure will not enhance our town, but will be a blight on it. At night, it will look like a small city. By day, it appears (from renderings and superimposing the design on existing photos) to resemble all the large, ugly buildings that one sees along Rte. 128. Is this what we want for our charming, beautiful town? Are we really being good stewards of this town?
Surely, the developer will benefit from the construction of this project, but will the town? I am also wondering who will manage this place once it is built?
I feel as though this project is a large meteor hurtling towards us and there is so little time to grapple with all the issues and to try to manage it to our best advantage. I wonder about the time schedule with Covid playing such a big role in disrupting opportunities for public engagement and information.
Again, my thanks to you for your work. I trust you will be the best stewards possible under very trying circumstances.
Open letter to selectmen, edited for length.
Dear Selectwomen and Selectmen,
Thank you so much for your service to this town. Yours is a big job and I am thankful for your work.
Like many other citizens, I have deep concerns about the 40B proposal specifically and town planning generally. The current proposal fills the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. The proposal in no way addresses the actual number of units our town needs, and it makes no effort to integrate housing into the fabric of this town. The developer is doing his job - proposing a massive development and using a 40B loophole to push it through. He's doing it on a wetland site, and the proposal will dramatically increase the town population and expenses, all the while with minimal increases to the town revenues.
Manchester needs more time to study this proposal. Current residents need more time to review the proposal, to grapple with its implications, and to weigh in. Environmental studies need to be conceived and executed. You, as a group, need to give yourselves the time and space to consider this very major proposal and what it truly means for this town. Maybe there is an alternative proposal we might cobble together to consider, maybe not. Maybe we need this project but we can work with the developer to negotiate the look and feel. Maybe the environmental concerns are so great, or the financial ramifications so grave that the town simply cannot proceed in a friendly 40B fashion. Whatever the answer, it seems irresponsible, obscene really, to think that all of this can happen and a LIP issued this winter. We are in the midst of a pandemic. Parents are working multiple jobs - their full time jobs and as then at home as school teachers. People are distracted and anxious. It feels like the developer knows this, and is pushing our timing in a moment where the full attention of our town is elsewhere.
I know much work you are all doing and I am grateful. Thank you for your incredible commitment to this town.