Zoning Board to rule on Forest Road plan

Jun. 24—SALISBURY — The Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to make a final decision on a proposed Forest Road condominium complex late next month, but neighbors who oppose the project claim they have a legal path to block it.

Real estate developer Steve Paquette plans to build the 56-unit, Meadowview at Salisbury condominium complex at 6 Forest Road and is seeking a comprehensive permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to do so.

The complex, where 76 units were initially proposed, would include 14 affordable units priced between $180,000 and $220,000.

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hybrid virtual and in-person public hearing on the matter that became heated at times Tuesday night.

Board Chairwoman Susan Pawlisheck explained that the state Department of Housing and Community Development already approved a 76-unit project and the town has very little wiggle room.

"If we say 'no,' 76 units have already been approved by the housing authority," Pawlisheck said. "If we say 'yes,' we have the ability to control what happens. I know you don't want to hear that but that is the position we find ourselves in."

The project is opposed by some neighbors, roughly 20 of whom made the trip to Town Hall to voice their opinions during its hybrid meeting.

"Deny this project, let it go to the state, if they want to fight for 76 (units), then it is the town against (Paquette)," Forest Road resident Steve Pivacek said. "That is what I say."

Attorney Dennis Murphy of Boston-based Hill Law has been retained by opponents of the project and appeared before the board virtually Tuesday.

Murphy said "safe harbor" protection is part of the state's 40B regulations and enables a municipality to refuse an affordable housing project if the community reaches certain milestones, such as having over 10% of its housing stock qualified as such. Salisbury is over the state-required 10% affordable housing stock.

Pawlisheck was asked during the meeting if she would have supported invoking safe harbor protection from the state when the project was first announced late last year and she said she probably would.

Murphy said the state statute does not specify the timing of when the safe harbor protection can be invoked.

"There is a regulation to that effect and I think it would be very meaningful to my clients and to the process if, in the course of these proceedings, the board would actually take a vote, even if it is untimely," Murphy said.

He said if the majority of the board were to express an interest in invoking safe harbor, then he would ask Paquette to withdraw his application and refile it to allow the Zoning Board of Appeals to vote on the matter officially.

"Since he has already had four or three prior projects in town, let him sell the board and the town the merits of this project without the threat that he is going to go to the state," Murphy said. "That is the fair way to do it and I don't think it is too late."

The meeting's public comment session lasted for roughly an hour and a half and ended with the board voting unanimously to continue the issue until July 27.

Pawlisheck said board members will give the town's attorney a month to draft a decision that they will then vote on July 27.

"I know it has been a long process, but that is the process," Pawlisheck said.

Morgan Avenue resident Ryan Spinney pointed out that Paquette has reached a purchase-and-sale agreement with Selectman Freeman Condon and his wife, Maureen, to purchase the property where the complex would be built.

"I have seen the conflict of interest that is brought up by the buyer of this property being a selectman," Spinney said. "We know how the procedure works. The selectmen, the town manager, the board. It just seems to me that it is something that we need to really look at ourselves."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.