Select Board/ZBA plan to appeal decision to allow River Stone project to move forward

Photo courtesy of the town of hingham

October 7, 2022 by Carol Britton Meyer

During a well-attended in-person meeting Thursday night, the Select Board -- in joint session with the Zoning Board or Appeals -- supported appealing the Sept. 23, 55-page decision of the Housing Appeals Committee to allow the River Stone comprehensive permit for a development off Ward Street to move forward following a 45-minute executive session. The ZBA also voted to appeal the decision.

The HAC decision allows for 32 housing units to be built, including eight affordable ones. "The town disagrees with the HAC decision," Select Board Chair William Ramsey said, reading from a prepared statement. "The town is concerned that the HAC’s decision may negatively impact the health and safety of future residents of the River Stone development and existing Hingham residents in the abutting neighborhood. The Town will fight the HAC decision. The Town has the right to appeal to the courts,  and we intend to take a vote under this agenda item tonight to do just that." The vote by both boards was unanimous.

As background, in March 2016, River Stone, LLC filed a Comprehensive Permit application with the Zoning Board of Appeals pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40B. The applicant proposed construction of a 36-unit condominium housing development, including nine affordable units, to be called "River Stone," located at Viking Lane off of Ward Street.

"The ZBA engaged in a thorough review, with the assistance of staff, counsel and peer review engineers with expertise in traffic, civil engineering, wastewater and wetlands," Ramsey stated. "The ZBA hearings were consistently well-attended by neighbors to the proposed project, who provided valuable feedback and knowledge of the neighborhood. In depth research into the potential impacts on health and safety for the direct abutters and future residents was undertaken by staff and consultants and reviewed by the ZBA."

During those ZBA hearings, the developer reduced the size of the project from 36 to 32 units.

After more than two years of hearings and legal proceedings, the ZBA voted in July 2018 to issue a Comprehensive Permit for the Project subject to conditions "carefully crafted to address substantiated local concerns in order to protect the health and safety of Hingham residents, including those that would be residents of the River Stone development. The Town believes the conditions the ZBA imposed are critical to mitigate adverse impacts of this proposed project," according to the statement.

River Stone, LLC appealed the approved Comprehensive Permit and its conditions to the HAC in August 2018. In 2020, a multi-day hearing was held at the HAC, including the testimony of expert witnesses for both the town and the developer.

"For the past four years, the Town has invested substantial staff, consultant, and attorney hours and financial resources defending the Board’s decision," Ramsey said. "The town reaffirms its commitment to protecting the wellbeing of all Hingham residents, present and future."

Between 2016 and today, the Town has approved Chapter 40B applications which created more than 400 new housing units in the Town of Hingham. With the approval of these housing units, the Town has exceeded its Chapter 40B mandate, which the state sets at 10 percent minimum affordable housing stock, "with an uncontested 11.4 percent of its housing units qualified for inclusion on the state’s Subsidized Housing Inventory," according to the statement.

"Hingham has been able to make these affordable housing gains through a lot of hard work over the years. In addition, Hingham has been diligent in protecting existing affordable housing stock by taking legal action to enforce deed restriction violations," Ramsey continued.

In addition, The Hingham Affordable Housing Trust has actively pursued the acquisition and preservation of affordable housing units. During that same period, Town Meeting has appropriated more than $2.2 million in Community Preservation Act funds to community housing uses.

"The town remains committed to the creation of housing opportunities that benefit the community," Ramsey said. "We likewise remain committed to protecting existing and future residents from development that adversely affects the public health and safety. It is for these reasons that the Town of Hingham will take this HAC decision to court."

Ramsey invited public comment following his reading of the statement, which he said would be referred to town counsel. Written comments or concerns may be sent to Town Administrator Tom Mayo.

Because the proposed River Stone development is the subject of ongoing litigation, the town and its respective boards and officials will not make any further statements nor respond to verbal or written comments about the proposal.

Resident Lisa Taylor, who lives in the area of the proposed development, said she appreciates "the sheer amount of  work that has gone into this for literally years."
She used the word "blindsided" to describe how she and other abutters feel about the HAC's decision as well as disappointed that health and safety concerns were not addressed.

Taylor mentioned proximity to the aquifer and other environmental concerns shared by abutters.

She did, however, say that the one positive thing about this process has been the opportunity to connect with neighbors who have shared concerns who might not have come together otherwise.

"We ask the [ZBA and Select Board] to preserve and protect us and the greater Hingham community" by voting to appeal the HAC's recent decision, Taylor said prior to the votes.

Select Board member Joseph Fisher sat on the ZBA at the time the decision to issue the comprehensive permit subject to conditions was made in 2018 and signed it.
"A lot of you look familiar," he said. "Your comments were very valuable, and your participation was overwhelming at that time -- I see that it has not diminished."

Current ZBA Vice Chair and former Select Board member Paul Healey, who is familiar with the proposal and the process, thanked residents for their "continuing interest and support of our efforts to address this. I have great confidence in our legal team to take this to the next stage," he said.

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