Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Planning Board - August 25th, 2008

The Hopkinton Planning Board met on August 25th, and the agenda included a discussion of downtown revitalization efforts, and several other topics.

Hopkinton Downtown Initiatives

The first hour of the meeting was a joint meeting with the Board of Public Works, Downtown Historic District Commission, and the Downtown Revitalization Committee. The Planning Board has adopted downtown planning as a key initiative for the 2008-2009 term. Discussion focused on review of a draft list of 50-60 individual work items, ranging from sidewalk maintenance, crosswalk enhancements, road width review, water main replacement, bicycle lanes, complementary private initiatives such as Bill's Pizza, Friends of the Common work on tree-scape and gazebo at the Common, Library consideration of expansion possibilities.

The Town's Director of Public Works offered expertise on how the town might approach the long list of items, proposing a multi-year phased approach to a comprehensive roadway improvement project that could be timed with a necessary infrastructure enhancement to the water main through the center of town.

Funding alternatives for the comprehensive project could include existing state transportation bond funding (which references Hopkinton, but which we would have to advocate for), grants for downtown preservation and enhancement, project related mitigation, and other sources. Under this approach, execution could be expected 5-7 years from now.

While the long term comprehensive approach to downtown infrastructure, roadway, and pedestrian improvements was recognized as ideal, several participants expressed concern that the state of the sidewalks may pose a safety hazard to pedestrians today, and funding for repair and maintenance should be an immediate priority.

Next, Boulder Capital presented a proposal for traffic light signalization enhancements at the Cedar/Grove/Main Street intersection (where route 85 crosses route 135), which represents a significant piece of the commitment between the town and the Legacy Farms developer under the Host Community Agreement. Agreement was reached that the signalization enhancement should include upgrades to allow the signals to sense traffic volumes and adjust signals automatically. Several styles of traffic signalization equipment were reviewed, including for aesthetic features and estimates of ongoing maintenance costs that the town might expect for each style of signalization equipment. It was agreed that the DPW Board, Downtown Revitalization Committee and Historic Commission would meet to review in more detail and provide a recommendation. The discussion would be picked up again at the September 22 Planning Board meeting.

Solar Panels

The town's Facilities Director with Borrego Solar Inc. presented a minor project site plan review, for installation of solar panels on Hopkinton school buildings, and on the Police and Fire Stations.

Minor site plan review ensures that projects are reviewed against a set of criteria defined in our zoning bylaws, to ensure the project meets defined community objectives and goals. In addition, state law requires that town bylaws not "prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy."

Board members had some questions, which were answered, regarding the features of the system and the financial model, which have been negotiated by the town and the schools. Notably,
the agreement will cover about 12% of the town's overall energy needs, will require no up front investment by the townthere will be no excess energy sold to the grid (100% of energy created will be consumed by the town, offsetting 12% of our overall electricity needs)the town will lock into a 3% rate of increase each year (this year's increase from traditional energy sources was 9%)town residents will receive a $500 discount on installation of any residential solar electric systemBorrego Solar Inc. will contribute an additional $500 to the Hopkinton Schools for each residential installation.
The Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the application for minor site plan review, clearing the Planning Board component of the town's preparation for this initiative.

Performance Guarantees

We had two developer requests for reduction in performance guarantee bond amounts. Performance guarantees are bonds that protect the town by setting up a financing source in case a developer defaults on infrastructure obligations, like the completion of roadways, for example.

The first request for bond reduction was from Toll Brothers, regarding the Hopkinton Highlands II/Estates at Highland Ridge development. The guarantee still provided for $600,000 of protection for the town related to work that has largely been completed; the remaining work was estimated, on the high side, as amounting to about $72,000 of work were the town left to complete it ourselves.

The tricky thing about this one was that the development has been plagued with water access problems. Discussion ensued about whether the recently developed wells, certified by Department of Environmental Protection, were operable (it was demonstrated they are, and DEP letter to that effect was provided), and whether we should continue to keep the bond level at $600,000 until after one full year of successful performance of the new wells.

Based on the following provision of Massachusetts law, and recommendation from our Town Planner, I voted to reduce the performance guarantee to $72,000, and was joined by most of the other board members on this affirmative vote (one voted against reducing the bond level), though during discussion some expressed they were voting reluctantly to reduce the bond, wishing there were some other legal way to protect the town by ensuring developer engagement and responsibility until after some longer period of successful performance of the new wells.
  • "The penal sum of any such bond held under clause (1) or any deposit held under clause (2) or any amount of funds retained pursuant to an agreement under clause (4) shall bear a direct and reasonable relationship to the expected cost including the effects of inflation, necessary to complete the subject work. Such amount or amounts shall from time to time be reduced so that the amount bonded, deposited or retained continues to reflect the actual expected cost of work remaining to be completed.”
The second performance guarantee reduction request came from the developer of the Emerald Hills Development off of Saddle Hill Road in Hopkinton. All of the work associated with this development has been completed, and the board voted unanimously to reduce the guarantee to zero, recognizing that the developer's obligations have been met and there is no remaining work for the town to complete and therefore no anticipated costs to the town to guarantee against. A separate guarantee was $15,000 that had been set aside for widening of Saddle Hill Road. A board member explained that initially, when the development was just being planned, the board anticipated based on public input that there would be a need to widen Saddle Hill Road, but when the topic was brought up subsequently, there was significant public resistance, against widening Saddle Hill Road. And actual traffic volumes due to the development build out did not meet the level of fear that existed during the planning stages. Believing that Saddle Hill Road still does have several portions that are dangerously narrow, I voted to not reduce the bond; but I was the sole vote on that side, with the rest of the board voting to bring the value to zero.

South Street Minor Project Site Plan Review

In other business before the board, a property owner on South Street proposed increasing the elevation of their roof to a level well within the height limits, to accomodate new equipment related to Bio Life Sciences work that the company does at the location. The board reviewed the project against the defined criteria in our bylaw, to ensure it meets community objectives, and voted unanimously to approve the work.

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