The potential environmental impacts of the proposed village at Chebacco Hill were in the foreground during a public presentation to Hamilton Planning Council. The concerns were not only the construction of buildings and the installation of related infrastructure, but also the potential impacts on adjacent lands, both public and private.
The 16-acre 55+ condominium development project on private property at Chebacco Woods in Hamilton would include 50 condominiums in a mix of single and duplex buildings.
Chebacco Hills Capital Partners made a public presentation of their plans to the Planning Council on Tuesday, August 3. On Wednesday July 14, they called for another continuation of petitions to work on land overseen by the Conservation Commission. Planning Council Chairman Rick Mitchell described the meeting as “what will be the first in a long series.”
Mitchell and other members expressed concern about blasting and its potential impacts on groundwater and vegetation. They will also look at the size, scope and technical details of the project.
“This is the biggest project the planning board has considered in years,” Mitchell said. “This will be the subject of close scrutiny.”
This will include a site visit at the end of August. The 66 acre area in question is a rough square between Meadowbrook Farm, 247 Essex St., to the north; Gordon College, 255 Grapevine Road, South; Beck Pond and Chebacco Road to the east; and Willow Farm, 31 Woodbury St., to the west.
Ani Sarkisian, a member of Save Chebacco Trails and Watershed, said the Planning Council was asking questions that needed to be asked.
“That’s okay because it’s only part of a larger area,” she said, referring to the possible side effects of developing on 113 acres of public land adjacent to Hamilton and hundreds more in the surrounding communities.
“We’re feeling great,” developer Larry Smith said of the planning board meeting.
Meanwhile, Chebacco Partners is working to consolidate its “Determination Requests” for the preparatory work into a single “Notice of Intent” for the Conservation Commission:
- use existing logging roads crossing jurisdictional areas and install temporary steel plates over an intermittent watercourse
- conduct directional drilling under jurisdictional wetlands for the purpose of installing a sewer line
- to extend a water pipe within the paved surface of Chebacco Road along part of the frontage of 133 Essex Street.
“We will see the applicant again in September,” said Brian Colleran, coordinator of the Conservation Commission.
Mitchell has long advocated and worked for housing stock expansion in Hamilton, including the development of downtown multiple-unit buildings. He called the proposal “worthy of consideration”.
“But we have to make sure it fits into the neighborhood,” Mitchell said.
Land concerns about environmental contamination
Chebacco Partners, which includes co-owner of the land Catherine Rich-Duval, has revoked a lease with Meadowbrook Farm and the Vandi family of 247 Essex Street for the use of farmland in 133 Essex. A new lease has been signed with Josh Atherton and Utopia Farms of Wenham.
In a letter to the Planning Council in July, the Vandi family said they had been offered a long-term lease, but came with a requirement to authorize a perpetual easement on their property at 247 Essex . The family said in their letter that they were concerned about how the development could potentially contaminate their irrigation pond, agricultural fields and water supply.
“It’s a big deal and it was time to move on,” said Rich-Duval. “People think we’re not interested in farming, but we are.”
“Agriculture will continue,” said Larry Smith.
Ron, Katie, Kevin and Michael Vandi wrote to the Planning Council on July 8:
“In April 2021, Ms. Rich-Duval presented us with documents regarding a perpetual easement on our property, 247 Essex. This easement was unlimited in time and scope and allowed continuous, unmitigated access across our property to access the portion of Property 133 Essex that the plans show as the location of the development’s proposed septic system. Several weeks later, Mr. Smith presented us with a 99-year lease on farmland at 133 Essex after he obtained ownership of it from Rich-Duval as part of the sale. However, it was made clear to us that this draft rental agreement would only be available if we signed the perpetual easement.
“We have specifically stated that our position regarding this proposed development is one of neutrality. Such mention of Meadowbrook Farm or the Vandi family in alignment with Restoration Capital, Chebacco Partners or Rich-Duval is unwarranted and false. Throughout our discussions with Smith and Rich-Duval, we have repeatedly requested more detailed information on the proposed development, given that our private property and agricultural land is directly related to this project. Specifically, we requested information relating to the septic system project planned just beyond our agricultural property, upstream of our irrigation pond where the Rich-Duval easement would provide access. Given the obvious and direct impact this easement would have on our lands and business operations, including the lack of information, detailed plans and data to support the security and integrity of our agricultural lands, it does not would not be prudent to accept such a document.
“Unfortunately, our decision not to sign resulted in the termination of our long-standing land and farm lease with Rich-Duval. This lease has been in place for decades and dates back to the former owners of Meadowbrook Farm over 60 years ago. Our past rental agreement has always been mutually beneficial. We paid our rent on time and maintained the farm property for the duration of our lease with the Rich family.
“As farmers, we have adhered to strict organic practices for decades to actively preserve and respect the precious aquifer system beneath agricultural fields. Our main concerns are how this proposed development could potentially contaminate our irrigation pond, agricultural fields and water supply. Our family and our business have remained in good standing in the community, and we intend to maintain that as the next generation strives to take the reins. We have always had a positive working relationship within Hamilton and are proud to serve its residents for over 40 years.
However, Rich-Duval said in a letter to the Planning Council:
“My parents bought the land in the 1950s for future development. My father, Frank, was a building contractor and real estate developer and kept it for a special purpose.
“Over the years, my parents have met with neighbors, city officials and the community to realize their development visions and share those visions with the community. While my father was generous in allowing reasonable public access to the land and the temporary agricultural use of part of it, he was always very clear on the intentions to develop the property, for which he continued to pay all property taxes as developable land. Since my father passed away, our family has continued to develop the property, while paying all property taxes, with no farm tax reduction or conservation easement.
“The proposed development is one that builds beautiful homes, preserves many acres of farmland, offers much of the property for open space, up to 49 of the 66 acres, and supports the city’s financial needs. and the visions of our family. “