High interest among neighbors pushes Planning Board meeting onto Zoom
Disclosure: The author of this article is a member of the Abington Planning Board.
Neighbors and proponents will get another chance Monday night to weigh in on a 156-unit apartment complex proposed for land next to the MBTA commuter rail station.
Because of the large interest among neighbors, the meeting will be held online via Zoom starting at 6 p.m. State public health rules currently prohibit indoor gatherings larger than 25 people. The planned Sept. 30 hearing on the project had to be postponed after more than 40 people showed up. A state law passed this spring allows communities to hold public hearings online via teleconferencing programs such as Zoom.
The meeting can also be accessed by phone. Full hearing details are posted below.
The Planning Board has been reviewing the Summer Street project, which is proposed by Weymouth-based Karsten Company, for more than a year. The so-called Abington Crossing development would consist of four buildings on either side of Monahan Crossing, the road that connects the MBTA commuter rail station with Summer Street.
The property is located on a four-acre site within the town’s Transit Oriented Development zoning district. The district, which Town Meeting voters approved more than 15 years ago, allows higher density housing to be built near the commuter rail station.
The project has undergone several iterations over the months including building and parking lot realignments, a reduction in the number of buildings and bedrooms, and changes to the amount of proposed commercial space. Multiple hearings were rescheduled at the request of either the Karsten team or the town’s engineering consultant.
While speaking during the abbreviated September hearing, a lawyer for Karsten threatened to sue the board if it did not hold the next meeting online.
“It’s time to close this hearing, and have this board vote,” the attorney, Daniel Bailey, said.
The remark drew an angry rebuke from Abington’s town attorney, Amy Kwesell.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “What do you expect cities and towns to do? Go to court, I look forward to it.”
As of the September hearing, the state Legislature had passed a law allowing communities to postpone action on land use projects until 45 days after the public health emergency ends. With the pandemic likely to linger on into 2021, the Legislature recently inserted a provision into a spending bill that requires communities to start taking action on projects by Dec. 1 2020. The bill is currently waiting for Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature.
Before Bailey made his comments, the Planning Board had already decided to hold the Nov. 16 meeting via Zoom to avoid another possible crowd-related delay. An August hearing on the project had exactly 25 people. Members of the Karsten team opted to wait in the parking lot in order to not trigger a postponement.
Several neighbors have objected to the Planning Board holding the meeting online instead of in-person. They are concerned they will not be able to have their concerns properly heard, or see final project documents. Some say they lack the equipment needed to access the Zoom meeting.
“The computer systems freeze, and people get kicked out, some people don’t even have them or know how to get to the meetings,” Summer Street resident Donna Rizzi Peavey wrote in an email to the board this week.
Neighbors are particularly concerned that the project will add a dangerous amount of traffic to Summer Street, which has become a popular cut-through between routes 58 and 18, carrying more than 7,000 vehicles a day. Traffic engineers for the Karsten Company estimated the development would add about 800 vehicle trips in and out per day. Traffic consultants for the Planning Board concurred with that estimate. The Karsten Company is offering to rework the traffic signals at the Rt. 58 and Summer Street and Rt. 58 and Rt. 123 intersections to reduce traffic backups on Summer Street.
Abington Planning Board
Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 @ 6 p.m.
Meeting ID: 827 1246 6791
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Meeting ID: 827 1246 6791