198-unit 40B off Summer Street approved by ZBA

The Abington Zoning Board of Appeals, for the second time, has approved a 198-unit affordable housing development off Summer Street.

The Board on Thursday unanimously approved a comprehensive permit that allows WP East Acquisitions, LLC, to build a 45,000-square-foot, five-story residential building adjacent to the town’s commuter rail station. The complex includes a swimming pool, tot lot, and dog park for residents.

It represents a significant change from what was originally proposed: 236 units spread over three buildings located on both sides of Monahan Way, which is the road that leads from Summer Street into the commuter rail station parking lot.

The complex will consist of 23 3-bedroom units, 81 2-bedroom units, and 94 1-bedroom units. It features 300 parking spaces, including a number of private garage spaces. It’s located on a 9-acre site within the town’s Transit Oriented Development zoning district.

A drawing of the 40B development proposed for Summer Street. All 198 units would be contained within the E-shaped building at the top. The complex also includes a pool, tot lot, and small dog park.

While not going so far as to call it a good project, board members said it was vastly improved thanks to input received from residents during public hearings, as well as Sean Reardon, an engineer with Tetra Tech, who served as the board’s project consultant.

“We’re in a better place than we were with the initial project,” Board Chairman Andrew Burbine said.

The state’s affordable housing law, known as Chapter 40B, gives developers the ability to ignore local zoning and building guidelines while largely handcuffing local permitting boards from extracting concessions from the proponents or requiring impact mitigations. A quarter of the rental units will be set aside for those making 80 percent of the median income.

The project does not propose any improvements to Summer Street or the two intersections at either end of the roadway, both of which have received poor grades from the state.

The board did reject a request for a waiver that would allow the developer to build an 8-foot by 7-foot sign along Monahan Way. The town’s sign bylaw caps standalone signs at 12 square feet.

In a small win for Progress Street abutters, the lone building will be located on the eastern side of Monahan Way. The western side of the property, which backs up to the Progress Street properties, will be reserved for additional parking and stormwater drainage.

The Fire Department, which was heavily involved in the review, ultimately signed off on the plan. The proponents did design the building to include two sets of elevators at Chief John Nuttall’s insistence.

One issue still unresolved is water. The Abington/ Rockland Joint Water Works is nearing its supply capacity and there’s a line of commercial and residential projects awaiting approval. Chapter 40B projects are not allowed to cut the line. The Water Works did confirm that the existing system will be able to provide enough pressure to service the building in case of a fire, according to the zoning board.

An architectural rending of what the 5-story residential building will look like

The project also still needs approval from the Abington Conservation Commission.

The zoning board previously approved a similar permit last year but the developer appealed the decision to the state Housing Appeals Committee saying the permit included 150 conditions and subconditions that rendered the project “uneconomic.”

Under a deal between attorneys for the project and the town, the Appeals Committee remanded the project back to the zoning board, which adopted a revised set of conditions. The full list of conditions and changes was not immediately available.

Town Counsel Amy Kwessel told the board that the applicant or Housing Appeals Committee could still reject the board’s latest approval but “hopes that would not be the case.”

Once approved by the Housing Appeals Committee, a decision letter will be filed with the Abington Town Clerk. Residents then have 20 days to appeal it.

Although only 25 percent of the units will actually be affordable, all 198 units will count towards the town’s affordable housing inventory due to a quirk in the state law. Despite the approval of this project and another 40B project off Plymouth Street, the town still hasn’t quite hit its 10 percent affordability threshold, which would make it immune from future 40B projects.

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