Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The Oxford School housing project developer wants to make a “substantial” change to the design of the proposed new construction, Building Commissioner Chris Carmichael told the Fairhaven Selectboard on 1/25. But before that proposed change is even considered, the Selectboard wants an explanation first.
Within just weeks ahead of breaking ground, Mr. Carmichael said he hesitated to issue any building permits because the original approved roof design had been changed from a hip roof with dormers to a less-costly flat roof. Furthermore, the developer, SCG Development Partners, LLC, AKA “Stratford Group,” has proposed reducing the number of units from 63 to 53.
“So, I saw that as a substantial change, and I wanted to advise both boards [Selectboard and ZBA] of that prior to me issuing any building permits,” Mr. Carmichael said.
“Obviously, this would be a better time for them to make the changes before they start to build,” said Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas. “But is this something that is normally done in your business where you see this, or is this something that is a game-changer?”
“Some might consider this a game-changer because of the roof design in the back,” said Mr. Carmichael, which is a style similar to the roof of the current rear building. “But what they presented to the town to sell it is significantly different and, yes, it’s something that I see a lot. But it’s not in my purview to comment and issue those permits.”
Mr. Freitas said Stratford Group would have to come before the Selectboard to explain the changes and the impact on the town. However, Mr. Carmichael said Stratford Group had hoped to secure all permits within the next couple of weeks due to financing requirements. “So, if this is something you can talk about now,” Mr. Carmichael suggested.
“If this is something that’s going to cause them not to be able to get the permitting or cause — they’re the ones who made the changes,” said Mr. Freitas. “I don’t think we should — but we’d be willing to figure out what’s going on, and if the board wants to meet one night specifically for this….” He asked Mr. Carmichael to explain the difference in the roof designs.
“It’s just the cost of doing a gable end with a hip is a lot more costly,” said Mr. Carmichael. “A flat roof is just a square box and you put a piece of rubber on it.”
It also costs a lot less, he said.
“Also, the aesthetics from the outside of the building is also completely different. What they’re proposing is what there is now…. What they originally presented to the town looked significantly different,” said Mr. Carmichael.
“I liked the hip roof better,” said Selectboard member Keith Silvia. “It will just tie-in to the old building, and I think in that area it would make them happy.”
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said he had no problem reducing the number of units, but he wondered how that would not be a detriment to the developer.
“I think they owe us an explanation,” he said; furthermore, they should put it in writing before the board even agrees to hold a meeting.
“They should identify what the cost savings were,” and he also pointed out that Stratford Group received CPC funds and state grants based on a particular set of drawings and wondered if the developer had the latitude to change the design now.
Mr. Carmichael said he attempted to reach out to Stratford Group last week ahead of the Monday Selectboard meeting but was not sure why the developer did not appear remotely for the meeting via Zoom.
When Town Meeting approved the project in June 2016, the developer described the originally proposed roof design as a “varied roofline” that “creates visual interest of the new façade.” The new construction’s design with its dormers was boasted as keeping with the “character-defining features of the historic building.”
Also in the meeting, Mr. Espindola asked Mr. Freitas about the status of the search for the next town administrator, asking him whether the Selectboard’s interviews with the finalists would take place during a regularly scheduled Selectboard meeting or during a special meeting. Mr Freitas nominated himself as his respresentative on the Screening Committee for the Town Administrator, and sits on that advistory board as well as the Selectboard, which will hire the new TA.
Mr. Freitas told him it would be a separate meeting of just the three Selectboard members with the hiring consultant, Bernie Lynch, and the interviews would be held “executive session style.”
He told Mr. Espindola, “Bernie is going to handle it,” and that Mr. Lynch was going to reach out to the Selectbard members to schedule the day.
In a follow-up phone call, Mr. Lynch confirmed that the process must legally occur during open session. The board’s interviews with the finalists, he said, would be done “in accordance with the law.”
In another matter, the board asked Tree Warden G. Bourne Knowles to attend the meeting to explain why some members have received a significant number of complaints about delayed tree work requests and unanswered phone calls.
According to Mr. Knowles, he does respond to phone calls, just not always within 24 hours. He said the pandemic had affected his staff throughout the year, and at times only one employee was available.
“I can’t send just one guy out,” he said.
Mr. Knowles defended himself saying that emergency tree work takes precedence above pruning requests, which he perceives as what upsets most people.
Mr. Silvia said that one week he received three calls from three areas of town complaining that their requests went unanswered. He said retired Town Administrator Mark Rees even said he could not get in touch with Mr. Knowles.
“People are asking, and it’s not getting done,” said Mr. Silvia. “We need to find out why.”
Mr. Knowles said there are 123 pruning requests on his waiting list. He said his part-time staff had been affected by COVID-19 and also that the $14 an hour they get paid isn’t enough to gain “continuity” from his employees that make more in the private sector. He said he asked the public works superintendent about a higher pay rate of $18 an hour but was told it would affect the DPW budget.
“That’s affected me,” said Mr. Knowles. “Again [$14 an hour], at 20 hours a week — to keep these under those parameters of the town, it’s affecting me. Am I happy about it? No. I’m behind; I know I’m behind.”
Mr. Freitas asked Interim Town Administraror Wendy Graves to set up a meeting with Mr. Knowles and Mr. Silvia to strategize on how to address the pay rate.
Mr. Espindola asked the tree warden what record-keeping system he uses to document requests as he completes them and the number of requests per year, and whether he keeps a priority list of requests.
“It’s all kept in the vehicle itself,” said Mr. Knowles, on paper.
He said he gives his workers a list of jobs to do, “And it’s all on paper, and I’ve kept all those records.”
He said that was the system already in place when he took over.
Mr. Espindola said he wondered if a digital system like the one the Building Department just adopted would be more efficient and easier to manage. Mr. Knowles said he used to share a program with the School Department documenting tickets that went into the computer, but admitted he got “lax” using the software.
“I’m not a computer guy,” said Mr. Knowles.
Also during the meeting, retired Millicent Library Director Carolyn Longworth was recognized for her 35 years of service and presented with a citation and bouquet. Ms. Longworth was visibly astounded when the board announced that the shallow pond behind the Atlas Tack Factory adjacent to Egypt Lane would now be officially named “Carolyn’s Pond.”
The site is significant to Ms. Longworth, an avid birdwatcher, who for years has spent her leisure time by the wetland identifying over 100 species of birds and even documented the pond’s single sighting of a great white heron, unique to Florida.
“Oh my God,” she said as the room gave her a standing ovation. “I can’t believe it. Thank you so much.”
Fairhaven resident Carol Baird-Molander was the one who approached the board and proposed naming the pond in Ms. Longworth’s honor. She attended via Zoom and congratulated Ms. Longworth.
“You deserve it very much for all you’ve done for the town of Fairhaven and for birding,” Ms. Baird-Molander told Ms. Longworth.
The board later had Marine Resources Committee Chairperson Michael McNamara present the advisory committee’s proposed changes to the town’s Waterways Rules and Regulations. Most of the updates were unanimously approved, he said, but some MRC members opposed new and increased fees.
The proposed updates to the regulations are posted on the town website for the public to review and provide comments. The matter will be brought again to the Selectboard once feedback is reviewed and considered.
In other matters, the board authorized Interim Town Administrator Wendy Graves to sign the renewal of the town’s solid waste disposal service agreement with ABC Disposal.
The board convened in executive session “to investigate charges of criminal misconduct’ relative to the mishandling of personnel records and for strategy with respect to litigation regarding New England Preservation and Development, LLC.
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