Act II for Taj Estates Project
Above, 230 East Central, fall 2021, before its sale for redevelopment.
Many months in the making, the Monday, July 25 meeting of the Franklin Planning Board covered many issues around town, but punctuated the evening with more sharply divided testimony about the multiunit apartment project targeted for 230 East Central Street.
The story began when the property, containing a single-family home, was sold just before the municipal election in November of 2021. In December the new owners were in front of the planning board for the first time with a name for the project --Taj Estates – and an application seeking a special permit and site plan approval.
According to the minutes of that meeting, attorney Richard Cornetta described the proposed redevelopment as a three-story, 14,200 sq. ft. commercial mixed-use residential building containing 41 single-bedroom apartment style residential units with 900 sq. ft. commercial space located on the first-floor front portion of the building. Cornetta noted that a special permit would be needed to allow multi-family housing in the commercial district. He also asserted (a point later disputed) that the building would fit with the Baker Administration’s Transit Oriented Development goals due to its proximity to the train station.
The applicant also requested a waiver for parking from the required 64 parking spaces to 46 parking spaces.
The meeting also included some expressions of concerns from town officials regarding drainage, the proximity to town sewer rights of way, and the possible presence of ledge toward the rear of the property, among other things.
Neighbors and abutters also came forward. For example, Mark Letourneau, from Hill Avenue, expressed concerns about what blasting to remove ledge could do to the neighborhood and worried about tree removal. While Mark Rovani, speaking on behalf of his mother who lives next door on East Central Street and operates a daycare, expressed concern that she would have diminished access to her driveway and noise.
That hearing was continued, as were several others over the intervening months. And the issues, broadly, remained the same, with the applicant gradually scaling back the number of units and proposing other site concessions in an effort to get approval, while neighbors and some members of the planning board became seemingly, increasingly hardened in their opposition.
Monday night saw a repeat and summation. Consultant Amanda Cavalieri, speaking for the applicant, noted that in contrast to the original proposal, the applicant is now providing52 parking spaces, which takes into consideration the one and a half spaces required per unit and one space per 500 square feet of commercial space. “We've also reduced our building footprint by 8 percent and we've added parking underneath the building,” she said. And the applicant has a ten percent affordability component – a total of four units would be so-designated. They're also willing to contribute $5,000 towards traffic signal study. In addition, in response to abutter concern about the possibility that a car could accidentally come through the vinyl fencing and enter the daycare property, Cavalieri said the applicant was substituting steel posts to support the fence.
Those who opposed the project ended up taking up most of the rest of the hearing and many of them harped on the inadequacy of traffic studies to date, not just for East Central but for other neighborhood streets that have become cut-throughs for drivers trying to escape backups at the intersection of King-Pleasant and West Central.
For better or worse, the Planning Board finally voted to close the hearing to any further testimony. And now, a pause.
The Board has up to 90 days to make a decision on the project as submitted. One insider speculated that even then they may not be able to reach a decision.