EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 14, 2014

Emerald Pines given conditional approval

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — The 140-home Emerald Pines development off Howe Street looks like it is “ready to go,” according to the chairman of the city’s planning board.

The Community Development Board, as the planning board is known, on Wednesday gave conditional approval for a special permit for the project which has been long stalled, changed hands, and reinvented in the last decade.

A few residents voiced concerns at the meeting about traffic and replanting trees cut down by the last owner.

Emerald Pines, proposed by the national Pennsylvania-based developer Toll Brothers, faces another crucial vote on Thursday before the Conservation Commission, which is the one of the last local hurdles to clear.

“From our aspect, they’re ready to go,” said Community Development Board Chairman Stephen DeFeo.

His board reviews proposals to make sure they follow state law and local ordinances and regulations. It also grants special permits. One is required for Emerald Pines because while the plan calls for 140 single-family detached homes they all are on a single lot rather than 140 individual lots, meaning it technically is a multi-family development.

Community Development director William Buckley said the conditions on approval include that the development remain 55-plus housing, that it will be privately owned and maintained by a homeowner or condo association and that city will not maintain roads or trash removal, along with typical conditions like final review and bonding.

Should the Conservation Commission approve the plans next week, the project must get water and wetlands permits from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

DeFeo said Toll Brothers has been responsive in addressing issues before the board, and in past projects, most notably the Regency development off Wheeler Street on the Dracut border, the developer has been proactive in notifying the city about and addressing problems.

Developer Robert S. Nazarian proposed in 2003 and 2004 building a golf course community with luxury homes on the 155-acre site, which lies along the Haverhill border and includes 12.6 acres of wetlands, about 10 years ago. The project commenced and about a dozen homes were built and sold. But after clearing began, the project ran into environmental and financial problems, and finally went bankrupt during the recession.

Toll Brothers took over in 2012 and devised a new plan that axed the golf course, proposed more modest homes and designated it an age 55-plus community. City officials said the age restriction means the development will not add to city education costs, while generating about $1.4 million in annual property tax revenue.

DeFeo and Buckley said traffic should not be an issue because many of the residents will be retired empty-nesters, meaning their driving habits are different and will not add to morning and evening commuter traffic.

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