EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 9, 2013

Melmark sewer hook-up OK'd by Andover Selectmen

ANDOVER —The Board of Selectmen last night unanimously approved a request by a River Road school to tie into a private sewer line.

Voting 5-0, Selectmen approved the wording of a so-called Inter-Municipal Agreement that allows Melmark New England, a school for children with autism and brain injuries at 461 River Road, to tie into the sewer line. The agreement must also be approved by Tewksbury and Lowell.

The vote brings to an end a saga that played out over a series of lengthy meetings during which Selectmen expressed concern that Melmark may have been trying to tie into the line so they could develop the adjacent, 70-acre Franciscan Center, or further develop their own property.

School officials, including executive director Rita Gardner, said the school needed to tie into the private sewer because the Title 5 septic system it now has, is not sufficient to support a kitchen operaton. She said the school wants to build a new kitchen so it can train students in culinary arts while also serving hot meals to students and staff. The school currently has all of its meals catered.

School officials were somewhat frustrated by the process, since all they were asking for was an agreement that would have allowed them to pump around 4,000 gallons of wastewater into the private sewer line.

“They are trying to protect the town,” Gardner said. “But what can you do with 4,000 gallons?”

She and school vice president Peter Troy noted that while the request from the school was simple, the history of development along that stretch of River Road has been complicated.

In particular, development of the nearby Avalon apartment complex prompted years of litigation that the town, and neighbors, ultimately lost. Avalon Andover, a 115-unit apartment building, was built under Chapter 40B, a state law that requires cities and towns to permit high-density developments if a portion of them are marketed as affordable.

“We weren’t involved in that litigation,” Troy said.

However, the school is interested in developing the adjacent Franciscan Center, made up of 70 acres of land and a building constructed in 1930 as a Franciscan training center.

Melmark has an option to buy the property, currently owned by the Society of Friars of the Orders of St. Francis. According to town records, the land is assessed at almost $5 million and the building at about $2 million.

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