By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — City officials and concerned residents were told last night that a proposed 140-unit development off Howe Street, if approved, will be restricted to home buyers age 55 and older.
The developer, Toll Brothers Inc., initially sought a looser “age-targeted” designation for the project. Toll Brothers hopes to build 140 single-family homes on the site of the failed Emerald Pines golf course near the Haverhill line.
In May, several city councilors said the homes should instead be “age-restricted” to prevent young families from moving in, which in turn would place additional burden on the school system and add to traffic concerns.
But last night, a local lawyer representing Toll Brothers said the developer had a change of heart and will now require that home buyers be 55 or older in order to ease the burden on Methuen’s schools and roads.
“This community will be age-restricted,” lawyer Anthony Copani told the City Council and Community Development Board.
Dozens of residents packed City Hall last night for a public hearing and many expressed their concerns over the project. Chief among them were adding traffic to an already congested part of town, as well as the impact on wildlife in the area.
“Personally, I don’t think we need any more homes in Methuen — especially in that neighborhood,” said Brookdale Avenue resident John Milone.
“This is the second chance for us to do this right,” added Grandview Road resident Michelle Godin. “I really would like to see more preservation done for future generations.”
Toll Brothers is looking to transform the abandoned Emerald Pines golf course project into an “active adult community” featuring the 140 homes as well as a clubhouse, swimming pool and bocce courts.
Road and lighting maintenance and trash removal at the development will be run privately, according to a formal petition for the project on file at City Hall. Toll Brothers also intends to make needed improvements to the land and infrastructure, which in turn will enhance the value of nearby homes, according to the petition.
The first hurdle for the project is a zoning change. Roughly 120 mostly-undeveloped acres off Pine Tree Drive must be rezoned from rural residential to a multi-family residence district before the permitting process can move forward.
If a zoning change is granted, Toll Brothers will also need a special permit before construction can begin.
“We’ll be before your board on several occasions ... before we can put a shovel in the ground,” Copani told Community Development Board Chairman Stephen DeFeo.
Copani said Toll Brothers is “the largest builder of luxury homes in the country.” The outfit is also currently building Regency at Methuen, a 240-unit gated community on Wheeler Street, off Route 110 near Dracut.
Copani said the Emerald Pines development will “essentially duplicate” the Regency project, though all the homes off Howe Street will be single-family and spaced further apart. The Emerald Pines project will also not be gated.
A Toll Brothers representative told Councilor Joyce Campagnone last night that homes like those being built at the Regency sell for $450,000 to $500,000, and that the Emerald Pines homes have the potential to sell for more.
Copani said the Emerald Pines development will generate “substantial” revenue for the city in the form of property taxes and permitting fees, and will be far less of a burden on city services than a typical development of its size.
“There’s no impact on the school system,” said Copani.
Copani said the 55-to-64 age group is also growing in Methuen. “There’s a real need for this type of housing,” said Copani.
The roughly 120-acre parcel where the 140 homes will be constructed will include 83 acres of open space, according to the formal petition. The proposal also calls for permanent open space restrictions on 34 acres adjacent to the development.
Toll Brothers took ownership of the property earlier this year.
In 2004, R & D Development obtained a city permit to develop an 18-hole golf course, full-service clubhouse and function facility, and between 75 and 100 single- and multi-family homes on the property. R & D Development ultimately went bankrupt, but not before 19 lots were cleared and 14 homes were built on Pine Tree Drive and Muirfield Lane. Significant land clearing for the golf course also took place, along with infrastructure work, including the construction of a pump station.
Last night, one of the homeowners, Steve Early, handed city officials a petition in support of the project that was signed by residents at 11 of the 14 homes on Pine Tree Drive and Muirfield Lane.
Early said the residents there are tired of seeing piles of rocks and weeds where the golf course project was supposed to be built. Early also commended Toll Brothers for working with homeowners in his neighborhood.
“They’ve been a great partner to us we want to see the development succeed,” said Early.