EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 2, 2013

Emerald Pines zoning change headed for vote

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — The City Council is expected to vote tomorrow on a proposed zoning change for the 140-home Emerald Pines project off Howe Street.

Approval of the zoning change will allow developer Toll Brothers Inc., to apply for a special permit with the Community Development Board. Toll Brothers hopes to build an “active adult community” on roughly 120 mostly-undeveloped acres off Pine Tree Drive, which runs off Howe Street near the Haverhill line.

The development would be built at the site of the abandoned Emerald Pines golf course project and consist of 140 single-family homes as well as a clubhouse, swimming pool and bocce courts. In July, a local lawyer representing Toll Brothers told city officials that the homes would be restricted to buyers age 55 and older.

“It’s a good project because something was going to be built,” said East District City Councilor Ron Marsan. “The city can’t be naive to think it would (remain) open space. It’s the best the city can get.”

Before permitting process begins, the land must be rezoned from rural residential to multi-family residential.

“We’re talking about a major zoning change for that side of the city,” said City Council Chairman Sean Fountain.

Fountain said he temporarily pulled the zoning change proposal from Tuesday’s meeting agenda to ensure councilors received additional information on the project’s potential impact on traffic and public safety.

With that information now in hand, Fountain said the proposal will appear on the agenda.

In July, dozens of residents packed City Hall for a public hearing on the Emerald Pines project. Chief among their concerns were adding traffic to an already congested part of town, as well as the impact on wildlife.

Fountain said he wants to ensure that residents who expressed concern at the public hearing get feedback Tuesday night.

“There were a ton of residents who had questions,” said Fountain. “Were they answered?”

The Community Development Board voted unanimously Aug. 14 to offer the council a favorable recommendation on the zoning change. Road and lighting maintenance and trash removal at Emerald Pines would 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.

“I want to hear more information on Tuesday,” said City Councilor Jamie Atkinson. “I think it’s going to be a positive thing for the city, but some things still need to be worked out.”