PLAISTOW — After four years of legal battles, a local developer has received approval to build a 55-and-older housing development.
The Planning Board conditionally approved The Falls at Gunstock Road, a 40-unit development, July 20. Owner Ronald Brown of Ronald Brown Investments in Haverhill took the town to court — twice, first in 2009 and again in 2011.
"The town wanted the other developments to come in and didn't want us to come in," Brown said. "We had to go to the court system to reaffirm that we had a right to develop the property."
The conflict started in 2007 when voters approved an elderly housing ordinance that allowed four large 55-plus housing projects to be built in town. But then residents became concerned that the influx of elderly would put a strain on public services and repealed the ordinance a few months later.
The projects approved in that short window were grandfathered in, including Brown's and three others, but no new developers were allowed to build elderly housing.
Town Planner Leigh Komornick said the board rejected Brown's first plan because he wanted to build 144 units.
"That number exceeded the cap set by the ordinance," Komornick said. "He was told he could build 40. He wanted the 144, so he had appealed the decision. The court ruled in the town's favor and we told him he was entitled to only 40 units."
Then, Komornick said, Brown waited until 2010 to file his final application.
"The Planning Board was happy to see his project get done and approved, but we thought that, given the fact the ordinance was repealed, he was taking too long to file his final plan," she said.
So, Komornick said, the board rejected his project because members thought he waited too long.
Brown went back to court and the judge ruled in his favor this time.
Four years later, Brown is happy construction will finally begin.
"We plan to start construction in the next 30 days," he said. "We will hopefully be finished by early winter."
The development will include 40 single-story, detached homes. Each unit will be between 1,200 and 1,800 square feet, with two bedrooms and two and a half baths. The property is 35 acres. There will be a communal pool, clubhouse and more. Brown said sales prices have not been determined.
Two other 55-and-older housing developments were approved in 2007, but construction hasn't started.
Stephen Doherty, co-owner of Hill Crest Estates LLC, said final plans for his project Snow Village on Route 108 were approved a month ago.
"We're waiting for the market to turn around a little before we start it," he said. "The market is not robust for anybody right now. We wouldn't wait any longer than a year to start."
Snow Village will be high-end, he said, with 34 single-family condominiums priced around $300,000, bordering the Haverhill Country Club. Doherty said he thinks the project will be very successful once it gets started.
"I would hope we have an advantage over the other properties," he said. "We have a great location."
Another 55-plus property on Chandler Avenue is being developed by Al Hoyt and Sons, who did not return requests for comment. But Komornick said Hoyt is not going to be building it.
"Chandler Avenue was approved for 40 units and actually is for sale," she said. "If a developer wanted to come in and buy it with all the approvals, they could go and start building. I don't know if they just aren't interested in pursuing it or there were problems with financing. But I know they were working with a potential buyer and it must have fallen through."
Because the other projects have stalled, Brown is very confident his condos at The Falls will be sold.
"There's no other competition in Plaistow presently," he said.
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