A Troubling Development, Neighborhood Meeting Edition

The neighborhood meeting held by the Hanover Company to discuss their proposed new apartment building ended up being rescheduled for last night — something I wouldn’t have known if Mike at H2otown hadn’t put it on the calendar — and I was able to go and hear what they had to say.

For starters, I was very happy to see the turnout. The town councilor for this district, and one of the At-Large councilors, both came, as well as owners of local businesses, and a good number of residents. I’m not good at estimating groups of people, but if I had to guess I’d say there were 30-40 people there, if not somewhat more.

The Hanover representatives also, to their credit, had prepared a thorough presentation, and, I think, tried in earnest to make their case for why this development would be good for the area, and to answer our questions.

However, I’m not sold, and unless I badly misread the tone, I don’t think anyone else there was sold that night, either. They expect their building to add roughly ten percent to the volume of traffic on the neighborhood streets, which are already having traffic and parking problems. It will be four stories high —roughly twice the height of most of the buildings in the area. It will also be a single, huge building taking up effectively the entire 3.5 acre plot of land. There won’t be a driveway in front, only a ramp into the underground parking, which despite their assurances to the contrary I, along with a number of others at the meeting, am convinced will result in cars (and especially taxis) pulled over on the street out front with their hazard lights blinking, all the time.

People who live along Coolidge Hill Road are, rightly I think, quite concerned that having a four-story building just across the street from their two-story houses will mean suddenly they get much less sunlight than they used to; I have been planning to put in a garden in my backyard, and my neighbor across the backyard fence already has a well-established and quite impressive one — a sudden drop in sunlight could be a problem for these, not to mention the potential effect on our heating bills. I’m also worried about the long-term environmental impact of the project — they emphasized that their units will include Energy Star appliances, but I don’t recall the last time I went to a Sears and saw an appliance that didn’t have an Energy Star label on it. It seems to me that there’s little reason we shouldn’t expect them to provide the town with detailed estimates for long-term impact, and to incorporate measures to, as far as reasonable, balance or mitigate that impact.

Another person at the meeting mentioned a concern about the transiency of the residents, since they’ll be apartment dwellers, but I think while the worry is at base reasonable, it’s misdirected: I’m an apartment dweller, not a homeowner, because I can’t afford to buy a house here yet, but I’m trying to be involved in my community, I went to this meeting, etc.; what concerns me is that this building will have gorgeous, luxury apartments, a private underground garage, interior courtyards, presumably exercise facilities of some sort, and a “clubhouse” with double-height ceilings, and probably some kind of bar/lounge area and large-screen TV room, and its residents are going to be paying (what seems to me) a fortune in rent. I have trouble imagining that those kinds of people are likely to be the sort who’ll care about the neighborhood as such, and go to meetings like last night’s, even if they live in the building a long time, and so aren’t really “transient.” I was discussing this concern with a friend from out of town, and she wondered what might (feasibly) be done to encourage new residents in this building to become more locally engaged, and I don’t know the answer to that.

All that said, I realize I sound pretty negative about this project.  As I’ve mentioned before, I do think it’s a nice looking building, and I liked what they showed us of the overall landscaping of the project.  I’m sure it would be a nice place to live, but of course I won’t ever live there.  Realistically, of course I recognize that something is going to go in on the old Aggregate site, and it’s doing no good for us sitting empty; and whatever goes in there will worsen the traffic situation.  The long-term solution to traffic problems is out of any individual developer’s hands, because it needs a shift in local government’s priorities in favor of clean, safe, reliable, convenient and cheap public transportation, and a shift in the culture away from cars and toward buses, subways, bikes and walking.  All of that, naturally, is a long way off.  And I appreciate that Hanover is doing the right thing and coming before the neighborhood with this as a first step.  I just hope that, as the process continues, we in the community continue to have input, and can, potentially, extract some further concessions — at least a circular driveway in front, to prevent stopped cars on the street, for example — from them.

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