Local housing nonprofit criticizes ZBA decision

Mar. 28—ANDOVER — Amid large-scale battles over the creation of affordable housing across the state, smaller fights are taking place at the town level.

After a housing project by Andover Community Trust, a local nonprofit focused on creating affordable housing, was shut down by the Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this month, the group has released a statement fighting back.

In its response, ACT emphasized the need for affordable housing as well as the looser standards, under a state statute known Chapter 40B. The home would have been built on 13 Mary Lou Lane.

The project was denied after months of public input from abutters and neighbors who were chiefly concerned about how the house would block sight lines on a sharp corner. The home also would have been located on a much smaller lot than is usually allowed.

The ZBA cited "local concern" for its rejection.

"When the Select Board and Housing Trust Fund Board support a 40B project, the ZBA review is supposed to find appropriate solutions to craft a project that balances the need for more affordable homes with local concerns; denying a project outright being a last resort," ACT Director Denise Johnson said. "That didn't happen. If the Zoning Board was unsure of the evidence that ACT submitted, it should have consulted the technical assistance that is available through the state's LIP or its own consultants and changes should have been requested in order to make a decision."

Chapter 40B helps address the shortage of affordable housing statewide by reducing barriers created by local approval processes, local zoning and other restrictions, according to ACT.

Debates over the ACT house were often emotional for neighbors, who said they feared the project could have increased the danger of pedestrians and children in the semi-circle curve that the home would have sat on.

According to ACT, the site line concerns had been addressed with help from engineers, outside professional consultants and police.

The project had been approved by the Select Board 4-1.

Other concerns voiced included impact to the water table and the removal of trees to make room for the house.

The project would have housed a family of four with household income less than $94,650.

"ACT is extremely grateful to the boards, committees, town leaders, pro-bono professionals, and volunteers and donors that have worked so hard to make affordable homes happen in Andover," said Johnson.

It is unclear if ACT plans to appeal the decision to a higher court.

The ZBA will vote Monday, April 4, on a written decision which is now being drafted, according to ACT.