Peterborough ZBA opens hearing on Scott-Farrar expansion
Ed Despres, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Scott-Farrar Home, describes plans for expansion of the Elm Street facility at a joint meeting of Peterborough's Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Board on Monday. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
PETERBOROUGH — A plan to significantly expand the Scott-Farrar Home on Elm Street drew a crowd of more than 50 people to a joint hearing by the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Planning Board at the Town House Monday night. Forgoing the opportunity to watch the final presidential debate or a pennant-deciding baseball game, residents of the Elm Street and Union Street neighborhood expressed both concern about the size of the project and support for the proposal.
The Board of Trustees of the assisted living home is proposing to build a new 73,000-square-foot building with 63 units — 18 for people with dementia, 20 assisted living units and 25 independent living units. The current brick building, which dates to 1957, would be torn down and a 16-bay parking garage built in its place to house residents’ cars.
Since the project will require both a variance and a special exception from the ZBA and site plan approval by the Planning Board, Monday’s unprecedented joint hearing had been requested by Scott-Farrar in order to speed the approval process. But it seems likely that process will still be a long one. After Scott-Farrar representatives discussed the overall proposal and answered questions from members of both boards, which took nearly two hours, ZBA Chair Jim Stewart suggested opening the meeting to comments from the public. After hearing from a number of residents, the ZBA continued the hearing to Nov. 8, with Stewart assuring residents they would have additional opportunities to speak then.
Presenting the plan
Scott-Farrar Board Chair Ed Despres opened the hearing with a review of Scott-Farrar’s history. He said the current building is outdated. There are no rooms for couples and on average only 15 of the 18 rooms have been occupied in recent years.
“We have a facility that’s aging. We’re using our endowment far more than we should,” Despres said. “In today’s market, you need a combination of units.”
Despres said Scott-Farrar would continue to be a nonprofit organization and would continue to make payments in lieu of taxes to the town.
Stephen Humphreys of EGA Architects in Newburyport, Mass., said the new building had to be self-contained in order to make the best possible use of the sloping site. He said the main entry drive is aligned with the intersection with Winter Street, with the entry set well back from Elm Street. Two large trees currently in front of the brick building would be retained under the plan. The plan calls for a barn located on the property at the corner of Elm Street and Evans Road to be moved to sit along Elm Street on the north end of the lot, near a 15 space lot that would continue to be used for overflow parking on special occasions. The plan calls for 72 parking spaces for residents, staff and visitors.
“There were five curb cuts along Elm Street,” said attorney Tom Hanna of Keene, who is representing Scott-Farrar. “We’ve reduced that to three.”
Humphreys said the memory support units, which would be located in the section of the building closest to Evans Road, would have a separate entry off Evans Road. He said a five-foot tall stone wall would be built along Evans Road to shield the building from the road and provide soundproofing.
Traffic engineers from T.F. Moran said studies showed the expansion would add 118 trips during the course of the day, with 18 additional trips during the peak morning hours of 7 to 9 p.m. and 18 additional trips in the peak afternoon hour of 5 to 6 p.m.
“It’s roughly one car every five minutes,” said Mike O’Donnell of T.F. Moran. “That really isn’t a significant increase.”
In a letter he read to the two boards during the Scott-Farrar presentation, Realtor Andy Peterson said he knew of no example of a similar expansion in the region that had lowered the value of surrounding real estate. He said the alternative would be to see the property developed for a different allowable use, which could include rental housing, affordable housing or possibly clustered residential or strip residential development.
Comments from neighbors
Neighborhood residents had questions about a range of issues.
Laura Campbell of Elm Street asked if a complete landscaping plan would be provided. She was assured by Planning Board Chair Rick Monahon that landscaping would be thoroughly studied during the site plan review process.
Posy Bass of Elm Street asked if the parking plan was being driven by town requirements or actual need. Humphreys, the architect, said town ordinances actually allow more parking spaces than the 72 the plan calls for.
Matt Waitkins, a Union Street resident, said the overflow parking area close to Union Street should be eliminated.
“It’s right on the river. I don’t see why it’s necessary in any way,” Waitkins said.
Waitkins and another resident also questioned the size of the independent living units, some of which have two bedrooms. Earlier in the meeting, Despres had said “We just don’t have a competitive facility” and noted that units of different sizes for a variety of types of senior adults would be necessary for the home to remain financially viable.
Other Union Street residents asked to see drawings of the back of the new building, which would be two and a half stories tall and visible across the Nubanusit River from Union Street backyards.
“My overriding concern is the sheer size of this development. I hope the boards take this under consideration,” said Robert Wood of Union Street.
Not everyone who spoke was against the project. Hope Driscoll of Elm Street said she lives directly across from the current building.
“We are not opposed to this at all,” said Driscoll, who was speaking on behalf of family members. “I know this seems big, but we’d rather see Scott-Farrar than have something like apartment buildings.”
Hanna never actually presented Scott-Farrar’s applications for a variance and a special exception, due top time constraints. He said the variance he will ask for calls for less encroachment into the wetlands portion of the property that extends up from the Nubanusit River than was initially planned.
“It will be a much more modest impact,” he said.
That variance and the special exception request will be presented when the joint hearing continues on Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. During Monday’s meeting, Stewart said the ZBA would continue to take public comment at that meeting, prior to any deliberations.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.