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Forest Street subdivision gets preliminary green light, but residents urge caution

A detailed view of the Forest Street project’s proposed seven lots, which have sparked community debate over environmental and safety concerns. COURTESY PHOTO/TOWN OF WINCHESTER

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The proposed seven-lot subdivision on Forest Street in Winchester has received preliminary approval from the Planning Board, but the project still has a long way to go.

Town Planner Taylor Herman outlined the two-step process for subdivision approval, explaining the developers, Sunnybank Enterprises, LLC, have only completed the first step by presenting their initial proposal to the board.

“The first step is the preliminary subdivision application. The second is the definitive subdivision,” Herman said. “In order for them to submit a definitive subdivision, they’re going to have to do a lot more work.” 

The Planning Board’s preliminary subdivision decision — obtained by the Winchester News — reveals the board voted 5-0 to approve the project with conditions on Jan. 23, 2024. The decision states the seven proposed lots meet the minimum requirements for the RDB-10 zoning district. 

However, the board also identified several areas where the developer needs to provide additional information and address concerns before submitting a definitive subdivision plan. These include working with the Conservation Commission to determine if the lots are buildable, collaborating with the Fire Department on road design for safety compliance, and submitting a more detailed roadway improvement plan. 

Herman emphasized the complexity of the site, noting the presence of wetlands, an intermittent stream and significant slopes, that could pose challenges for development.

“It’s a pretty complex site to build on because of the amount of slope there,” he said.

Some residents have raised blasting concerns.

The preliminary decision also requires the developer to hire an outside consultant to conduct a peer review of water, sewer, drainage, stormwater, utilities and the project’s overall environmental impact. The results of these reviews must be submitted with the definitive subdivision application. 

“The amount of work that’s going to need to go into this project — I don’t think that I’m going to see anything new from this project until at least the middle of summer,” Herman estimated, emphasizing the extensive requirements the developer must meet. 

One unique aspect of the Forest Street subdivision is that the proposed roadway would be located on an easement held by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). This means that in addition to securing approval from the Town of Winchester, the developer must also obtain permission from the MWRA to use the land for the road. 

Residents raise concerns

Despite the preliminary approval, Herman acknowledged many residents have expressed concerns about the project’s potential environmental impacts, such as the removal of trees, water quality issues, and disruption of natural habitats.

“I have heard more people in opposition of the project than in support,” he said. 

Tracy Olson, an abutter to the proposed subdivision, submitted a letter to the Planning Board highlighting the parcel’s importance as a wetland resource, wildlife habitat, and a relatively large undeveloped area in Winchester that contributes to carbon sequestration and climate resilience. Olson urged the board to protect the wetlands and minimize tree clearing within 200 feet of the stream.

Chris Giddy and Karey Cropper also expressed their concerns in a letter to the Planning Board, stating that the proposed subdivision would have a significant negative impact on the environment and wildlife habitat. They emphasized the importance of preserving the natural beauty and ecological value of the area.

“Several times a day, you see different animals make their way from the woods downstream and back again in the early morning or at nightfall,” they write. “This five-acre parcel is also an important wildlife corridor for animals.”

As the developer works to address the Planning Board’s conditions and prepares a definitive subdivision application, the town will continue to monitor the project’s progress. The definitive subdivision review process will provide additional opportunities for public input and scrutiny of the proposal’s details.

Herman said if the definitive subdivision plan is approved, the seven single-family homes planned for the site could potentially sell for more than the average Winchester home price of $1.2 million. 

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