CHESTER – Unfinished subdivision roads and what the town can do to ensure developers finish them came up again at the town planning board. The issue has been forced by residents of Lincoln Lane, who reside on a road owned by Abdallah Construction. According to all reports, Abdallah has no interest in completing the road to town standards so that it can become publicly owned.
Almost always, developers who put in roads for subdivisions complete their roads according to standards laid out by the town and allow them to be taken over as public roads, which comes with public services. To make sure the developers follow through with that responsibility, the planning board holds a performance bond from the developer, which, when things work correctly, creates an incentive for the developers to finish the work, or if they skip town, then the town has enough money to finish where the developer left off.
With Lincoln Lane, however, the town only has about $7,000 left in the bond, and the roadwork is estimated to cost $16,000. And with a developer who doesn’t finish the road, the residents are in a bind, and some would argue, so is the town. While the Lincoln Lane situation is a rare occurrence, residents of the South Woods development off Derry Road have since raised similar concerns.
South Woods is approved for 33 units, all duplexes except for one single family dwelling, and at this point only 10 of the units are complete. Subdivision approval was given in 2005, and residents and planning board members are concerned that as the timeline has dragged on for so long, inflation may have outstripped the bond amount and the town may find itself in another Lincoln Lane scenario.
The subdivision was purchased at auction by Brady Sullivan Co. Resident Joseph Ferguson recently wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Tri-Town Times stating that residents of the subdivision think Brady Sullivan is not following through with the town’s subdivision rules.
Just as it is at Lincoln Lane, only a binder coat has been laid for South Woods; the final wear coat has not been put down. While it’s not an issue now, in time that binder coat could wear down, skyrocketing the cost of completing the road even further beyond the bond amount.
South Woods has relatively long roads and the town only holds $89,000 in the bond, according to discussions at the Wednesday, May 22 Planning Board meeting.
While there was speculation about things that have, of yet, not occurred, members of the planning board were interested to know what they should do in that worst-case scenario. Maybe there’s a way to prompt the developer to finish the subdivision, member Andrew Hadik said. Or maybe the bond amount can be increased based on current conditions, Hadik surmised.
Member Cass Buckley was clear that the issues that have arisen on Lincoln Lane and potentially on South Woods are solely a private matter between the developer and residents. He questioned the need for the town to take any action.
“I’m not sure we want to open the can of worms with South Woods,” said Buckley. “Those people are on a private road. How is it the town’s responsibility to chase after the road?”
The issue with South Woods was largely chalked up to the recession. While in the past, developments were built and filled quickly, with a slumped housing market that hasn’t been the case for a few years.
Planning board members wanted to know what kind of liability the town held with such developments, and members were determined to ask counsel about the issue. Member Liz Richter surmised it was likely the planning board attorney would say, “It depends.”
Chair Brian Sullivan, who was charged with contacting legal counsel, said the planning board needed more information because the town may well be falling into a liability with such developments. He argued that it made sense to be pro-active.
Richter added that the planning board has historically been reasonable with developers and performance guarantees, but if that reasonableness was causing a liability, things may have to change.
The planning board has discussed efforts that would help prevent future issues with roads. One key portion is to annually assess a 10 percent escalating factor into the bond amount to make sure inflation doesn’t outpace the performance guarantee.
Also discussed was holding bonds after a binder coat was laid, instead of giving a substantial portion back at that time.
Bonds in Chester already have a percentage contingency built in.
The planning board will also be contacting counsel to find out what it can do with the bond held for Lincoln Lane, whether that money can be used to help fix the road, and what the next step would be if the town needs to take action. But all board members were not sold on the idea that the town has to do anything.