Planning Board Takes Action on Jenkins Farm Subdivision

CHESTER – Due to an expired performance bond, the planning board voted earlier this month to issue a stop work order on the Jenkins Farm subdivision off Haverhill Road. While the decision to direct the code enforcement officer to issue the cease and desist was later mitigated to only restricting further permits for the 64-lot subdivision, when the planning board made the decision members said they hoped it would get developer Keith Martel’s attention.

Neither Martel nor his representation were in attendance at last week’s meeting. Planning board members and, later in the meeting road agent Mike Oleson, complained about a lack of cooperation from the developer throughout buildout so far.

The decision to stop work because of an expired performance bond comes on the heels of several issues in town relating to unfinished developments with too small bonds to complete the work left behind by developers who have abandoned projects.

Planning coordinator Cynthia Robinson alerted the board to the issue prior to a scheduled discussion on whether the bond should be reduced because of work completed. The bond, or letter of credit, expired in late March and put the subdivision in violation of its conditions of approval.

While the bond is the responsibility of the developer, the town usually alerts both the bank and the developer to impending expiration dates. Turnaround from banks can be very slow, conceded Robinson. Robinson said that while she sent a letter to the developer, she was ignored, a rare occurrence.

Planning member Cass Buckley said that keeping the bond in place is the developer’s responsibility and work should not have been allowed to take place once it expired. Member Andrew Hadik agreed. Member Liz Richter said that typically, if the developer worked with the town, he or she would probably receive a grace period, but with the history of the subdivision in question, that likely would not have happened this time.

Ultimately the board decided later in the week to downgrade the cease and desist on a legal opinion that stated that while the developer was noticed, the timeframe between that notice and the expiration date was short and a judge likely would side with the developer.

Initially board members were hesitant to restrict only any new permits because most of the permits have already been pulled. Richter called the move too weak, stating that there had been no pattern of cooperation with the developer up to this point.

A second letter of credit is set to expire on Aug. 28, and as the Tri-Town Times goes to press the planning board had no word on the status of that bond. The board made a second motion to pre-empt that expiration, deciding that should it expire, another cease and desist would be issued immediately.

That second bond was also up for a discussion for reduction, but according to the board the town’s engineer needs more information from the developer to make an assessment, and that information has been slow in coming.
Hadik pointed out that the developer has had significant time to take care of a few minor issues already pointed out by the engineer in a letter of deficiency, but the board did not know whether that work had been completed.

“This is self inflicted, I think,” said Hadik. The board decided to reduce the first bond according to suggestions by the engineer in a letter from April 8. It reduced the figure to $245,500, conceding that while the letter of credit wasn’t currently in existence, Martel would need to create a new one with the new figure.
The second bond totals $531,400 but the board agreed that it could reduce that figure at a subsequent meeting, provided Martel could prove that necessary work had been done.

After the board voted unanimously on motions for both bonds, Oleson said from the public section that it was a good decision. “We’ve been chasing the dog’s tail up there for months,” Oleson said.

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