Zoning Board Upholds Building Permit for 1688

January 19, 2024
• A months-long effort to revoke the building permit for 1688 Central Avenue was ultimately defeated by the Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday.

After nine appellants voiced their various issues with the project, the Zoning Board has unanimously supported the permit, closing a chapter of the saga. This means developer Needham Enterprises LLC moves one step closer to constructing the new facility for the Needham Children’s Center, a daycare housed in the now-closed First Baptist Church.

The Planning Board approved the project in March 2022 with conditions, including specified hours of operation and the demolition of an existing barn to create a larger setback. The Massachusetts Land Court, however, found the Planning Board overstepped its authority, clearing the way for the town’s building commissioner to issue a building permit for the property.

That led a handful of locals to appeal that permit to the ZBA, which held hearings on the matter in November and December. Their appeal to the land court has yet to be decided.

While zoning by laws prohibit two on-site non-residential units, the Needham Children’s Center intends to use the barn for equipment storage, which would classify it as an accessory unit. Based on previous testimony, as well as protections granted by the Dover Amendment, Vice Chair Howard Goldman said he feels the board should not require the barn be knocked down. Associate members Valentina Elzon and Peter Friedenberg agreed.

The Dover Amendment restricts communities from imposing certain zoning restrictions on religious and educational organizations.

Though the use of the barn may not have been clearly defined when the permit was issued, Goldman said its function has since been strongly clarified during the public hearing period. He added that Building Commissioner Joe Prondak has stated that use of the barn “would be shut down” should it function for non-child care related purposes.

Conversations around potential environmental hazards at the property dominated prior meetings on the project, but Goldman said there is no required testing that needs to take place.

“Even though there’s some general concern about the previous use of this property — they may have had stored vehicles and maybe some oil — but there was no apparent spill that would have triggered any review,” Goldman said. “And this board, the Zoning Board doesn’t have authority to deny a building permit for that, in that the officials in the town, the Health Department, have refused or commented that they have no comment.”

While the lack of environmental testing is a concern, Friedenberg said he believes the board doesn’t have a right to revoke the permit because of it.

The board also agreed that the parking planned for the site is suitable, a stormwater management and “effective” erosion plan are in place — in Goldman’s words — and that the lack of a landscaping plan does not violate the zoning bylaw, nor is it grounds to repeal the permit.

“I think that the neighbors, along with the building commissioner, will be keeping a watchful eye on this project as it develops,” Goldman said.

On the argument that the appellants did not file an appeal on time, all three ZBA members agreed that the notice of intent was “constructive notice,” Goldman said, and that the board still has jurisdiction to hear the appeal despite its untimely filing.

The board unanimously voted the building permit should not have been stayed while the appellants appealed the matter in land court, and they concluded with a vote in support of the permit.

Previous post Finance Committee’s Joshua Levy Announces Select Board Run
Next post Overdue: Town Restarts Search for Next Library Director