Townhouse Project Planned near Southbridge, Mass.

A developer and civil engineer went before selectmen this week to propose building a 200-unit housing project on 43 acres off Route 131 on the Southbridge line.

Michael T. Loin, manager of the New England division of Bertin Engineering Associates Inc. of Southbridge, addressed selectmen with developer Daniel Flynn. Mr. Loin said yesterday the proposal calls for 40 buildings with five two-bedroom town houses apiece, in addition to a common clubhouse area.

If approved, Mr. Loin said, the development will be constructed in phases over five years. Within a year from approval, he said, people would be able to move into phase one.

"It's going to be landscaped and have sidewalks. The buildings are going to be aesthetically Colonial-looking, very similar to Sturbridge Hill," a complex off Route 131 across from the Public Safety Complex, Mr. Loin said.

The main entrance would be an estimated 900-foot access road into the proposed development off Route 131, not far from Jack's Gas at Fiske Hill Road.

In November 2004, Mr. Loin and Mr. Flynn proposed building 120 condominiums and five commercial buildings on the same property. In January 2005, their request for water and sewer connections for the housing and commercial proposal failed, with three selectmen, including current chairman Arnold P. Wilson and current member Harold J. White, voting against it.

The project's name is changing, from Fiske Hill East to Fiske Hill Commons, Mr. Loin said. While he and Mr. Flynn are eyeing the construction of commercial buildings in the front of the property, Mr. Loin said, that is a different phase that they have yet to propose to the Board of Selectmen and it is not finalized.

"This 40 acres might grow to a larger parcel or it might be a back parcel of land that might be designated as open space," he said. "It's too early to tell."

In addition, an agreement has been signed with Southbridge for water and sewer utilities, he said. Mr. Loin estimated the development will generate 50,000 gallons of sewage per day.

Because residential property in Sturbridge cannot be accessed through a commercial zone, a waiver from the Zoning Board of Appeals is needed, Mr. Loin said.

The proposal has been submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development for certification as a potential affordable housing project, and to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals for a comprehensive permit. A comprehensive permit would allow waiving local bylaws in exchange for a certain amount of property put aside for affordable housing.

As part of state housing regulations, about 20 percent of the units would be affordable housing, ranging in price from $160,000 to $180,000, Mr. Loin said.

While a comprehensive permit is usually a very controversial issue, Mr. Loin said, Sturbridge is below the 10 percent affordable housing criteria listed by the state and the need still remains for affordable housing in town.

Sturbridge has affordable housing at Crescent Gate, 450A Main St., and Heritage Green Apartments, 40 Heritage Green Drive, at opposite ends of Route 20.

The whole project would be privately maintained and an association would be set up to maintain the roadway, the grounds, and water and sewer systems, Mr. Loin said.

Mr. Loin insisted that the whole intention is try to work with the town on the project and have a joint relationship in the design of the project, as well as make the development fit in with the aesthetic character and the housing needs of Sturbridge.

"We're hoping to do a design that both the selectmen and the whole town are going to be happy with, that is going to take into account both the natural features and the need," Mr. Loin said. "Hopefully, a middle ground can be ascertained and we can make a project that the town of Sturbridge can be proud of."