There has been no resolution to the tug of war over affordable housing at Pilgrim Pines Estates between the Bourne Zoning Board of Appeals and developer Brian E. Hebb.
The zoning board decided at last Thursday’s meeting, July 31, to continue the case to its meeting next month.
The central issue in the ongoing standoff continues to be the number of affordable housing units to be built in Pilgrim Pines. Under the comprehensive permit issued to Mr. Hebb in March 2003, 28 percent of the homes had to be built and sold as affordable. Of the remaining lots in the development, 11 are supposed to be designated as affordable.
Mr. Hebb, who has declared bankruptcy, filed a request for an amendment to reduce that number to two. He has said that he does not make money on affordable housing units, and he needs the profits from the sale of market-rate homes in order to finish roads and sidewalks. The cost of that finish work is roughly $360,000, he said.
At last week’s Bourne Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, chairman Lee M. Berger questioned how Mr. Hebb and his company could have fallen into bankruptcy. Looking at spreadsheets and graphs provided to him by Mr. Hebb, it did not appear that Pilgrim Pines LLC, Mr. Hebbs’s corporation which was issued the comprehensive permit, had lost money over the years. He said it appeared, in fact, that the company had made several hundred thousand dollars over the years. Mr. Hebb said that there have been some lean years since the housing market tanked in 2007.
“We used to build 20 houses a year. In 2007 we built five, ’08 we built six, ’09 we built seven,” he said.
Mr. Hebb’s attorney, J. Ford O’Connor, said that his client was coming before them “in the spirit of compromise” and offering to build two affordable homes.
“We can’t do any more than that because then there’s no money to do the roads,” Mr. O’Connor said.
“If we don’t reduce it by nine, I can’t finish it,” Mr. Hebb said to the board, adding that he would be forced to walk away from the project.
Mr. Berger questioned whether the zoning board even had the authority to grant Mr. Hebb’s amendment. Mr. Hebb said that according to the Massachusetts Housing Authority, the board of appeals had that right, but Mr. Berger further questioned Mr. Hebb’s source.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you. I think that whoever you talked to isn’t the top person,” he said.
Sitting in his trailer at the end of Deseret Drive in Pilgrim Pines earlier this week, Mr. Hebb addressed the issue of his request for an amendment to the Pilgrim Pines comprehensive permit. He said that he filed an application with the town clerk’s office requesting the amendment on May 21. He explained that it costs him $220,000 to build a single affordable house. Selling at that price, he breaks even; however, the homes have to be sold at a much lower cost, he said.
“No one qualifies. You have to get down to the $170,000 to $180,000 range,” he said. At that price, he loses money on every sale.
Last week, attorney J. Ford O’Connor wrote the zoning board that because they had not responded to Mr. Hebb’s amendment application within 20 days, the developer was “constructively granted” the modification under Massachusetts General Law, meaning his amendment request was automatically granted, because the zoning board did not meet the required deadline.
He pointed out that the town had 20 days to reply to the request for an amendment, another 30 days to hold a public hearing on the issue, and then 40 days after the hearing to issue a decision.
“They didn’t do any of it,” he said.
In response to Mr. O’Connor’s letter, the zoning board’s attorney, Jonathan D. Witten, wrote that an appeal claiming the board did not act in a timely fashion was not filed with the Housing Appeals Committee within 20 days of the date that the board’s reply was due. Such an appeal is also required under Massachusetts General Law, Mr. Witten said.
“It is my opinion that the application for modification of the Pilgrim Pines comprehensive permit remains under advisement by the board of appeals,” he said.
“The town is absolutely in violation of the 20-day notification rule; there is no doubt about it,” Mr. Hebb said.
Mr. Hebb explained that his troubles with the town began in 2006, after his purchase of roughly six acres of the Ocean Pines subdivision off State Road in North Sagamore. Mr. Hebb purchased the land hoping to build the condominium section of that development.
The subdivision, now filled with single-family homes, was deemed “substantially complete” by the Bourne Planning Board in 1989. That decision meant the special permit granted in 1987 could not lapse just by the passage of time, Mr. Hebb said. However, in 2007, the planning board voted to endorse the opinion of town counsel Robert S. Troy that the 20-year-old special permit was no longer valid.
“It’s impossible. It’s legally impossible for a special permit to lapse when you have substantial completion signed off by the planning board,” he said.
In September 2009, the Bourne Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously affirmed a decision by Bourne building inspector Roger M. Laporte earlier that year denying Mr. Hebb a building permit for the condominiums. Mr. Hebb said the board of appeals never gave an explanation for denying the permit.
“They never gave me anything official to appeal,” he said.
He said that the lack of a building permit led to deepening financial problems with banks and creditors.
Mr. Hebb said that he has built homes in Littleton, Groton, Concord, Acton and New Seabury, but he has never encountered a town that avoids the law as Bourne does.
“They want everybody to abide by the law but they’re the most lawless group of boards I’ve ever dealt with in the history of my 30 years of building houses. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” he said.
He said that his financial woes have left him unbankable and unbondable.
“We’re shut down at this point,” he said.
The zoning board continued the case to its next meeting scheduled for September 3 in the lower conference hall at Bourne Town Hall.