Developer McKee reviving 23-unit subdivision plan off Torrey Road

Developer McKee reviving 23-unit subdivision plan off Torrey Road

CUMBERLAND - Town Solicitor Thomas Hefner told The Breeze this week he's still researching the implications of a revised version of a 23-unit "cluster zoning" subdivision on 70 acres off Torrey Road that builder Jim McKee won approval for but never built back in 2007.

McKee's team is ready now to move forward, his attorney Michael Kelly told the Planning Board last week, and will return to the Feb. 26 meeting in search of master plan approval, the first of three approval hurdles for developments of this size.

Called Hidden Meadows, and arguably one of the most controversial land developments in the town's recent history, the proposal is back before the Planning Board with a history of legal entanglements. Neighbors, who played a major role in the process for years, were so organized in opposition that they used the name RAFT, Residents Acting for Tomorrow.

Hefner told The Breeze this is a project that won its final go-ahead during the Iwuc Administration so he's unfamiliar with the details.

"In particular I need to review the court order entered in 2007, compare it to the plan approved, and compare that to what they want to do now."

Also a concern, he said, is builder McKee's plan to tie a septic system from an abutting Massachusetts subdivision that he plans into the Cumberland development.

Last week attorney Kelly stressed that proposed changes are minor and improve the 2007 plan.

Engineer Kevin Moran described approximate 30,000-square-foot lots that total 15.3 acres, 3,700 feet of roadway and 52 acres of open space. Previously, 8,200 feet of roadway was proposed.

Kelly noted the shorter roadways reduce the amount of impervious surface and resulting runoff heading toward the nearly Diamond Hill Reservoir.

House lots that were nearer the reservoir have also been moved "away from the sensitive environment."

But the town's Director of Planning and Development Kelley Morris is noting that Cumberland no longer offers the cluster zoning option to developers.

If McKee were to start from scratch, a "conservation development" designation is available, but would likely result in fewer lots, Morris noted.

McKee, who is the mayor's brother and business partner in McKee Oil Co., is proposing to develop five of eight parcels he owns in the vicinity between the Diamond Hill Reservoir and Plainville town line: Assessors Plat 56, lots 12, 23 and 49, and Assessors Plat 57, lots 28 and 36.

Lots are owned under the names JCM LLC, Hidden Meadow Realty and Terrapin Properties, according to town records, with some incorrectly listed as having a Sneech Pond Road access instead of North Attleboro Road. Contiguous but mostly landlocked on their own, they can be accessed through the cul-de-sac at the end of Hidden Meadow Drive, off Torrey Road.

The Pawtucket Water Supply Board owns much of the adjoining land which abuts the reservoir water, while the town and Cumberland Land Trust own additional lands. Scattered smaller lots are privately owned.

It was back in 2002 that McKee startled North Cumberland with plans for a 52-unit subdivision including 25 units that qualified as "affordable" in order to secure a number in excess of the subdivision regulations.

Later, the proposal would be changed to an equestrian center plan of 23 houses and stables and private riding trails.

Then finally in 2007, with neighbors' approval, according to Kelly, it became a 23-unit housing plan based on the town's cluster zoning rules that at the time allowed for smaller lots than required in exchange for creating large open space areas.

A "bonus" of four lots was permitted under this zoning, something no longer offered by the conservation development regulation.

That final plan actually won the go-ahead as a cluster plan from the Town Council in January of 2008 but never proceeded.

Along the journey from 2002 to 2007 there were court challenges, disagreement between town planning and zoning officials, and opposition from neighbors and the Pawtucket Water Supply Board, which noted the development's proximity to the Diamond Hill Reservoir.

Now Kelly is telling the Planning Board, "One of the issues you'll have to decide is whether the plan tonight substantially conforms" with the 2007 plan. "We believe it does.

"In fact, we feel it's an improvement to the original plan."

McKee said the economy's turndown was to blame for the construction delay, but Solicitor Hefner said much has changed during the six-year hiatus. He's making no immediate recommendation about the legal status of the project, he told The Breeze.


Of course the project conforms back to 2007 but this is 2014 and now it does not. We all know this will go through before we get a new administration and a planning director that does not have an agenda,