A Mary Lou Lane couple is suing an Andover nonprofit trying to get approval for a controversial affordable housing project.

In a complaint filed Thursday in Essex Superior Court, Michael L. and Francine Fritsch Gikow asked the court to enforce a land-use restriction prohibiting construction of the house on a lot next to their property at 9 Mary Lou Lane. The lawsuit names Cleary Associates LLC, the lot’s current owner, and Andover Community Trust Inc. as defendants.

In a 4-1 vote in July, the Andover Select Board approved sending the plan to the state for review in the next step of the approval process.

Alex Vispoli cast the dissenting vote after several Mary Lou Lane residents told the select board said the single-family house on a corner lot would fundamentally change the neighborhood’s character, potentially impact drainage, and present a potential safety hazard.

“You are all on the board to listen to residents and be responsive to residents — that’s why we’re elected,” said Vispoli, whose motion to not approve the project wasn’t seconded. “We can’t say, ‘We know better, and it’s going in your neighborhood regardless of what you say’.”

“I believe we have an affordable housing shortage…based on the number of applicants looking to live in affordable housing in Andover,” Chair Melissa Danisch said at the time. “I believe this will be a quality project if this goes forward.”

The project was first proposed in 2010 after Cleary Associates subdivided the lot into a 15,000-square-foot lot where the existing house is located and a 7,500-square-foot lot designated as unbuildable under local regulations. Clearly retained the smaller lot at 7 Mary Lou Lane and sold the larger lot now owned by The Gikows. The Gikows purchased the house at 9 Mary Lou Lane in 2016.

Under Andover zoning laws, the lot is labeled unbuildable if it’s under 15,000 square feet. “The restriction protects the Plaintiffs’ right to privacy and right to enjoyment of their property,” the complaint said.

But state and local laws, including rules prohibiting construction of market rate houses on lots smaller than 15,000 square feet, can be waived for affordable housing. If the state approves the project, it would come back to Andover for a planning department project review and a special permit application to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Cleary was dissolved in 2013, but “has purportedly entered into a purchase and sale agreement with ACT, the complaint said. “ACT, in turn, intends to construct an impermissible dwelling on the Subject Parcel.”

ACT works to build affordable housing in Andover. Several Mary Lou Lane residents took exception to a five-page letter the ACT Executive Director Denise Johnson sent to the select board to address concerns raised at a June’s select board hearing, where it took no action.

One opponent’s “possible inability to see her child playing over 350 feet away from her front door may be an inconvenience to her personally, but it does not constitute a neighborhood safety issue,” Johnson wrote “One could, on the other hand, take into consideration how the addition of a home on this lot could introduce a new playmate or two, or improve the children’s social interactions and with neighbors playing in their yard or driveway.”

Neighbors also accused ACT of using its reach to organize a letter-writing campaign.

The select board received a petition from neighbors of 13 Mary Lou Lane and more than 50 emails about the project ahead of the July vote and heard from five Mary Lou Lane residents at the hearing. Danisch said there were “just as many emails from people who favor the project.

“I will say it’s interesting that the letters that came in supporting this project came from outside the neighborhood,” Vispoli said.

File photo: Dave Copeland/Andover News

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