A split Andover Select Board approved moving a controversial affordable housing project on Mary Lou Lane onto the next round of the approval process Tuesday.

“I feel the need to speak out, because the decision this board makes tonight will directly impact my life,” said Dawna Neylon, a Mary Lou Lane resident who opposes the project. “The neighbors’ fears are real when you see the size and shape of that lot…why create a tragedy where there isn’t one?”

Tuesday’s vote sends the Andover Community Trust’s proposal to the state for review in the next step of the approval process. The 4-1 vote, with Alex Vispoli opposing, came after several Mary Lou Lane residents argued building the single-family home on a corner lot would fundamentally change the neighborhood’s character, potentially impact drainage, and present a potential safety hazard.

“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. “I believe this will be a quality project if this goes forward.”

It was the second straight select board meeting where Mary Lou Lane residents made emotional to kill the project that was first proposed in 2010.

Under Andover zoning laws, the lot is labeled unbuildable because it’s too small. Under state and local laws, including rules prohibiting construction of market rate houses on lots smaller than 15,000 square feet, local zoning laws 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.

“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’.”

At the outset of the hearing, Danisch said the select board’s role was to determine if the project meets the criteria for affordable housing, but it could not weigh in on zoning issues. Those concerns will be addressed by the planning department and zoning board of appeals if the state signs off on the project. But Vispoli said the Town would have little regulatory control over the project once the select board approved it.

“A vote of this board waives zoning, regardless of other boards it has to go before,” he said. “It waives zoning and allows a home to be built on a lot it wouldn’t normally get to be built on,”

Opponents: ACT’s letter to select board ‘shameful’

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 the select board’s June 12 meeting. The letter was included in Tuesday’s meeting packet (see page 4).

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.”

Mary Lou Lane resident Joseph Neylon, who was visibly emotional at times during his comments, said Johnson’s letter included “personal attacks, dismissive and condescending comments, and innuendo – both latent and visible.”

“I have many emotions relating to this letter – sadness, shock, and disgust,” Neylon said. “The gaslighting, the manipulations of data and the outright fabrications are shocking. For an organization to lower themselves to this level is shameful.”

Of the six people who offered input Tuesday, only ACT Chair Linda O’Connell spoke in favor of the project.

“It’s easy to give into all these fears and whatnot, but look at this as an opportunity,” O’Connell said. “This is a rare occurrence and this is an opportunity we need to take advantage of. We need to embrace it, not be afraid of it. What are we fearful of?”

Neighbors: ACT organized letter-writing campaign

ACT’s push to build an affordable home at 7 Mary Lou Lane dates back to 2010. If the proposal gets the remaining approvals, ACT will purchase the lot from Cleary Associates LLC. William J. Cleary, who subdivided the lot and lives on the neighboring lot at 13 Mary Lou Lane, is a principal of Cleary Associates, according to a corporate filing with the Massachusetts Secretary of State. 

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

“I feel like I’m David fighting Goliath,” Neylon said.

Danisch said the select board had received a petition from neighbors of 13 Mary Lou Lane and more than 50 emails about the project. She said there were “just as many emails from people who favor the project.”

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

Photos of 7 Mary Lou Lane: Dave Copeland/Andover News

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