By Barbara Taormina
Residents on High Rock Road helped convince the Planning Board to deny a developer’s petition to remove ledge on a neighborhood lot to make way for a new single-family home. Oswaldo Limus was at the Planning Board this week, representing Northern Star Developers at a public hearing for a petition to excavate a large amount of ledge at a vacant parcel on land at 45 High Rock Rd. But questions about the drilling process, the company’s history and the neighborhood’s health and safety led to the Planning Board’s decision to deny Northern Star’s petition.
A few hours before the start of the public hearing, Limus was at the city collector’s office paying an overdue tax bill. The Planning Board does not conduct public hearings on properties when taxes are owed to the city. But once he was at the podium, Limus spent about 30 minutes trying to persuade board members to postpone a review of the company’s plans for excavation. Limus told the board that an engineer for the project was unable to attend the hearing, and the company was not prepared to move forward.
But board members repeatedly told Limus that any requests for changes in dates must be made seven days before the scheduled hearing. And since neighbors and other concerned residents were already seated in the audience, the board opted to stick with the hearing schedule.
Limus suggested the board’s decision to hold the hearing was an unfair call since he did not have the background to answer questions about the new technology the company planned to use to remove the ledge. But neighbors were concerned about more than drilling. They also focused on Northern Star’s track record of development in Malden and problems the company has caused in the neighborhood since acquiring the property in 2016.
Sandra Sabetty, of 48 High Rock Rd., said Northern Star removed a retaining wall at the front of the parcel, which led to serious problems with erosion and flooding in the neighborhood. During the winter, water draining from the property became an icy hazard for neighbors. “It has been devastating to my home,” said Sabetty, whose basement reportedly was flooded several times because of Northern Star’s decision to remove the wall without putting anything back in its place.
“I’m worried about damage to my home,” said Cynthia Lyerly of 47 High Rock Rd. Like other residents, Lyerly feared the drilling and removal of ledge could cause cracks in the foundation of her house.
Several residents mentioned Northern Star’s work on another development project – on Seaview Avenue – which also involved a new technology to excavate ledge. City Planner Michelle Romero explained the developers were using a chemical process to remove the rock. But that process came to a halt when an explosion injured a member of Northern Star’s development team. Work at the site eventually stopped, and the project was left unfinished for four years before another company stepped in to finish the job.
“The people on High Rock Road should not have to endure what me and my neighbor went through for four years,” said Seaview Avenue resident Cathy LeBlanc, who added that the site was unsightly and unsafe, and “Nobody should have to go through what we did.”
Ward 6 Councillor David Camell suggested that Northern Star’s petition arrived at the Planning Board laden with red flags. “What we saw here was not a one-time event,” said Camell, referring to Limus’s eleventh-hour bid to postpone the public hearing – “If they can’t get the team together for a critical meeting, how are they going to build a house?”
Camell said the proposal to excavate the ledge poses a danger of property damage to nearby homes and exacerbates the risk of flooding. “Ledge removal, regardless of the method, poses a threat to neighboring properties,” he said. Camell also cited the Seaview Avenue project and said the risk of improper removal is a concern.
Planning Board members agreed that Northern Star’s excavation proposal would adversely affect the neighborhood, and they voted unanimously to deny the petition.