Housing Development in Madison Sparks Opposition, Legal Fight

Developers seek approval under new rules for cluster housing

MADISON — A proposed seven-unit development at 856 Boston Post Road may comply with the town’s new regulations for cluster housing, but a growing number of town residents oppose the project, including some who have hired an attorney to intervene in the process.

The project would renovate the interior of The Ledges into two housing units and add a two-car garage for each unit. The 5-bedroom, 5,586-square-foot house was originally built in 1903 on 1.81 acres. Behind the house, two duplexes would be constructed, each with a two-car garage per unit, in addition to a single unit “gatehouse” home that would be built between the main house and Boston Post Road. Toward the back of the property, an existing garage with an apartment would be taken down. 

Blasting would be required to remove areas of ledge around the property to accommodate the septic tanks, pumping stations and pipes leading to leaching fields beneath the front lawn of the property.  

In 2018, the town approved special use zoning regulations for small cluster developments, with the purpose of addressing “the need for smaller and more diverse housing choices, while ensuring compatibility with surrounding traditional single-family residential development.”

The proposal follows the May 2020 approval of the General’s Residence, a controversial cluster housing development at 908 and 916 Boston Post Road that was approved in May 2020. That project included razing the General William W. Harts House, a beloved but deteriorating two-story structure built in 1729. The housing development would include what developers describe as a replica of the house to contain two condominium units. On site, seven more individual units were also constructed. 

At the Planning and Zoning meeting Thursday, attorney Chris McKeon, who represented 856 Boston Post Road LLC and Faith Whitehead, who owns the property, said the The Ledges is precisely what the commission intended when it approved the small cluster residential development regulation 3.12. 

“History has told us that these units in this type of location are exactly what people want right now and need, and there’s absolutely no reason why a modest amount of additional residents of this town ought not to be able to have the opportunity to live an area such as this,” he said. 

McKeon told the commission he had hoped to “dispel misunderstanding, misinformation and factual inaccuracies” set forth by residents concerning the application, especially since neighbors have put up lawn signs opposing the project. 

Greg Nucci of Point One Architects and Michael Ott of Summer Hill Civil Engineers & Land Surveyors, who served until 2017 as the director of engineering for Madison for more than 10 years, presented the visuals of the project. Explosives engineer Richard Hosley Jr. explained aspects of the blasting needed to allow for construction.

McKeon told commissioners that the applicants had not yet had an opportunity to respond to comments arising Thursday from neighbors intervening in the case with Planning and Zoning as well as the project’s application to the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency. 

“Our team has obviously not had the opportunity to fully digest those comments and be able to meaningfully respond to them,” he said. 

Attorney Keith Ainsworth, who represents neighbors William Downes and Laura Downes as intervenors on the project application before the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, along with a number of other neighbors and Madison residents, questioned why McKeon would tell the commission what to think about the public reaction to the project, especially since a large group of people were waiting to speak to the commission during the meeting. 

“I think you’ll find that they’re not as irrational or uninformed or under misimpressions as was represented,” Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth also said that a number of components were missing from the zoning as well as the inland wetlands applications, including calculations of stormwater, buildable area, coverage, steep slopes, and other key elements of the project. 

At about 9:45 p.m., with another public hearing on the agenda yet to convene, the commission voted to continue The Ledges public hearing until April 15. 

“We want to hear from every member of the public who wants to speak or write. I’m sorry they didn’t get their opportunity tonight or to ask the questions, but I assure you they will,” said Ron Clark, chair of the commission. 

Documents for the project can be found on the town website here and here. The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency will continue its public hearing on April 5. Planning and Zoning will continue its public hearing on April 15.

Latest from Cate Hewitt