Developer Voices Frustration

At the Monday, December 13, 2021, Millbury Planning Board public hearing for the proposed Rice Pond Village project, at 17 Rice Road in Millbury, Massachusetts, the developer, Steven F. Venincasa, of Whitney Street Home Builders, LLC, lashed out at the neighborhood as “ungrateful”, asked for the Providence & Worcester Railroad’s safety concerns to be ignored because the developer and his engineer failed to engage with them since May 2021 (however, the neighborhood were able to contact and communicate with minimal effort), and told the Millbury Planning Board that he was only going to provide the Town of Millbury $20,000 (double his initial budget) for offsite improvements and that is it, no more, when he was told that the railroad crossing estimate alone would be around $300,000-$325,000 for railroad signal upgrades, which he assumed that the railroad would pay for. The representative from the Providence & Worcester Railroad was quite clear that the railroad would not pay for the upgrades.

Let’s do some basic math… The developer, Steven F. Venincasa, said that proposed condominium units would sell for an average of $400,000 each x 46 condominium units = $18,400,000 in gross profits, net profits will be less after expenses. He is only willing to give the Town of Millbury $20,000 for the minimal and substandard offsite improvement which he is required to by regulations to make. $20,000 is 0.001% of his gross profits for necessary road and safety improvements offsite. Whereas, the railroad crossing improvements alone would be less than 2% of his estimated gross profits (using $312,500 as an average cost).

It has been clear to the neighborhood since the beginning of these public hearings, that the developer, Steven F. Venincasa, of Whitney Street Home Builders, LLC has been unwilling to put forth any real effort into resolving the adequacy of the right-of-way issues on Rice Road, at the intersection of South Main Street, at the intersection of Providence Street (Route 122A), or the one vehicle at a time Providence & Worcester Railroad crossing.

Adequacy Of A Way

The first case that dealt with the question of the adequacy of a way was Rettig v. Planning Board of Rowley, 322 Mass. 476 (1955). A plan was presented to the Planning Board showing 15 lots abutting three ways that were created long before the Subdivision Control Law became effective in the Town of Rowley. Two of the roadways shown on the plan were between ten and fourteen feet wide, contained severe ruts and were impassable at times due to heavy rains. The Planning Board determined that the plan constituted a subdivision, which required their approval. The court found that the ways shown on the plan did not provide adequate access for vehicular traffic. Because of the inadequacy of the ways serving the proposed lots, the court found that the Planning Board did not exceed its authority when they did not endorse the plan.

ANR Handbook

With the proposed Rice Pond Village project, Rice Road is designated as a “sub-collector roadway”, meaning by the Town of Millbury’s Subdivision Control Law regulations must have a 50-foot right-of-way, 26-feet of vehicle pavement width, a 3-foot grass strip between the road and sidewalk, and a 5-foot sidewalk. Rice Road is a 40-foot and variable width right-of-way and has variable pavement width from 16-feet to 26-feet, which is insufficient for the current traffic volume never mind the proposed increases in traffic volume should the proposed Rice Pond Village project be approved.

Multiple Millbury Planning Board members asked what developer, Steven F. Venincasa, wanted to do, based on his bold declaration that he would only provide $20,000 for offsite improvements and that is it; and insinuated that the town and/or railroad would have to pay the rest of the costs of the necessary offsite improvements. After much back and forth, the developer finally decided to ask for the public hearing to be continued until January 10, 2022, to consider his options.

The neighbors present at the meeting, were adamantly opposed to the Town of Millbury (our tax dollars) subsidizing the Rice Pond Realty Trust, John Antaya, Kathleen (McLaughlin) Mardirosian, and the McLaughlin Family Living Trust, Steven F. Venincasa, and Whitney Street Home Builders, LLC’s profits, so they can build a multifamily development that the super majority of the neighborhood describe as “incompatible” and “not in harmony” with its surroundings.

Stay tuned…