BY ALAN BURKE, STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — PEABODY — It may have seemed like a reach when the building inspector shut down site preparation at the Boulderwood subdivision in South Peabody.
After all, some city officials had previously acknowledged that developer David Solimine Jr. had all his permits. And Solimine immediately offered a counter to every complaint raised. When the order was lifted a few days later, some may have wondered if an inexperienced city leader had miscalculated or merely acted for show.
But by the time the dust settled, Mayor Ted Bettencourt had managed to get meaningful concessions from Solimine. It wasn’t enough to stop the controversial project, but it gave the city an extra measure of protection.
“I wanted the developer to know,” Bettencourt said yesterday, “we’re going to be watching him very closely. ... If he starts taking shortcuts, we’re going to get involved again.”
Thanks to the cease-and-desist order, which sparked negotiations with Solimine, the developer placed $1 million in escrow at Community Credit Union in Lynn and put it under the control of the city in order to ensure the construction of a water tank.
“The city is in a stronger position because they control these funds,” Solimine said.
As for the contested permits, they agreed that Solimine didn’t need to get them yet, but that he would do so anyway.
Solimine was “not happy about the cease-and-desist order,” the mayor said, but added that he believed Solimine had failed to get all the permits he needed.
“I understand his rights, but I need to make sure the city’s rights are addressed,” Bettencourt said.
“Kudos to the mayor,” City Councilor Dave Gamache said. “He got something out of nothing.”
In addition to the money, Gamache said, Solimine has agreed to give assurances “in writing” to back up the project.
“The city acted in a just cause to make sure they had all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed,” Gamache said. “This is the biggest development in 20 years. We have to slow down to make sure it’s done right.”
Gamache said he recalled past arrangements with other developers where conditions were set and “when it came to addressing certain issues, everybody had a sudden case of amnesia.”
Miranda Lam, a Salem State associate professor and chairwoman of the accounting and finance department, agrees that sometimes developers fail to do what they’ve promised. The money in escrow, she added, “only becomes important if he promised to do things — like build a water tower — and failed to do them.”
Lam warned that in an escrow account, where distribution of the money is handled by a neutral third party, “a lot depends on the fine print.”
The water tank, Planning Board Chairman Jack Creeden said, is a vital addition to the infrastructure of South Peabody, and it’s expected to go up prior to the construction of the homes.
“A lot of homes there now,” Creeden said, “the water pressure is low. It’s maintained by pumps. And the most effective way to get the water pressure up is by an elevated tower.” Thus, the construction of the tower will be a benefit to a wide area of South Peabody.
As part of the project, Solimine agreed previously to construct a water line to Bartholomew Street so that water can be pumped into the tower.
Solimine said he did not hesitate to offer the $1 million.
“It was a show of good faith,” he said. “... We need to build the water tower.”
The project, which will go up in stages over a period of years, won’t work without it, he said.
Even so, city officials remain unhappy with Boulderwood. Gamache, noting that blasting starts tomorrow, fears the quality of life for people on Bartholomew, Lynn and Lynnfield streets will deteriorate because of the disruption caused by construction and because of the density of the completed subdivision.
The Lynn access road becomes essential as result, he stressed.
Boulderwood was first proposed in the mid-1990s and soon sparked bitter opposition, especially from residents on nearby Bartholomew Street, which was initially slated to be the only entrance and exit for the residents of a proposed 110 homes. Since then, a second entrance has been planned on Sunset Road in Lynn.
That is now under challenge by officials in Lynn, who are opposed to the project.