Boston — The tiny Town of Sharon outside of Boston is the latest venue in the war against sprawl. In a campaign led by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), citizens today forced a new vote to stop a mega-development from paving over Rattlesnake Hill, a rare nature preserve in fast-growing Southeastern Massachusetts.
PEER charges that town selectmen illegally pushed through a spot zoning approval for an 87-acre mega-project by a national development company called Brickstone. The project involves 624 units of luxury senior housing in six 8-story buildings, plus a 150-bed nursing home, a number of restaurants, a four-hole golf course, dry cleaner, hairdresser, and other amenities.
The chosen site is Rattlesnake Hill, a 337-acre parcel of pristine land immediately adjacent to Borderland State Park. The mosaic of uplands and wetlands of Rattlesnake Hill is home to a globally rare turtle, and also contains eleven vernal pools. In 2002, Governor Jane Swift signed into law an environmental bond earmarking $12 million to buy Rattlesnake Hill – the asking price at the time.
When Governor Mitt Romney came into office, his administration quickly nixed the purchase, and instead proposed that “smart growth” would dictate the construction of affordable housing on Rattlesnake Hill. The new iteration abandons the affordable housing concept, and instead proposes to provide luxury elderly housing, with a starting cost of $600,000 or more per apartment unit.
“Destroying Rattlesnake Hill for a luxury development in the name of ‘smart growth’ shows a Mad Hatter style of planning,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, who led the effort for a citizen veto of the selectmen green-lighting the project. “Massachusetts’ losing war against sprawl will change course today in Sharon.”
Local citizens, environmental employees and PEER have pointed out that the previous approval by the Sharon Selectman violated the Open Meeting law and spot zoning bans. Moreover, records obtained by the coalition indicate that a town meeting vote was premised on misinformation knowingly distributed to the citizens of Sharon by the developer and the Selectmen.
Today, this coalition delivered the signatures of 100 citizens of Sharon on a petition which triggers a rescinding of the earlier approval and a new vote on alternatives that would save Rattlesnake Hill.
“This shows that the people of Sharon are tired of rich out-of-state developers rolling into town with an army of lawyers, engineers and consultants to bulldoze over our local heritage,” Bennett added. “If we can save Rattlesnake Hill, it will complete a stretch of more than 2,000 acres of wild lands, a precious treasure in this part of the country.”