Boston — The Town of Sharon Selectmen met illegally dozens of times to push through an agreement with a developer for a luxury mega-project in violation of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, according to a ruling from the Office of the District Attorney for the Norfolk District posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In response to a complaint filed by PEER and local citizens of this suburban Boston community, the District Attorney found that the Selectmen repeatedly met in illegal closed sessions over a plan to build 624 luxury units for the elderly, a 150-bed nursing home, a golf course, restaurants and other amenities on Rattlesnake Hill, a 337-acre habitat of rare species adjacent to Borderland State Park.
The January 24, 2008 letter from the Norfolk District Attorney cited the Sharon Selectmen for meeting illegally “dozens of times” during 42 closed sessions to hammer out details of the high-rise mega-development. In addition, the Selectmen improperly held a 13-minute “open” meeting without adequate notice of where it would be held or sufficient audio amplification so that those who did manage to attend could hear what transpired.
“The Sharon Selectmen have repeatedly flaunted the law for more than two years now, hiding important information from the public. There is no doubt in my mind that they will shamelessly persist in seeking to pave Rattlesnake Hill,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, who is leading the effort to stop the project. “The reason that the Selectmen needed to meet in secret is that they knew their plans would not stand up to public scrutiny.”
As a large tract of contiguous wild habitat in fast-growing southeastern Massachusetts, Rattlesnake Hill is a rarity. The site was slated for preservation by the Commonwealth in 2002, using environmental bond funds to buy it. Then-Governor Mitt Romney blocked that purchase, ironically using a “smart growth” rationale despite the inaccessibility of this tract of virgin habitat to public transportation, citing the need for affordable housing. Since Romney’s move, however, development plans for Rattlesnake Hill have mutated into luxury elderly housing, with a starting price of $600,000 per unit.
“What is going on in Sharon illustrates why Massachusetts is losing the war against sprawl,” Bennett added. “It is still not too late to reverse Romney’s blunder and save Rattlesnake Hill.”
The Rattlesnake Hill development faces a series of state and federal permit decisions. One troubling aspect of the project is the plume of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (so-called PPCPs) that it will place in local surface and ground waters. On-site wastewater discharge from the complex and its 150-bed nursing home, estimated at over 100,000 gallons per day, is likely to contaminate adjacent private drinking water wells with un-metabolized pharmaceuticals that may disrupt hormone levels, suppress immunity, and cause cancer, Type II diabetes and neurological effects. PEER intends to challenge these permits on behalf of those who would be adversely affected.