Onset Fire District officials challenge affordable housing project

By Matthew Bernat | Apr 07, 2018
Onset Fire District officials said they are prepared to challenge Woodland Cove, pictured, a large affordable housing project slated for East Wareham.

Onset Fire District officials are challenging a request from the developers of a massive affordable housing complex to waive an estimated $150,000 to $200,000 in permit fees.

“This board is determined to fight for ratepayers and their groundwater,” said Onset Board of Water Commissioners Chair Ben Hughes. “Dakota Partners is a multi-million dollar enterprise…We’re not going to be able to stop them, but they’re going to have to deal with us.”

Proposed by the Waltham-based Dakota Partners, the project, dubbed Woodland Cove, calls for building a 174-unit housing complex at 3102 Cranberry Highway. Under the state's affordable housing law (Chapter 40B), local zoning regulations are relaxed for affordable housing projects in towns where less than 10 percent of homes or apartments are considered affordable. In Wareham, 7.7 percent of residences are affordable. Officials estimate that if the project were built it would add roughly 2 percent to the amount of affordable housing in town.

The Board of Selectmen and many residents are opposed to the project, saying it will tax the town’s infrastructure, schools and finances.

Currently, Dakota Partners is seeking a “comprehensive permit” from the Zoning Board of Appeals. If approved, the permit will allow developers to hook into the Onset Fire District’s water supply without paying fees. Also, the project wouldn't have to comply with several water regulations that apply to construction not protected by 40B, said Hughes.

“Chapter 40B has unbelievable powers,” said Hughes.

He noted that if the Zoning Board of Appeals grants the comprehensive permit, district officials are prepared to fight.

“If the Zoning Board of Appeals issues [Dakota Partners] a comprehensive permit, we’re not going to abide by that,” said Hughes, adding that a legal battle may be on the horizon.

While other cities and towns have tried and failed in court to hold 40B projects to local standards, Hughes said the district’s unique legal status may give it an edge.

The Onset Fire District is not governed by the Town of Wareham. It elects its own officers, develops its own budget and passes bylaws similar to how Town Meeting operates to provide water and fire protection in Onset. The district is funded by ratepayers who use water.

Hughes said the district’s attorney found that fire and water districts that fought 40B projects likely failed because they were controlled by cities or towns, not separate legal entities similar to Onset. Hughes said if the district takes Dakota Partners to court, the case could set a precedent.

Dakota Partners Attorney Peter Freeman was unfazed by that argument. At a hearing held earlier this year, Freeman said case law showed that the district was compelled to follow the Zoning Board of Appeals decision.

“There is no gray area,” said Freeman.

However, Hughes said district officials are undaunted. In addition to potentially losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in permit fees from the decision, Hughes said the district is committed to hold the project to the same regulations that protect Onset’s water supply.

He noted that the project’s proximity to its water source could spell trouble for water quality. Storm water runoff is also a concern, he said.

Through the district’s environmental consulting firm, officials made several requests of Dakota Partners. Those include submitting reports on how much water the project will use daily, the location of underground storage tanks in the area, the location of hazardous materials, the effect the project will have on the water system’s ability to fight fires, the potential for water contamination, stormwater runoff treatment plans and others.

Hughes said all of those requests will help officials determine the project’s impact.

"The Onset Water Department, its superintendent and the Board of Water Commissioners want to assure the people of Onset that every avenue within our power will be taken to guarantee the continued safety of the district's water supply," said Hughes.

Wareham Week has reached out to Dakota Partners for additional comment.

To review the information requested from Dakota Partners, click on the link below.

Comments (20)
Posted by: montana20 | Apr 08, 2018 08:52

It really bothers me how these huge companies get to come into a town that we life long residents have been paying taxes in all our lives, and use "loop-holes" to defer responsibilities of paying taxes and responsibilities of complying with guidelines.  And skip out on thousands of folkars in permit fees.Shame on Dakota Partners!!!  This is bullshit. They are a multi-million dollar company. I don't believe the town of Wareham should have allowed them to build such a huge project in the first place. Considering where it is. I thought the whole reason to allow such projects is to bring in  $$. So what's the point of we allow them to get away with no fees.  I'm appauled

Posted by: felinesmom | Apr 08, 2018 09:12

This drawing shows a four story residential structure.  If built, would this be the tallest residence in Onset?  Make Dakota pay for that new ladder fire truck--they are generating the need.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 09:35

Whoa there pardner. Cowboy Ben refused to answer a district resident's question at a meeting about this, saying he's keeping it "close to his chest." This is not the Hughes Water District, he doesn't even live in Onset.

I have been at the budget meetings. Where is the request for enormous legal fees to fight this? Is Hughes footing that bill? Why should Onset ratepayers foot the bill for a war the Town of Wareham will not fight?

Dakota isn't even obligated to answer the letter. The same Atty Murray stood at special district meeting and said the Well 4 repairs would not come from surplus, then Hughes had us vote on his warrant article that clearly stated "pay from SURPLUS." Surplus by law may not be used for that purpose.

Where is Wareham Fire District resident Hughes at the ZBA meetings? Why is he not coordinating this effort with WFD and the town? Where is the Prudential Committee on this?

The new Wareham selectboard  has an opportunity and an obligation to prioritize town housing policy. The Housing Production Plan is largely ignored. There are many ways our neighboring towns have met the 40B threshold, mobile homes are a red herring so to speak.

There is a statewide conference on 40B and how it shapes towns on May 8. I hope the selectmen and Mr. Hughes will attend  https://www.chapa.org/sites/default/files/40BTrainingOnlineBrochureMay2018.pdf



Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 09:43

Who sets those fees of $150,000-$200,00 and to whom are they paid? Onset Water and/or the Town?

What is the legal basis for the waiver? (Don't say 40B) and is the same required of Wareham Sewer?

What is the potential income from water use over the life of Woodland Cove?

What are the potential legal costs to fight a fight never before won?

Logical questions. I expect a warrant article on this with solid figures will come before us on May 21.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 12:38

Wait a minute, Matthew Bernard, your article and statements made by Hughes at past meetings say the letter was sent to Dakota. Neither letter you have attached to this article went to Dakota. Please clarify.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 12:43

Wareham Fire and Water District folks, how did you handle all of the other 40B developments in your district?

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 12:59

There are rates from 2014 on the Onset Water Department website. Which have been requested as waivers? http://onsetwater.com/onset_water_rates.htm

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 13:34

And...why when we asked for an environmental impact statement for the new fire station next to the water supply at the last District Meeting were we told it wasn't going to happen and wasn't necessary? Why won't OWD ask that of the OFDistrict?

Posted by: Ben Hughes | Apr 08, 2018 13:44

I would like to advise everyone to please click on the link at the bottom of the article. The link will bring you to the legal position outlined by the Onset Board of Water Commissioners' council handling this particular issue, Matthew Costa, of the law firm Gay&Gay. Matt is a very bright and talented attorney, who has done an excellent job researching and delineating our case in a succinct and well thought out manner.  The District's attorney is another equally talented attorney, but he is not the man who has been working on this issue with the board, it has been attorney Costa.

The second document outlines what the board and its engineer, Sean Osborne, PE and Principal of OSD LLC Environmental Consultants, deems to be necessary for the board to fully understand the environmental impact, and system wide impact, the development will have on our infrastructure. Sean is another very talented individual, and his letter outlines the information needed for the board to fully understand what kind of impact the development will have on the system as a whole. One issue being whether there will be enough capacity within the system to supply the 174 units with drinking water and still be able to keep our fire-flows high enough to supply the Fire Department with the amount of flow and pressure needed to fight fires within the District.

Sean and Matt both outline the board's concerns with the fact that the complex is within our Zone II well fields, and is also within the Groundwater Overlay Protection District.  This concerns the board greatly, and we must be fully aware of how the drainage system for the development's storm water runoff, proposed by the developers will impact the District's drinking water, of which, we have the best! The board is deeply committed to keeping it that way.

I would also like to mention that these documents were sent to the Wareham ZBA and have been passed along to Dakota Partners.  The developer's engineering firm has already been in contact with Kevin Sampson, the department's new Superintendent, who has been doing an excellent job.

I did appear at the ZBA's first hearing on this issue along with attorney Costa.  At that meeting we stated the board's concerns. If interested it may be watched on WarehamTV.

One last thing.  I would like folks to understand that the Onset Fire District is an autonomous and sovereign district established by an act of the legislature in 1924.  The District is not beholden to the Board of Selectmen nor Wareham's Town Meeting.  The District has its own by-laws, the water department is funded through our customers water bills, the Prudential Committee handles the tax end of things and funds the Fire Department.  The District holds its own annual District Meeting, elects its own officers, and funds its operations by itself through the will of the people.  This makes us very different from other districts and boards, and gives the Water Department an important edge in this issue. Wareham's other boards are beholden to the dictates of Ch40b, but the District is a different animal.  As I stated in the article, the Board of Water Commissioners is deeply committed to protecting the District's resources, and keeping Onset's reputation for having the best water around, un-chlorinated, and coliform free.


Ben Hughes

Onset Board of Water Commissioners



Posted by: Steve Holmes | Apr 08, 2018 13:57


Thanks for the explanation. We have had battles with other developers and have lost, through State Housing Board. But i agree this is a different angle, and seems to have some potential fighting this as a District. It will be interesting to see what happens. Good luck and I'm pretty sure most of the ratepayers are with you and the Board on this one.

Posted by: Ben Hughes | Apr 08, 2018 14:00


Thank you, that means a great deal. We do try.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 15:28

What does "passed along to Dakota" mean? Through official channels? Behind closed doors?

By the ZBA? Who made the decision that Onset Water District will not abide by a Wareham Zoning Board of Appeals decision? Stating that we the taxpayers of the district will defy an order is odd at best. “If the Zoning Board of Appeals issues [Dakota Partners] a comprehensive permit, we’re not going to abide by that,” said Hughes, adding that a legal battle may be on the horizon."

Posted by: Spherebreaker | Apr 08, 2018 15:32

I hope that Dakota will be paying for sewer betterment’s for each unit built. If I am not mistaken that would be about $20,000 per unit plus tie in permits/ and fees. I hope every department and every resident in town fights these shysters tooth and nail and run these bums right back to where they came from.

Posted by: beingnice | Apr 08, 2018 15:59

Thank you Mr. Hughes for an intelligent and insightful explanation.  It's refreshing to see someone who does not construe name calling as a sign of intelligence.

Posted by: OnsetTogether | Apr 08, 2018 16:55

Only questions today, no answers. Atty Peter Teitlebaum sent a letter to the state outlining all the reasons the town did not wish to grant a comprehensive permit. He did not list the inability to grant any waivers or issue permits on behalf of Onset Water. He did not even cc Onset Water but did cc Onset Fire. What is the town's position?

A town fire department must provide services regardless, does an independent private fire department? Dakota requested fee waivers for the affordable units, not the others. The town  cannot now, nor ever, set or waive fees on behalf of the fire or water districts. Therefore the comprehensive permit cannot cover those entities. I fully get that. (Dakota doesn't get that.) Onset Fire and Water can and should insist upon full payment of any required fees, and should very quickly establish those fees if none exist or outdated, right?

Posted by: Lucille Dodson | Apr 08, 2018 20:43

Ty Ben Hughes for your explanation and for your hard work in fighting to uphold the wonderful quality of Onset Water !!!!!!!     I am behind you 100%..... as an Onset Water resident I am very very concerned should this Development move forward..... at the very least, the number of apartments should be drastically reduced...... I hope our Zoning Board of Appeals developes some “Balls” and does not cut Dakota a break including the fact that they do not have enough frontage on part of their proposed development.....

Posted by: Rosebud | Apr 09, 2018 10:15

Has any one of our town representatives contacted our state senator and state representative for help in mitigating this  type of project?  They get elected and PAID to represent US; and this 40B issue should have been fixed long ago.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease!

Posted by: Steve Holmes | Apr 09, 2018 11:08

Mr Tietlebaum send a letter as the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, after a vote was taken by the BOS. While Pete is an Attorney and a very good one I might add, he would not send a letter on behalf of the Town as an attorney. If an attorney on behalf of the Town were to send a letter, that would be sent by our esteemed Town Counsel Mr. Bowen, who gets paid as an attorney to represent the Town. While Petes skills and experience as an attorney has helped the BOS over the years, he has never and would never cross that line. So while you may have an ax to grind with the District, please leave the BOS out of it and get your story straight. Pete does not need folks filing complaints with the ethics committee because of a post in an online chat. And while Pete may enjoy the free advertisement that he is an attorney, i think he would agree not all advertisement is good advertisement.

Posted by: Uptohere | Apr 09, 2018 16:03

Since 40b has the blessing of Marc R. Pacheco, who refuses to include mobiles as low income, we will continue to have it tucked. Up our you know what!

Posted by: Peaches0409 | Apr 10, 2018 10:59

Time to oust Mr. Pacheco! Susan Williams Gifford has been fighting for years to include mobiles as affordable only to be shot down by that clown and his cronies.

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