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Land Court rules against developers of controversial North Street condominium complex in Northampton

Chief Justice Karen F. Schier issued a decision in the case that said two corporations owned by the late Douglas Kohl did not have the right to use so-called “paper streets” as easements that would have provided access to the condominiums. The project was slated for a parcel of land off North Street and south of Northern Avenue.

Attorney Brad A. Shimel, who represented neighborhood residents in the case, said the court found that those “paper streets” only existed on a plan of land recorded in the Registry of Deeds in 1913.

Shimel said the court found that despite being recorded, the streets were never developed and the court could find no intent for those streets to ever be built.

As such, the court ruled, Northern Avenue Homes Inc. and Living City Properties Inc., the two companies that developed the project, do not have easement rights nor could they claim right of way on those streets.

That easement would have been necessary to allow residents of the condos access to the property, and without that, the project will likely not move forward, Shimel said.

But Ted Parker, project manager of Kohl Construction, said Tuesday, “Our attorney feels pretty confident the case was wrongly decided and is preparing a motion to appeal.”

Parker said if the appeal is successful, the company plans on moving ahead with the project as previously approved by the city.

Shimel said other objections by potential abutters would make it an “uphill battle” for developers, Shimel said.

Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s director of planning and development, said the city itself wasn’t involved in the lawsuit, but said the project may be brought back again, with a smaller proposal that wouldn’t require use of those “paper streets,” but that would be up to the developers.

Adam Cohen, a member of the North Street Neighborhood Association, said besides the encroachment on the rights of those already living there, including removing their parking access in favor of the easement for the condos, there were other serious concerns about the development.

Cohen said he and others were concerned about the proposal’s impact on nearby wetlands, loss of significant amounts of green space, overly dense development in the neighborhood and an overall degradation of the quality of life.

He said he understands the desire to provide more housing in the city, but thinks a better alternative would be to take advantage of undeveloped parcels already available in areas like King Street that would likely have far less impact on existing homes and wildlife.

“(The plan) just felt unreasonable and awkward,” Cohen said. “You don’t want to build close to a wetland if you don’t have to.”

Lawrence Tatro, who lives on Bridge Street and was a plaintiff in the case, said he and others involved in the case were happy to hear the court’s decision, but realize the fight to halt the development isn’t over.

Tatro said he hopes the appeal process will buy enough time to get the project altered, either by making the development smaller or, at the very least, extending the 35-foot wetland buffer zone to 100 feet.

Tatro said he thinks the project is simply too large and would be too much of a nuisance and intrusion in the area.

“I thought there’d never be anything built back there,” he said.

The two-day trial before the Land Court took place in July 2010. Its decision was handed down last week.

The 5.6-acre project was given conditional approval by the city’s planning department and the Conservation Commission in 2009.

Those conditions included a prohibition on use of lawn and garden chemicals, restrictions on use of salt for de-icing, placement of boulders to help protect the wetland area, annual inspections of the do-not-disturb zone surrounding those wetlands, and a five-year plan to remove invasive plant species.

See http://www.NorthAssoc.org for a detailed analysis of why Kohl Construction's condo proposal is ill-advised.

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