In the name of affordable housing, the state has told the city to allow a developer to build 12 condominiums on filled marshland behind Good Harbor Beach that many officials and citizens consider hallowed ground.
The political leadership and residents of Brier Neck have fought to prevent the development, known as Brierneck Crossing, since the 1970s when now retired restaurateur James Sallah acquired a large swath of marshland behind the beach and filled it, planning to put up a restaurant.
As mayor, John Bell, who was a city councilor when the struggle began, swore the project would not be built on his watch. He left office last December.
"I'm very saddened," said Councilor Joseph Ciolino. "It's the worst place in the world to put any kind of housing. Affordable housing and million-dollar homes make no sense."
To earn the state's support, developer James Grifoni proposed to make four of the condominiums affordable.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk told the Times the city should appeal the decision by a quasi-judicial board of the state Housing Appeals Committee, which was issued Aug. 11.
The call is not hers. Technically, the Zoning Board of Appeals must decide whether to capitulate to the state group and North Andover developer Grifoni or appeal the bureaucrats' order into the Superior Court system.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will take up the matter in its Sept. 4 meeting.
City solicitor Suzanne Egan said she would present options to the board in executive session. She said she did not believe the public will be allowed to weigh on the matter before the board and the city's attorney go behind closed doors.
The ruling by the Housing Appeals Committee was expected. Most rejections by cities are overruled by the panel which serves to enforce the state's mandate to build affordable housing under the Chapter 40B statute.
"We're very pleased, the decision was not unexpected," said Grifoni's attorney for the project, Howard Speicher.
The Housing Appeals Committee heard arguments and took briefs in 2007.
Its ruling noted the difficulties of the site, behind the beach, adjacent to a flood zone, but wrote that in the end, the need for affordable housing outweighed the environmental problems the development might create for the city.
The weighing of social benefits against environmental and public safety difficulties is at the essence of Chapter 40B.
The case was galvanized when the zoning board turned down a negotiated compromise that would have allowed Grifoni to build on the site in exchange for his agreement to take only eight units with two at affordable prices.
The market prices back then, at the height of the housing boom, were projected at nearly $800,000. The affordable units were projected to be sold at less than $300,000.
Grifoni acquired an option on Sallah's land in 1999, but facing certain rejection by the City Council of a project with more than 20 units, in 2003, he dropped the density and undertook a legal and permitting campaign that invoked Chapter 40B.
The law is used by developers to bypass local opposition in exchange for affordable housing.
At the extensive hearings before the zoning board, nearly every agency advised against putting housing across from the beach parking lot.
During the review, Grifoni applied for and was granted a change in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood plain mapping to exclude the site from the flood plain, thus eliminating a key objection of city officials.
Richard Gaines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.