The item on Thursday’s Planning Commission agenda had the air of a foregone conclusion – a vote on plans for a 15-townhome project in Medfield that the city already gave a green light in 2007.
But the commission voted unanimously to reject approval, drawing surprised applause from the roughly half dozen residents in the room who attended in opposition to the deal, which would add homes to a grassy area at the edge of a steep hill that is tucked on Redfern Avenue off 42nd Street, overlooking the Jones Falls Expressway.
Residents had asked the commission to subject the plan to a new round of review in light of a surge of development proposals in the greater Hampden area, as well as an influx of new residents who had been unaware of the dormant project. A new developer, Emerald Properties Group, has taken up the idea since 2007 and has the site under contract.
Luke Yorke-Hart, 30, a member of the new development team who is originally from South Africa, said he realized the demand for housing when he and his wife, who is originally from the Baltimore area, started looking for homes nearby about two years ago.
“I live there. I want to improve it,” Yorke-Hart said.
The Planning Commission vote hinged on what veteran land use consultant Al Barry, arguing on behalf of the project, urged commissioners to think of as a technicality – the fact that a previous approval was only formally recorded this summer instead of within the far shorter timeframe required by city regulations.
But commissioners said they were worried about the apparent flouting of the rules, both on the part of the Circuit Court, which recorded the subdivision, and on the part of Barry, who said his office had gone to the court to get the recordation done. (A current owner of the site is Partners Development, a limited liability company that forfeited its state charter in 2012.)
“I don’t think it’s a technicality. It’s a major legal issue. You’ve got a regulation that’s been violated,” said commissioner Robert Hopkins, who, with new commission member attorney Dana Petersen Moore, led questioning of the deal.
The vote may delay -- but is unlikely to stop -- development of the site, which Planning Department staffer Eric Tiso said neighbors refer to as “the meadow.” Tiso said he expects a new round of review to yield a similar recommendation to approve the proposal for the area.