Housing Authority reacts to Long Ridge LIP vote

by Karina Coombs

“The reality is there are no technical grounds [for the state] to deny a project like this,” said Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky, regarding the 20-unit 40B development being proposed at 100 Long Ridge Road. Lehotsky was discussing the project during the Housing Authority’s meeting on November 25. Developer Jeffrey Brem had sought to obtain Local Initiative Program (LIP) status for the project, but the Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted unanimously against the request.

Under state law Chapter 40B, housing developments can bypass local zoning restrictions if at least a quarter of the units are affordable. LIP status signals a town’s support of a 40B, and might provide eligibility for the town and developer to receive technical assistance from the state. Both LIPs and standard 40Bs are reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) under a Comprehensive Permit application.

Lehotsky explained that MassHousing would most likely approve the project as a traditional 40B. “It’s still coming,” said Lehotsky of the project, “and now we have less say.” Lehotsky said after the meeting that LIP status could have given Carlisle additional control of the project. “Since the town has to agree to cooperate with the developer [with a LIP], the town can negotiate for additional concessions.” He said that some of the concessions could be more favorable to Carlisle than would be allowed with a typical ZBA Order of Conditions. While Lehotsky acknowledged that any project not initiated by the town would leave it with “limited” control over a developer, he added, “Any time you are in a non-adversarial relationship, I think you are more likely to have more influence on the outcome . . .”

Lehotsky explained that after Brem contacts MassHousing with his proposal the town would be sent a site eligibility letter with 30 days in which to respond. Carlisle could choose to simply acknowledge the receipt of the letter, or could respond with considerations as to why the project would not be appropriate, which Lehotsky thinks would not hold weight. “[The state] has determined that supplying quality affordable housing is critical to Massachusetts economic growth,” he said. “And the court records show that towns attempting to thwart this will lose in the Housing Appeals Committee.”

Once Brem receives his letter back from the state, he has up to two years to come before the ZBA with a plan. The ZBA then has 180 days from the start of the process to make its decision. The hearing can also be extended for a time if both parties agree.

Calling the rejection of the LIP unfortunate, Lehotsky explained that he believed the BOS made its decision based on a three-year-old draft copy of LIP guidelines created by the Planning Board, guidelines he has been critical of since they were created. With LIP criteria that emphasize only the creation of small rental developments with a majority of subsidized units, Lehotsky explained it would be too costly for developers to build only this type of housing. Prior to their vote, the BOS asked other town boards to comment on the LIP request.The Housing Authority recommended granting LIP status, while the Planning Board and Conservation Commission did not support the LIP request. (See also “Selectmen deny LIP status for Long Ridge 40B,” November 13.)

“[I] think the Selectmen have abdicated their responsibility,” Lehotsky said, noting the BOS did not consider any other ways in which the Long Ridge Road project could have qualified as a LIP. 

Lehotsky further clarified that LIPs are not used for rental properties and are instead more appropriate for projects that involve home ownership, which is why the status was not used for the town-sponsored Benfield Farms affordable rental housing. ∆