Friday, July 2, 1999
Good response from architects to Conant Land housing project
Perhaps it's the booming economy or maybe affordable housing is just an idea whose time has come, but the proposal to study the feasibility of constructing affordable housing on a portion of the Conant Land is off to a smooth start, Carlisle Housing Authority chair Marty Galligan reported to the selectmen on June 22.
After the Town Meeting go-ahead for the study, Galligan reported that the housing authority drew up a request for proposals (RFP) inviting architects to lay out the site and prepare schematic drawings of the proposed 12-unit affordable housing development. According to Galligan, 22 architects requested RFP packets and 13 of these architects appeared on June 22 for the site walk of the Conant Land off Rockland Road.
"I was stunned at the level of enthusiasm," said Galligan about the reaction of the architects at the site walk. Galligan was also pleased with the caliber of architects, which included those who had worked on Carlisle Village Court and the Town Hall, as well as architects who are currently developing affordable housing projects in Concord and Sherborn.
Interested architects had until July 1 to submit materials demonstrating their experience and ability to complete the project. The housing authority expects to select an architect by the end of July. Officials hope that the site plan and schematic drawings will be completed in time for presentation at the fall Town Meeting, but Galligan acknowledged that this is an optimistic scenario.
The housing authority has also been investigating funding sources for the development project. "Interest on the debt will be the biggest expense," said Galligan. Comments by selectman Vivian Chaput, who has had experience in developing subsidized housing, confirmed the housing authority's findings that there are often trade-offs between favorable lending terms and onerous restrictions on the project. As an example, Galligan pointed to a housing project in Concord which was built with almost no debt but the units had no attics, basements or garages so that household items tended to be stored in visible yards.
Many lending programs also restrict how the units are owned, with some programs applying only to rentals and others applying to outright sales. Galligan said that he is strongly leaning toward structuring the proposed units as rentals so the town can maintain greater control over management. However, this approach may limit the available lending sources.
There may be an added benefit of a rental project, Galligan noted. Under certain lending programs, some units in an affordable housing project may be rented at market rates to make a project economically feasible, and the market-rate units may be counted toward the ten percent affordable housing target recommended by the state.
Galligan also delivered to the selectmen a new document entitled, "Carlisle Housing Authority Housing Plan," which he described as an updated version of the plan prepared by selectman John Ballantine and others about ten years ago. Under the category of strategy and future actions, the document states, "The current plan for the Carlisle Housing Authority is to do repeated small developments, to a scale as consistent as possible with Carlisle's sense of neighborhood. In a survey done in 1992, the town expressed a preference for small-scale developments on scattered sites throughout town."
In keeping with this strategy, Chaput encouraged Galligan to pursue other sites in town, possibly using the comprehensive permit process under which zoning requirements are waived to create more buildable lots. The suggestion to build affordable housing on a town-owned parcel off East Riding Drive, for example, may be more realistic under a comprehensive permit which would waive frontage requirements, said Chaput. Noting that the tax title parcel was large enough to accommodate only a small duplex, Chaput said, "This is the ideal approach."
Galligan acknowledged that while the housing plan anticipates small scattered affordable housing developments, there has not yet been a town-wide discussion of the way affordable housing should look in Carlisle. Galligan hoped to arrange this discussion sometime in the near future.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito