Friday, September 21, 2007
Housing Authority to build 26 units for seniors on Benfield Land
"It's time for the Housing Authority to firmly plant the stake in the ground," said Chair Alan Lehotsky of the group's vote to build 26 units of senior housing on the Benfield Land on South Street. They have chosen to construct the maximum number of units authorized for the South Street property by Town Meeting, enough to earn the town a two-year veto power over other 40B development applications. In July the Carlisle Affordable Housing Trust had recommended the Authority consider a smaller senior development with the number of units "in the mid-teens."
Once at least 10% of the town's housing stock qualifies as affordable, it will gain permanent veto over high-density developments allowed under state law Chapter 40B. Carlisle currently has only 20 units of affordable housing.
Vote split 2-1
The Housing Authority decision was split 2-1, with Lehotsky and Susan Stamps voting in favor of 26 units. The other Housing Authority member present, James Bohn, voted against the decision at their September 6 meeting. Lehotsky later explained the discussion leading up to the vote. At first, he said, he favored a proposed amendment to build "up to 26 units" because it offered greater flexibility. However, he later concluded that the amendment would only be "unfairly postponing the town accepting reality." He believes a smaller development, while less obtrusive, would be too small to qualify for a low-income tax credit grant for affordable housing.
The town purchased the Benfield Land in 2004 with the intention of dividing the 45-acre parcel into separate areas for open space conservation, construction of affordable housing and a location for an athletic field. Originally the housing was to be located out of sight of the road, but last fall Town Meeting moved the proposed development location closer to South Street in order to preserve rare species habitat.
Why senior housing?
Choosing to build housing for seniors rather than younger families was "fundamentally to address some of the neigborhood concerns with density," said Lehotsky. The unit sizes can be smaller and he estimates that seniors would generate fewer car trips per day than younger families. He also said the senior housing would serve the needs of the town as the population ages.
According to data supplied by Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett, a 26-unit senior development might use about 25,000 square feet of land, or about 62% of the space needed by a similar project for young families.
Units will be rentals
The units are to be rented rather than sold. Barnett explained that rentals appear to be required, given the way Community Preservation (CPA) funding was used to purchase the land for the town. CPA funding can be used for private land transactions, but it must be spelled out at the time of the Town Meeting vote and no benefit can reach families who do not qualify for affordable housing.
Another characteristic of rental developments is that under certain conditions, the state will count all the housing toward the town's affordable housing goal even though only a portion are low-income units. According to a letter from the state received by the town in July, this provision also applies to age-restricted rentals.
The Housing Authority and administrative coordinator have received helpful advice from area towns while researching affordable housing projects. For example, in the last few months Bedford officials came to Carlisle to speak and share their expertise, and Carlisle housing officials were recently given a tour of a senior-supported housing development in Chelmsford.
Barnett has applied for a Peer-to-Peer grant from the state that would reimburse Chelmsford up to $1,000 for help from David Hedison, executive director of Chelmsford's Housing Authority, and Connie Donahue, their director of housing operations.
Lehotsky plans to discuss the Benfield housing with the Selectmen at their September 25 meeting. (See BOS Shorts on page 5.) The Housing Authority will then draft a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the project. He hopes to hold a public hearing on the RFP in late October and advertise the RFP in late November. Barnett is applying for a grant for a consultant to help polish the RFP.
Housing Trust thoughts
The Benfield RFP process was also discussed at the Carlisle Affordable Housing Trust meeting on September 13. Jim Bohn, who serves on the Trust as well as the Housing Authority, expects there will be many opportunities for public input both as the RFP takes shape, and when the development goes before the Zoning Board of Appeals as a 40B permit application.
Trust member Greg Peterson urged the Housing Authority to include performance standards in the RFP to reduce the impact on the neighborhood, and suggested standards for such items as screening, setbacks, building heights and any community room. Trust member Tim Hult agreed, suggesting that adding this type of detail would give townspeople a clearer idea of what will be built and "how the housing can be non-intrusive."
Bohn said, "We need to be flexible." He seeks to address neighborhood concerns while also balancing the needs of the larger community.
© 2007 The