The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 30, 2008

Six developers show interest in Benfield project

The Carlisle Housing Authority held a public information session on May 22 to explain the town’s proposal to construct 26 units of affordable senior housing on the Benfield property, in preparation for issuing a formal Request for Proposals (RFP). Six developers came to the meeting and Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett said later that more developers have expressed interest.

Project timeline

The RFP is now being reviewed and the Housing Authority expects to release it in early July (see Table). Summer is to be used to answer developers questions. Answers will be shared with all developers, so that all interested parties receive the same information. Proposals are due on September 9. The Housing Authority will evaluate proposals and then select a developer on October 23. The developer would then obtain funding and permits hopefully by July 1, 2009 and consturction could then begin.

What is wanted in development proposals

The RFP includes guidelines for proposal submission and project design and implementation. It also includs an overview of Carlisle, its history and demographics, specifics on the Benfield property including details on its acquisition, the Benfield Task Force, Town Meeting approvals and Housing Authority actions and deed restrictions. Chair Alan Lehotsky pointed out that the document was "descriptive not prescriptive ... We are trying to make the process as flexible as possible."

Some of the design guidelines include: New England style architecture, one and two-bedroom units, screened parking, natural landscaping and sue of "green" design and construction. Developers will be evaluated on their construction experience with projects of this size, experience in affordable housing, financial strength, and quality of design. Lehotsky stressed that "success in meeting development guidelines, esthetic judgment, prudent use of infrastructure funds and finding funding through state grants" were important.

State grants for funding affordable housing are given out twice a year. Sometimes, a developer may have a grant pushed off to the next grant period. If this were the case, it could delay building on the Benfield property.

The developers at the meeting had a few questions concertning the water supply, the management of the property and the possible difficulties with the Zoning Board of ppeals. Lehotsky explained that there was no public water supply in the town of Carlisle, but the 46-acre property had good potential. "The property is a rental development that will be managed by someone other than the town.”

Housing Authority member Susan Stamps said, “The town is quite supportive of this project.” Lehotsky added that the town had spent a lot of money fighting a 40B project recently and that this project is wanted and town boards should be working together to expedite it.

Project background

The Benfield property is divided into four areas, with the lot nearest the road reserved for the housing. The well and septic systems may be located farther inside the property. There is also land reserved for open space and a playing field, with a floating easement for a road to the playing field.

Lehotsky explained that the town needs 168 units of affordable housing to be able to turn away unwelcome 40B proposals. Currently, the town only has 20 affordable units. Lehotsky said, “If we build eight units per year, we would be exempt from 40Bs for a year. If we build 16 units, we could be exempt for two years.”

He said that senior housing was chosen in part because “the neighborhood residents had requested a reduced footprint. Senior housing is 50-60% the size of family housing.” It would also have fewer cars and no additional school buses. Senior housing was also chosen to accommodate the rising senior population in town. Seniors now make up 17% of the population and that is expected to rise to 27% by 2030.

A public water supply, a septic system, a driveway, parking area and an unimproved road to the service well and septic are part of the project. Lehotsky spoke of the $425,000 approved at Town Meeting to subsidize infrastructure construction, but he told the developers he hoped they would not need it.

The Housing Authority has worked many hours to get to this point. Board members have spent a great deal of time getting input from the public and developing design criteria that includes input from abutters and other residents. They have also attended conferences on RFP development, green building and Affordable Housing issues and visited other affordable housing projects. The Board of Selectmen has filed the deed restrictions on the property and has transferred site control to the Housing Authority.

Lehotsky said there were already 17 Carlisle residents on a waiting list for the Benfield units. He outlined waiting lists in neighboring towns. There are more than 200 requests in Acton, 31 in Bedford, 253 in Billerica, 125 in Chelmsford, over 200 in Concord and 54 in Westford. For most towns it will take years to accommodate the people on these lists.

Who will be eligible?

One of the restrictions is that all units must be affordable at 100% or less of the average median income (AMI) of the Boston area (determined annually by the Department of Housing and Urban Development). At least a quarter of the units must be affordable at 80% AMI. As an example, 100% AMI for a single person is $60,100 and for a two-person household is $68,600. In this case, rent for a two-bedroom apartment would be approximately $1,500 per month. Eighty percent AMI is $46,300 for a single person and $52,950 for two people.

When reached after the meeting, Elizabeth Barnett said, “Generally speaking, Carlisle residents will have first preference [for the rental units at Benfield]. That said, different financing providers have different requirements. Some federal programs require taking some non-local residents.” ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito