The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 18, 2008

Housing Authority updates ConsCom on Benfield project

The Carlisle Housing Authority (CHA) is ready to publish its Request For Proposals (RFP) for construction of 26 units of affordable Housing on the town’s Benfield Land off South Street. Appearing at the Conservation Commission’s July 10 meeting, CHA Chairman Alan Lehotsky said he is making the rounds of those town boards that will be part of the process once a developer is chosen.

To update his listeners on the basic facts, the chairman used a slide presentation prepared for a public hearing on May 22. That session, which followed the May 5 Town Meeting vote to appropriate $425,000 for development of an infrastructure for the project, drew six developers, but only one taxpayer. Lehotsky noted that five developers have displayed strong and continuing interest, while four more have asked to be kept in the loop.

The commissioners and other listeners were reminded that Benfield housing will serve a double purpose. It will allow the town to avoid having large-scale, hard-to-control developments forced on it under the state’s 40B affordable housing mandate. The 26-unit figure was chosen to give the town a two- or maybe three-year break from that threat. It will also help fill a growing regional need to accommodate lower-middle-income seniors. Lehotsky pointed out that there are already 21 residents on the Benfield waiting list. To be considered “affordable,” all units must be available at 100% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $60,100 for a single person or $68,600 for two persons, and 25% or less of the AMI, or $46,300 for a single person and $52,950 for two.

According to Lehotsky, the RFP was drafted following extensive public outreach within Carlisle and careful study of a number of successful RFPs covering senior housing and supportive services submitted by other area towns. A consultant was then hired to refine the document, with the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) doing a courtesy review.

In addition to the housing units, there will be a public water supply at a site yet to be determined, a septic system on land under ConsCom control, a driveway, parking and an unimproved road to service the well and septic systems. A number of these items will require ConsCom filings, since the area is rich in wetland resources.

Lehotsky described the development guidelines in the RFP as “descriptive, but not prescriptive,” thus allowing for considerable flexibility in the developers’ plans. In fact, the design guidelines call for “New England style architecture, screened parking, natural landscaping and use of green design and construction.” However, the presenter admitted that the “green” terminology was not defined.

According to the printed schedule, the developers will have two months to review the requirements, do their research, get their questions answered and submit their proposals for evaluation by some time in September. The developers’submissions will be judged by their construction experience with affordable senior housing projects of similar size, financial strength and quality of design. The developers will also form a partnership with one of the quasi-public professional organizations in the area that consult during the building phase and subsequently take over post-construction management of the project, thus allowing the CHA to bow out.

Selection of a developer will follow CHA review plus a series of public hearings and consultations seeking input from such concerned local groups as the Council on Aging, Planning Board, Board of Health, ConsCom, Recreation Commission and above all the Board of Selectmen. Then comes what Lehotsky described as the toughest part of the whole process. In subsequent months, the successful developer must obtain funding and procure permits from all concerned state and local entities. The development schedule calls for this phase to conclude by the summer of 2009, but Lehotsky warned that this target could be missed should the state reschedule the promised grant for a later date. The presenter closed his review with a statement of his continuing hope that construction can start by the fall of 2009. The only immediate input from the commission was a request from Commissioner Tricia Smith, backed by all her colleagues, that the required ConsCom filings occur concurrently with those of other town boards, in order to avoid delays and facilitate collaboration. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito