Friday, March 20, 2009
BOS meets with Benfield developer
Philip Giffee of Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), told the Selectmen on March 10 that his firm is “very proud to have been selected” as developer of the senior housing project on the town-owned Benfield Land on South Street. He emphasized NOAH’s intent to comply with the town’s “strong oversite” and to be open to feedback, “This is a beautiful town and a terrific site and we hope to make the town proud.” After some discussion, the Selectmen agreed to consider a letter of support for the project at their first meeting in April that could help NOAH secure state funding.
Meetings have raised issues
Project architect Peter Shaffer of DeMella Shaffer reported there have been meetings with a variety of townspeople and town committee people, and he expects a much better outcome with their input. One point of controversy was the idea of placing the septic system under the parking area. According to Shaffer, this could provide a greener option than the original plan for septic system on Lot 4. It would minimize damage to natural areas from long piping trenches and reduce the risk of leakage from pumping a long distance. But Shaffer said it is up to the town to decide. “We can go back to Lot 4” if that is what Carlisle wants. The parking area plan would require further testing to make sure there is sufficient drainage.
Another question raised in the public hearings had to do with the size of the units, which are slightly smaller than those at the Village Court housing on Church Street. Shaffer showed a floor plan for a Village Court unit and pointed to the wasted area devoted to hallway and foyer. The Benfield design uses a circular flow plan that eliminates wasted floor space and allows for more actual living area in a smaller unit.
Shaffer also displayed photos of representative Carlisle farmhouses used as reference points in the design. There are a number of constraints to the site, he said, including wetlands on both sides, which dictated a long, narrow building.
Grant funding competitive
Toby Kramer, Housing Authority consultant on the project, pointed to challenges in securing funding. She requested a letter of support signed by the BOS to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which provides grants for affordable housing projects. “This is a very competitive time in affordable housing,” she said. “Everything we can do to show support would be really helpful.”
Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky added, “This project meets very well the requirements spelled out in the Affordable Housing Productivity Plan. It’s the kind of thing we need as well as want,” he said, noting that 59 people are on the waiting list for units and the number grows every day.
Selectman Tim Hult responded, “There’s no question about the support of the Board of Selectmen.” He pointed to the BOS’s involvement in the project from the initial purchase of the land to the present. However, he was concerned that the letter not be misused to imply endorsement of a particular plan or to preclude board reviews. In particular, “We’re very concerned about water here” and the developer should be prepared to document the tradeoff involved in the septic location decision.
Responded Giffee, “This is a friendly process. We will be listening and we’ll be talking.”
Advisory group recommended
Selectman John Williams, who was on the 40B Working Group to revise town regulations, noted a central recommendation had been to form a Town Hall Advisory Group with representatives of all land-use boards to oversee 40B projects. He suggested the BOS would like to see that group convene and do a one-meeting review before a letter of support is issued.
Lehotsky responded, “We’ve had that meeting with two representatives of each board. A couple of issues were raised . . . I didn’t hear anyone coming out of the meeting with show stoppers.”
Williams thought another meeting should be convened to assure commitment to the process. But, said Lehotsky, “I don’t think we need another meeting. There’s no new information to share.”
BOS Chair Doug Stevenson suggested Lehotsky figure out a way to get feedback from the town boards that would satisfy the BOS that the process is moving forward without major hitches. Once that is received, the BOS will consider the letter of support at their first meeting in April.
Giffee noted that his firm is anxious to get in the queue for funding. “We’re going to follow the town’s process, but hopefully not two or three processes. The clock is ticking.” ∆
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