Friday, June 19, 2009
Selectmen support Benfield housing in letter to DHCD
On June 9 the Board of Selectmen (BOS) heard good news from the Housing Authority after state officials toured the site of the soon-to-be Benfield senior housing project. They also signed a letter to the state noting their support. In each case they heard from board chairs that they should do a better job of involving town boards in the process.
Alan Lehotsky, Housing Authority Chair, reported “a very successful meeting” that morning with representatives of the state agencies that will be responsible for funding Benfield. State Representative Cory Atkins, authorities of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and members of the Council on Aging, BOS, and Housing Authority saw a presentation and then drove to the Benfield site for a walk-around. Selectman Peter Scavongelli said the group “seemed very positive and encouraging.” Lehotsky noted he was “really encouraged that the tax credit person was there.” Benfield is a strong proposal with town support and a demonstrated need, he added, and these factors appear to have impressed state authorities.
During the visit the director of the tax credit program was told that the developer, NOAH, would be applying for funding in December 2009. To meet that date, a comprehensive permit application will have to be filed soon, and it is hoped the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) process can be concluded by the fall. The permit is required before an application can be made for funding. The goal is for ground to be broken next spring.
Ed Rolfe, Chair of the ZBA, said that other boards should have been invited to the walk-through. “Engage all boards early on in the process,” he said, noting this would have been a prime opportunity to give input and get information from state authorities. The meeting had been posted at Town Hall, but Selectman Doug Stevenson apologized for not publicizing it further, adding “there was no intention not to include others.”
Selectman John Williams agreed that the officials’ remarks were “very positive” but pointed to a comment about positive” but pointed to a comment about “local preferences.” Local preference, defined by the ZBA, can include not only residents, but parents and children of residents, town employees, and others. Ethnic diversity must reflect the region, so some members of the lottery may be invited into the local pool to balance the numbers. Under the regulations, 70% of housing can be reserved for local preference with 30% submitted to a lottery. Williams asked Lehotsky to “make sure we’re not running afoul” of regulations. Lehotsky responded that the project would not be certified if the criteria for local preference were off.
Scavongelli asked about incorporating green elements into the project. Lehotsky responded that “affordable funding sources aren’t going to pay for it” but NOAH managers have been trained in LEED design and will incorporate these principles where they can. NOAH will have on-going management responsibility, and therefore has an incentive to keep operating costs reasonable. Ground water management and minimization of impermeable surfaces are part of the plan, and if funds can be found, solar or other technologies may be incorporated.
BOS letter is next step
The next hurdle was for the BOS to submit a letter to the DHCD. The state will respond with a site eligibility letter authorizing the project to go forward. John Williams presented a draft which noted “very strong town support,” including $2.5 million committed to the project. It pointed to a cooperative relationship that assumes the developer will continue to work with the town.
The BOS letter asked for diligence in protecting water quality and noted the site has no public water or sewer, with private wells close by, and a high water level. Abutter input should be sought regarding appearance. Wetlands, parking, and trails were also cited as issues, as was fire and emergency access. It was specified that the developer work with the Town Hall Advisory Group (THAG), consisting of representatives of the various boards involved in approving the permit. The THAG held a preliminary meeting with NOAH on June 16.
Selectman Tim Hult noted the letter is somewhat routine and allows the DHCD to understand the attitude of the Selectmen and to be apprised of significant issues.
Planning Board Chair David Freedman stood up to disagree. “The DHCD site eligibility letter will remind the ZBA to cover all the areas cited in the BOS letter,” he said. “This is a golden opportunity to be quite specific about areas of concern.” He noted that for the controversial Coventry Woods development proposal, the input of other boards was sought as soon as the request for a letter was received. “This is a critical time for involvement of other boards,” he said, noting that when the request was received May 22, a notice should have been sent out. “Now we’ve lost that opportunity. This is not the way to do that.”
Whether the BOS agreed or not, with time at a premium, the letter was approved and signed as read. ∆
© 2009 The