The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 11, 2010

Town begins Affordable Housing Production Plan update

The Affordable Housing Production Plan (AHPP) committee is about to begin the process of determining how Carlisle’s affordable housing goals will be met for the next five years. After the Benfield development is built, should units be added at the Village Court senior housing? What about affordable accessory apartments, or housing for those with mental disabilities? Most important, can the town set more achievable goals over the 2005 plan, which anticipated adding 54 units of affordable housing within four years, and achieved two?

Why is a production plan needed?

The revised plan, due October 1, is required if the town is to get credit for new affordable housing under the state’s 40B law. That law, which allows developers to circumvent zoning in towns with insufficient affordability, is temporarily suspended for communities submitting a production plan and adding a targeted number of affordable units each year. Carlisle’s AHPP committee members responsible for developing the plan include Jim Bohn and Alan Lehotsky of the Housing Authority, John Williams of the Board of Selectmen, David Freedman and Tom Lane of the Planning Board and Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett.

According to Chair John Williams, the committee has concentrated on updating the statistics required, and is now ready to begin the job of determining what kind of housing will be planned, where it will go and how developments will be structured. Although the group has not yet discussed strategies in detail, Williams conjectured that Benfield, affordable housing at Village Court and Department of Developmental Services (DDS, formerly Department of Mental Retardation) units for those with disabilities would be the main areas of discussion.

Carlisle’s aim is to add eight to ten units of affordable housing each year in order to achieve a moratorium on 40B. The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) mandates that 10% of a town’s housing be affordable, but progressive additions can make a community eligible for a temporary moratorium on a year-to-year basis. Since January, 2009, a number of affordable units equal to 0.50% of total housing must be added each year to gain the protection of the moratorium. This would be eight units in Carlisle, based on the last census, but a new census will take effect in 2011. Since housing stock has risen it is expected that nine or ten units per year may be required from 2011 on.

“Benfield will get done,” says Williams, noting the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) will complete public hearings within a week or two and issue a comprehensive permit with a set of conditions. The developer can then go forward with applications for state funding of the affordable senior housing project on South Street. State funding rounds are planned for October 2010 and January 2011. With luck, says Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky, NOAH, the developer, will be successful in one of those rounds and building permits could be issued next year, allowing the town to begin counting the 26 units planned at Benfield toward Carlisle’s production goals. Currently, the DHCD allows a project to be applied toward a maximum two years, but Carlisle has requested a rule change so that Benfield can satisfy up to three years’ requirements.

Village Court expansion proposed

After Benfield, “The next most realistic idea is expansion at Village Court,” says Williams. “We will look very seriously at that.” Last year an engineering firm did a study and concluded that if the senior housing development on Church Street could be tied into the wastewater treatment plant at the Carlisle School, new housing could be erected on the site of what is now the septic field. Up to 12 new units would be added to the current 18. Williams noted the land is town-owned and that the board of Carlisle Elderly Housing Association, owners of Village Court, has indicated openness to the idea. That board is not interested in spearheading the expansion, so that task would likely fall to the town’s Housing Authority. “The Housing Authority’s done really wonderful work with Benfield,” says Williams, “and they now have an enormous amount of experience.”

“This would be at least a three year effort,” says Lehotsky of the proposed expansion of Village Court. “It’s a big complicated project.” He notes that negotiation with the Elderly Housing board as to how to structure the project could be complex. Other issues include the hook-in to the school system and a well zone radius outside property boundaries. He believes it will be necessary to work on other projects in parallel with Village Court to ensure Carlisle can continue to meet its goals after Benfield’s units have been applied.

Housing for disabled

Lehotsky anticipates a DDS project would be comparatively straightforward. “The effort from the town would be pretty small,” he says. “It’s more like permitting a house.” “This is a good thing to do” from a societal perspective, says Williams, “and is efficient from the 40B view.” He notes that each bedroom of a DDS facility counts as one unit for the purposes of 40B.

For a DSS facility, Carlisle would supply the land, and the state would do all the contracting and select the tenants. Lehotsky anticipates a project of one or two buildings of four to eight beds, and points to a DDS project in Bedford that “looks like a small ranch” and fits right into the neighborhood. He adds that parking would not be a concern because tenants would not drive. He expects the AHPP committee will begin considering sites this summer.

Affordable Accessory Apartments

Finally, although it will be only a small part of the plan, accessory apartments are likely to add a few affordable units. Zoning changes have passed at Town Meeting, a fund has been set up to help with conversions and the standard leasing agreement is almost complete. Lehotsky reports that a couple people are interested in being the first guinea pigs. The funding only covers up to six units, but “if it’s wildly successful we could always go back to the town,” he says, adding, “This was never intended to be a major part of the plan,” but by allowing owners to receive revenue from their homes “provides an opportunity to help people stay in town.”

2005 plan goals

Looking back, the 2005 Production Plan seems blindingly optimistic, anticipating that 52 units of affordable housing would be developed in Carlisle within four years. In reality, only two units have been added. The two units at Laurel Hollow (now Rocky Point) on Lowell Street plus the 18 affordable pre-existing units at Village Court equal a number far below the 165 units required by 40B, and soon to be more after the new census takes effect.

The 2005 plan proposed meeting yearly goals through a number of avenues, including private developments in years one and two at Laurel Hollow/Rocky Point, at Carlisle Woods and at Coventry Woods, with affordable accessory apartments filling in the gaps. Benfield was to supply 26 units in 2007 and 2008. In addition, seven town-owned municipal and conservation parcels were identified for possible affordable housing developments. The 2005 plan can be viewed at www.carlislema.gov/Pages/CarlisleMA_Housing/index.

Mixed results since 2005

Carlisle Woods and Coventry Woods were both cancelled, the first due to road access problems and the second because of economic and water issues. Benfield has seen a number of delays, but will likely move forward in 2011. Affordable accessory apartments have been pursued, but to date, no units have been approved. Over the five years, Carlisle has never added sufficient affordable units to become certified and earn veto power over a 40B developer.

However, Lehotsky says the news is not all bad, “We accomplished a lot with a mostly volunteer effort.” For example, zoning bylaws have been investigated, and in some cases, changed, education and planning days have been held, and steps have been taken to streamline the permitting process, including formation of the Town Advisory Group. This Group reviews developer permit applications under 40B before ZBA hearings begin. Williams notes that this review helped Benfield proceed more smoothly, “The main questions were brought up early to all the land use boards. The group made rapid progress, and next time through will be even better,” he concludes.

The greatest accomplishment is the near-readiness of the first town-spearheaded affordable development in 40 years. Benfield was but a gleam in Carlisle’s eye in 2005, and is now at a point where 26 affordable units are close to becoming a reality. In the process, Lehotsky says, the town has learned a lot about what it takes to bring affordable housing to fruition, and expects the next five-year plan to be much more reliable. The target for each year will be lower and more reachable, thanks to a 2009 DHCD ruling that a community could obtain the moratorium by adding affordable units at a rate of 0.50% of total existing total units per year, versus the 0.75% required in the 2005 plan.

Lehotsky says that seniors are likely to remain the focus of affordable housing, “The graying of Carlisle is self-evident,” he says. And to those who ask if 40Bs, which are fewer in a poor economy, will be back, he says, “You can count on it.” He notes inquiries are already being made at Town Hall and economic incentives may be greater when land prices are down. “If you can put 12 houses on four acres, you certainly will make more than putting two houses there,” he adds.

Public review planned

Williams notes the AHPP committee has been waiting while Freedman took on the task of updating tables from the 2005 plan. The state requires analysis of population, demographics and housing mix, projection of housing needs, limitations to development and infrastructure capacity. “This is a lot of data and a lot of work,” says Williams, but most is now complete and he expects the meetings will resume by the end of June. The committee will wrap up its recommendations in time for public review and approval by the Planning Board well before the October 1 due date. “There’s no credit for Benfield if this is not done,” says Williams. “There’s no way we won’t have it on time.” ∆


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