Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Affordable Housing Baby Steps

Hawthorne Farm from a backyard view

The Housing & Sheltering Committee voted unanimously this morning to move forward with the plan to issue a Request For Proposal to build an affordable housing duplex at Hawthorne Farm, volunteering two of their current members -- Nancy Gregg and Denise LeDuc -- for the "selection committee" that will be appointed by Town Manager John Musante.

Amherst Housing & Sheltering Committee

Amherst Town Meeting approved spending $500,000 three years ago using Community Preservation Act money to purchase the farm, for "the purposes of Open Space, Recreation, and/or Community Housing" "  although many people seemed to think it was mainly for soccer fields.

Hawthorne Farmhouse 235 East Pleasant Street

Ideally historical preservation would also have come into play by restoring the late 1700s farmhouse for use as affordable housing, but a structural integrity analysis proved the renovation cost too prohibitive.

Thus the farmhouse and barn (circa 1890s) will be demolished in the next 8 to 10 weeks. In 2010 the Historical Commission imposed a one year demolition delay on the town but that is the maximum extent of their power when it comes to preserving structures. 

Hawthorne Farm Barn

The Housing & Sheltering Committee tried to be flexible in their recommendations for a potential developer by not requiring the project to acquire a Special Permit from the Zoning Board,  be owner occupied, handicapped accessible or LEED certified.   Any and all of these, however, would be considered "highly advantageous." 

In other unanimous votes the committee agreed to support Article 18 the Planning Board "tweak" of mixed-use buildings zoning in Village Centers at the upcoming Town Meeting.  Conversely, they quickly voted to oppose Article 19, the citizen petition article that reverses the spring Town Meeting passage of mixed use zoning, which encourages badly needed development.

By rolling back the minimum number of units to only six from the current 10, developers of reasonably sized projects would be forced to acquire a Special Permit, which requires a unanimous vote of the Zoning Board.

Other town officials and spectators in the audience

The Housing & Sheltering Committee also voted unanimously to support the Planning Board's Article 14, a zoning initiative that makes it easier to build a duplex as long as one unit is permanently "affordable."

All zoning articles require a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting to pass.

The Committee also placed on the agenda for their next meeting (Oct 23) a discussion of the Amherst Housing Authority cut back on the value of individual Section 8 vouchers for low-income residents, but made it clear they were not going to take an official position on it.

Select Board liaison Alisa Brewer, in a motherly sort of way, said to the Housing & Sheltering Committee:  "You have no authority over the AHA."  Although their member Denise LeDuc is the Executive Director of the AHA.

Co-Chair Nancy Gregg thought the low income voucher situation should be an item for discussion (but not an actionable vote) to send the clear message, "We care about it."

7 acre Hawthorne Farm property outlined in yellow is contiguous with Wildwood Elementary School (top center in red)


Tom McBride said...

What happened to allowing development and the free market system? $500,000 from the CPA, first, that's a lot of money, two, the only thing the CPA has done in the long run is make housing in Amherst more expensive overall by making it impossible to develop huge chunks of land.

Anonymous said...

What is affordable housing? What would the rent be?

Larry Kelley said...

It's a very complicated formula.

You probably wouldn't qualify.

Anonymous said...

Larry, I'm confused are you saying we the taxpayers are now going to own this housing? If so, why are tax dollars being used to get into the rental market when we have enough slumlords already?

Larry Kelley said...

I try to keep things short (readable in 2 minutes or less) and that's kind of hard with a complicated situation like affordable housing.

The project would NOT be owned by the town. It would be similar to Butternut Farm on Longmeadow Drive in South Amherst.

That's another thing that was mentioned: the developer could seek a Ch40B designation to overcome any zoning restrictions even though the town is currently NOT certified to be below the 10% threshold for affordable housing.

Butternut Farm did that and of course the neighbors bitterly opposed it with a major lawsuit. It became a precedent setting case as the court rules you could still use Ch40B -- even if the municipality is not below 10%.

And yes, neighbors are concerned about this small scale development and would prefer the unit be "owner occupied".

In other words, the developer simply sells it at below market rate but with a permanent deed restriction about the affordability component.

Tom McBride said...

"the developer simply sells it at below market rate but with a permanent deed restriction about the affordability component.", to me that seems like a waste of time (and money) for the town. We can have a few of these chapter 40 housing projects but I doubt it will make much of a dent in the total percentage town wide. And to top that, and I don't know if their fears will be realized, the neighbors would rather the home be owner occupied. All we've been hearing for the last two years is concern over rented homes, although I'll acknowledge, this is just a couple homes. Amherst tries to micromanage its housing problems, but in a completely ridiculous fashion. For me, the ONLY job for the town or mayor, and the select board or town council, is to oversee infrastructure, sewers, roads, after a developer has bought land and used his or her own discretion in how he or she wants to develop it. It's not rocket science of course, but we had to complicate it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

"The only thing CPA has done in the long run"....

I know that a blog is not a good place for the concept of multiple causation, but many of us can remember Amherst before CPA was enacted.

Many people want to live in Amherst, and buy homes there(despite what the boo-birds on this blog say), for a number of reasons, including the fact that homes in Amherst have retained their value more than in surrounding communities over the same period.

There are many acres of land in Amherst that were either tax-exempt or tax-advantaged long before CPA.

CPA has made significant contributions to the building of affordable homes in Amherst, including 4 Habitat homes on South East Street.

These are additional facts that make Mr. McBride's comment about CPA fall under the category "Sloppy Talk", a specialty on this blog.

Tom McBride said...

I don't know if Amherst was any worse, that's unlikely. And there's no bonus to having tax or tax advantaged land. In fact, it's a big minus. And the homes have retained their value?, that will be our claim to fame and our legacy, a town that where only Longmeadow has homes with a higher median value, a town known for unaffordable housing, a town known for not giving the children of young families the benefit of its school system because their parents can't afford to live here, and a town known for having the median income of an owner occupied home over $100,000.

Anonymous said...

I think it's great, Mr. McBride, that you have an opportunity to rant on this blog. It makes for good reading, and I hope you feel better for it.

But, as analysis, point is very little of this can be blamed on CPA. (Laws don't ruin diversity; people do.)

The tax-exempt land is land owned by the colleges. I know you know this, but that can't be blamed on Amherst or the CPA.

You say, "there's no bonus to having tax or tax advantaged land." Well, that's an argument that you've lost historically just about everywhere, in Amherst, throughout the state. The Town has voted for and the State has written into law the opportunity for tax advantages to land that is maintained as agricultural (which would seem to enhance the economic diversity in Amherst you rightly claim is disappearing).

Your concerns about people being priced out of Amherst is a real one, one which we should all share in. But your cause and effect argument about CPA doesn't hold up. It's a much bigger problem in Amherst both because of the presence of large land-owning seats of higher learning and because it has been supplemented by dozens of decisions by democratically elected leaders from Town Meeting on up, decisions that predate CPA. These leaders were elected by the voters.

To quote Pogo, "we have met the enemy and he is us": we voted for this slow accumulation of conservation land. Amherst residents like it, and seem fairly oblivious to the down-side of it. CPA has little or nothing to do with it.

Once again, we should prefer sober analysis to ranting Sloppy Talk, whether populist or not.

Anonymous said...

"Just a couple of homes"

I see homes being bought up and rented out, with front yards turning into parking lots for student cars. The homes are not properly maintained and begin to deteriorate in appearance. See West Street (Route 116) between Shays Street and Pomeroy Lane: homes going to seed.

I know, I know, we're not supposed to care about this. The free market uber alles.

Anonymous said...

town: please build a well-drained soccer field and maintain it!

Anonymous said...

If the town "purchased" the property and is now putting out an RFP for development, will the town continue to own the property or is part of the RFP proposal to purchase the property from the town. The reason I'm asking is twofold.

One, you say in one of the prior comments, "The project would NOT be owned by the town. It would be similar to Butternut Farm on Longmeadow Drive in South Amherst." If this is true, how does ownership get transferred and does it involve a return to Town Meeting for the approval of transfer, given that Town Meeting was the entity that approved purchase in the first place?

Which leads me to question two, is this RFP for the entirety of the parcel or just the street front portion where the current house stands? If so, is there a move afoot to divide the parcel with the town maintaing ownership of some of the land or is the RFP for the entire seven acres? And, again, will Town Meeting have an opportunity to weigh in on the decision to divide or not?

Larry Kelley said...

The property in question is only the footprint under the current farmhouse, not the entire 7 acres.

It's an RFP, so maybe somebody will offer money along with a so so project or maybe somebody else will just offer to do a great project but with no money to the town.

Town Meeting will not have anything further say on this affordable housing component.

It's now under the control of the Town Manager.

Anonymous said...

I loved the Hawthorne's farm stand. The best tomatoes...and he was such a nice man, always gave me a little extra. I'm sorry to hear the farm is going, but I hope good will come of it.