HARVARD -- Two Chelmsford Housing Authority officials are hoping for a strong turnout in Harvard on July 10 when the nonprofit Chelmsford Housing Opportunities for Intergenerational and Community Endeavors Inc. (CHOICE) holds an informational meeting at the Center on the Common.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

The subject of the meeting is a proposed construction project: renovation of the Great Elms, an historic farmhouse divided years ago into five apartments, all priced for low-income residents. CHOICE is seeking consensus and support that will allow it to receive state funds to restore the building and rent newly modeled units to tenants whose income is between 30 percent and 50 percent of the state's median income.

"These are for people who really struggle financially," said Connie Donahue-Comtois, deputy director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority and the point person for the CHOICE program.

A transfer of the property, owned by the Harvard Trust Nonprofit Properties, depends on zoning and planning board approvals. The state has agreed to provide the housing authority with $3 million to make the purchase, but only if the authority has the necessary approvals by Aug. 31, the state deadline.

In addition to restoring The Great Elms, the housing authority wants to build an additional four affordable units to replace those lost when the HTNP's other property, the Inn, went into foreclosure and was sold. The buyer converted those units to market-value condominiums.


Meanwhile, tenants at The Great Elms have been relocated, a necessary move to accommodate either restoration or sale of the property.

"We have until the end of August to work with the neighbors and abutters to put together a solid plan," said David Hedison, executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority.

Hedison's colleague, Donahue-Comtois said the informational meetings are critical in pushing the project forward.

"I do think the town wants to see this be successful, but people have difficulty with change," she observed.

Donahue-Comtois said that through CHOICE, the area has gained 37 units of affordable housing for the elderly; five units for homeless families; and 13 units for returning veterans.

"Any time we do a development, we really want to engage the community," she added. "We want it to be a win-win situation for everybody. It's housing for all."

During a recent meeting with Harvard residents, Chelmsford Housing Authority officials presented working plans, including drawings of the proposed project. The restoration would involve razing an ell attached to the original farm building and demolishing an historic barn.

Some neighbors urged the authority to save the barn, considered a valued landmark. But authority officials said that while they appreciate the building's historic significance, their funding restricts restoration to the housing units.

"The barn has to come down. We can't save it," said Hedison.

An option, he added, is for the town's community preservation group to dedicate funds to preserving the barn.

"At the end of the day, this is an affordable housing situation," said Hedison. "The housing needs to be rehabilitated, replaced and restored and we need to create new housing in a situation that in harmony with the neighborhood."