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Re-organized AHC begins exam of growth criteria

PEPPERELL — A re-organized six-member Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) met with housing consultant Larry Koff last week to discuss a second generation affordable housing plan about which they will gather feedback in preparation for its Dec. 20 meeting.

Earlier in the evening, Koff presented his credentials and vision concerning updating the master plan to the Planning Board as a potential consultant for the task. Outgoing AHC Chairman and Selectman Lyndon Johnson, was in the audience.

Johnson later reported to the AHC that the Planning Board appears ready to back affordable housing initiatives. They might favor working with developers to include affordable homes in specific sections of their new subdivisions, he said.

Last month, the AHC became a duly formed standing committee, having changed from a study group once their recommendation to hire consultant Larry Koff Associates of Brookline was accepted by selectmen.

Johnson remains on the AHC, but stepped down as chairman. Groton Realtor Richard Colangelo now has that job and planner Nicholas Cate is clerk. Finance Committee member Stephanie Cronin remains on the committee. Two new members have been added; former Land Use Committee member Gregory Rice and Realtor Angela Schwon.

Rice asked where the AHC fits into the scheme of things.

Johnson explained the committee has the power to make decisions on its own and, if needed, have its own budget. He said he envisioned the AHC as an ongoing, long-term group. He said he values realistic market value input from the group’s Realtors.

He provided two maps for the AHC to examine. One indicates land use suitability and identifies areas for development. The other is a preliminary long-range vision plan map that could demand future zoning changes to implement growth capability in the town’s remaining buildable land.

The land use map identifies areas of Pepperell best suited for various types of use and those that are protected.

Development is limited in protected natural resource areas such as wetlands, flood zones, and those with high- and medium-yield aquifers. Resource areas with limited to no protection include priority habitats and potential or certified vernal pools.

When taken into account with protected open space and bodies of water, areas where development is unsuitable can be visually blocked off.

Koff’s vision plan map divides the rest of available Pepperell land into four areas for growth planning purposes.

A downtown area is located along Main Street between River Road and Groton Street and extends along Lowell Road to Nashua Road.

An inner core surrounds the current downtown and includes eastern and central sections of town. It includes areas where public sewer is currently available or will be located.

An outer core management area includes the southern part of town. Conservation areas are located in the western and northern portions of Pepperell and Koff recommended no development be encouraged there.

From a Chapter 40B compliance standpoint, Pepperell needs to make available 29 affordable homes each year until it reaches 371. Chapter 40B embraces smart growth initiatives that include clustered housing surrounded by open space, a concept that has generated resistance in some rural communities.

Once a comprehensive housing plan is in place, administered by the AHC or other specialized committee, and forward motion is maintained adding affordable units, the town can better regulate development without the circumvention of local boards otherwise allowed in 40B.

Koff strongly recommended the AHC work to establish an inclusionary bylaw that would mandate developers include affordable homes in new subdivisions.

His recommendations for alternative elderly housing types include in-law apartments, age restricted garden style rental or condominium units or mobile homes, non-age restricted apartments or condominiums, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Recommendations for young adults and families include starter homes and housing rehabilitation, two-family homes, condominiums and affordable rentals.

Koff asked the AHC for feedback regarding accuracy of his figures that indicate as of May 2005, developer’s planned to build nine new affordable units; eight rental units at 42 Lowell Rd. and one house at 131 Lowell Rd.