AHC discusses best locations to locate future housing


PEPPERELL — Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) members and consultant Larry Koff discussed the best locations for future types of affordable housing on Tuesday as they continued to work through the elements of a draft housing plan.

Koff will meet with department heads Thursday, Jan. 26 to gather more input. Additional information will be obtained from the public as the process moves forward with the first phase of planning. Eventually, the completed plan will be presented to voters for adoption.

Committee members reached consensus about what types of housing are best suited for four zones defined in a vision plan Koff designed based on the existing zoning map. Their input is far from final, but it represents directions to take in discussions with the larger community.

Downtown is defined as the area from the traffic circle eastward to the intersection of Jersey Street and Lowell Road, and southerly from the end of Pleasant Street. The northern boundary reaches almost to Nashua Road, and ends just past Deerfield Drive (see map).

The so-called inner core essentially is the sewer overlay district that surrounds the downtown. The inner core’s westerly terminus is Chestnut Street and it extends to the Dunstable border going east. Its northern boundary is the area near Cheyenne Road’s intersection with Brookline Street, and it extends to Shirley Street in the south.

An outer core is in two sections north and south of the inner core. The northern portion is boxed by Maple, Oak Hill, and Blood streets. A larger southern area is bound by Townsend and South streets and the Groton town line.

The west and north sections of town are the conservation area. Committee members preferred to change its name to rural area for the map.

Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) cover much of the rural area and half of the inner core. Although sensitive to development, building is not precluded in it as AHC and Planning Board member Nicholas Cate pointed out.

During the discussion, AHC members expressed knowledge of what many residents have said.

“There is no prospect of building anything close to what the state specifies (29 affordable housing units each year and 279 total),” said Gregory Rice. “It will come down to zoning.”

Zoning changes are part of later phases of planning, and the possibility is a long way off.

Chapter 40B defines affordable as housing available to persons earning 80 percent of median income ($80,000 in Pepperell).

“I was talking to a consultant who thought we’d see two-bedroom affordable houses selling for $165,000 and three bedroom’s for $185,000,” said AHC Chairman and Realtor Richard Colangelo. “He was doing things in Chelmsford at that price. I thought if that’s Chelmsford, Pepperell would certainly not be higher.”

“If you asked them you’d find 80 percent of residents have no idea what 40B is,” Johnson said.

“I was virulently against (the) construction of Tarbell Towers (as he describes the 32-unit Robert Hicks over-55 townhouse development on Tarbell Street),” Rice said. “He was taking advantage of a loophole in the (zoning) bylaw. Some day the designation might change.”

“That won’t happen,” Johnson said. “He’s asked to do that, but there isn’t enough parking, and there are water and snow concerns.”

A misprint in the bylaw allowed the construction of one unit for every 4,000 square-feet of land, which was later changed at town meeting to the intentioned 10,000 square feet per unit, explained Johnson and Cate.

“Hicks builds a good house and he finishes off landscaping well,” Colangelo said.

“It’s great for people who don’t want to mow their lawn,” Johnson added.

Since so much of the inner core area is under ACEC restriction, the AHC felt it would be better to restrict development of the core area to the area west of Route 111 extending along Elm Street and River Road.

“It makes sense because sewer (lines) are there,” Collangelo said.

“If we’re going to densify, centrify,” Rice said.

Collangelo himself, for example, has approached the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to build four housing units on an existing single-family Tucker Street lot.

Rice envisioned that more dense development would eventually come to smaller roads off Main Street such as Franklin and High streets.

Committee members felt rental apartments fit best in the downtown and inner core areas. Those areas are also fit for two-family and multi-family rental housing, but only where there is water and sewer lines. In-law apartments were not seen as a viable housing option.

Single family affordable homes as defined by Chapter 40B should not be in the downtown area, the AHC felt. They best fit the rural, outer and inner core areas. Specifically designed 40B townhouses, condominiums and two-family homes, like their rental counterparts, were deemed best placed in the downtown and inner core areas where there are water and sewer lines.

As for open space development in the rural areas, AHC members felt single-family, townhouse and free-standing separate condominium units are the best options.

“Townhouses in rural areas aren’t bad,” Johnson said.