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Housing questionnaire may go out to residents in March

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PEPPERELL — Affordable Housing Committee members began preparing a housing questionnaire this week that they hope will be sent to residents inside property tax bill envelopes.

Based on draft questions offered by affordable housing consultant Larry Koff, the finished product is expected to be one sheet of paper that includes six to 10 questions on one side and a letter of explanation on the other.

The committee hopes as many residents as possible answer the survey so as many viewpoints as possible can be acquired.

Tax collector Michael Hartnett said including the survey in the tax bill mailing in late March might not be the best solution because the May 1 tax bill is for the final quarter of the year. Many residents won’t receive a bill because their taxes are fully paid.

He has not spoken with the committee yet, but of the roughly 4,000 property tax payers in Pepperell, Hartnett said perhaps 500 of them have fully paid their property taxes by this time of year. Another 1,700 taxpayers escrow their bills with their mortgage companies or banks, and in many cases, immediately forward their bills without opening them.

He may suggest the committee use the town’s bulk mailing carrier route pre-sort permit that uses the mailer discounted rate, he said. He is familiar with coordinating bulk mailing and he said he is willing to help the committee organize one.

Committee members spent an hour-and-a-half debating the language within questions Monday in an attempt to divert residents from simplistic yes or no answers. Committee members feel the yea’s and nay’s are a foregone conclusion given survey results such as those of the master plan five years ago.

For example, a question given residents of another community Koff worked for asked if children can afford to remain in or return to the community, yes or no.

Obviously, that answer would be a no given the current expense of housing, committee Chairman Richard Colangelo, and members Nicholas Cate and Gregory Rice decided.

Better language could ask what kind of housing is needed for children to remain in the community and what types.

Rice and Cate felt the question might list housing types such as high-density rental, duplexes, condominiums, town houses, smaller single-family and less than $600,000 to avoid simplistic yea’s and nay’s.

”The point is not only to poll residents, but to get them to understand (affordable housing) and us to understand what it is they prefer,” Colangelo said.

”Granted, answers could (come from) a small portion of town because town meetings, for example, usually generate less than 300 participates, about 1 percent of the population I’ve heard, but I would like to known where people are (on this),” he said.

All three committee members understand many that residents are resistant to anything other than single-family homes. Having worked on the committee for some time, they are also familiar with the state requirement to meet a Chapter 40B criterion that places 10 percent of a community’s housing stock in the affordable category.

”I’d like to determine the kind of 40B that would best serve the town,” Rice said. He suggested including questions related to affordable housing tools listed by Koff.

Some tools are a use of mixed zoning districts and public-private partnerships. Two others are incentive zoning and inclusionary zoning.

”Should we require a developer include some affordable housing in a subdivision?” Rice asked. “It should be questioned whether we should give a developer some advantages for doing so. It depends upon whether the aim is to prevent development or to develop affordable housing.”

Rice said he is concerned that a visualization map under development places both the Gardner Farm and Coon Tree Farm in the so-called outer core area of town where development is encouraged.

”It could invite (subdivision)” he said. “I’d like to protect them. I have a list of town properties and protected properties.”

”Is (the outer core) an overlay district or a zoning district?” Cate asked. “It would be easier for us as an overlay instead of changing zoning.”

”Good question,” Colangelo said. “Perhaps we can bring it up (in future meetings with Koff).”

”We have a great location, available land and reasonable housing prices,” Cate said. “Development is moving north and west.”

Pepperell has a 40-home per year housing restriction. Nowhere near that amount of housing was built last year, he said, but that will change.

”We’re trying to build a plan for when they come,” Colangelo said.

”I’d like to see what other boards feel. They probably have ideas we never thought of,” he said. “Although, we could just send the questionnaire out.”

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