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Affordable committee gets set for phase I draft plan

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PEPPERELL — Affordable Housing Committee (AHC) members this week reviewed their final opinions about a draft affordable housing plan they expect to discuss with consultant Larry Koff on May 15. The need to submit the draft plan to selectmen is becoming more urgent as the number of potential 40B projects increases.

A 40B “affordable housing” project bypasses the Planning Board hearing process and goes directly to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit. Communities with state-approved plans for affordable housing have more control over the process, and Pepperell is hard at work drawing up such a plan.

Once the board members’ concerns are ironed out, Koff will submit the plan to selectmen, effectively ending phase one of a two-part process. Eventually, town meeting will vote on adoption of the plan which, if accepted, will be sent to MassHousing for approval.

Committee members also discussed the likelihood of a contentious zoning debate sometime in the future, should the plan’s suggested zoning map go foreward.

The committee will tell Koff it doesn’t like one proposal in the draft: an increase in minimum buildable lot size to 120,000 square feet from the current 30,000. The change would allow provision of the 40 percent open space per lot requirement, as stated in recently-adopted bylaw changes, without increasing the density of living units per acre.

But it could be a hard sell to developers, committee member Nicholas Cate said, and could drive up prices or encourage construction of more densely-spaced units on lots.

”With that density,” said committee member Gregory Rice, “is the fact these (would be) lower priced houses anyway so (the town) runs the risk of spot development and saving big single-family homes and lots by perception.”

Members agreed it is wise for representatives to begin attending other board meetings to keep track of upcoming housing proposals.

”Can we show the state our plan (thus far) in good faith?” asked committee member Stephanie Cronin.

”How?” Colangelo asked. “We’ve been working a year and a half and have not signed off on a plan. Until a plan is approved we have nothing. I’m going to raise that point with Larry (Koff) next week.”

Colangelo said Koff prefers developers follow an open-space residential development concept, in which subdivisions include open space around denser housing clusters. The changes in the town’s open space bylaw requires 40 percent open space per lot which, he felt, will cause developers to back away.

State affordable housing laws require communities to have 10 percent of its housing stock as affordable housing. Committee members believe Pepperell must provide 29 affordable units per year to keep pace.

”Since all the data we’re using is old, based on the 2000 Census, we’ve got to give the state what we think will happen,” Colangelo said.

Rice concurred, saying Pepperell’s need to build 29 affordable housing units per year in order to meet the state’s demand for 10 percent affordable housing stock is not possible.

”The (plan) is a guess,” Rice said. “I feel we don’t stand a chance for a certified plan for 29 units,” he said.

Colangelo said MassHousing doesn’t expect to see perfect numbers, in his opinion, and perhaps Pepperell can show a lower rate of affordable housing growth. “That will give us some sway,” he said. “We’ll get an approved plan but not a certified one.”

Cronin turned the discussion to zoning. “I don’t want any (affordable housing or dense development) in (the) suburban residence zone,” she said, fearful of the effect on property values.

”From a financial view I think that would be detrimental,” she said, “then (speaking) as a former state employee, what is the state doing meddling in development? The plan needs a place to work with representatives to change (40B) requirements.”

”The reason for 40B is because towns never made room for (affordable housing) and every town has changed zoning to make it so stiff you can’t do it,” Colangelo replied. “The state is saying ‘we’ve got to take care of it’ but 40B has been around a long time and you see it a lot more in the past three or four years because the state is forcing it,” he said.

Cronin argued it might make more sense to site affordable housing in areas that don’t abut existing homes but Rice shot disagreed.

”I object to the thought that affordable housing is icky,” Rice said.

Colangelo said, “People are really objecting to the building of a market-rate 100 units to get 25 affordable ones. I’ve spoken with planners in Townsend and elsewhere. They don’t like those numbers and would see them more even.”

Colangelo said the proposed new zoning map, which defines acceptable housing types in defined zones, is based on the existence of water and sewer lines, conservation overlays, and wetlands. “So we have a good case (to present to the state),” he said.

”Stephanie’s arguments are indicative of what we’re going to see,” Rice said.

”People are going to ask why this hasn’t been brought up before,” Cronin said.

”I’ll tell them that in a year and a half, no one has shown up at our posted meetings,” Colangelo said.

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