SHIRLEY – A state law known as “40B” and aimed at upping affordable housing across the state, allows developers coming into a community with residential building plans in hand to bypass some local zoning restrictions, particularly density, thereby streamlining the permit process to that end.
In return for a zoning pass, developers must set aside 25 percent of the units they build as affordable.
When a project is a go, the community chalks up points toward its state-mandated affordable housing quota: 10 % of total housing stock. Once that benchmark is met, the town is not subject to 40B.
Shirley, at just two percent, falls far short of that mark.
Which opens the door to the 52-unit, 26-building, duplex/townhouse condo complex that developer Dennis Page wants to build on a 10-acre parcel off Benjamin Road.
The plan has been submitted in an application to the Massachusetts Housing Authority, which oversees 40B projects and decides which ones can move forward.
Per procedure, town boards were notified and have an opportunity to comment on the plan, including the Conservation Commission and Planning Board, both of which got a crack at it last week.
The latter would be the developer’s first stop if the proposal came in by the typical subdivision route.
The Planning Board discussed the plan at its recent meeting, after members received copies of the application for review and comment. While the board can weigh in, it can’t add conditions or size up the proposal by board-specific measures tied to town bylaws.
“If this came in as a subdivision…this plan doesn’t meet our criteria,” member Bill Oelfke said.
Basically, it’s too big, he said.
Otherwise, most “variables” seemed okay to him, so he limited feedback to items “I really care about,” Oelfke said. There were ten, to begin with. Other members added to the list during discussion.
Members understood 40B sets its own parameters, but they had reservations about size, density and other aspects of the plan, from sidewalks to streetlights; traffic, parking, water use, tree loss and more.
They questioned, for example, whether “assumptions” in the application are valid. One statement they doubted was that existing public resources such as water and sewer were “adequate” to handle 52 new condos, mostly two bedrooms but with a couple of three-bedroom units in the mix.
Since people in the Water District are under partial lock down when it comes to outdoor watering and the Water Commission has been cited and fined by the state for exceeding pumping limits, that assumption might not hold, members said, and adding a substantial number of residences to the rolls might not be as simple a matter as the applicant assumes, even with water and sewer lines nearby.
A host of issues raised at the meeting might have been hashed out with the developer during site review, which gets skipped in a 40B scenario. But members were hopeful they’d be listened to anyway.
“In the application we reviewed, it said Mass Housing would consider any relevant concerns” raised by town boards, member Barbara Yocum said.
The project as presented was also scrutinized by the Conservation Commission, with an eye to meeting environmental standards and the plan must meet state and local conservation regulations. In addition, the selectmen’s office can take input from residents during the comment period and pass it on.
Last stop is the Zoning Board of Appeals, the only town board with direct veto power. That is, the ZBA could deny the applicant’s variance request(s) for good cause but it’s unclear whether the state – or Mass Housing — would step in if that happens, Planning Board members said.
Before considering the variances, the ZBA anticipates a visit from Town Counsel for a crash course in the 40B process at an upcoming public meeting, tentative date: September 16.
Envisioned as a private way, maintained by a home owner’s association, the project layout – which according to project engineers is a work in progress that might be “tweaked” based on feedback from the town – shows two-story buildings, tightly clustered on a cul-de-sac off the main road.
The property, with a house slated for demolition in front stretches all the way to Center Road, with wetlands in back. The housing area occupies only part of the 10-acre site.
Neighbors Adam and Sandy Johnson, whose home at 43 Benjamin Road stands directly across from the subdivision entrance, said they were worried about increased traffic on their rural road, among other things. They said people coming to look at the property had parked on their property already and that headlights from people exiting the project would likely light up their windows at night.
The Planning Board said they’d add the Johnson’s concerns to their own in the hope that the developer might make some changes. Such as? Size, for starters. It should be smaller, board members agreed.
Yocum posited that the development as proposed would adversely impact Shirley’s rural character, which those who answered a Master Plan survey said they value highly, she said.
According to the Master Plan, there are 2,462 households in town, including mobile homes, so a project that is 2.73 times more thickly settled than town bylaws allow is a big deal, board members said.
Citing a 40B provision, Janet Tice posited that the developer might be open to downsizing the project, given that adding 52 new condo units tops the two-percent margin compared to total housing units in town. “If this is a large-scale project, for us, we should have more say,” she said.
Under 40B, the price range for an “affordable” unit can be measured either by low-income or moderate income standards for a specific locale, in this case the Boston metro area, which according to Mass Housing includes Cambridge, Quincy and the New Hampshire metropolitan area, along with Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Plymouth Counties in Massachusetts and Rockingham County in New Hampshire. For the proposed Shirley project, median income guidelines apply.
To qualify for an affordable unit, buyers can make up to 80 percent of the median income for the Federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) area, according to Tom Farmer, who handles press matters for Mass Housing 40B Relations Manager Mike Busbe. That is, $113,000. Eligible buyers can’t earn more than 80 percent of that amount, Farmer said, or $90,640.
Translated to cost projections: two-bedroom affordable units in the proposed condo complex would be priced at $167,500; three-bedrooms, $188,500. Comparable market rate units:$290,000 and $330,000.
For more information about 40B, go to https:www.chapa.org/housing.policy/chapter-40b
Mass Housing – or the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency – is an independent, quasi-public agency, Farmer said. Created in 1966, it is charged with providing financing for low and moderate income home buyers and owners and to developers who build or preserve affordable and/or mixed-income rental housing. To date, the agency has provided $24.3 billion for affordable housing, he said.
There are no rental units in the Shirley project.
“Mass Housing does not use taxpayer money to sustain its operations,” Farmer explained, “although it does administer some public-funded programs on behalf of the Commonwealth.”
More information can be found on the website, www.masshousing.com