SHIRLEY — With just over 4% of the town’s housing stock deemed “affordable” under state guidelines, the Housing Production Plan the Planning Board and the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission presented to selectmen last week can be seen as a significant step in the right direction.
With some distance to go to meet the goal of 10% affordable housing as set by the Department of Housing and Community Development, the plan that commission Senior Planner Blair Henry sketched out for the selectmen is part of a process, he said.
After the state OKs the plan, it will become a go-to reference document as the community mounts an effort to meet its affordable housing goal.
Once the 10% benchmark is reached, the town has more clout when a 40B affordable housing project comes along.
Under Chapter 40B in state law, developers proposing to construct residential housing in a community that hasn’t met the 10% mark are allowed more buildable leeway if they set aside 25% of the units as affordable. For example, they can bypass some local zoning restrictions, such as density and set-back requirements.
Affordable means the units must be priced below market rate, per state income guidelines for a given area — in Shirley’s case, metro Boston. The developer must meet other municipal requirements, however, and is still subject to review by local boards such as the Conservation Commission, if there are wetlands on the property, and the Zoning Board of Appeals, particularly if the plan calls for variances beyond the purview of Chapter 40B.
A case in point: the 52-unit townhouse condo development that Middlesex Land Holdings, LLC, plans to build on a 10-acre site on Benjamin Road. The proposed project has been making its way through the permit process for some time, with public hearings being held by both of those boards still underway.
The selectmen voted unanimously to approve the affordable housing plan, which now goes to the state for review.
The next step will be to establish a housing committee, Henry said. That is assuming the plan comes back with the state’s stamp of approval.
The hefty document reads like a master plan for affordable housing, providing a detailed account of the town’s demographic footprint, from population figures to income levels to average prices for single-family homes.
The multipage document also lists and maps out town-owned parcels where affordable housing units might go. Not all of the parcels could be tapped for that purpose, however, as Town Administrator Mike McGovern pointed out. Some locations are unsuitable. Some parcels are too small. And those with municipal buildings on them can be ruled out to begin with, such as Town Hall and the police station. The list is just a snapshot, he said.